Anyone who has served in the military knows life cannot stop because of deployment orders. Mobilization can come at any time — while you’re working on a degree or establishing a secondary career, or in my case, as you’re launching a business. But, it doesn’t mean any of those goals have to be put on hold or abandoned. Attack your responsibilities like your unit approaches its mission: with a plan.
Getting the call I was on my way to class at Western New England University School of Law when I received a call from my unit. They told me to pack my bags for a 12-month deployment. The moment I hung up the phone my mind raced with thoughts ranging from the initial excitement of leading soldiers overseas to the worries associated with storing my motorcycle and paying my bills. These thoughts were followed by a fear for the future of my Juris Doctorate and professional career.
“I understand my duty to deploy, but does my school?” I wondered.
The personal logistics of deploying
The moment those thoughts start racing in your head is when you need to take control of them. The best way that I have found to do so is by writing them down.
Whether it is a digital notepad, notebook, or recorder, I lay out each thought onto an organized to-do list. I use a large whiteboard to keep track of daily, weekly, and monthly tasks that have to happen. Next, I break every thought into categories: “Personal, Business, Military, and School.” These tools can help keep track of everything as responsibilities are mounting.
This process also greatly reduces stress and allows for task prioritization. Sometimes the most important task on your list will not be what you feel it is. Instead, it will be what is required of you by your military unit, university, or employer. A study-abroad trip to Israel, for example, may have to be canceled to attend a Rapid Fielding Initiative, pursuant to deployment requirements. It is unfortunate because you may feel that you lost short-term, but you will win in the long-term, if you think forward.
Have a plan
Many people will tell you that a year is a long time. That could not be further from the truth. A year will travel at lightening pace if you enter it with a plan. Going into my deployment to the Northern Sinai, I knew that at the end of the deployment I would return to law school, start a business, and continue my veterans sailing program. That knowledge meant that I could take steps, during my deployment, to prepare myself for the following year. The number of steps one can take towards entrepreneurial goals however rely heavily on a deployment’s type. The safe and successful completion of a mission must take priority, above completing masters courses overseas, for example.
The Northern Sinai Peninsula, my deployment AO, has recently been designated a Combat Tax Exclusion Zone by Congress. However, contrary to the lack of amenities one would normally associate with a combat zone, I had uninterrupted access to a small library on my Forward Operating Base (FOB).
In addition to a library, my FOB had a small education center. After a quick application of a little elbow grease and imagination, the education center was up and running. These two important resources were available to soldiers during my deployment and are similarly offered in other hostile locations around the globe. Whether one takes advantage of these, among others, again depends on the type of deployment. However, a soldier may be limited by a lack of guidance, experience, or mentorship. So, if you plan on utilizing the resources, do your fellow service members a favor and mark the trail so others can follow.
Know your strengths and weaknesses
In the middle of juggling a courseload and my military commitments, I was also making my entrepreneurial dream a reality. I learned quickly that entrepreneurship does not have to be a lonely road. In fact, finding and enlisting other like-minded professionals can be hugely beneficial to your success. A good place to start your search is with the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA has neatly delineated multiple resources for veterans. Next, you can reach out to small business incubators, who are often connected with investors seeking to jump start specific type of businesses, i.e. Small Disadvantaged Businesses (SDB).
After launching my business, I quickly realized that, although I have extensive experience in the maritime industry, I lack experience in the technology industry. A detailed search led me to contact Bunker Labs, a small business incubator, and Faretech, experts in transportation industry technology.
Find the experts in your field
Gavin Washburn, founder and COO of Faretech, said that it is awesome to work with veteran entrepreneurs. “Some of the characteristic traits cultivated in military such as, discipline, focus, timeliness, and perseverance to cite a few, are not only invaluable assets in entrepreneurship, they improve every aspect of the business relationship. It is not uncommon for clients to make excuses and even go as far as to play blame games. In our experience working with men and women having military experience, we’ve noticed an elevated attention to detail and ability to complete tasks on time when compared to non-military owned businesses.”
He adds that there are common pitfalls that veterans should be weary of when starting a business. Some of these pitfalls are, not knowing your audience, buying into shortcuts, and succumbing to the “perfect product syndrome.”
Identifying a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is important. It can save you significant time and money and ultimately be the difference between getting to market with some money left over for marketing…It’s obvious when someone is just a salesman. It’s also obvious when someone knows what they’re talking about. People buy from people they like, and the truth is natural to like. It’s always advantageous to start a business in a field in which you are already an expert — even better if you’re also passionate about it…There are as many scams out there as there are opportunities. There are also very smart people behind some of the scams. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. Stay focused on your goals otherwise you’ll only end up wasting your time and money,” Washburn said.
Don’t quit your day job
Your most valuable resource as an entrepreneur is time. If properly used, time will protect you from most, if not all, of the pitfalls in entrepreneurship. The most effective way of maximizing time is by not quitting your day job. You cannot be self-sustaining by burning 10 hours of time — and likely raking up considerable expenses — only to spend two hours recouping. Between law school, the military, and internships, I have very little time left for my startup.
However, those two or three hours are worth pure gold in my mind. I could spend them scrolling through social media, socializing at the bars, or watching shows. Instead, I take those two hours to the bank and invest them. I invest them by researching technology trends in the maritime industry, learning French, improving my website’s interactivity, and many more activities that will ultimately pay off weeks, months or even years later Invest in yourself, by improving your worth. Your advisers, supporters, and investors will see it.