Category Archives: Veterans in Business

The Oldest New Concept in Entrepreneurship

Still looking for that brilliant idea that will guarantee your success in business? They are out there. And when someone unearths one and makes it successful they achieve tremendous wealth and fame. If this is your goal, by all means, keep looking.

But if you want greater flexibility to run your life, the ability to support your family, and less bureaucracy in your work environment read on.

The Oldest New Concept in EntrepreneurshipAfter 10 years running a small management company I found that numerous businesses like mine were being bought up because running them the way they had always been run was no longer profitable. Frankly, I had never had a great passion for property management. I was keen about eating, having a roof over my head, and many other things. I had two choices: innovate or sell.

Another 10 years later I did sell. By that time I was handling $25 million worth of property from my laptop. Wherever I had Internet access, be it a hotel room or Coffee Bean, I could take care of business. In these days of personal hotspots, I could have run it from the beach. My company was highly profitable because I substantially streamlined an administration-intensive business and made it virtually paperless.

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Dr. Samuel Johnson and Christopher Booker maintain there are only seven plots for literature and movies. To a large extent, that same can be said of businesses. Consider the following:

  • An online store is only today’s version of the Montgomery Ward catalog.
  • Blogging is just the latest means of pamphleteering and Twitter an even more up to date way.
  • Facebook is an asynchronous party line where you, instead of the telephone company, choose who listens to your calls.

The Internet is called a revolution. In reality, it allowed old ideas to be modernized.

Flourishing as an entrepreneur does not take genius or a unique idea. You need only find a way to do or make something better than your competition. Real estate agents at Century 21 The Masters are tops in the country because they are trained to concentrate intensely on the needs of people buying and selling homes.

Most successful entrepreneurs take a proven business and change something about it to gain a competitive edge such as:

  • Make a service more consumer-friendly. Mike Diamond plumbers show up at a specific time and are clean and well groomed. They get a premium over plumbers that only give a window during which they will show up and wear dirty clothes.
  • Handle business more efficiently. I leveraged off-the-shelf technology to save time, office supplies, postage, and many other resources. As a result, I could focus on my clients.
  • Offer greater choice. When you buy an iPhone you get a white charger and cable. But at Los Angeles Air Force Base there is a kiosk that has them in a rainbow of colors. At least two people are making money offering more choices than Apple does: the manufacturer and the vendor.

My success in property management came because I am very good at organization and efficiency not because I was brilliant at real estate. You can succeed by applying the skills at which you excel to a proven business. This is the surest path to entrepreneurial triumph.

Question – Where can you apply your expertise to improve the way a business is done?

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How to Insure Your Greatest Achievements Are Yet to Come

On Memorial Day I finished listening to Citizens of London: The Americans Who Stood with Britain in Its Darkest, Finest Hour. The activities of Edward R. Murrow, Averell Harriman, and John Gilbert Winant during World War II were brought to life and contextualized within the greater war effort. As is the case with many such biographical histories, the end of the book briefly summarizes the rest of the lives of each person.

 

How to Insure Your Greatest Achievements Are Yet to ComeWhile the first two men were household names for at least half a century, Gilbert Winant is virtually unknown. Yet it was his story that struck me most profoundly. Deeply loved by Britishers of all walks of life and universally acknowledged as having played a crucial part in the Allied victory, nonetheless, in 1947 he committed suicide.

As I was listening to this I entered Naval Base Point Loma and saw the American flag waving in the breeze. For a moment I was struck by the idea that I will never do anything as great as being a part of the United States Navy’s effort to defend our country. Did Gilbert Winant, who clearly was not a part of President Truman’s inner circle the way he was FDR’s, despair of ever achieving anything as important as his instrumentality in the victory over Nazi tyranny?

I quickly disavowed myself of the idea that my best days are behind me. But the thought that some of my fellow service members may draw such a conclusion impelled to write this post.

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Your military service is and was noble. You made sacrifices that more than 90% of Americans cannot understand but appreciate. Most significantly you took a risk to serve your country, especially if you saw combat. Sadly, some of your comrades did not survive. But thank G-d you did. Hopefully, the risk paid off in several ways including achieving your mission and gaining greater self-knowledge.

Here is the rub: If you want to do even greater things you will have to take risks again. They probably will not be life threatening, but they could temporarily crush your mind and spirit.

Yet this is the greatest training the military gives you: the ability to assess risk, mitigate it as much as possible, act in spite of the remainder, and recover no matter how it turns out. Consider the value this gives you as a spouse, parent, and provider. If the enemy could not deter you, how can friends?

While military service gave you an opportunity to be involved with greatness, the world still abounds with opportunities to surpass such eminent achievements. Will you dare to be greater than ever before? Will you take the risk?

Question – What great accomplishments do you want to pursue?

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How to Find a Job You Can Never Lose

Job security in the military, though not what it was a few of years ago, is one of the biggest benefits in this demanding profession. The path to advancement is well defined. Even today, if you are reasonably focused you have a good chance of staying in long enough to earn a pension. Government work seems secure.  But with annual budget battles and sequestrations, you won't find stability there either. In the private sector, it's virtually unknown. But there is another option.

How to Find a Job You Can Never Lose

For twenty years before joining the navy, I never worried about being fired. Why would I terminate myself? I knew my strengths and weaknesses and made sure I worked with others who complimented my abilities. Being self-employed gave me job security that I never had working for someone else.

Entrepreneurship is the ultimate employment guarantee. While occasionally you'll lose a client, necessitating a temporary reduction of your compensation, once you find a new client you can raise it. Over time you can make sure you always have a job and direct your work into areas you find stimulating while hiring others to do the tasks you aren't interested in any longer. You control your pay and benefits as well as your work environment.

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The learning curve can be steep. But once you have internalized the fundamentals of starting and running a business you will wonder why you ever thought about running the risk of working for someone else who could lay you off or fire you.

Question – Which do you think is more secure: working for someone or working for yourself?

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16 Skills You Need to be an Entrepreneur

Last week I blogged on how to overcome the fear of failure. Step one is to get a list of the skills you need to be successful.

16 Skills You Need to be an Entrepreneur

Here is my list:

  1. Persistence. No one said it better than Teddy Roosevelt – “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press On' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” While you need not be an expert in most of the others, at this skill you must excel.
  2. Honest. Also required. Do you always speak truthfully? Do you feel compelled to fudge when your ego is at stake? Can you assess matters without pretense? Will you listen to biting criticism and act on it when it is true?
  3. Balance between obstinacy and patience. Patience is a virtue except when action is needed. Can you focus your persistence on the right one at the right time? Good advisors will help.
  4. Problem solver. Whatever you think your business is or will be, almost for sure it will turn out differently. Its success will hinge on whether when you encounter problems you take them as challenges to overcome or insurmountable walls.
  5. Goal setter. When the going gets tough perhaps the only thing that will see you through is irresistible goals.
  6. Plan and Implement Tasks. Step by step you reach your goals by completing the necessary tasks. You need to create a plan and navigate through the inevitable changes.
  7. Time management. As an entrepreneur, you will always have more to do than time to do things. You will be able to take more action toward being successful if you manage your time well.
  8. Delegator. Successful entrepreneurs know what they do well and surround themselves with people who do the other things better than they do. Can you give up the authority that is necessary for a coworker to meet a responsibility?
  9. Manager. Each person you deal with is unique so you will need as many management styles as you have people to manage.
  10. Understand numbers. You do not need to be an accountant, but you have to understand what your financial people tell you and develop an awareness for when what they say does not make sense. Also, you need to be able to speak coherently to suppliers, employees, investors, and bankers.
  11. Know your product/service inside out. Michael Hyatt calls this Wow. Be an expert in the service you offer. Have a product quality second to none and be able to explain why.
  12. Compelling storyteller. Previously called being effective at sales and marketing, the advent of social media requires that you have a narrative that motivates clients, customers, employees, and investors. Do you write and speak well? Are you adept at presenting ideas in multiple ways so as to engage the greatest number of people?
  13. Skillful using social media. No matter how captivating your story, if no one hears it your business will go nowhere. Social media is the tool to spread the word. While it has a low cost of entry, it can have long learning curve.
  14. Can you talk to just one more person? When you do not know the answer to a question will you seek out people until you really understand an issue? Will you speak with one more prospect if that is what it takes to meet your goal?
  15. Good communicator. Related to being a good manager, lasting relationships are built on a foundation of solid communication.
  16. Negotiator. Roger Dawson says everything you want in life is owned or controlled by someone else. Negotiation is the means to get what you need.

When I started my first business I was competent in about a quarter of these. Classes, working with others, listening to recorded programs, and other means dramatically increased and improved my skills.

Question – What other skills do you think are essential to entrepreneurial success?

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The Truth About Military Versus Civilian Life

Have you ever sought to communicate with someone who did not speak your language? If you sensed that there was little common ground did it make relating even harder? Something similar is impeding the effectiveness of people helping veterans transition to private life.

The Truth About Military vs. Civilian Life

A couple of weeks ago I spent the day with a friend who runs a program providing financial assistance to veterans. She admitted having trouble relating to her clients’ transition challenges. Never having served, her knowledge of the military came from movies and television, inaccurate at best. Likewise, when I speak with veterans I find some of their impressions of civilian life mistaken.

To create mutual understanding here are some key points to ponder:

  1. During World War II, approximately 9% of Americans served in the military and perhaps a similar percentage of civilians worked in support roles. Currently, active duty and reserve personnel make up about 1% of our population. Though about 8% of Americans are veterans, almost half are at least 65 years old. These statistics mean that seventy years ago around 75% of Americans had direct military experience or were closely related to someone who did. Today, The New York Times estimates only a third do.
  2. While being in the military requires discipline, life is very structured. Someone with moderate self-discipline will be successful. In general, civilians are less disciplined yet succeeding as a civilian requires greater self-discipline since it lacks the structure of military life.
  3. The military ritualizes paying respect. Typically, as long as customs are observed, a service member is acting courteously. In civilian life few if any such traditions exist any longer. With co-workers coming from such diverse backgrounds, it can be easy to inadvertently offend someone.
  4. The military does an excellent job of training civilians to be warriors. But it has neither the time nor the resources to train warriors to be civilians again. Though some skills learned in the military have value in civilian life, e.g. using computers and teamwork, much of warfare requires specialized expertise that does not easily translate. Whereas having been a flyer in World War II and Korea virtually guaranteed the option of being a commercial pilot, such is not the case today.

With the basis for mutual understanding decreasing as fewer Americans are or personally know veterans, their desire to help is hampered. Though stories of bold operations, such as the one in which Osama Bin Laden was killed, capture the public’s imagination, they shed no light on the experiences of rank and file service members.

If you are seeking to assist veterans, you need to speak to as many service members and veterans as possible to gain insight into our lives. We who have served need to help you by objectively relating our experiences of military life. Is this a Mars and Venice divide? Perhaps not, but maybe it is an Earth and Moon one.

Question – What areas of misunderstanding between service members and civilians have you found?

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