Category Archives: Veterans in Business

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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Military Doctrine Guiding Business Planning

One of the many advantages veterans enjoy in entrepreneurship is the doctrine we learned during our years of service. And while part of the vocabulary of warfighting is inappropriate to civilian business, still the concepts can be quickly adapted to give us direction as we start and run our companies.

Rabs in Marine Corps Cammies

For example, Marine Corps doctrine on warfighting recognizes three levels of war

  1. Strategic – the art of winning wars by establishing goals, assigning forces, providing assets, and imposing conditions on the use of force.
  2. Operational – the art and science of winning campaigns, it links the strategic and tactical levels, including deciding when, where, and under what conditions to engage the enemy.
  3. Tactical – the art and science of winning engagements through the concepts and methods used to accomplish a particular mission and achieve the objectives of the campaign.

So how do we translate these ideas to business planning? The same three levels apply:

  1. Strategic – This is our business idea, mission statement, and goals. Also, it is our evaluation of the types of expertise our business requires, especially those we do not have ourselves, and the capital and equipment we need to be successful.
  2. Operational – This is our assessment of the profile of the clients or customer with whom we are most likely to be successful, where we can come in contact with them, the timing of our marketing efforts, and how we can set the stage to be most effective in attracting their patronage.
  3. Tactical – This is our step-by-step plan through which we will act to obtain these clients or customers.

For example, when I decided to go back into business, initially I worked at the strategic level. I assessed my skills, researched business ideas, and gauged the market for them and their chances of success. Having selected the one I wanted to pursue I developed my mission statement and goals and determined funding and other materials I needed to move forward.

Having clarified my strategic thinking, my planning shifted to the operational level. While my main clientele, veterans and service members, was obvious, less so were the individuals through whom I could expand my reach to them. Through networking, I found people who help veterans transition to civilian life, then planned how and where I could contact others in the same positions and stay in touch with them. Next, I set a calendar for my marketing effort. As I formed my plans at the operational level I periodically reviewed my strategic plans to ensure I was heading in the right direction but also to decide if my strategy needed to be revised.

Once my operational plan was fairly well developed I created materials, scripts, and email and telephone lists of the people I needed to contact and started doing so. Did my materials motivate them to act from the get go? Did my scripts immediately convince them of the greatness of my program? No and no. Indeed my early presentations were as much about refining my tactics as they were about persuading people to help me. I revised my tactics, periodically reviewed my operational plan in light of the overall response to my marketing effort, and shifted my strategy as the assets I had available changed.

At each stage of planning, I wrote down the major points and the reasoning supporting these decisions. As I move forward, I use my version of another Marine Corps doctrine, maneuver warfare (which I will talk about in another post) to continually appraise my success and make adjustments at all three levels.

So take the doctrine of your branch of the military and adapt it to your business planning. If you are not a veteran, take a look at the Marine Corps doctrine.

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