- The Essential Military-to-Civilian Transition Resource

Celebrate Your Career Transition - BYOB?

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Heavy Equipment College

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During my 30-year career assisting military service members in career transition, I developed a wealth of knowledge and experienced many surprises. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was discovering that many of those people end up working for companies about which they had no knowledge and/or in positions with which they were unfamiliar at the start of the transition process. Does that surprise you too?

When civilians change jobs, they already have a manual, a road map and the standard operating procedures. They know the terminology, the titles, the language, the rules of the road and the appropriate game plan to get to the desired result. Military personnel, on the other hand, are at a disadvantage. They have to become familiar with those best practices and rules of engagement before they can even launch the primary mission - finding the right job, the first time. How are you supposed to do that when you may not even be aware of your options? And even if you are aware of some of those options, what about those that are available to you that fall into that unknown category?

Throughout my career, my advice to my candidates and my advice to you now, is to treat your career transition - at least at the initial stage - as more of an information-gathering process and less of a job search. Interview for everything for which you are qualified or trainable, regardless of your initial level of interest, knowledge or awareness. This approach allows you to discover new options, comparison shop, narrow down the field and eventually prioritize positions for which you are not only qualified, but in which you also have a high degree of interest. You just might find yourself focusing on one of those surprise opportunities I mentioned in the first paragraph.

This edition of Military Transition News focuses on an option frequently overlooked by separating military personnel: ownership. Most of you are pre-disposed to going to work for an organization as an employee. That’s what you’re used to doing, and it pretty much sums up your military experience and career. Maybe it’s time for a change. Instead of being the employee, could you be the employer? Small-business owner? Franchisee? Are you cut out to BYOB – Be Your Own Boss? Consider the following.

Have any of these thoughts ever crossed your mind? When I leave the military and start my civilian career, I would like to:

  • Control my own destiny
  • Sink or swim based on my own merits
  • Call my own shots
  • Get my hands dirty
  • Work hard and get paid for it
  • Not have to relocate
  • Be home most nights for dinner
  • Pick where I want to live
  • Wear what I want to work
  • Associate with people of my choosing
  • Determine my own working hours
  • Hire and fire according to my standards
  • Reap the rewards of my success

If many or all of those bullets apply to you, then ask yourself how many of the following traits and attributes apply to you.

  • Risk-tolerant
  • Self-motivated
  • Customer-focused
  • Strong work ethic
  • Financial savvy
  • Highly organized
  • Resilient
  • Independent
  • Competitive
  • Can-do attitude

If you’re still with me, the BYOB option might just be for you. However, before you get too excited about going down that path, there is more to consider.

In my book Out of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition, I dedicate an entire chapter to the BYOB option. The following includes excerpts from that chapter.

Before considering self-employment, whether as a small business owner or as a franchisee, you must first take an honest look in the mirror and have the self-awareness to know how you measure up against the following factors:

Expertise: What do you bring to the table? Will you be able to produce a product or provide a service for a price that the customer is willing to pay, while also maintaining quality, reliability and service? Are you already the subject-matter expert or is training necessary? How steep is the learning curve? Where does that training come from?

Risk: The Small Business Administration reports that 70 percent of self-employment business ventures fail in the first two years. Can you afford the risk?

Accountability: There is a scoreboard up there with only one name on it - yours. The numbers next to your name are your numbers. Yes, nobody can take credit for your success, but nobody will cover up your failures, either.

Investment/financing/credit/cash flow: Starting your own business requires seed money. Do you have it? If you have to borrow it, how is your credit rating? Some franchising opportunities require an up-front investment of $5000 to $100,000. Many business failures can be attributed to running out of cash in the first year.

Time off: How important is it to you? Have you been using those 30 days of annual leave? Being off work on those federal holidays is nice. Guess what? Self-employment often means no vacation, no holidays and no weekends. This can be true until your business is well-established and you can hand the keys to trusted employees when you’re out of town.

Working hours: Your military experience has you very familiar with 12 to 14 hour days. Were you thinking about cutting back a little? Forget it. BYOB is 24/7/365.

Employees: As much as you relish the thought of not having a boss, do you really want to be one? If so, how many employees and what kind of talent will you need? Will you be able to find them? Most business owners will tell you that their number one problem is finding and retaining good employees.

Preparation: Although your management expertise may be impressive in the areas of personnel, administration and materiel resources, you likely have little or no direct business management experience. You are used to the bottom line called readiness or war fighting, but you will succeed or fail in business based on one called profit? Do you know how to write a business plan, specifically one that will pass muster with a lending officer or a franchisor? Have you taken an accounting course? You may need professional guidance from accountants and lawyers. Are those fees in your budget?

Your paycheck: How much will you make? When you work for yourself, you pay yourself last. Pay your overhead, service your debt, pay your employees, and give the federal, state and local government their shares, and you get anything that remains.

Considering all of the above, why do people choose self-employment? Independence, self-determination, the lifestyle associated with picking where you want to live or working out of your home, the possibility of earning a living by doing something about which you are passionate - these are just a few of the reasons.

I recommend you gather additional information and seek guidance on this subject. In addition to the resources I have listed below, get out in the field and talk to franchise operators, especially those who also happen to be veterans. Focus on military-friendly franchisors. Where to start? That’s easy. Just take a look at the ones who are featured and/or advertise in this issue of MTN. They understand the value of a veteran as a potential franchisee, and their programs are designed to help mitigate many of the potential pitfalls listed above.

Additional Resources:

Small Time Operator: How to Start Your Own Business, Keep Your Books, Pay Your Taxes and Stay Out of Trouble (paperback, 13th edition), by Bernard B. Kamoroff

The Prior-Service Entrepreneur: The Fundamentals of Veteran Entrepreneurship, by Michael I. Kaplan

Tom Wolfe is a career coach, columnist, author and veteran, and can be found at

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