Three military spouses used entrepreneurship as a solution to their own employment challenges, and they’re helping others become business owners, too.
Rosie the Riveter, with her red bandanna and her bicep flexed, became an icon for working women during and after World War II. So many men had left to fight that crucial jobs were going unfilled. If America was going to keep the lights on — literally, Rosie first appeared on a poster for Westinghouse Electric Company — women had to join the workforce.
Now in its 18th year of war, the U.S. economy is strong, people aren’t growing “Victory Gardens” and the Department of Labor Statistics now cites that women make up 57% of the workforce.
Military spouse unemployment, however, is the worst in the nation — six times worse than the national average, according to the Department of Defense’s “2017 Demographics” report — and high spouse unemployment is hurting the military mission.
Military families often barely squeak by on one income in the modern day, dual income household economy. As a result, many young couples aren’t considering military service and many serving are leaving earlier than planned.
But there is a solution, and some modern-day Rosies are preaching it: entrepreneurship.
“At one point, I’d worked 10 jobs before deciding entrepreneurship might be the best career path for me. I was sick and tired of reinventing myself and being denied for positions I knew I was qualified for, so I created my own job,” said Lakesha Cole, who now refers to herself as a “serial entrepreneur.”
Cole and her business partners Krystel Spell and Kia Young have not only adopted the Rosie attitude for themselves, they’re helping other military spouses adopt it, too.
Cole’s husband was on active duty in the Marine Corps and stationed at Camp Pendleton, Calif., when she had her epiphany.
“I took $500 from our checking account while my husband was deployed and drove to the LA Garment District to buy merchandise,” she said. “People always complimented me on how I dressed, so I figured if I bought it, I could probably sell it. I found a web designer on Craigslist and started selling to friends and family.”
Now, a decade into her entrepreneurship journey, Cole divides her time between Jacksonville, N.C., and Tampa, Fla., and has two locations for her She Swank Marketplace stores. One is located in Jacksonville and the other is a franchise location in her hometown of Portsmouth, Va. She also sells merchandise online, and she and Spell co-own Hello Rosie, a website that sells planners, calendars and gifts with a military spouse focus.
For Spell, her first entrepreneurship venture was with her website, Army Wife 101.
“I had nothing else to do then because I was stuck at home with a young baby,” Spell said. “Then I met another military spouse who was a blogger and she was making money.”
That meeting proved beneficial. A short while later Spell had learned how to make a living helping others navigate the military lifestyle while entertaining them in the process.
“For military spouses, entrepreneurship offers flexibility,” Spell said. “It also offers a sense of ‘I’m doing this for myself.’ Military spouses are really creative and really good at going with the flow, and those are great skills for an entrepreneur!”
As for Young, she had served in the Air Force, gotten out, married a soldier and gone to work in the mortgage industry.
“I could always find work when we moved,” she said. “I made great money and we could buy anything we wanted. We could afford to just up and go to Disney, but we didn’t have the time to. I chose entrepreneurship because it means we get to live this very crazy life the way we want. I’m never going back to a job where I have to ask permission.”
Young started her own company, The Social Crown, a social strategy agency that helps other businesses with digital marketing.
“I’ve been offered some pretty nice positions with other companies, but… no. I would rather have my time and my freedom, even if it means I make less money,” Young said.
The three entrepreneurial military spouses began talking with each other about their journeys and a theme began to develop. It wasn’t enough for them to be successful alone. They knew the concerns that pushed each of them into entrepreneurship were impacting other military spouses, too. Together, they decided to launch the makeHER Milspouse Retreat to help other military spouses become entrepreneurs.
“Entrepreneurship equals freedom. Freedom of time and purpose,” Cole said. “And you gain your life back. With the makeHER Milspouse Retreat, we want to create a creative and intimate retreat environment for spouses whether they’re just at the idea phase, or they’ve been in business for years. We want to add value to them and their businesses.”
Their first retreat is scheduled for Oct. 3 through 6th in Kiawah Island, S.C., which means they’re busy planning it now, busy with their own businesses, busy with their families and busy with all their future plans.
But busy-ness is not an obstacle to business, Spell said.
“Launch it broken and fix it live,” she said. “People often have amazing ideas but they let roadblocks stop them. Don’t wait for your cousin’s friend’s brother to build you a website. Just build it yourself. The internet puts everyone on equal footing. There is no reason to not get started.”