If you are at the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey, you are probably filled with enthusiasm, steadfast dedication, passion, newbie jitters, a bit of naiveté and hysteria about sharing your ideas with the world. Depending on who you talk to, becoming a spouse entrepreneur can be the best thing that will ever happen to you.
Of course, that’s second to marrying your service member in a dreamy Magnolia-inspired wedding. Or in my case, eloping to the Justice of the Peace followed by a “smothered and covered” wedding reception at the Waffle House. Here we are 17 years later and still happily married with three kids and absolutely loving retired life.
The truth is that starting a business is one of the most challenging things you will ever experience in life. Between juggling deployments and frequent moves, navigating employment issues, financial insecurity and occasional solo-parenting, military life isn’t for the faint of heart. Nothing that anyone tells you beforehand, until now, prepares you for the forever roller-coaster ride.
No, there isn’t just one. You’ll spend the rest of your life, whether you’re married to the military or not, moving from one thrilling roller-coaster to the next. You think it’s going to end once you make a certain amount of money or reach the next rank, find the perfect job, gain a certain number of social followers, start the new business, reach a new duty station or achieve any level of success. It never ends.
Yet it’s important to know that at every stage of the journey, entrepreneurs have quiet fears that are holding them back.
Here are six common dilemmas to watch for as a military spouse entrepreneur:
Have a defined structure and purpose.
Just like business partnerships, establishing the dynamics of your relationship and setting goals as a couple from the beginning is crucial to the long-term success of a marriage. This is also the basis for any deployment, Permanent Change of Station or business plan, and becomes “the master plan” for how you will navigate this crazy life together.
Communication is key.
Thriving relationships have the hallmarks of prioritizing excellent, open, respectful and accountable communication. Poor communication has ruined more relationships than I care to count. The best way to avoid this pitfall is to make plans together and schedule times to regularly check in on one other.
Be sure to focus on what’s important to yourself, your spouse and team. Listen. Don’t be a fixer. Help your spouse or team express their feelings and empathize when needed.
Manage expectations up front.
A huge part of managing expectations is the actual expectation. Make sure to set expectations that are realistic and achievable for everyone involved. A military spouse entrepreneur might have high expectations and tend to micromanage or be a bit of a perfectionist.
It’s essential to provide what your customers expect. It’s equally important to apply that same logic to all of your relationships. Don’t assume everyone knows what is going to happen next. Keep the communication lines open and encourage feedback often. Remember, business and marriage is not a sprint but a marathon. You’re on this roller-coaster together.
Adopt an accomplishment mindset.
There is a saying by Maya Angelou that goes, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”
Successful entrepreneurs understand that the journey is the destination. Very much like undergoing a PCS. You never settle at a particular arrival point. You put in countless hours to succeed and then you work twice as hard to maintain your level of achieved success. It’s a very slow grind and it all starts with your mindset. When people have the right attitude, they are motivated that makes them more open to listening, more adaptable to learning new skills and more enjoyable to be around.
Now, I’m not talking about the narcissistic and out-of-touch-with-reality kind of attitude. I’m talking about the kind of mindset that doesn’t trigger paralyzing emotions, like fear and anxiety, and the kind of growth mindset that empowers military spouse entrepreneurs to give it their all, even on their worst days.
It can be lonely and frightful to be entirely responsible for the success or failure of your business. But remember personal and business growth goes hand-in-hand. Without one, it’s difficult to nurture a business or care for a family. Most importantly, it’s difficult to care for you.
One of the best things you can do is limit stress in both your personal and professional life. Long-term stress can lead to an increased risk of health problems and mental health issues. Not to mention that stress can linger and be very distracting and harmful to relationships.
Everyone has their own ways to reduce stress, such as resting, exercising, yoga, meditation and therapy. For me, baking is one of my favorite forms of therapy. Baking is my go-to for when I really need to get out of my own head. It’s a win-win because I get a couple of hours to myself and my kids get treats out of it. Sure, every now and then I have to burn the midnight oil, but I’ve grown to never let business interfere with family.
Starting from the bottom.
There’s nothing glamorous or easy about being a military spouse entrepreneur. For the first two to three years of your business, or longer, you’re probably not going to make any money. Your income will vary on how well your business performed in a single day. There will be times when you will break even. There will be times when you go over the expected, and there will be occasions when you do not perform well. All of these are part of being an entrepreneur.
The same is true when you PCS. You’re not guaranteed to find a comparable or higher position than the last one. So you save or borrow money to get you through the transition. Most entrepreneurs and their families invest heaps of their own money to get the business going as well. This requires more sacrifice because the potential safety net is gone.
We decided to open another retail store with our own money when we underwent a PCS from Okinawa, Japan, to North Carolina. We gave up our luxury cars and bought the best used SUV our money could buy. We didn’t buy new furniture. We repurposed what we already had. We lived on base to avoid extra household expenses at least for the first year. We even learned how to coupon to reduce the cost of food and baby supplies. Two hours of prepping saved us about $400 a month! This was a temporary sacrifice to ensure that we didn’t rack up a bunch of debt while we were transitioning and expanding our business at the same time.
Remember, people make businesses successful, not products or services. As a spouse entrepreneur, focus on building an excellent, portable company and a great work culture as much as you do a great product. Pour that same level of enthusiasm into all of your relationships. Make the “one hammer, one nail” mantra part of your everyday living. Don’t focus on too many things at once. Ask for help.
Sure, there will be times when you have to wear all the hats. Although you may look good in your many hats, by attempting to do everything yourself, you’re missing the opportunity to grow the business and spend valuable time with the family.