A growing number of veterans and military entrepreneurs are discovering that social media is a useful tool to grow an online business. These “milpreneurs” founded companies that can grow no matter where they are stationed.
Military veterans and spouses have always needed creativity, perseverance and grit to establish a small business during a military career. Permanent Change of Station moves can cause business owners to restart every few years, while deployments force veterans to step away from their companies.
Social media has changed that. Military entrepreneurs are realizing the benefits of running an online business and using social media platforms for low-cost growth.
A new survey conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that, when compared to non-military peers, veteran businesses were “34 percentage points more likely to report that they built their business on Facebook,” and “16 percentage points more likely to have reported increased sales due to Facebook.”
The study concludes that the government should “Invest in digital tools that benefit minority-, veteran- and women-owned small businesses.”
It goes without saying that social media has become a key component in running businesses, and are extra beneficial for military entrepreneurs.
Stories on social media hook customers
In the military, Enrique Marquez trained military working dogs, but after he returned from Iraq, he struggled with depression and PTSD. His dog was his constant companion, but Marquez admits his dog wasn’t well-behaved, so he spent time working with him and training him.
“I started to notice that the same methods and concepts of helping a dog overcome their behavior issues — fear, aggression, anxiety — could also be applied to my own life,” he explained. “As my dog grew better behaved, I grew into a calmer and more confident person.”
Marquez began training dogs for fellow veterans and the concept for DogWorx was born.
However, Marquez didn’t have start-up funds for his company. One day, while waiting in line at a coffee shop, he realized that everyone was on their phones.
“Where people’s eyes are, their attention will follow. I knew that social media was the key to get that attention towards DogWorx,” he said.
Social media allowed him to build a business on a shoestring budget and scale advertising funds to match his audience.
Marquez says DogWorx’s growth has come mainly through online videos. They attract customers in two ways: telling stories and offering free tips.
Marquez said, “We share the story behind every dog who comes to training with us, showing how the dog’s behavior and obedience progresses through the training, and we finish by showing the same dog with its owner after training, where one can clearly see a big difference.”
This is a relatable way to give hope to dog owners and potential clients. The company also uses social media to provide free dog training tips.
Although this may sound counter-intuitive, Marquez explained, “We’ve had people from across the country and across the world reach out to us, telling us how they were able to help their dogs with our videos. These same people are the ones who tell everyone about our work, which leads to more people checking our videos.”
Portable marketing is key to mobile businesses
Nadia Martinez is a Mexican-born military spouse of a U.S. Marine. She created an online retail company, Kallie & Co., that sells handcrafted goods made by Mexican artists. She wanted to offer fair labor to her Mexican community, while managing a portable business that could move with her during each PCS.
The small business was originally created in her laundry room, but Martinez needed a way to share her unique story with her audience.
“Since day one, I have used Facebook for my business,” she said. “It’s been the best and most affordable way to connect with my audience and grow my business.”
She now reports that four out of five customers find her company through Facebook or Instagram.
This milspouse entrepreneur employs a team of military spouses across the country and has grown a socially-conscious business supporting people in both the U.S. and Mexico.
She encourages other entrepreneurs to use digital platforms to grow their dream companies.
“Digital marketing platforms continue to be affordable for start-ups. It’s something that any entrepreneur can start by testing audiences and their responses. It’s a good business for the military/PCS lifestyle because it’s something that can be managed from everywhere. All we need is an internet connection and computer or just any mobile device,” she said.
Martinez is an example of how digital marketing can be a portable tool to grow a business.
Social media provides remote access to businesses
Corey Coleman, a veteran, comes from a family of military members and business owners. He opened gyms where he could continue to serve customers and build something meaningful. He is now co–owner of Crossfit Little Creek and Spinister Cycle Studio in Norfolk, Virginia.
While he cautions that there may be obstacles to service members creating a business while on active duty, he is convinced that “going digital is a win-win for military entrepreneurs. It allows the service member to manage business operations while traveling or deployed, and it also keeps them relevant in a fast-changing world that revolves around technology no matter what your industry is.”
Coleman uses social media for storytelling and promoting his businesses.
“Facebook continues to be a staple of how our society communicates and interacts with each other,” he said. “It was a very natural partnership for us to move into the business side of things to stay connected with customers.”
Whether milpreneurs provide a product or service, social media is proven to be an affordable and effective way to grow a PCS-proof small business.Read comments