Just a few weeks ago, News & Views featured a blog about the difficulties that ex-forces personnel face with securing employment as they re-enter civilian life. The blog highlighted The Institute of Leadership & Management’s recent Leadership Redeployed research, which found that veterans tend to run into culture problems while attempting to convey their skills and achievements to prospective new employers.
However, a recent initiative from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) suggests that it has never been a better time for veterans to explore an alternative path: entrepreneurship.
On 20 April, the FSB announced that it had struck up a partnership with X-Forces Enterprise – an organisation that helps veterans to create and run their own businesses. Under the new partnership, X-Forces’ annual Soldiering On Awards, which recognises achievements in veteran-owned businesses has welcomed three new categories – Start Up, Scale Up and Community Impact – with the FSB granting a year’s honorary membership to each of the winners, so they can access the relevant benefits and support.
In the ceremony (also held on 20 April), the awards went to, respectively, children’s cutlery maker Doddl, coaching firm Strongmind Resiliency Training and charity Sporting Force, which helps veterans to find jobs in the sports industry.
X-Forces Enterprise CEO Ren Kapur said: “We are delighted to be embarking on a new partnership with the FSB, collaborating to support and nurture new business owners emerging from the UK’s military community.” FSB national chairman Mike Cherry – who served as an Armed Forces Reservist – added: “Many skills learned in the forces are pertinent to running a business – technical skills, logistics, leadership and management. Plus, tenacity and resilience.”
What steps should veterans take to launch themselves as entrepreneurs?
The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “When we have talked to individuals who have founded their own businesses, one aspect of the process that they’ve consistently highlighted is how hard it is. How you have to work very hard, learn to deal with failure and learn from experience. And that ability to work very hard because the job demands it, that resilience, that commitment to training – all of those things are part of daily life in the services. So that would certainly position veterans as ideal candidates for starting their own businesses.”
One potential downside, Cooper notes, may be loneliness. “Many veterans who choose the entrepreneurial path may set out initially as sole traders,” she says, “with a view to building up their businesses as they go. For that reason, a lot of ex-services personnel may find large organisations more attractive, because the structures they provide are more familiar. But what really typifies the veterans that we’ve spoken to during our research is that they’re very open to change. They understand that life will not be the same as it was when they were in the services, and that they must adapt to those new circumstances.”
With that in mind, Cooper says, “the best advice to provide anyone who is thinking of taking this route is the advice that you would give to anyone who is starting a small business: i) be very clear who your customer is, and ii) manage your finances. The two biggest causes of small-business failure are i) being too product- rather than market-focused, and ii) not managing cash flow. For veterans, the personal qualities are all there. They can acquire the business skills, because of their recognition that the world around them has changed and their accompanying eagerness to adapt.”
She adds: “Once you’ve put in the hard graft in the early days of the business, the joys of working for yourself – the autonomy, the flexibility and the closeness to the rewards of your effort – are compelling factors not just for veterans, but for many other people, too.”
For further insights on this topic, check out the Institute’s recent report Leadership Redeployed