According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 3.2 million veterans who have served in the armed forces since 2011, over 250,000 service members leave the military each year… I happen to be one of them.
I entered the United States Air Force at the young age of 17 and when I left the military 21 years later, I was terrified by the idea of returning to ‘normal’ civilian life, and even more terrified of choosing a new career path. Like many other servicemen and women in my position, I knew that the traditional 9-5 desk job wasn’t right for me.
Needless to say, leaving the military was a challenging time for me. Because I enlisted right after high school graduation, the armed forces were all I’d ever known— it was my identity. When I was in the Air Force, my opportunities for promotion and rewards were in someone else’s hands, but once I left the service, that was no longer the case. I realized that my opportunities were now in my hands, and that if I worked hard enough, I would be successful in owning my own business one day. That’s when I discovered franchising.
Though franchising would never compare to the emotion I felt for the military, it gave me a new sense of belonging and camaraderie. Similar to the military, franchises run as a system of moving parts. They follow procedures and provide their franchisees with a successful business model and extensive brand knowledge. When you choose to join a franchise, you’re joining a family. As a franchisee, you inherit an instant network of friends who will advise and support you. “When you choose to join a franchise, you’re joining a family. As a franchisee, you inherit an instant network of friends who will advise and support you.”
Becoming a franchisee also made the transition to the civilian workforce much less frightening for me, because I realized that the skills I developed in the military had already prepared me to be a business owner. Veterans understand the importance of leadership and teamwork. Successful business owners know how to communicate with their teams effectively and, more importantly, listen to their teammates. You could say veterans have a leg up when it comes to franchising, as we embrace the policies and procedures the company has in place and don’t waste any time fighting it.
This isn’t to say that the road will be easy for a veteran looking to go into franchising. Any new business owner is going to face many challenges. For example, I initially struggled with closing business because I hated the idea of being a ‘salesman’. When you think of the stereotypical salesman, you imagine someone who is pushy, greedy, and obnoxious—I’m none of those things (and I’m still not, which I’m happy about).
I struggled with hiring the right employees. In the military you didn’t have to worry about recruiting or retaining your teammates, so that territory was still very new to me.
I also found that even though you’re equipped with a proven business model, the necessary resources, and a team of advisors to help you launch your business, your business still won’t grow overnight. Unless you grow up living and breathing the franchise (which most of us don’t), it will take time to learn the ins and outs of the industry you’re joining. While franchising allows you to grow your business at an exponential rate, it won’t happen overnight. It takes time and an immense amount of effort.
I overcame these challenges by making a few important adjustments to my mindset and business practices:
Focusing on relationship building, not sales
I learned that to be successful in sales, you don’t need to be a salesman. Get your name out there and start talking to people. I found that attending various networking events and mingling with other business owners in the local community was an organic way to meet potential clients. By joining my local chamber of commerce, I quickly learned that trust is everything in a business-to-business (B2B) relationship, and that sales are just a by-product of that relationship.
Finding a mentor
I’ve always believed that life’s too short to learn all the secrets of success on your own, which is why having a mentor can really help you go in the right direction. My mentor has suggested many strategies that have helped me increase the efficiency of my business, saving both time and money.
Staying involved in the franchising community
Attending your owner meetings and annual conferences is the most effective way to continue learning. When I attend conferences, I like to listen and write down concerns and ideas that other owners have experienced, so that I can be more prepared as my business continues to grow. It’s also beneficial to stay close to other franchisees in your area, as I’ve found that they have provided me with an immediate support system.
Seeing the bigger picture
Owning a business is a roller coaster ride, especially for new business owners. Having the persistence and confidence in yourself to see the bigger picture in times of turmoil is what’s going to keep you going. I’ve found that checking in with my crew has helped my business stay on track. It’s also important to be transparent with your crew, and make them feel like they’re a part of the bigger picture, as they play a significant role in helping you get there.