Military Spouses and Entrepreneurship

By Doris Appelbaum

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal talked about a wife’s career experiences. Her husband, an Air Force officer, was transferred to New Jersey, a move which required her to quit a retail management position. Her experience indicated what many spouses already know: if you are in a profession where you have a fast track to success, it will be cut short upon marriage to a member of the military.

Now a business owner, she is in a better position to handle frequent moves, remote locations, and related challenges. Actually, she said, her military connection promotes automatic trust in base-dependent areas.

Difficulty finding jobs is a common problem among the 700,000+ spouses of active duty military service people. Unemployment tends to be much higher than for the general public. In a 1995 study at an air base, 16% of spouses were unemployed, four times the then-national rate. Recent estimates find the current unemployment rate among military spouses at 25% overall and – at some bases – as high as 65%.

Military spouses are starting their own businesses as a way to cope with the lifestyle demands of military marriage. The Department of Defense pays Staffcentrix to give three-day-on-base seminars about self-employment. This organization has trained over 1,5000 military spouses who solicit work as administrative assistants, graphic designers, legal researchers, database managers, etc.

These roles are called “virtual assistants”. Being outside the base also commands a higher wage than local employment.

A retired Air Force crew chief who married an Air Force officer started working as a self-employed virtual assistant. In two months he was commanding an average of $30/hour. His clients came from four states.

This geographic spread reassures him that he’ll be able to take his business with him when his wife is transferred.

Business ownership provides entrepreneurs with opportunities to find interesting work in various locations. However, it doesn’t solve all military spouse challenges. Business activities on base are heavily regulated. Entrepreneurs must secure permission to start their enterprises. Operations which might generate significant traffic onto the base are likely to be prohibited. State laws are also an issue.

Military spouse entrepreneurs report they are happy beneficiaries of the new wave of patriotism. Many customers seek to patronize military-connected businesses. Word-of-mouth among a highly mobile military community provides unexpected marketing exposure. Your reputation often precedes you.

When you transition from the military to civilian life, you might want to start your own business.


Do you have the entrepreneurship spirit?

  • Entrepreneurial thinking generates innovation. Are you innovative?
  • Taking risks adds excitement to your career. Are you a risk-taker?
  • Can you treat your career like a business?

Here's how to get in touch with your inner entrepreneur:

Work for a Small Company or seek out an innovative division or manager at a larger firm.

"If you're an entrepreneurial person by nature, you're better off in a place where you don't have to wait your turn," says Michael Kempner, president and CEO of The MWW Group. "If I did good and worked hard, I wanted to get noticed. I wanted to rise on my merits, not stay in place based on politics, size or because I'm waiting my turn."

Be Ready to Jump - Put yourself in your boss's position. He needs to know he can rely on you to get the job done. That often means going beyond the minimum amount of work required and the time allotted. When you agree to stay late that night, you are letting your boss know you are committed to providing the highest quality product to the client.

Write a Career Plan - If you want to be truly entrepreneurial, you need to treat your career like a business. Curt Tueffert recommends writing a career plan modeled after traditional business plans. The national sales director for Digital Consulting and Software Services in Houston, he teaches an advanced professional selling course at the University of Houston. He tells his students to incorporate themselves.

"The final assignment is to turn in a blueprint for your sales career, everything that you've learned in class and all of your abilities and outside experiences," Tueffert says.

Franchises - Would you love to run a business, but want a template to work from? The following franchises are top-rated by Entrepreneur Magazine and Success Magazine:

  • Pillar to Post (home inspection)
  • Kumon Math (tutoring)
  • American Leak Detection (gas/water leaks)
  • Great Clips (haircuts)
  • Handyman Connection (residential repairs)
  • We the People (paralegals helping people complete basic legal documents)
  • Jackson Hewitt (computerized tax prep)

What You Could Do Today

Before you decide to do any investing, be sure to carefully check out franchises. Talk with a half-dozen randomly selected franchisees before investing.

Avoid Burn-Out

One of the biggest threats to the long-term success of a home-based business is burn-out. To avoid burn-out, stay passionate about what you're doing, set regular business hours and work just those times.

Don't allow yourself to get into the habit of working every evening and weekend, too.

The long-term economics of your solo business should influence how you parcel out your energy supplies. Adopt a matching component to your "To-Do" list -- it's a "Won't Do" list. Consider it an umbrella classification for things you've decided you won't do any longer, won't tolerate any more, or have just outgrown.

It helps clarify boundaries and reinforce understanding that your energy as an entrepreneur is a limited and valuable resource.

As projects get added to the "To Do" list, the "Won't Do" list should also continue to grow. What might be on this list? Two credit cards you rarely use --cancel. Subscriptions to magazines that keep ending up piled on the floor -- eliminate. Office furnishings no longer needed -- donate. Books that are outdated -- recycle. You will find that the streamlining is energizing. Before you add anything to your "To Do" List, contemplate what might balance it by being added to the "Won't Do" list. If you haven't created a "Won't Do" list yet, do so. (I guess that means putting "Make a 'Won't Do' List" on your "To Do" List!).

“The person who goes farthest is generally the one who is willing to do and dare. The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.” - Dale Carnegie

Doris Appelbaum is Founder and President of Appelbaum's Resume Professionals, Inc. She is an international career consultant, resume writer, educator, speaker, and trainer. Email resume for FREE critique. Doris can be reached at (414) 352-5994 - 1-800-619-9777 - - (414) 352-7495 (fax). Visit her company’s website for career and military transition advice: