Serving in the military is a career, and returning to civilian life after serving is one of the most dramatic career changes someone can make. Fortunately, veterans have several resources to help them reacclimate—including support for running their own companies. There are multiple programs and opportunities for veterans who want to launch their own businesses. Use these resources whether you are brainstorming business plans or looking to expand your existing organization. Know what programs are out there and how they can help you. Register as a Veteran-Owned Small Business If you are considering bidding on government contracts and want other sources of support, look into registering your company as a veteran-owned small business. This program is through the Office of Small & Disadvantaged Business Utilization (OSDBU). The application is part of the Vets First Verification Program to ensure your business is owned and operated by someone with veteran status. You can read more about the guidelines for this program online, but a few key requirements include: \tThe veteran must own at least 51% of the company. \tThey must have full control over the day-to-day management and operations. \tThey must be the highest-paid person in the company or can explain why they are paid less. \tThey work full time for the business and hold the highest office in the firm. Additionally, you will need to prove your veteran status and confirm that you didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge during service. There is also the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) status if you have a service-connected disability or a disability determination from the Department of Defense. Applying for this program can help designate your business on a federal level while alerting potential new customers to your veteran status. Take Advantage of SBA Veteran Programs The Small Business Association (SBA) has multiple resources for veteran-owned businesses. These were developed through the Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) with the needs of veteran entrepreneurs in mind. Veteran business owners can apply for specific loans, increasing the chances that you get the funding needed to open your doors. These loans often have favorable interest rates to promote veteran entrepreneurship. There are also training and education programs that have been developed to support veterans. The Boots to Business Reboot is an entrepreneurial program meant for veterans across the country, while the Women Veteran Entrepreneurship Training Program (WVETP) helps female veterans turn their business plans into realities. Training programs like the ones recommended by the SBA highlight how you don’t have to be an expert in every aspect of business before becoming an entrepreneur. If you have a vision and are eager to learn, you can start a company today. The SBA isn’t the only organization looking to support veterans. Consider contacting your local bank or credit union to see if they offer loans specifically for veteran applicants. You can also use the funding center at Lendio to explore different credit and loan options. Consider Opening a Franchise When people think of entrepreneurship, they usually think of original business ideas or unique products like they see on Shark Tank. However, opening a franchise is another option for veterans who want to start a business but don’t have a groundbreaking new idea. Franchising is the process of licensing a brand to an entrepreneur. Whether you realized it or not, you visit franchises almost every day when you go to places like Starbucks, Papa Johns, or even the UPS store. Franchises have different expense levels. You will typically need to pay a licensing fee to use the brand materials and products. You will then need to pay to build the physical franchise location. Some franchise requirements are incredibly specific. For example, McDonald’s has its Golden Arches and clear blueprints for opening a new location. You can’t just pay the licensing agreement and then open a McDonald’s in any existing space. While you have to follow clear guidelines and brand requirements as a franchise owner, there are multiple benefits to choosing this option to start your veteran-owned business. You already have a built-in brand and don’t have to worry as much about name recognition. If there isn’t a location currently in your area, you can drum up excitement from customers before you even open your doors. If you can take existing products and run with them, then you could have success as a franchisee. Connect With Local Networking Groups While you can tap into many national programs to grow your veteran-owned business, you may benefit from joining local networking groups that have in-person events and opportunities. You can join multiple types of groups: \tFind entrepreneur groups that don’t specifically require you to have veteran status. \tWork with veteran groups in the community that don’t exclusively help business owners. \tFind networking groups specifically for veteran business owners. Each of these groups can provide benefits to your business. You can find a mentor in a business-centric mentoring group who can help you grow your skills. You can build your name in the community by attending veteran-centric events. All of these groups have the same purpose: you don’t have to move forward alone. You can find people who are eager to help and support you. Take some time to research the different organizations in your area. You may want to attend a few local meetings to see which groups you connect with the most or which ones have the highest attendance. You don’t have to attend every meeting, but you want to find a group that will provide value as you grow as an entrepreneur. Tap Into Multiple Resources Most entrepreneurs—whether they have always operated in the private sector or recently ended a military career—need a support system. They rely on their local communities for networking, small business funding from the government, and support from businesses they franchise from. As a veteran, many groups and organizations want to see you succeed. Take advantage of these programs so you have support through your first few years as a business owner.