By Jessica Hall
I consider myself a freelancer and an independent contractor. I’m not an entrepreneur, at least that’s what I’ve been telling myself.
But after attending the Institute for Veterans and Military Families’ Veteran EDGE conference, I’m thinking it’s time to incorporate and make my business owner dreams a reality.
Because at Veteran EDGE, I could see the power that the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) programs at Syracuse University have for business owners – not just veterans, but military spouses too. Serving military families is at the core of what IVMF does every day.
IVMF Founder and Executive Director Michael Haynie recognizes the sacrifices of military families and that’s why their suite of programs are open to all military family members. He recently testified in front of Congress about the sacrifices made by military families during the last 45 years of an all-volunteer force.
“Taking care of military families can’t be a nice thing to do, it’s part of our future defense.” – Dr. Mike Haynie, IVMF Founder and Executive Director
Where does IVMF fit into supporting military families? They offer programs for those connected to the military community and they also research veteran and military family-focused programs and policies to inform their programs as well as their partners.
The conference I attended, Veteran EDGE, is designed for entrepreneurs who are growing their businesses. They may have attended one of IVMF’s other programs, including V-WISE, Boots to Business, and Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. The 3-day conference featured topics including habits of profitability, work-life balance, and negotiation. Speakers included veterans turned entrepreneurs and experts in their field to help these business owners take their companies to the next level.
Here’s why every military spouse who wants to launch a business should connect with IVMF:
IVMF’s Like-Minded Community
Sandra Gonzalez, a veteran and military spouse attended V-WISE in 2013 with an idea, and soon thereafter founded Docere eLearning. She now runs that business and coaches fellow entrepreneurs on how to successfully pitch their companies at competitions.
“(V-WISE) showed me all my possibilities, either running a small company or make it bigger,” Sandra said. “And later as I progressed they had impactful tools that I used, and gave me the social and moral support with veteran and military spouse friends.”
I saw this at the conference, with people catching up with one another but also making business connections. In one breakout session, attendees shared and brainstormed ideas with one another as the session progressed. You could instantly see that people were there to learn and help each other. At lunch someone mentioned to me that at other conferences that’s not the case, which makes IVMF events even more special.
IVMF Has Resources for Veterans and Military Spouses
Sandra told me about the resources she’s gotten through IVMF, including help filing her trademark. This can be costly once you factor in hiring a lawyer, but with the resources from the IVMF network she only had to pay the filing fees.
Courses like V-WISE and Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans Families offer support for a full year following completion. That means that the program is not just a one time thing, they are there with you as you continue your idea and build your company.
Their Business Partners
IVMF sponsors come from a wide range of companies but they all have one thing in common – they want to support the military community, even if you don’t do business with them.
First Data is not only committed to hiring veterans and military spouses with First Data Salutes, but they believe in investing in entrepreneurs. They wanted to know, “how do we have an impact (on the military community) beyond hiring?” Their business is to help grow businesses by processing payments at stores of all sizes, but their investment in IVMF focuses on investing in entrepreneurs.
“It’s a force multiplier,” said Vivian Greentree, Senior Vice President, Head of Global Corporate Citizenship at First Data Corporation. “Veterans and military spouses hire veterans and military spouses. It’s good business to do business with veteran- and military-owned businesses.”
The lineup of speakers, from keynotes to breakout sessions, were phenomenal. They were experts in their field – from CFOs to successful entrepreneurs to college professors – each brought their own style and story to the attendees. Many of the experts were veterans themselves, making it easier to have that common connection as they from service member to business owner.
One of my favorite sessions was on personal branding to negotiate. How do these go hand in hand? Well, without a positive presentation of yourself (your brand) you may not land that deal. The speaker, a professor form Louisiana State University broke down just how to leverage your brand to be successful.
My biggest takeaway?
Facial expressions make up 55% of your likability. So before you go out to negotiate that next deal or partnership, practice your resting face to be pleasant and try to control those emotions throughout the meeting. If you overreact to something you see across the table, that could be a deal-breaker, and vice versa.
It’s Not Just About You
One of the most valuable sessions I went to was on Habits of Profitability (valuable, ha, see what I did there?). My biggest takeaway from that session was that when you build your business, look at ways that you can eventually remove yourself.
“But why?” I can hear you asking.
Because you don’t want to get stuck in the owner’s trap. The owner’s trap is essentially when the business can’t function without you, the owner, signing off on EVERYTHING. Where can you automate? How can you train and hand off tasks to new hires? How can you build up their leadership abilities to own their work?
Now does the buck ultimately stop with you? Yes.
But if someone has to come to you to approve every little thing or customers only talk to you, you can’t focus on continuing the growth of what you’re already doing. So yes, you ultimately have to hand things off to other people.
You could even hire military spouses and veterans to do that work, the ones you met at an IVMF program.
Why Should You Connect With IVMF?
Because they are committed to helping military spouse business owners not only launch but grow their companies. They bring in the people that not only know firsthand how to do that, but want to help you, and not in a cheesy “give me your money” way. They honestly are taking time out of their schedules to be there.
And IVMF programs are reasonably priced. These aren’t gimmicks. They are beneficial programs that have helped members of our community be successful, like MadSkills who won a pitch competition and are graduates of V-WISE.
Learn more about IVMF programs today and apply to participate in their programs.