Very good at supporting, motivating, and leading others, military veterans often make good small business owners. They know how to solve problems, get projects completed on time, and face challenges head-on. These and other built-in traits can prove extremely useful both during the startup and growth stages of any small enterprise.

A veteran’s proclivity toward business success doesn’t end there. Take the general contractor that was able to apply his firsthand knowledge of federal government contracting to his business and leverage set-aside opportunities for small, veteran-owned businesses. With a team that included several other veterans, the company has successfully won federal government contracts—both in general contracting and in other business areas.

Where many smaller entities may steer clear of such opportunities due to the complex nature of the bidding and award process, another veteran-owned water treatment services provider is also in business with Uncle Sam. This particular company provides water treatment services for VA hospitals nationwide, namely because its owner spent years working directly for the federal government.

 “Veterans understand how the government works and the paperwork that’s involved with government contracting,” says Tom Weikel, a VP and SBA Development Officer at PNC Bank. “Where a lot of other small business owners don’t know how to get started in this area, veterans have a comfort level with it—to the point where early on their main customer is often the Department of Defense or another branch of the federal government.”

6 Natural Traits of Successful Veteran Business Owners

Weikel has worked with a wide range of veteran-owned entities, helping them secure financing and other support resources. Through those interactions, he’s witnessed some of the distinct traits, qualifications, and habits that tend to set veteran business owners apart from the rest of the pack. Here are six things he says successful veteran-owned businesses do:

1. Prepare and organize well in advance.  Leaving things up to chance or taking unnecessary risks are both taboo in the small business arena, where—similar to the military—good preparation, planning, and organization all pay off. “I haven’t met too many veterans who weren’t prepared, organized individuals,” says Weikel. “That likely comes from the discipline that’s instilled in the military.” Being prepared also helps build confidence, which means veterans won’t be likely to give up when they encounter a challenge.

2. Lay out plans and then execute against them.  Through his work with the SBA, Weikel knows that business plans are a necessary part of obtaining funding and support for a small business. Unfortunately, not all business owners understand the value of capturing their financial, sales, and marketing plans on paper. Strategic thinkers by their very nature, military veterans like having their ideas, plans, and forecasts neatly captured in a format that’s shareable with banks, investors, or other stakeholders. “Instead of just picking a path and running in one direction in hopes that it works out, veterans tend to lay out their strategies and then execute against them,” says Weikel.

3. Build strong teams. Entrepreneurs will often go it alone for as long as they can in order to maintain complete control over their companies, avoid payroll expenses, and/or for fear of hiring the wrong person. As a result, these business owners may miss out on the chance to work with talented people who can help them achieve their goals. Veterans, on the other hand, are team players right out of the gate. “You can’t do anything alone in the military, so veterans are fully accustomed to working in groups to achieve goals,” says Weikel. “Because of this, they’re always looking for ways to build out their teams and align with trusted advisors.”

4. Networking comes naturally.  Veteran business owners are very interested in supporting their communities, getting involved with causes, and networking with other professionals. They’re not afraid to go to a Chamber of Commerce meeting and network, for example, or use grassroots marketing techniques to get their first customers. “These are folks who have been serving their country for years, and who have community service and networking built right into their DNA,” says Weikel.

5. Support other veterans.  When it’s time to hire that first employee or sign up a new supplier, veterans often lean on one another first, before they take the opportunity out to the broader marketplace. Veterans also mentor other veterans who are interested in starting their own businesses and volunteer their time to veteran-focused associations. This show of support is yet another strength that Weikel often sees among the veteran business owner community.

6. Tap into diverse opportunities.  Weikel has worked with veterans who have started their own businesses in mergers and acquisitions (M&A), healthcare, construction, engineering, marketing, and other industry sectors. Some have parlayed the experience and education they received in the military into successful ventures while others have made the foray into entirely new industries. In fact, one of the first SBA loans that Weikel worked on at PNC was for a 16-year Air Force veteran who was starting his practice as an allergist and needed funding to purchase a building. More recently, Weikel worked with an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN) who spent 30 years as a doctor in the U.S. Army special forces.

Don’t be Afraid to Ask for Help

A proud group of individuals whose strengths translate well in the business world, military veterans are sometimes reluctant to ask for help or even identify themselves as such. This could be because they’re unaware of the resources that are available to them, or they may not know where to turn for help. Other veterans prefer to live by the “suck it up” mindset and feel that asking for help could be portrayed as a sign of weakness.

Weikel encourages all veterans who are either considering an entrepreneurial venture or already running one to reach out to the resources that are at their avail. Also, don’t assume that a national bank like PNC is somehow “too big” to approach. In fact, PNC regularly helps organizations of all sizes obtain the funding and support they need to both startup and grow.

“We make loans across the complete business spectrum, and we work with a lot of veterans that are both getting their companies off the ground and taking those entities to the next level,” says Weikel, who encourages veterans to tap into their communities for help and to put their excellent networking skills to work during that outreach. “Don’t take everything on yourself; lean on those who are specialists in their fields, be it an accountant, lawyer, banker, realtor, or another type of professional.”


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