As a veteran, you may have a hard time transitioning to an office environment and opt for starting a small business instead. The thought can be exhilarating and daunting at the same time. Fortunately, there are some organizations that will help you start and manage your veteran owned small business by providing initiatives to aid in your success.
Programs such as the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Patriot Express Loan Program or the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) VetBiz program provide veteran owned businesses with the tools to successfully run their own business; however, it is up to the business owner on how they are seen by their customers, which stresses the importance of protecting their brand.
Veterans Resources for Small Business Start-up and Management
The Patriot Express program is designed to reward our veterans through offering the lowest available interest rates for our service members. Rates can fall as low as 2.25 percent to 4.75 percent, depending on size and length of the loan, as well as credit history and business experience.
Some business owners are members of the National Guard and when called to service, they may consider shutting their doors or leaving their business in the hands of someone who may not be qualified to run the business. This is why the SBA gives veterans the option to use their Patriot Express funds towards finding management in the event of deployment.
Funds are also designed to go towards business purposes, such as funding for start-up costs, like real estate, equipment, and inventory purchases. However, veterans already running a business can use the funds for expansion and disaster recovery. Note that the loan use is restricted to business purposes only.
The SBA considers the following eligible:
- Reservists and National Guard members
- Active duty service members eligible for the Transition Assistance Program
- Spouses of the above
- Spouses of service members who have died while serving or due to a service related injury
A longer-standing program through the VA, VetBiz, assists veterans in starting or expanding a small business. Veteran-owned businesses are encouraged to sign up and use VetBiz, due to the fact the government and other prospective clients can look at the business’ ability to meet the needs of certain projects all from the VetBiz site. Therefore, contract buyers have access to all of these veteran-run businesses, their products, and services.
VetBiz gives veteran owned companies priority on government contracts. Contracting officers can easily compare veteran owned businesses from the VetBiz site and narrow down the list of possible contractors. Such ease of access means more business and prime government contracts for veteran entrepreneurs.
Small Business Branding and Reputation for Veterans
Just as trust and reputation were important part of your military service, it is also important in your business. Without a good brand and reputation, your business won’t succeed.
Build Your Brand
After taking advantage of the great programs available to get your business started, be sure to immediately begin managing your brand from the first day your doors open. Building a strong brand takes time, but being proactive while your company is young can lead to much success.
Forums, discussion boards, and social networking sites can easily being a breeding ground for negative comments about your brand, and if a potential customer comes across one of these comments while researching your business, they will most likely go to a competitor with a better image. To protect your brand and image from any potential naysayers, online reputation management must continuously be on the front of your agenda. Businesses frequently perform keyword searches to determine what is being said about the company, while more advanced search engine optimization (SEO) techniques should be used to bump up sites with positive reviews.
Increased Brand Visibility
Achieving the top positions in the search engines has historically been a great way for businesses to achieve greater visibility; however, it is no longer enough. With social networks that carry millions of users, your companies must adapt to promote its brand on these channels as well. It is important to keep your social media sites frequently updated with relevant content because a neglected account is worse than no account at all. To determine post frequency, try experimenting with different numbers of posts and checking you feedback.
Complaints will happen, so be prepared in advance. Whether it is a complaint on your Facebook wall or on a third party reviews site, handle it with speed and care. Show good will to the customer and try to resolve the issue. Even if nothing can be done to please a specific customer, it is still in the best interest of your company and brand image to try and work things out. It shows other customers that you do care and are willing to resolve any problems. It is also a good practice to comment on positive reviews as well, thanking the customers for their patronage, which can build repeat customers and brand advocates.
As a member of the military, you may face many challenges when transitioning to a civilian role. Fortunately there are programs available to veterans to help you make the transition smooth and provide tools that will help you succeed. If you’re a service members interested in starting your own business, look into the available programs and keep in mind it is important to maintain your business’ reputation.