A career in the military might be the ideal preparation for starting your own business, allowing you to draw on your experience, skills, and connections to launch a business once you’ve left the service for civilian life.
Your enlistment may have given you the chance to develop your personnel and professional skills, giving you the confidence, skills opens in new window, and determination to become an entrepreneur.
According to research from the Federation of Small Businesses opens in new window, around 340,000 companies in the UK are run by ex-military personnel.
Read on to discover the skills that helped them succeed and learn why veterans can make good entrepreneurs.
What military skills equip you for entrepreneurship?
A first career in the military can instil countless transferrable skills invaluable to new business owners.
Here are ten traits that can help military veterans stand out.
The structured environment and rigorous military training can create a strong sense of discipline, which can be crucial when running a business.
It can help you set clear goals opens in new window, stick to schedules, and maintain focus, ensuring your entrepreneurial ventures remain on track even when challenges emerge.
Military service may place you in challenging situations, and it can require grit and determination to complete your objective.
The same can be true in business, as you navigate setbacks and other complex tasks.
New business owners who’ve served in the military can lean on their past experiences to face those challenges with positivity and resilience.
Discover other traits of successful start-up owners opens in new window.
You’re often working as a team in the military – whether that’s with a few others assigned to a task or as part of a broader campaign.
The skills you develop in these situations can be essential when starting your own business.
Initially, your team is likely to be small – and in many cases, you’ll be doing the bulk of the work alone – but you’re often required to relay instructions to others.
Whether working with a business partner, securing investment opens in new window, or hiring your first employees opens in new window, you need to communicate your objectives clearly so that others can do their part.
Successful entrepreneurs can be self-assured, projecting confidence in their abilities and demonstrating an understanding of the job.
This belief is instilled in all areas of the military, and it can give veterans the skills to pitch their ideas opens in new window, negotiate with stakeholders, and overcome self-doubt.
Even the most business-savvy entrepreneurs can stumble if they don’t have leadership abilities opens in new window.
But this is something that many veterans may have already overcome, thanks to a chain of command that gives successful personnel experience in a leadership capacity.
Things don’t always go to plan in either the military or the business world.
When problems arise, you need to think on your feet and find solutions – often against the clock.
Military experience can help entrepreneurs to anticipate obstacles and find workarounds in stressful situations opens in new window.
Attention to detail
The military teaches you just how important the small details can be.
It’s why so many veterans are adept at planning projects, as they’re often sure to check details meticulously and leave nothing to chance.
This attention to detail is priceless for entrepreneurs, helping them to deliver quality products and services.
Not everyone is equipped to deal with high-pressure scenarios where quick, effective decision-making is crucial.
Whether you’re in the military or a business setting, you may face stressful moments no matter how carefully you prepare.
This should be a familiar experience for military personnel, who are often trained to handle high-stakes situations with composure.
Learn how to deal with stressful workplace situations opens in new window.
Entrepreneurs need to take on many different roles when starting a business.
However, these competing demands may be less of an issue with veterans, with their military career giving them opportunities to handle varied tasks.
Throwing yourself into a new business venture, like enlisting in the military, requires passion.
You need to love what you do and be willing to commit time and energy to your project.
This sense of dedication is what draws so many people to the military, and that same passion can be used when developing a business idea.
Find out how you can turn your passion into a business opens in new window.
Veteran case studies
You don’t need to take our word that veterans thrive when starting their own business.
Discover examples of military personnel who have secured a start-up loan through our partner X-Forces Enterprise (XFE), opens in new window and visit XFE to learn more about their start-up journeys.
After five years in the Royal Navy, Garry Bradbury wanted to spend more time with his wife, Catherine, so he took a job as an insulation contractor and later decided to start his own business.
Thanks to support from XFE and a £4,000 Start Up Loan, he got Mr Decorate-It off the ground.
“Trust is important in the trades. When I mention to customers that I was in the Navy, you can see that it builds their confidence in me,” Garry said.
“I think the Forces experience has provided my strong discipline.
“There are times that I feel exhausted, I’ve done a 12-hour day, but I won’t let anyone down.
“If I’ve promised a visit or a quote, I won’t put that off.”
Learn more about Garry’s business opens in new window.
Sand Lizard Technical Solutions
In 2019, John Burfield decided he had the necessary experience to start his own business – Sand Lizard Technical Solutions, which offers environmentally friendly hygiene services.
He’d served in the army as an engineer and enlisted in the Royal Navy before spending almost two decades in buildings and estate management.
John said he received “invaluable help and support” from XFE after initially struggling to find investors who recognised his qualifications.
“I had to start at the bottom again, but it was ingrained in me to work hard and get on, which meant I climbed the ladder faster.
“There is a can-do attitude among veterans that you can spot from a mile away, and I’ll always advocate employing from the military community if you want a job well done.”
Learn more about John’s business opens in new window.
Andy Dawson always loved fitting car speakers for his friends in the military – and after a stint in Royal Artillery 1st RHA and four years as a reservist, he and his partner, Trish, decided to turn his hobby into a career.
They accessed a Start Up Loan of £17,000, which they used to purchase a reliable van for their company, Carfreqz, which offers valeting, detailing, and electronic installations.
“Having support from XFE has made a huge difference. [They’re] in contact every month and [encourage] us to meet our goals,” Andy said.
“The Forces community is still a big part of my life; an ex-Army colleague contracts us to look after their company vehicles, and we’re proud to offer a discount for serving personnel and veterans.”
Learn more about Andy’s business opens in new window.
What you need to start a business
Starting a new business can be an exciting prospect for military veterans, but it’s important to plan your project carefully.
Ask yourself what your aims and objectives opens in new window are, whether there is a gap in the market opens in new window for your products or services, and how much money it will take to get started.
You can find more tips by reading our Essential Guide to Starting a Business opens in new window.
Thinking of starting a business? Check out our free online courses in partnership with the Open University on being an entrepreneur.
Our free Learn with Start Up Loans courses opens in new window include:
- Entrepreneurship – from ideas to reality opens in new window
- First steps in innovation and entrepreneurship opens in new window
- Entrepreneurial behaviour opens in new window
Plus free courses on finance and accounting, project management, and leadership.
Reference to any organisation, business and event on this page does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation from the British Business Bank or the UK Government. Whilst we make reasonable efforts to keep the information on this page up to date, we do not guarantee or warrant (implied or otherwise) that it is current, accurate or complete. The information is intended for general information purposes only and does not take into account your personal situation, nor does it constitute legal, financial, tax or other professional advice. You should always consider whether the information is applicable to your particular circumstances and, where appropriate, seek professional or specialist advice or support.