lightbulb with a group of coworkers in a meeting in background
Veteran entrepreneurs start out with a full set of characteristics — from leadership to professionalism — that have the potential to propel them successfully into entrepreneurship. — Getty Images/scyther5

Starting and running a business is a big transition that comes with a lot of challenges and obstacles. This is especially true for veteran entrepreneurs, who are often simultaneously dealing with the transition back to civilian life.

Fortunately, the U.S. military community is a tight-knit one: Many service members who have gone on to launch successful businesses are more than willing to offer their insights to help fellow veterans in their post-military careers.

CO— spoke with a group of veteran entrepreneurs about their business experiences and the lessons they've learned along the way. Below, they share their best advice for other military members who want to start a business.

[Read: Top Resources for Veteran-Owned Businesses]

Learn from others who have been there

When Coast Guard veteran Sage Mauk founded SERP Co., he was entering the saturated digital marketing space. Although this meant a lot of competition, it also meant a lot of potential role models for success.

"Look for people in the space who are doing it successfully," Mauk said. "Follow them, watch their habits and then build them into how you operate your life and your business. As long as you follow the right people, you will cover more ground and grow your business faster than if you try to figure it out alone."

Leverage your grit

Like her fellow military members, Air Force veteran Natalie Setareh learned rely on her grit and can-do attitude. This lesson served her well as she launched her career as a luxury makeup artist, and she recommends other aspiring veteran entrepreneurs leverage these advantages, too.

Characteristics like timeliness, professionalism, excellence and servant leadership are second-nature to veterans, said Setarah, and you can capitalize on these traits as a competitive advantage in business.

"I was able to sustain and grow my business in the early years ... because I followed up quickly and professionally with client inquiries," she said. "When I had made a mistake ... instead of giving up or making excuses, I would instead focus on how to improve my processes. In military-speak, I would adapt and overcome."

Even if one idea doesn’t work out or if one door gets closed in your face, keep on trying.

Barbara Jozwik Kent, Army veteran and co-founder of Birdy Boutique

Choose the right partners

During his time in the Special Forces, Tom Spooner, co-founder of Warriors Heart, picked up a saying that inspired his business partnership philosophy: "We don't need the best people; we need the right people."

To find the right people, Spooner said, you need a defined mission statement that all partners are completely passionate about. All partners should also follow same set of values and principles, both personally and professionally.

Finally, partners must agree on a shared definition of loyalty and abide by it.

"We call it a loyalty chain," Spooner explained. "It’s being loyal first to our families, second to each other and third to the mission. This is one of the most important items to discuss in a partnership. Once these are agreed upon, trust stays solid through rough times."

[Read: A Complete Guide to Starting a Veteran-Owned Business]

You can do anything, but you have to commit to it

Donny O'Malley, founder of VET Tv and former Marine Captain, reminds aspiring business owners that they can do anything they set their mind to — but it's the "setting your mind" part that really takes work.

"Visualize it and build every aspect of your life around the tasks that will enable you to do the thing you set your mind to," said O'Malley. "Stop doing anything that could bring the tiniest amount of negativity to your life — lying, procrastinating, drinking, anger, revenge, ego, abrasiveness. Get rid of them and be the best version of yourself."

Try and try again

As an entrepreneur, you'll face a lot of rejection and self-doubt. It takes a lot to keep going in the face of adversity, but there are always other doors to open.

"Even if one idea doesn’t work out or if one door gets closed in your face, keep on trying," said Barbara Jozwik Kent, Army veteran and co-founder of Birdy Boutique. "There is more out there than meets the eye."

To find new opportunities, Kent recommends networking with other veteran entrepreneurs through organizations such as NaVOBA and NVBDC.

"Surround yourself with positive people and be in the 'success is the only option' mindset," she added.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published November 12, 2019