Holy cow, the blog’s approaching 300 posts.
I’ve written a lot about financial independence and military retirement over those 300 posts, but I haven’t spent much space on bridge careers. I’ve never had a “real” job, let alone my own bridge career, and after a decade of blissful unemployment retirement I find it hard to imagine going back to paid work. It could happen, but so far the “dissatisfiers” have greatly outweighed the benefits. Life is already rich enough, especially when you live like a beach bum. I tremendously value my independence and my control over my time– and I value them even more when the surf is up.
However I’ve received a number of reader questions about starting their own businesses. Ironically I actually know a little about this from spending the last four years with an angel investment group. I’ve talked with over 200 entrepreneurs, investors, and businesses about how to create your own career by producing things that customers want to buy. It’s not rocket science but it’s a tremendous amount of work and it can take years to see a payoff. The main thing I’ve learned from these people is that it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love. (Does that sound familiar to you servicemembers & veterans?) In fact, starting your own business is far more effort than “just” a job– and it can be flat-out terrifying trying to figure out if how you’re going to make it.
There’s a middle ground between getting a job and starting your own business: franchising. Keep reading, and don’t let the short-term thinking of a few misguided companies spoil the hard-earned reputation of an entire industry. As much as some Americans may claim to despise fast food restaurants and oil-change stations, the revenues of those businesses indicate that millions of customers love them enough to make their franchisees happy.
Franchises are a great way to learn how to handle your own business. You may be buying an existing license or starting a new territory, but either way you have built-in support. On opening day, you know that your new business is making or doing things that customers want to pay for. (I’ve seen a lot of entrepreneurs whose startups struggled with this first step.) You’ll be taught how to provide the service or product, and you’ll be tutored on how to run the business itself. You’ll have far more autonomy and responsibility than the average employee, but of course you’ll also be working far more hours than the employees you’ll be hiring. (You’ll also be taking more risks than those employees, and they’re depending on you not to screw it up.) You’re the leader, but help is ideally only a phone call or an e-mail away. Much of your advertising is already running, and many of your leads will be directed to your door. In fact, just by donning the franchise logo on your work gear you may already have earned a trusted reputation.
I don’t know about you, but that last paragraph sounds a lot like what I was doing in the military. Of course in a franchise you have a lot less firepower, but you have more discretion over which missions you choose to tackle and how you’ll execute them. You also get to recruit your own personnel and build your own team.
Don’t get me wrong: there’s plenty of problems in the franchise industry. From the start, you’re paying for just about everything you get. You may be limited in the territory you service, and you’re limited in the equity you control. You can’t pass the business on to your heirs, although you might be able to sell the franchise at a profit. You give up a lot of control over the directions you may want to take with the business. While you’re out there every day trying to earn a living, someone else above you in the franchise chain wants you to pay them a share of your revenue just for “being there” to support you. You may be expected to contribute to the corporate advertising campaign, even if your local media doesn’t carry those ads. You may be told to run your business in ways that are insensitive to your local culture & practices, or totally ignorant. You may even be told how you’re going to price your product to compete with some other franchise.
Running a franchise is not easy, and it has plenty of risk. However it’s generally easier (and less risky) than starting your own business. It might be cheaper. And by just about every measure of career and human satisfaction, it’s better than being an employee.
Veterans have another unexpected advantage in starting a bridge career. Even though the military is drawing down and the economy is struggling to recover from the recession, veterans are popular. Spend a few hours on Linkedin or Monster.com to see how companies are recruiting veterans and how government is supporting veteran-owned businesses. Subsidies and loans are far more available (and cheaper) than ever before, and technology has greatly reduced the overhead expenses. The Small Business Administration and many local service groups are standing by with advice and networking. Between the advantages of the corporate infrastructure and the community support, it’s a great time to choose a franchise.
When we’re in the service we are frequently admonished that we are worthless and weak. We’re assured that we’re barely able to function in our current rank and billet, let alone handle greater responsibility. Every little act is scrutinized and ruthlessly criticized, and that’s just from our own chain of command– long before we go forth to face the enemy. Yet somehow veterans have managed to survive being in the military, and most have thrived.
In the civilian world, the bar is not so high. You’ve learned to show up reliably and on time, with the right gear, ready to go to work. You’ve learned to persevere through adversity with limited resources. You’ve learned to show extraordinary stamina and determination to finish the job. You know what real crises, emergencies, and danger feel like. You can keep your priorities straight and you can keep your cool under pressure. You may not know much about making a profit, but you know how to lead a team to accomplish the mission. A franchise will round out your skill set by teaching you what you need to know about running a business, and then the rest is up to you.
But that’s just my experience, and I’ve never run a franchise. If you have a franchise then I’d love to hear how you’ve handled the experience– and what advice you’d have for veterans considering buying their own franchise. You can share your story for me to write up, or you can write your own guest post!
Getting back to the title of this post: if you live in Hawaii, then a franchise company would like to sell you a license for an existing business. (You should be a Hawaii resident and you may prefer to live on Oahu, but I’ve seen business owners commute here from the neighbor islands.) It’s a full-time business and you’ll need to contribute $30K-$50K of startup capital. They’ve already asked me and I’ve declined, but that should not cause you to draw any conclusions about their standards or their judgment. It’s not food service or oil changes. I’ve actually purchased the company’s services, and they did a great job at resolving an ugly situation. I’m not being compensated to recruit anyone and this won’t earn any donations for military charities. I only told the VP that I’d pass the word along.
Among angel investors, it’s what is known as a “lifestyle business”: it’s unlikely that you’ll reach an eight-figure net worth, but you can definitely achieve financial independence. The only skills you need are the ones the military helped you develop. Better yet, your sales territory is fenced off by 2500 miles of ocean– nobody from the next state (or another country) is going to undercut your sales or move your business overseas. Your customers will choose you for quality work by trained operators, not so much for price. Long-term contracts and government sales are likely. The franchise company won’t open another one on the next block, and you’ll be able to clean up on eight islands.
Here’s what the parent corporation’s VP of Franchise Development has to say:
The #1 reason our franchisees decide to come to us is because they want the freedom and resources to be able to spend their time as they see fit – usually with family.
The #2 reason is because they are tired of traveling.
The #3 reason is they want to take control of their own professional destiny.
It’s work, and some of it is hard. But you’ll have lots of autonomy and, as a small business owned by a veteran, you’ll have a leg up on the competition. If you’re seeking advice from more experienced local business owners, I know a few who may be willing to share their expertise.
If you’re interested, please send me an e-mail and I’ll forward you the details.
Small Business Trends on “The Push To Get Military Veterans Into Franchising”
Military experience to civilian careers
Making the leadership transition
Observations on a military transition
Starting your bridge career after the military
Get on LinkedIn, get a job
Bridge career: “HA!”
“Top Ten Reasons to Never Retire”
Getting “the job call”
During retirement: The inevitable job offers
The transition to a bridge career
Retiring on multiple streams of income
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