Business battlefield: Military skills help vets grow into entrepreneurship

It was while working at a marketing job several years ago that former Kyle resident and military veteran Christie Smith had enough with her authoritarian boss.

Her former boss, who went too far one day, drove her over the edge and prompted her to quit her job.

“I thought to myself, ‘screw this. I don’t need this job,’” Smith said.

But amid the chaos of leaving that job, Smith soon discovered her desire to start her own business. She joined a large number of veterans who take a large step into entrepreneurship.

According to U.S. Census Bureau figures, veterans owned nine percent of all U.S. firms, or roughly 2.4 million businesses, in 2007.

Veteran owned businesses brought in $1.22 trillion in sales receipts and received $210 billion in payroll.

Texas was the second highest state behind California with the most veteran owned businesses in 2007.

Julie Snyder, Kyle Area Chamber of Commerce CEO, said there are several existing veteran owned businesses in the area. Kyle City Council member Damon Fogley, who is also a veteran, owns one of those.

Snyder said there are entities in the area that can help support veterans who wish to become entrepreneurs.

The Small Business Development Center (SBDC) provides funding opportunities for veterans who wish to own their own business.

Also providing assistance is the Small Business Administration, which also offers financial help. The Texas Workforce Commission provides veterans with information and help with hiring workers.

The success and failure rate of veteran owned businesses, however, is similar to that of regular entrepreneurs, she said. That includes everything from finding funding to gathering a customer base.

Smith’s experience with her small business, Q2 Designs, began in 2005 after her reserve experience in the U.S. Air Force. She continued to operate the business full-time until 2012. Smith currently operates the business on a part-time basis.

She made the decision to create her own design company based on what she learned in the military.

While serving on active duty in the Army, Smith picked up skills operating as a journalist and a broadcaster. She said the military sent her to take courses in Photoshop and InDesign, when she was the editor of The Wing newsletter.

Those skills helped Smith create her business, which centers on designing logos, business cards, brochures and websites.

But the toughest challenge was getting her business started in the first place. Smith said she took a service job in San Marcos for a few months before she could grow her client-base.

“I had sent out emails to all of the known universe,” Smith said.

She first worked for a couple of weeks helping a company set up for an annual conference. From there, she said her business took off, as she received clients by word of mouth and through craigslist.

Smith also joined the Kyle Area Chamber of Commerce, where she served as an ambassador.

The experience of owning a business was mostly positive. But she also learned some hard lessons as well.

“The hardest thing is when people don’t pay,” Smith said. “It only happened a couple of times … but it taught me a lesson that you can’t be so trusting in business.”

Getting along with a variety of people was one key trait Smith learned in the military that transferred to the business world.

It stemmed from living a military life after growing up in a “homogenous Midwest neighborhood in Kansas City.”

“Being a military wife and moving around a lot, living in other countries, I learned a lot about how to adapt and interact with people in different situations,” Smith said.

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