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Veteran-owned small businesses can thrive with these 4 practices

In honor of Veterans Day, Payton Iheme — a U.S. public policy manager for Facebook DC, lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and small business owner — shares some insights for what veterans can do to grow their ventures.

It’s estimated that 200,000 U.S. service members return to civilian life each year, and for some, this return means uncertainty about what comes next in their career. Entrepreneurship and small business ownership is the next step for some veterans, and in Washington, D.C., nearly 10% of all self-employed business owners are veterans. Many of these veteran-owned small businesses are sole proprietorships, which means that some veterans are running a small business with very minimal support or none at all.

In addition to serving as one of Facebook’s U.S. public policy managers, I’ve spent more than 15 years on active duty — including as an officer in the Army’s Special Operations Command, congressional staffer, and as a White House senior policy advisor. I continue to serve as a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard and I’m the co-owner of a home remodeling business in the D.C. and Virginia area.

As a local veteran small business owner myself, I know firsthand the challenges of running a business, and also understand the lessons learned from serving our country — that’s what makes us veterans such great entrepreneurs.

In a year that’s been fraught with challenges both societal and economic, veteran business owners should remember that they are integral parts of their local communities, and these communities are here to support them every step of the way. Here are four of my top tips for veteran small businesses owners to help them grow and thrive through difficult times:

Flex your unique leadership skills

Especially those gathered over the course of your military service. The military is renowned for molding leaders. Apply some of those leadership lessons to the operation of your business. Whether that’s organizing around a smaller team due to COVID-19, needing to create momentum around a new goal or gaining consensus to solve an unexpected funding issue, your leadership skills from the military are of great value.

Assess your progress often

Before, during and after each business decision that you make. You should mine for lessons you can take from a recent setback, and ask yourself questions like: Is there a better short term strategy I can take? What digital advances, on platforms like Facebook and Instagram, can help spur growth? How can I pivot to better tell my company story? Never settle, and always challenge yourself to answer the tough questions that will yield actionable and impactful answers for your business.

Constantly seek out advice and mentors

To help you fill in the gaps along the way. Your mentors may not look like you or even be in your same field, but the thing you will have in common is a focus on your personal success and accomplishments. It’s important to remember that no matter how strong your drive to start and run your own business, everyone benefits from the advice of outside observers.

Look to tools like Facebook’s Military and Veteran Hub

For valuable resources, tools and trainings, and to build community by joining a Facebook group for veterans and military spouses. [Editor’s note: Check out the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Veterans Business Development for a government resource.]

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