Advice From a Vet that Will Help Your Small Business

For those who have spent time in the military, they know that life in the service is decidedly different than life as an entrepreneur. Nevertheless, many of the skills servicemen and women learn in the armed forces translate very well to running a successful small business. Tom Bernard, owner of ProCraft Interiors, an Army veteran and small business owner, has some great advice for anyone running their own business.

He shared with me 11 tips I think are insightful. A willingness to roll up your sleeves and get to work is only one of the things he learned in the Army, and is first on his list of tips for running a successful business:

  1. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty: “You may need to work harder than those around you, but it pays off in the long run—Even if you end up paying yourself less in the beginning,” he says. He also suggests you might even have an employee or two that makes more than you pay yourself.
  2. Profits come when you have happy customers: “When the quality of your work or your product creates satisfied customers, profits follow—it doesn’t work the other way around,” says Bernard. Your customers will be able to tell if you put profits above customer satisfaction and they won’t remain customers for very long.
  3. Some things you just have to learn the hard way: “Don’t be afraid to take calculated risks or make mistakes,” he says. “Small business is about learning—not a focus on successes or failures. Understand the risks, make bold decisions, embrace what happens, and then learn from it.” Learning something new often require us to step outside of our comfort zone.
  4. Your employees are your best asset: “Pick the right people for the job and get out of the way,” says Bernard. Learning how to delegate and avoiding the temptation to micromanage is a challenge for some entrepreneurs, but a critical part of leading a successful business.
  5. Don’t lose sight of what’s important: Bernard advises, “Building a successful business is a marathon, not a sprint … you need short-term and long-term goals to measure success.” Although we live in an economy very focused on the short-term, successful business leaders also understand the importance of thinking two, five, or even 10 years down the road.
  6. Don’t short-change yourself: “Don’t forget to pay yourself,” he says. “If your personal life and personal finances are a mess, it will distract you from what you need to do to help your business grow.”
  7. Make sure you know why your in business: “Starting [and running] a small business is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes hard work, dedication, sacrifice, and self-motivation—but it’s worth it,” said Bernard. Remember #2 and #5.
  8. Integrity: Having integrity is an important part of running a small business. Bernard argues, “Taking ethical shortcuts will always cost you in the long run. Sometimes even in the short-term. Integrity matters.”
  9. Walk the walk: “There may be days when you just don’t feel like going to work,” he says. “No one is going to make you go either. Don’t let the temptation to slack off a little ruin your business—because it will, if you let it. You business output is the direct result of your input.”
  10. The buck stops with you: “Lead by example. Your employees will do as you do. It all starts at the top—hold yourself to a high standard you employees can proudly emulate,” advises Bernard.
  11. Sometimes it takes money to make money: “Make sure you have a good lending partner,” he says. “When I needed extra money to expand and smooth out my cash flow, the bank wasn’t very helpful. I learned about OnDeck from a social media ad and six days later I had the cash I needed to hire a full-time project manager and purchase some new equipment,” he said. “It allows me to go after bigger (and more profitable) projects. You need to make sure you have the right financial partner too—I like these guys.”

As we remember the men and women who serve (and have served) in the armed forces this month, there are a lot of valuable lessons they bring home from their training and experience that can be very valuable to every small business owner.