This is a sponsored post written by me on behalf of Navy Federal Credit Union. All opinions are 100% mine.
John and I stood inside our coffee shop. It was just the two of us. In just a few minutes, we were going to walk out onto the porch and begin a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open our business.
“Do you think there’s anyone out there?” John said to me.
We couldn’t see anything. And we couldn’t hear anything. At the very least, we knew that our parents and siblings were on the sidewalk.
If there was a reporter there covering the opening, maybe our families would pretend they didn’t know us so it seemed like at least a few people showed up, I joked.
John took my hand.
This moment–opening the door and walking over the threshold–was more than four years in the making. John had begun formulating the business plan for our coffee shop, Swatara Coffee Co., while he was deployed to Afghanistan. Over those four years, we had scrimped and saved and created a nest egg so that we could bootstrap the coffee shops. And we talked. We talked about finances. And career paths. And if the coffee shop was what we wanted to do. We dreamed about what life would be like. We made checklists and talked some more. Then, suddenly, all of that planning was over and we were buying the coffee shop and equipment. Our family and friends were helping us lift refrigerator units, figure out the plumbing, tear down walls, and build other parts of the shop. It was dizzying and exciting and absolutely terrifying. In the past few years, there’s been quite an emphasis on veteran, service member, and military spouse entrepreneurship. The truth is, owning your own business doesn’t fix all of the career issues that the military community faces. But it is a career path that can be rewarding, especially if you plan and strategize about what being a business owner actually looks like for your family. These questions helped John and I plan what the entrepreneur life was going to look like for us. They can help you begin framing your vision too, no matter where you are in the process of setting up your business.
1. What are we doing about health care?
Universal truth: Military families love to complain about TRICARE. There are frustrating aspects about TRICARE, but those frustrations about health care don’t go away in the civilian world. (In fact, personally, we’ve been more frustrated by health care issues after John’s transition out of the service than when he was in.) When John and I decided to open our coffee shop, the biggest question mark we had was health care. At first, we had to find a plan on the Marketplace. If you live in a rural area (like we do), this can be difficult. There was one (yes, ONE) HMO plan available to us… and our monthly bill was more than our mortgage. Still, we were unwilling to take the risk and go uninsured even though we are healthy thirty-somethings. I found a full-time position that carries benefits, which has been huge for us. It might not be an option for others, which is why it’s extremely important to be clear-eyed about this particular part of owning a business. Make sure that you know how you’ll handle the health care question and then budget appropriately so you’re not sticker-shocked.
2. How will our personal finances fair?
Owning your own business can sound idyllic, and sometimes it is. But it can also create a lot of financial stress, especially as you’re standing it up and aren’t paying yourself yet. Depending on your situation, you may be looking at the loss of a paycheck in your family. The loss can feel amplified especially if you’re transitioning out of the military at the same time. It can be tough to go from a regular paycheck that you can count on to… nothing. Don’t expect money to flood in the minute you open your doors. Depending on your situation, it might take some time to start seeing the profits of your business trickle back to you. That’s why it’s important to have a discussion with your spouse on how your family will deal with limited earning power in the short- and long-term. Then, make a plan. To prepare for entrepreneur life while John was still in the Navy, we used a suite of financial products, including those from Navy Federal Credit Union, to save and plan. Because we could bank anywhere through their app, it was one of the few consistent parts of our life as it followed us through PCSes and job transitions.
3. Who does what?
When you’re business and life partners, things can get a little muddy. Where are the boundaries? Who takes care of what? Who makes which decisions? I’m not going to lie: this has been the hardest part of becoming business owners. (At least for me. I can’t speak for John.) We spend so much time talking about the shop, working for the shop, doing things that are related to the shop that sometimes it’s hard to see where work ends and our personal life begins. (And yes, you absolutely need a personal life. It’s not healthy for anyone to spend all of their time for the rest of the foreseeable future working. And it’s not good for your relationships with the people around you.) Figuring out how you’ll navigate who does what and how you’ll communicate with each other when it comes to business and your relationship is exceptionally important. But you can do it. After all, chances are, you’ve hurdled bigger communication issues… like terrible Skype connections, missing letters, and time-zone differences for months (or maybe years) on end.
4. How will we fund our dream?
John and I decided to bootstrap our business so that we could operate it on our terms. It gave us the freedom and flexibility–both financially and creatively–that we wanted in order to operate our business exactly how we want. Nearly 18 months since we’ve opened our doors, we know it was the right decision for us. Let me repeat that: it was the right decision for us. But that doesn’t mean bootstrapping is the right decision for your business. Knowing what your options are is absolutely critical as you proceed with planning and executing your business. Don’t do something just because someone else (including me) says you should do it that way. Do it because it is viable for your unique circumstances.
5. What will we do if we fail?
When you start your own business, you don’t want to think about failure. But truth is, many small businesses do fail, including veteran-owned businesses. Creating contingency plans and giving yourself options on how you’ll navigate your business closing in the event that it does is just smart. It doesn’t mean that you don’t believe in yourself. It doesn’t mean that you don’t believe in your business. It just means that you’re covering all of your bases. If your business doesn’t take off like you think it will, how long can you stay afloat before you have to close your doors? Will your family be financially okay? What will you do with equipment and products in the case of closing? If you’re bootstrapping, how much money are you willing to put in before you get a return? What happens if there is no return? John and I talked about each one of these questions in-depth before we bought a single spoon or signed on a dotted line for anything. We knew where the red line was for us personally and professionally, which was very important to us. In fact, it gave us a lot of peace of mind as we took one of the biggest risks of our lives together.
Back to the story…
We opened the door and gasped. Our parents weren’t the only people at our grand opening. There were people stretching down the block, excited to celebrate the opening of Swatara Coffee Co. with us. It’s one of the most humbling and amazing moments of my life.
Opening a business is taking a crazy leap of faith. It’s stepping through a door, not sure if anyone will be on the other side. But it’s easier when you know that you and your spouse are on the same page. Because you’re stepping through the door together, to meet whatever is there, arm-in-arm.
And it’s easier when you have resources that you can trust. If you’re thinking about opening a business, Navy Federal Credit Union has a suite of services that can help, including loans, credit cards, and checking accounts specifically for business owners. Learn more and become a member today, and visit navyfederal.org/celebrate during the month of May for special offers Military Appreciation Month.