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How Veterans Can Play a Vital Role in Small Businesses

On Veterans Day, and every day, business owners can benefit from hiring those who have served—and our nation can benefit from more veteran-owned businesses.
November 08, 2016

As we celebrate and honor the men and women who have served our country this Veterans Day, it’s also good to note how many of those former service members contribute to our nation’s small businesses.

Jim Cragg is one of these veteran business owners. An Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel, Cragg is president and CEO of S.O.Tech/Special Operations Technologies Inc., which he founded more then 18 years ago. He also provides jobs to veterans through Green Vets Los Angeles, a nonprofit vocational rehabilitation program he started to provide job training and employment for returning veterans.

“Our program provides at-risk veterans with meaningful projects where they produce products that provide them with a sense of value in society,” he says. “Our products have a social meaning, like reusable cloth shopping bags and challenge bears for children, but at their base, they show veterans that they have a marketable skill that is valuable to our society—the society that they are struggling to rejoin.”

I’ve watched veterans inspire and motivate teams in our workplace using leadership skills they learned in the military. 

—Jim Cragg, founder, president and CEO, S.O.Tech/Special Operations Technologies Inc..

Cragg began helping veterans several years ago in response to the many challenges they face when returning to the workforce and to dispel the stereotypes regarding their ability to contribute to society.

How to Hire Veterans

“In Hollywood, the veteran is dramatized as the broken hero—the depressed isolationist or the abrasive drill sergeant—neither of whom a CEO would want to hire,” Cragg says. “We’ve worked to dispel this image and educate both the veteran and the potential hiring official about the leadership, accountability, presentation and hard work ethic that truly characterize the veteran worker. As a CEO, I’ve watched veterans inspire and motivate teams in our workplace using leadership skills they learned in the military.”

If you want to hire veterans at your company, here are some tips to consider:

  • Create detailed job descriptions, and consider using military language when doing so. Be clear about the job responsibilities you're seeking.
  • Consider all types of hiring options, including part-time and full-time work, apprenticeships and intern work.
  • Familiarize yourself with military occupational skills that might correlate with the job you’re seeking to fill.
  • Ask applicants to share their military story, if possible, during interviews, so you can determine where their developed skills and experience would best fit in your company.
  • Find qualified applicants. Cragg suggests looking for veterans at your nearest Veteran Affairs facility, as well as local government veterans affairs offices. In hiring, he works in conjunction with L.A. mayor Eric Garcetti’s Office of Veteran Affairs.

The Path of Entrepreneurship

Many veterans also return from duty and open their own business. This may work out well because of their dedication and work ethic, says Cragg, who coordinated the Veteran Small Business Conference at the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles, which attracted 350 veterans—more than double the number of attendees he expected.

“Veterans are likely to start their own businesses, probably due to a combination of learned leadership, a sense of community duty and a calculated risk-taking skill set,” Cragg says.

If you're a veteran interested in entrepreneurship, consider keeping the following steps in mind:

Seek guidance. A number of organizations exist to help veterans start their own businesses, including the SBA-sponsored Boots to Business. Other agencies, such as Green Vets Los Angeles, list resources.

Review financing options. Specialized funding, including SBA loans, may be available to veterans.

Consider government contracting work. As a veteran, it may make sense to consider government funded work, as Uncle Sam can seek to fill a substantial amount of contracts using small-business owners.

Look to your passions. Your interests may be your best indicators as to what sort of business would be best for you to launch. Look to your military training and ask yourself how you'd like to make your mark in the world, then create business ideas that stem from those answers.

Harness your strengths. You'll likely soon discover that, as a small-business owner, you can’t be everything to everyone, so consider focusing on your strengths and then look to outsourcing or hiring to fulfill other requirements of running the business. For instance, you might want to get assistance for accounting and payroll tasks or information technology.

Read more articles about leadership skills.

A version of this article was originally published on November 11, 2015.

Photo: iStock