Veteran-owned businesses are a vital part of the U.S. economy, making up approximately 6% of all businesses, employing nearly four million workers and contributing over $177 billion in annual payroll to the U.S. economy.
Despite this impact, many face unique business challenges, particularly when it comes to accessing the capital needed to grow.
Time spent in service significantly delays the ability to build credit, network business connections and tap into available resources—all of which are imperative for gaining a foothold in the business world.
For veterans looking to start or grow a business, the right capital setup is key to unlocking your business’s full potential. Here are a few tips to ensure you’re setting yourself up for success:
Build and Bolster Your Business Plan
A robust business plan is essential to securing capital with banks or potential investors, whether it’s for seed funding or a late-stage capital raise. This plan serves as a roadmap to assess your business and helps bankers and investors determine if they want to form a relationship with your company.
Your plan should include defined business objectives, target markets and customers, and plans for how you will promote your product or service. From there, you’ll be able to provide estimates for how much capital is needed to execute against these objectives.
Establish Credit to Become Bankable
Your credit score is often the first metric lenders look at to evaluate you as a potential candidate for capital. If you’re an established business, they will review your business credit. But if you’re just starting out, lenders will turn to your personal credit score.
Building and maintaining a good credit score is difficult for many Americans, but for veterans—especially those who have moved frequently or spent time overseas—establishing a strong credit history to support their score can be a particular challenge. This requires a track record of consistent payment history on credit cards and personal loans, such as student loans and mortgage payments. However, during active duty, service members may not have had opportunities to build that track record.
For those who don’t have a strong credit track record, there are myriad ways to improve your credit, such as paying rent and utility bills on time and, if applicable, opening up a first credit card to begin building a strong repayment history. If you have outstanding debt, focus on settling accounts in collections and paying down high-interest debts. Also be sure to review your credit report for errors prior to walking into a meeting with a potential investor.
If you have personal credit, but are looking to build business credit, consider applying for a business credit card. Using it for smaller bills each month, and then paying it off in full before payment is due, can help to increase your score. Doing business with different vendors who work with business credit reporting agencies can also help this process. As you buy supplies and materials from vendors, those purchases and payments get reported to the business credit agencies and, in turn, get tacked on to your credit history.
While trying to build or improve your credit score may feel like an uphill battle, it’s a critical first piece in showing that you are bankable, and that you’re someone that both banks and investors will be excited to work with.
Identify Resources to Help Meet Your Goal
Once you’ve completed a business plan and begun to build – or improve – your credit, it’s time to look to your network. Whether you’re just finding your footing in the business world or looking to take an established business to the next level, having a network of experts you can tap into for guidance is invaluable.
There are a number of education and networking programs specifically designed for veterans and veteran-owned businesses that serve as a great starting point, including: Bunker Labs , Boots to Business, and Veterans Business Outreach Center. These organizations are focused on the military entrepreneurial community and provide incredible programming, resources, mentorship and guidance to help veterans overcome key challenges.
Bunker Labs, for example, offers the unique CEOcircle program. Participants have the opportunity to attend virtual huddles and in person fly-in events where they can network and learn from both their peers and well-known business leaders.
In addition to seeking out specific educational and networking programs, veteran-owned businesses should strongly consider getting certified through the Vets First Verification Program, as it helps you become eligible for federal contracts set aside specifically for retired military. It also enables access to VA-provided resources, such as business training, mentoring, and networking, all of which are essential for businesses as they become more established.
Accessing new capital can feel daunting, especially when you’re just getting started. But with proper planning and the right resources on your side, the likelihood of success is much greater. Time in the service has taught every veteran vital lessons.Never lose sight of the fact that your discipline, passion, resilience and resourcefulness is your company’s biggest asset. If you stay true to who you are and are thoughtful in your approach, the sky is the limit.
Terry Hill is Managing Director, Co-head of Veteran Initiatives, at JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking.