By Mitch MeadorAugust 2, 2018
FORT SILL, Okla., Aug. 2, 2018 -- Once a quarter, Larry Weatherford reaches out to Fort Sill Soldiers, spouses, and veterans who have a hobby they'd like to turn into a business.
The Small Business Administration's (SBA) veterans business development officer for Oklahoma was back again recently to present another of his two-day workshops: "Boots to Business: From Service to Startup" at the Harry S Truman Education Center. Weatherford's two-day, eight-module course was packed with do's and don'ts for people who'd like to have a go at being their own boss.
LaShonda Brewer of the Transition Assistance Program says the Soldiers don't necessarily have to be exiting military service -- they can start up a sideline at any stage of their Army career.
Weatherford adds that many Army spouses are seeking to have a small business while they're moving around the country.
Although class size for the July 24-25 offering here was only 10, Weatherford said SBA's largest classes are usually at Fort Sill, ranging up to 30.
"Boots to Business is a collaboration between the Department of Defense and the U.S. SBA. It's designed to prepare transitioning service people for life after the military, starting their own business," Weatherford said.
"One of the reasons that we do this is because veterans, statistically, are far more likely to succeed as small business people than the general population. The skills that you get in the military, really no matter what you do in the military, transition really well to small business ownership. People are mission-focused. They understand the tasks required to get the job done, and we find that veterans on average do much better as small business people."
Weatherford goes over the basics of starting a small business. The class is good for people who have an idea for a small business, people who already have a small business, or for people who are just thinking about the concept of entrepreneurship, he said.
Day one included modules on marketing and the economics of small business (to determine if the product or service being offered will sell well enough to make a living).
On day two Weatherford opened with a module on legal issues impacting veteran-owned businesses. He freely admits he's no fan of sole proprietorships because if you're sued, the plaintiff can come after your personal assets. He highly encourages forming a limited liability corporation, or LLC, because if you get sued, your LLC assets are on the line but your personal assets aren't. There's also less recordkeeping for an LLC than for a C-Corporation.
"The most difficult part of starting an LLC is finding a name that's not already taken," he said.
LLCs are not permitted for some professions. Weatherford's wife, for example, is a lawyer, and she's in a limited liability partnership instead.
If your idea is so good that you think it's going to attract investors and you want to sell shares, a corporation might be the way to go. But beware: if things don't work out, it's so difficult to convert a corporation to an LLC that it would actually be easier to dissolve the corporation and start over again under a different name, Weatherford warns.
"At the end of this course, hopefully they'll have the tools to create a business plan. We encourage everybody to create a business plan because we'd rather you make the mistakes on paper rather than in real life," he said. "If you have a good business plan, you can kind of figure out where the problems may be."
SBA has no grants for starting up a business. However, SBA does guarantee loans for small businesses. It has a program just for veterans called the Veterans Advantage Loan Program.
"What people need to know is that there is a tremendous amount of resources out there at no cost to start a business. If you want to get into government contracting, we have resources for that. You can work with me, you can work with our resource partners, the Small Business Development Centers, the Women's Business Center. All of those are resources for people who want to start a business that's at no cost to them," Weatherford said.
He does advise entrepreneurs to assemble a BAIL team. BAIL stands for banking, accounting, insurance, and legal, because it's best to obtain professional advice in all four areas. Another tip: Go to www.uspto.gov.