I deployed to Iraq in 2006 as a cavalry scout. I was shot in my legs by a sniper the following year. My recovery took over three years and during that time I saw many of my fellow veterans succumb to mental illness in the form of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) Suicide runs rampant in the veteran community and after a group therapy session one day a veteran told me he planned to commit suicide until he heard how I recovered from my injury. After graduating from college with my bachelors, I started my professional speaking business dedicated to talking about mental health.
There are some statistics you wouldn’t believe about veterans who have deployed to war. According to the Department of Veteran Affairs, an average of 17.8 veterans a day die from suicide. After my first three months of giving speeches about my experience, my eyes opened to the power of using my voice to save America’s heroes. Here are a couple of things that I learned about becoming an entrepreneur dedicated to helping them.
Veterans Appreciate Help From Veterans
The biggest lie that you can tell a veteran is “I know what you are going through.” The need for me to start my business was because of what motivated me intrinsically. You will never get the number of bookings you think you deserve when you start. Secondly, you will never get paid what you think you should. What kept me going is talking to other veterans and even some members who were still on active duty. After every speech, I can sit and speak with the veterans who are in the audience. “I can’t tell you how important it was to hear from another veteran.” He went on to tell me about all the mental health experts who talk to them directly from a textbook.
Being a veteran helps me as an entrepreneur because I know where my target market is. According to the Council on Federal Relations, less than one-half of one percent of the country serves in the military. Imagine being an entrepreneur and looking for a market that small! Knowing where my demographic is helps me with marketing, public relations, advertising and so many other parts of my business. Those employers that pride themselves as being “veteran-friendly” sometimes ask me to come for special seminars because they employ many veterans but cannot speak “veteran.” When they do, the veteran employees often follow up with me. They thank me for speaking about veteran issues in ways that they couldn’t.
The Need the Business Fills
Hope is a business. It has been what kept me in business for years. Mental health challenges are not exclusive to the veteran community. Simone Biles just bought mental health conversation to the front of the line. The elephant in the room just knocked the entire house down. The mental health conversation is what the entire internet is talking about now. Using my personal LinkedIn page, I can search different hashtags relating to mental health to find veterans talking about mental health. As an entrepreneur, LinkedIn has been a very valuable tool for finding those professional veterans struggling with their mental health.
During times like these many organizations look to hear from advocates in the mental health field. Putting together digital marketing campaigns on Facebook, LinkedIn, and on my website helps me offer services to veteran and veteran organizations that need them. The campaigns usually run for about two weeks and result in becoming a mental health webinar or an in-person speech.
The ROI for Being a Veteran-Owned Business
Think about an episode of the show Shark Tank. You are grilled by business owners who want to know the market your business belongs in. I’ve searched many databases and according to the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System), professional speaking falls under “Independent Artists, Writers, and Performers.” In Laymen’s Terms, what I do is a professional form of entertainment. As a veteran-owned business, I can speak with businesses and let them know about the mental health issues that plague the veteran community.
The return on my investment is knowing that I am helping veterans who are on the edge of suicide. There is no better feeling as an entrepreneur than that. In the Army, we have a saying, “Never leave a fallen comrade.” The audiences that I speak to are full of veterans as well as civilians that are fighting yet another war, a battle with mental illness. All the college courses, money invested into my business, and sweat equity hours that I put in make owning my business a true gift.
Sharing my gift with a live audience is the biggest gift of all. To take the most traumatic moment of my life and use it to start a business…there is nothing like it. Veterans have the perfect mentality to be entrepreneurs: a never-say-die attitude, dedication to the mission, and the ability to motivate and lead others through the storm. My military career was cut short due to my injury and while I am on stage I get to live vicariously through the veterans in the audience. After a speech, we all share combat stories and talk about all of the crazy stories we all have from our military adventures. There is no better paycheck than that.