After Deployment - Getting Back to Business
While getting back to business after deployment should be among the happiest events of an entrepreneur's life, transition challenges can make the experience bittersweet. Unfortunately, when trying to get a business back up and running, many veterans face obstacles, including:
- Market changes
- Increased competition
- A shrunken client base
- Unfamiliar staff
- Financial losses
- Health issues
- A general sense of displacement
Devising preemptive measures before deployment, such as those listed in You Own a Business and Duty Calls, should help to avert serious business complications upon homecoming. But even the most comprehensive plans are unlikely to address every contingency. To this end, experts from a range of disciplines suggest the following strategies to help make military-to-business transition a lot easier to manage:
- Take advantage of programs designed to support self-employed veterans. The Servicemember’s Civil Relief ACT (SCRA), formerly known as the Soldiers' and Sailors' Civil Relief Act of 1940 (SSCRA) guarantees special benefits for qualified business owners who leave their companies to serve in the armed forces. The SCRA offers special allowances related to financial and legal matters, including:
- Reduced interest rates (as low 6%) on mortgages and certain consumer loan debts. Note: service members MUST request interest rate reductions. They do not happen automatically.
- Termination of leases, rental agreements and certain service contracts without penalty
- Limited protection against eviction if military service makes rent payments difficult
- Deferment of some life insurance premiums
- Guaranteed health insurance reinstatement
- Limited protections against mortgage foreclosures and property seizures
While the SCRA does provide some valuable benefits and protections, certain conditions and limitations do apply – provisions should be read and understood carefully.
- Leverage Veterans Affairs (VA) services. Running a business is even more difficult for veterans with physical, mental or emotional health problems. VA offers returning veterans a wide variety of valuable services, many of which are intended to help veterans achieve and maintain optimum health. From vocational rehab services to PTSD treatments, veterans with health challenges can probably find the health care services and solutions they need through the Veterans Affairs website at http://www.va.gov/.
Note: Many returning veterans wonder how the Affordable Care Act (aka the health care law) will affect their health insurance coverage. The health care law does not affect the VA health program or its benefits. Veterans enrolled in the VA health program will experience no change in out-of-pocket health care costs.
- Seek professional financial advice. Though unpleasant, the fact is that a number of homeward-bound entrepreneurs will discover that restarting or continuing their companies is not feasible. In some cases, declaring bankruptcy is the wisest course of action; in others, restructuring or selling may be advantageous. Before making any decision, seek input from trusted financial and legal professionals. Those who do find themselves in fiscal difficulties may contact the Office of Veterans Business Development at 202-205-6773, or online at https://www.sba.gov/offices/headquarters/ovbd, for assistance.
- Evaluate the business with fresh eyes. Too often, entrepreneurs come home to companies that have lost direction, even though they've managed to stay afloat. Honestly evaluating old business plans, goals and strategies, and then making the necessary adjustments can go a long way in stabilizing the business and returning to profitability and growth. Some experts suggest enlisting employees in the evaluation and planning process, because they are in a position to identify potential growth areas, assess progress and pinpoint weakness that may have emerged during the owner's absence.
At this point, a thorough inventory of assets also is in order, as is a discussion of personnel issues – conflicts, firings, promotions, for instance – with management staff.
- Go over contracts, financial records and other legal documents. Most tasks in this category merely require restoration to pre-deployment conditions. Start with these:
- Reverse powers of attorney.
- Examine and update all insurance policies.
- Change authorized signature cards.
- Review and, if necessary, restructure loan and interest arrangements.
- Check credit ratings to make sure they haven't changed.
- Inform lenders, vendors and creditors of your return.
- Notify the IRS, state and local tax entities regarding deactivation status.
- Meet with company financial personnel to review the books.
- Re-establish customer relations. A quick-start marketing plan can help recapture former clients and attract new ones. Luckily, the post-deployment process pretty much reflects pre-activation methods. Homecoming strategies include personal calls or letters to past and current customers; articles and photos in local newspapers or on television and radio; and special sales or other events to celebrate the homecoming.
- Assess the competition. Investigate what competitors have been doing in your absence. A good way to do this is to:
- Visit their locations or websites
- Sign up for their newsletters or emails
- Obtain their annual reports for a look at the overall picture.
- Volunteer to speak at civic and professional groups. Visiting organizations such as Rotary clubs and chambers of commerce serves the dual purpose of sharing the military experience and business marketing.
- Ask for help.Entrepreneurs who return from active duty have plenty of resources to help them reorient. Various veteran organizations, local chambers of commerce, small business groups, community colleges, and even some financial institutions, offer free counseling services.
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