Once upon a time, in a beautiful city far, far away, I had an amazing career…and then the posting notice arrived.
Like so many other ‘military spouses’ I felt that it was the right choice to leave my job to follow my serving husband’s demanding job.
Five and a half years later, the little design business I started from a dining room table in my tiny flat has become a successful design company that I can work on and grow no matter where we are posted, no matter what country we are posted to. It has purposely been built so it’s transient and posting-proof. I no longer have to worry about getting a new job when we move or how I am going to explain those massive gaps in my CV at interviews since leaving employment.
So why, as a military spouse, is it so amazing to run your own business?
Continuation of your career
Nothing sucks more than leaving a job you love, especially if you’re highly trained and love doing what you do. The joy of entrepreneurship is that you don’t have to give up what you love, and you can build on your previous experience in that sector.
When I left my job as a graphic designer in 2012 I knew that I had the skills and experience from 6 years of working in an agency to apply the knowledge to start my own company. I knew that I had the foundation of knowledge to start off and be successful, and that with the right energy and commitment I could learn the ins and outs of business. There’s been a lot of trial and error, and I have hunted out a few business courses to help with the fiddly things, but as long as you have the right mindset, anything is possible. Everyone in business stared out in the same position, so you know you can do it too.
Military life can be all over the place. You could be asked to move to a new house with very little notice or be left the sole carer for your entire family for up to 9 months; sometimes even both. I love that my business can fit into my increasingly hectic life and be flexible enough to deal with detachments and postings. I know that when my husband is away I can be selfish and commit 110% to my business, but I also know that if he arrives home early (or inevitably late) that I can shuffle the majority of my work around his dates. I also know that as a service provider as long as I have my laptop, my work space and a bit of Wi-Fi, I can pretty much work anywhere. I have purposely built my business to be transient in the face of military life.
It can be a little bit more challenging as a product-based business, especially if you invest in premises, but thanks to the way consumers are buying products online on platforms such as Amazon and Etsy, you can run very successful businesses virtually. These are perfect if you need flexibility and, like my service business, can be accessed anywhere with a bit of internet.
A sense of purpose
When I first married my husband and moved to our first RAF base I literally lost all sense of who I was. Not only had I left my home in beautiful Bath, where I had lived for 10 years, I left my wonderful friends, my amazing job and my maiden name behind. Added to that, the never-ending detachments to Afghanistan meant that I was so bloody lonely! I spent the first year of our marriage trying to work out where I would fit. Maybe I was a housewife – I was shocking at that, and was I really meant to be enjoying these coffee mornings where all we talked about was the spouse we hadn’t seen for 9 weeks? What I did find was that as my business started to grow, it was where I was meant to be. I had a role that gave me the purpose I needed and could excel in.
Turns out there isn’t a ‘cookie-cutter’ version of a ‘military spouse’, we have all struggled at one time or another to find our place. I have friends who are amazing mothers, inspirational fundraisers, passionate bakers; my purpose was as a business owner.
A boost in family income
Leaving your employment doesn’t just mean you leave something you love, it also means you leave the salary that comes with it. Overnight we were 30k worse-off in our household. No matter how ‘subsidised’ the rent is, it doesn’t quite make up for the fact that you’re down on monthly income and you are relying on your spouse for financial support. That has never sat well with me. I was raised by fierce women who always made their own money and as a 90’s child took the line from the ‘Sunscreen Song’ literally (Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund, maybe you have a wealthy spouse; but you never know when either one might run out).
I knew that for our marriage to work well he couldn’t be the only one making the money. Running my own business seemed like a great solution. It provides a little wriggle room for when my husband books a holiday and feeds my expensive candle addiction (why have a magnolia married quarter if you can’t fill it with Jo Malone?). I also know that when we have our children it can support their hobbies and it gives me some freedom to be independent.
Throughout my time running my business I have had some amazing experiences. Away from the daily admin and the fun I have creating beautiful brands, I have run workshops and presented in some prestigious locations. Not only that, but my business means that I can network with some wonderful people who I now consider great friends. We are likeminded and supportive of each other which is especially important when you are away from family and friends. Sometimes running a business alone combined with military life can be a lonely affair but I know that the network I have built up, both in my current posting and virtually, means I can never be truly alone.
You can take it anywhere
If you’re like me and you set out to make your business transient then, when the time comes to move, with a few tweaks and these handy tips, you can slip almost seamlessly into your new location without damaging your business too much. It’s not ideal changing locations every 2-3 years, and there is an effect on your client turn over as you move, but as long as you’re clear with the communication to your clients and set up some firm foundations and systems, it really is a great way to work as a military spouse.
I bloody love my business. It’s given me freedom, purpose and a real sense of achievement. Yes, it can be hard work when you’re up against a deadline but the results you get from your own hard work are amazing. If you’re a military spouse thinking of running your own business that survives active military service life, deployments, tours and postings then do it! It can really be a wonderful thing. As a designer, I’ve created my own business that allows me the freedom to work from anywhere we’re posted. And I am not the only one. There are a whole host of business owners, all around the country (and beyond) doing the same.
Special shout out to my wonderful friend Amy at Ginger Rainbow who is doing amazing colouring gifts for children and who not only is the most creative person I know but is also a genius! I must also mention Rosie at Mind, Body and Babywho recently launched her business while 8 months pregnant with her husband at sea for 6 months and is creating some fantastic virtual training for expectant mothers. And of course Cathryn King at Inside Out Communication, who writes beautiful things and creates amazing content despite having only just been posted. All military spouses, rocking business life, who are true friends!