The U.S. Small Business Administration's (SBA) Office of Veterans Business Development (OVBD) is proud to support veteran, service member, and military spouse entrepreneurs during National Veterans Small Business Week and beyond. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Lindsey Germono, an entrepreneur and Air Force military spouse, as she shared insights into her experiences as an entrepreneur and what it takes to successfully run a small business, while working through the unique challenges life as a military spouse can present.
Editor's note: the following interview transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. To learn more about the programs and resources the SBA has to support military spouse entrepreneurship success, visit www.sba.gov/milspouse. Be sure to celebrate National Veterans Small Business Week by visiting www.sba.gov/myvetbiz, or join the conversation online using #myvetbiz.
Barbara Carson: So, tell us about yourself and your business.
Lindsey Germono: I'm Lindsey Germono, President of Germono Advertising Company, based out of Norfolk, Virginia. I'm also the host of the Drop and Give Me 20 podcast and serve on the board of the Milspo Project.
What inspired you to start a small business?
I was working for a large corporation in broadcast media. I started as a broadcast television sales representative and then transitioned to cable advertising sales. At the time, I worked with a lot of small businesses and learned about their obstacles – like having limited budgets for advertising campaigns.
So, I opened an advertising agency to help businesses in the Norfolk, Virginia Designated Market Audience with their media buying and planning. We offer marketing coaching sessions for entrepreneurs that may not have an advertising budget, are just starting out in their business, need to strategize their marketing plan, and more.
Germono Advertising Company is a big advocate for military entrepreneurs and we started getting requests for coaching from them. We adapted the business to be a voice and support for military entrepreneurs, releasing the Drop and Give me 20 podcast – each episode is 20 minutes long and highlights a military entrepreneur. The podcasts help our company generate content our audience wants, specifically information and advice for other entrepreneurs.
I'm impressed that you could find that collaboration point with fellow military entrepreneurs. It reinforces what we hear about military entrepreneurs: we work together.
We look out for each other. Germono Advertising Company is now at seven team members, six of which are either prior service members or military spouses.
I'm glad to hear you are walking the walk and supporting the military community.
It's only natural. Since we are headquartered in Norfolk, VA many of the businesses we help also happen to be military-owned, by active duty, veterans, or military spouses.
I was listening to Jen Pilcher from Military One Click speak the other day. She says that being a military spouse may not open same doors as being a veteran. What's your feeling about this? How can military spouses create their own doors?
The work conditions these days are so drastically different than they were just a few years ago. We are, as a culture, more accepting of telecommuting, virtual and remote work. That opens many doors for military spouses. From operating perspective, remote work tends to lower operating and overhead costs.
For example, R. Riveter [a military spouse-owned handbag company] has brick and mortar locations, but their employees are worldwide. As we grow in tech, we can access connections using social media. We can get into the community and tap into these resources for their businesses.
There are still obstacles for active duty military spouses. We need to continue having the discussion that gives them what they need, as their needs are different.
What were your perceptions of starting a small business before you launched it?
Since I was in the middle of my MBA program and working for a large corporation, I was studying how to launch, create, and plan a business. This prepared me.
I wasn't prepared for getting orders to PCS a few months after starting my own business. I had eight weeks to relocate. I have a picture of my office in a Tupperware bin saying “This is Germono Advertising Company.” As a military spouse, you have to include the possibility of moving in the very beginning stages of planning your business. If you do this, you will be fine.
What are some insights you learned when you started your business?
I tend to see finances realistically. When I made the decision to open the business, and we, as a family, planned what we could cut out of our lives. Realistically you might not bring in income for 3 years. You have to be realistic about what your family can live off of way before you open your business.
You were practical! Did knowing that you weren't going to be revenue positive in the beginning take some of the pressure off?
We just trimmed the fat. We were happy with the lifestyle we had before, like going out to dinner twice a week, but that stuff wasn't smart. You have to have money set aside for expenses, like launching a website or legal matters.
What were some challenges you encountered when starting you didn't anticipate?
I was so focused on what I was going to do and offer with my business. Entrepreneurship is lonely and isolating for a while. I felt I didn't have time to get new business. I didn't expect that I would have to stop in my second month and get clients. I literally hit the street and picked up clients.
I also thought I had to do everything myself. People who do this don't sleep or eat well, so eventually I had a wakeup call. When I started working with a SCORE mentor, he suggested that you need to constantly keep your sales funnel full – you constantly need leads. If you get focused on other things, you lose that potential revenue.
You could say “you have to stop working on the business and work in the business,” otherwise you're going nowhere…
My mentor at SCORE had been in the same place as me two or three times before. It was nice to hear that they could relate and had experience that could help me. When you first start your business, your ego might get the best of you. You might say to yourself, “I know what I'm doing.” The mentor can tell you, in a safe space, that you need to think about certain things you may not have thought of.
Were you good at taking counsel from others before you started your business?
I don't think I did that very well. When you encounter obstacles in your business, having someone who can pick you up makes you realize asking for help isn't so bad.
I think this is a good pivot to talk about our military spouse culture. We think that we are very capable, so asking for help can feel awkward. We want to be the helper, not the helped.
I also think that sometimes your confidence level is important. If you are insecure, you might not be receptive to help. We see it in some younger military entrepreneurs. We give all this great advice, but that person says “I'm going to do this myself.” Eventually, you get to a point where you ask for help or your business folds.
Entrepreneurship is a lonely place. What can help with that?
It's a lonely place – so you need to have your “tribe.” You need to connect to people that are experienced with small business. Non-entrepreneurs might get bored with your stories. Entrepreneurs can give you good advice.
Let me give you a personal experience: I'm not a big fan of the interview process. I just need help doing it. I called one of my military entrepreneur friends because she has a background in human resources for the hotel industry. She helped me develop an interview process and helped me see what I need to look for. The military entrepreneur community can support each other by giving you people to lean on. You'll have people that understand what this life is like.
I like that you said, “You need a tribe” – those outside might think it's too risky.
I spoke at The Milspo Project's annual Embark conference about competition within the military entrepreneurship community. I encouraged attendees to find ways to work within this space – knowing that our competitors are in the same sandbox. Military spouse entrepreneurs need to hear about how we can all compete in the same industries and the opportunities that can come out from that, like collaboration. There are always opportunities to work together and collaborate.
Also, when you PCS to a new duty station – the only life that you know changes. When you move into a new area – military spouses need to learn to tap into the local community. They need to get off the base and find the local chamber of commerce or the local SBA. They need to get their hands on all the local resources. This is where SCORE mentors can help you. You can tell them you are new – and they'll become the open arms that can help you meet what's in your community. They become part of your tribe.
What are some unexpected benefits of owning a small business?
The freedom to work where I want to work. I'm a travel junkie. I've worked from Turks and Caicos, Key West, and St. Thomas. As long as I have Wi-Fi, I'm in business. I couldn't have done that in a big corporation. I can work in whatever state I am in. As long as I have a Wi-Fi!
Thank you so much for chatting with me today. As we wrap up, can you leave us with some thoughts about the skills military spouses bring to the table that makes them outstanding entrepreneurs?
The ability to adapt quickly to changes. From a networking perspective, we are used to meeting new people. Introverts have to become extroverts – and that's a great strength to apply to your business. Military spouses support each other – the community is second to none! You give each other opportunities. I also want to add that active duty and veterans support us to, that it's not just military spouses who do this. We are all in this military entrepreneurship journey together.