Choosing Self-Employment: 5 Questions to Ask

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A mobile lifestyle is not always friendly to a military spouse’s career, leaving many military spouses wondering if self-employment may be the right fit.

Janet Farley, a career counselor and the spouse of a retired soldier, says in spite of the challenges, military spouses have more career options now than ever before.

“Opportunities are there, even if some of the same old challenges exist. There are more inroads through those challenges today. If you are a military spouse and you want to have a career, you can. It’s up to you. Granted, some professions work better with a mobile lifestyle than others. Choices have to be made.”

Military culture is becoming more hospitable toward spouse careers, she says.

“Today, we see a genuine support for the career development of our professionally-minded spouses. An evolving global and mobile workforce on the civilian side of life has also helped our spouses along the way. The moon, the stars and the planets are finally getting aligned in our favor.”

Janet advises spouses looking for career direction to look first at what they have been doing and then at where they want to go.

“We talk about the common denominators between the two and start to formulate a way ahead for reaching that goal … We identify the weak areas and work on them while noting the strong ones so we can push them out there front and center,” she says.

Janet’s own career path has led her to self-employment. The way she came to that decision helps her advise others who are considering it.

“I knew that freelancing and consulting would allow me the flexible time I need to be present in the moment for my family,” she says, “a top priority for me.

Self-employment is not for everyone, though. Janet says spouses who are interested in working for themselves should explore these questions:

  • Is your family on board? Communicate your goals and desires first to those closest to you.
  • Are you well informed about the business of running a business? If not, get that way. The Small Business Administration is a great place to learn more.
  • Can you afford it? Janet advises starting a self-employed career first on the side while working a fulltime or part-time job. Learn with a safety net.
  • Why do you want to do it? Clue in to your own mission statement or calling, as well as your compelling talents. 
  • Does your idea depend on a local customer base, or will it move with you when you do?
  • How are you going to do it? Desire alone is not enough. You need a plan. Be aware of available resources and know how to tap into them.

“The decision to go into business for yourself isn’t always an easy one to make,” Janet says. “It can be a real challenge on a number of levels. You become the boss, and you have to have the desire, the discipline, and the know-how to make it work.”

Janet Farley is the author of Mission Transition: Managing Your Career and Your Retirement, and a coauthor of Stories Around the Table: Laughter, Wisdom and Strength in Military Life. She has also written several more books about careers and transitions for both military members and spouses.

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