Sound Advice for Veteran Business Owners

I have been a veteran business owner for over twenty-five years. In my opinion, that makes me what I like to call a veteran business owner veteran (VBOV). In this capacity, I think that I have a duty, and an obligation, to pass along what I have learned so that other veteran business owners can learn from my experiences. This is similar to how a combat veteran passes on what he has learned so others can benefit from his experiences and thus increase their chances of surviving if and when they ever see combat.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned is that in business, there are certain laws that apply, much like there are laws in warfare. This similarity has led to several business owners, who are veterans, writing books about how surviving in the business world is very much like surviving on the battlefield. I intend to write such a book myself one day if I ever get the time.

One of these business laws is vital to success and unfortunately, I learned this the hard way. Informally, it’s known as: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Formally, I call it the law of network leveraging. What it means is establishing and maintaining a network of individuals and organizations that will enable you to take your business to much higher levels. I learned about this law the hard way.

For years, I thought that if I learned my business inside and out, became an expert at it, obtained all the certifications and licenses necessary to bring business in, and devoted practically all my time and effort to my business that it would lead to success. It did not. For over ten years, I struggled to bring in business finally realizing that I maxed myself out.

Elton Johnson, Jr. CEO

Faced with the fact that I had to change my basic business strategy to avoid stagnation, I went from a “what I know” to a “who I know” business strategy. I began by joining every Veteran Business Organization (VBO) I knew of. This included the National Veteran Business Development Council (NVBDC), the Opps4Vets Network, the Veterans in Business (VIB) Network, the National Veterans Small Business Coalition (NVSBC), the Coalition for Veteran Owned Business (CVOB), the Elite SDVOB Network, the US Veterans Business Alliance (USVBA), the Veterans and Military Business Owners Association (VAMBOA), and the National Veteran Owned Business Association (NaVOBA), to name a few. I also began to attend events that were specifically organized to help Service Disabled Veteran Owned Business Owners. Practically all the VBOs have events that they sponsor or host throughout the year all over the country.

When I attended these events, I made it point to talk to as many people as possible, especially the vendors who attended these events looking for SDVOB owners to do business with their companies. I even subscribed to magazines whose main focus is on veterans and/ or veteran owned businesses. US Veterans magazine and Vetrepreneur magazine were the main two (although Vetrepreneur is no longer published).

In a short time, my efforts paid off. My network sources/ contacts began to provide me with information on what to do and whom to contact in order to get the business I needed to grow my company. It was like being a military commanding officer (CO) whose Intelligence Section (e.g., G-2, S-1) was constantly providing him with useful information for him to win on the battlefield. Successful networking was the key element in taking my company from a one-man company started on a borrowed $1150 back in 1993 to what it is today: a multi-million dollar institutional broker-dealer doing business with some of the biggest financial institutions on Wall Street.

There are several laws of business that a smart business owner needs to heed in order to obtain business success-the law of time is money and the law of it takes money to make money. However, the law of network leveraging is just as important and, in the end, can be more effective at bringing about business success than any of the others. I strongly recommend applying it to your business strategy as soon as possible.