What can you do when your chosen career isn’t in sync with Army life? Whether your soldier is a Regular or Reserve, there are often barriers to holding down a steady job. One option is to go it alone and create your own business. We meet some entrepreneurs who have turned their passion into profit by running their own companies…
Name: Jenni Forster – Army spouse and mum of two boys
Business: Bluebird Play Therapy
Previous job: Learning support assistant
“I set up Bluebird Play Therapy after returning from an overseas posting. Play therapy is for children aged four-to-16 who have emotional, social or behavioural difficulties. I use a toolkit of toys, crafts, music and role play to help children to ‘play out’ the problems they are experiencing in a safe, therapeutic environment. Despite its effectiveness, it’s not a well-known type of intervention, so my work relies heavily on word of mouth and referrals from agencies that are aware of it.”
Advantages: I can work around school hours and I’m not impacted by my husband’s ‘erratic’ working hours!
Disadvantages: It’s not easy to move a business like this because I am heavily reliant on a strong relationship with local people. Setting up as self-employed can take time, which I wouldn’t have if we were posted often.
Top tip: Finding a career whist being posted all over the place isn’t easy, but it is possible. Make every posting count, make every job add to your experience and have an end goal in mind.
Name: Emma Nightingale
Business: Handmade by Emma Nightingale
Previous job: Admin officer
“My nan gave me a few basic sewing lessons when my daughter was born. She gave me one of her old machines to practice on, which ended up in a cupboard forgotten about until my daughter needed a PE bag for nursery… and that’s where it started. I made PE bags, posted them on my Facebook page and people started ordering. Now, I have a sub-contractor, also an Army wife, who helps me with the sewing and I ship hundreds of items a month all over the world.”
Advantages: It’s a great business to have without premises as it moves wherever I go.
Disadvantages: My husband is currently deployed on a six-month tour so in that respect it can be hard, especially in school holidays, but we muddle through!
Top tip: I turned a hobby into an income. If you have an idea, go for it!
Name: Phil Keetley – Army spouse
Business: Sea Kayak Argyll & Bute
Previous job: Soldier
“I didn’t want to pursue a typical second career after the Army, wanting instead to work with people in the outdoors. Living on the stunning coast of Argyll, sea kayaking seemed the obvious choice as there was a gap in the market and the environment on my doorstep. I didn’t have previous experience, but worked towards leadership and coaching awards as part of my resettlement.”
Advantages: I’ve found the process of setting up a business interesting and challenging. There are plenty of crossover skills from Army service, particularly having ‘people skills’ to lead clients.
Disadvantages: The business is seasonal and ties me to Argyll, so my wife Lisa has to travel home at weekends from Hampshire, adding time and pressure. It also means I don’t usually work at weekends to ensure we get some time together.
Top tip: I would encourage anyone living the Army lifestyle to consider a small business. Identify a niche and work to gain as much credibility in the field as possible.
Name: Lucy Atherden – Army spouse and mum
Business: Mini First Aid
Previous job: Nurse
“When I met my soldier, my career was on the up with a position as a senior nurse practitioner within my sights. But in five years we’ve moved four times and the increasing number of jobs on my CV started to paint a bleak picture on my professional profile. Then, I came across Mini First Aid, a specialist training provider of first aid classes for parents.
“I secured funding through X-Forces, which gave me the tools required. I also have a mentor who helps me with any queries.”
Advantages: My business allows me to spend time with my daughters and support my soldier. I’m fulfilled and feel proud of what I’m achieving.
Disadvantages: The sticking point with a franchise is that you have to buy into a ‘territory’. I cover East Wiltshire, North Hampshire and West Berkshire. We hope that the New Employment Model will enable my husband to have future postings around this area. Based on this, we’ve now bought our own home.
Top tip: Don’t be afraid to network. Find other businesses that market towards the same customer base as yours. Meet up, swap ideas and promotional material.
Name: Danielle Gallagher – Army spouse and mum of three
Business: Cotton n Paper
Previous jobs: PA and waitress
“I set up my business after our twins Alighla and Isabella were born. Living away from family, being unable to rely on my husband due to courses and deployments and with three children under three, I decided it was time to stay at home. What started as a hobby designing and paper-cutting quotes for our home soon blossomed. My family trees soon moved into other areas and over the years I have run paper-cutting courses to teach other military spouses.”
Advantages: I can stay home, watch the children grow and hit all their milestones. I have been able to move the business with each posting and sometimes we hit the jackpot and I take over the dining room as an office.
Disadvantages: The quarter we’re in now is smaller so I have to make do with a corner of the living room.
Top tip: I used to think being an Army spouse or a stay-at-home parent would make me less employable, but I’ve come to learn that it often means we have a useful set of skills for many workplaces and it shouldn’t be undermined.
Name: Willow Hearne – Army spouse and mum of three
Business: British Babies
Previous job: Pharmacy business analyst
“I used to work in our family shop so I knew how to run a bricks-and-mortar business, but that wasn’t compatible with Army life. I researched where there could be a gap in the market and had a lightbulb moment to produce organic baby clothes. A few fellow Army spouses met to discuss ways to grow our businesses – that was the start of our networking group on social media. We all had things in common; ambition, serving partners and the challenges they bring – it gave me the confidence to take the plunge. Setting up was easy with the help of X-Forces.”
Advantages: I contemplated what would work for me and our Army life – to be with my children, to move around and challenge me mentally. We moved over the summer but other than changing our address none of it affects the business.
Disadvantages: The biggest hurdle was learning about manufacturing as my experience was all in retail. Lots of research, emails, discussions and testing got me through it.
Top tip: Network with other Army spouses. Nobody understands quite like they do. If you don’t have a group locally, set one up!