You’d be hard pressed to find a small business not impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic in one way or another. Some have thrived with increased demand, while others have struggled to survive, and many have had to make significant changes to the way they work. We caught up with some entrepreneurial military spouses, to find out how they’re coping…

 

Sarah Keen
Lightbulb Chiropractic

Reason for starting your business: There are some well-established practices here in Colchester, so it was a bit of a gamble, but it’s paid off. I’m trained in quite a specific niche, so I now joke that I see the three Ps – pregnancy, paediatrics and paratroopers!

Biggest challenge throughout lockdown: Chiropractors were viewed as an essential service, but due to the nature of the building, I had to weigh up the risk-benefit as I see lots of pregnant women, newborns and people with autoimmune diseases, so I decided to close.

Financially that meant mounting bills without the benefit of the grants that were given out by the government. When the first lockdown began to lift, my landlord was slow to provide risk assessments. It was sink or swim, so I applied for the bounce-back loan to give me the deposit for a new space. Every week since reopening, business has picked up. It’s made me so grateful to be able to do what I love.

Plus points: I really enjoyed having more time together as a family – and I also took my paediatric chiropractic exam. I had time to work on the business instead of working in it, something we’re told to do by business coaches, but which is highly unlikely when you’re juggling everything as a military spouse!

Top tip for others: It’s soul destroying when you first start and you’re not even paying yourself, so talking to someone who’s a bit further along the journey is essential. It keeps you connected to your vision and reminds you why you’ve chosen this route.

 

Kayleigh McDine
Mini First Aid Highlands

Reason for starting your business: When I had my own children, there wasn’t a first aid class that was accessible to parents where you could bring your baby with you. My classes are friendly but informative and give you the skills and confidence to deal with a first aid situation.

Biggest challenge throughout lockdown: Mini First Aid wanted to offer parents an option to complete the class from the safety of their own home. I’ve been running classes through Zoom and we also have an online version, so parents can feel reassured.

Plus points: I’ve enjoyed slowing down to do more walks, stories and bubble baths with my girls.

Top tip for others thinking of starting their own business: Just do it! For me, it has meant that I can fit work around my military life. I love the flexibility of being able to choose my own hours. I’m very lucky that I have family who can lend a hand when my husband is deployed.

 

Katie Mitchell
Moments by Katie Mitchell Photography

Reason for starting your business: During maternity leave from the army, I realised I couldn’t bear the thought of deploying and leaving my child. I was getting really good at my then-hobby, photography, so I started work on my exit plan.

Biggest challenge throughout lockdown: I went from a very good wage in the army down to zero in the space of four months. We had to take every payment break going until my business started to pick up again, but thankfully things soon improved once the first lockdown eased.

Plus points: The bonus family time has been amazing – we’d never had so much time off together before!

Top tip for others thinking of starting their own business: If you’re offering a location-based service, you may struggle if you’re moving every few years. Perhaps consider how you can add value to your customers online instead.

 

Phoebe Hayes (left) & Charlotte Holgate (right)
Off The Patch – housing service

Reason for starting your business: The idea for OTP came about following many conversations with military families about the struggles associated with service accommodation, and lack of understanding from letting agents.

Biggest challenge throughout lockdown: Childcare has been a big challenge, especially as we, and our partners, have all continued to work throughout. Pushing back targets and reevaluating expectations has been the key.

Plus points: OTP will come out of lockdown better and stronger. We’ve adapted our practices, many of which will continue after the pandemic.

Top tip for others: If you feel you have a good business idea, just give it a go. As a military partner, don’t feel you have to live in your spouse’s shadow. Our mutual support of each other has been integral in overcoming the challenges that military life brings.

 

Sophie McLaren
Digital Mavericks – online courses

Reason for starting your business: Winning a competition with AFF to take a digital course gave me such a huge opportunity, I felt I had a responsibility to give back, which is why I do a lot of work for spouses for free and run a social surgery where people can ask me for advice.

Biggest challenge throughout lockdown: I paused my plans and after a brief break to move house, I now have around twenty students going through the training as beta testers. Homeschooling the children was my biggest obstacle. It takes so much time to do simple things, no one will ever question school holidays for teachers ever again after this!

Plus points: The time has given me thinking space and I feel a little bit like Tony Stark in my lab coming up with my next plans as my husband, aka Pepper Potts, brings me tea and reminds me to take breaks.

Top tip for others thinking of starting their own business: You can start off as a hobby, you don’t have to give up your day job. And if lockdown has taught us anything, we shouldn’t put all our eggs in one basket.

 

Rachael Ladd (right) & Steph Wilson (left)
Swirl Global – Special Educational Needs and swim safety

Reason for starting your business: We set up after looking at how best to support Rachael’s son in the pool when he was having sensory issues with some of the equipment. Not being able to find what we needed, we decided to go ahead and create our own products.

Biggest challenge throughout lockdown: COVID-19 has definitely thrown a spanner in the works! Frustratingly, we’ve not been able to sit beside each other and chat things through. As with all military life, we’ve had to improvise. This does mean that we now have a flexible way of working that will work wherever we’re posted in the future.

Plus points: COVID-19 has led to delays in obtaining fabrics for production but we’ve used the time to seek out materials with the lowest carbon footprint and really think about what our core values as a business will be going forward. We’ve received so much support online, particularly through The Milspo Business Network and Heropreneurs.

Top tip for others thinking of starting their own business: Have the courage to follow it though and park any imposter syndrome. Our motto is do something every week that scares us, because actually, what’s the worst that could happen?

 

Georgia Wilkinson
Georgia Wilkinson Designs – interiors

Reason for starting your business: Two things; I loved working in London, but I’m a country girl at heart. Secondly, it was fantastic experience working with leading textile companies, but I was bursting with my own creativity.

Biggest challenge throughout lockdown: Shipping. I used to go to the post office when my children were at nursery, but trying to manoeuvre three children and an armful of packages, whilst social distancing, isn’t easy. I’ve started sending orders with a courier, who picks up from my door – much better!

Plus points: Lockdown has been the perfect time to update my website. I was able to do a stock take and list a lot of sale items, which had been on my to do list for some time.

Top tip for others thinking of starting their own business: If you have a passion for what you do then don’t be afraid to try it. I started with very little money, but each time I made a profit I kept investing it back in the business and growing it little by little.

 

Rules & Regs

Inspired by the innovation of our entrepreneurial military spouses and fancy dipping your toes into the business world?

If so, don’t forget, you need to seek permission from DIO and your local commander if you want to run your business from your quarter.

You must have written permission and in some cases, you may also need to get the go ahead from your local council.

More info can be found at gov.uk/dio/sfa

You’re not allowed to use the BFPO system for business purposes if you’re posted overseas.

Where possible, you should use a local civilian post office or courier.

If your only option is to use BFPO, then you can apply in writing to SO2 Policy, Def PCS, BFPO 777.

Brilliant business links:

AFF employment & training
milspo.co.uk
Supporting the Unsung Hero
x-forces.com
militarymumsinbusiness.weebly.com
heropreneurs.co.uk
militarycoworking.uk

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