Military Spouse-Owned Businesses Face Their Biggest Obstacle: The Military

The one thing that continues to stand in the way of military spouses achieving their entrepreneurial goal, a goal that would benefit the military itself in retention of service members and their families is, surprisingly, the military itself.

Since 9/11, a new generation of military spouses has emerged; women and men married to service members who want so maintain a career or business as they follow their spouse where the military demands. The military lifestyle requires out-of-the-box thinking to create a transportable career and, with creativity and grit, many spouses have turned to entrepreneurship to create their own financial and personal future while their service member spouse advances in their own career.

The issue

What types of businesses are we talking about? The very types of businesses military spouses are being encouraged by the Department of Defense to pursue due to their mobility. Freelance, consulting, remote/telework, food service, multi-level marketing, and start ups are just a few examples. Military spouse entrepreneurs are really on the rise. Many of these spouses function as 1099 contractors, full time remote employees, legal consultants, software developers, LLC or C Corp owners, and many maintain contracts and/or a consistent, high income client base.

The lengthy wait time and subsequent denied requests destroy businesses carefully grown by military spouses who have already sacrificed many of their own career goals and income making opportunities in the wake of the challenges of military life. And, to add insult to injury, these same spouses are being told by military-affiliated organizations and government endorsed non-profits that serve military families to strive for gainful employment, yet the policies on place remain one of the biggest obstacles for military spouse business owners.

Military spouses who live on post are told again and again to wait long periods of time for approval to operate a business out of their quarters and, for many, the approval never comes. In the meantime, military spouses are told to cease operation of their thriving and successful, income-earning businesses until they receive approval. No successful business model supports a cycle of 4 to 6 week closures every 2 to 3 years.

There are no military-wide approval processes or guidelines for operating a home-based business on post. Yet, these businesses are required by the military to register with the installation. Because of this, decisions are made on an installation-to-installation basis.

The current reality

This is in direct conflict with the free market system of the United States that is such a large part of our country’s ethos. There seems to be a failure to recognize that more financially stable families spend more at AAFES. And spouses who are gainfully self-employed tend not to move to find employment elsewhere, thus spending more money on post and volunteering within the community.

Having navigated for weeks through piles of paperwork and approvals and inspections, imagine hearing the news that your business has not been approved to operate? In the meantime, you have not pursued other employment options taking months off of a timeline of less than two years of being stationed at that location.

It is important to note that although most military housing is privatized, it is often not the private housing companies that are denying approval of operation of home based businesses. The approvals from the private housing companies are often fast with positive results for the military spouse. It is the military’s process that is difficult and often has a negative outcome.

The kicker: many spouse owned businesses are being told “no” because they are said to compete with AAFES, the stores operated on post by the DoD. While the explanations are long, including the traditional “AAFES funds MWR programs and we don’t want to take away from those funds,” it boils down to the DoD denying competition for the stores they operate.

The process for establishing a home based businesses from post to post is not standardized. Spouses must get approval each time they move. The final decision comes down to the garrison commander who the applicant may never get to meet.

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