Having a side business while in the military may come with certain stigmas. People don’t know the rules about it so they typically stay away from it. They also think that people will think negatively about them. Instead they believe that the only way to supplement their income is to invest in stocks, real estate, or their TSP. I am not legal council but I don’t find the justification there in saying that I am allowed to put effort into researching and buying real estate, then renovating and managing that property, but I can’t put my own effort into anything else that could make me money. If I had $2000 to invest and I was a young serviceman with plenty of time left in my mortal existence, I would not simply get into the betting game of investing in stocks. That method of investing does not allow you to put in your own effort in order to increase the value of your investment, something we call sweat equity.
I would look at providing a service or product that others would pay me money for. I’ll break this blog post into those two offerings, services and products, and give some tips on how to brainstorm your next offering. Keep in mind that your goal should be to turn your side business into ‘passive income’. That means that although you may have to put some legitimate work into your business up front, it’ll hopefully continue on with minimal interaction with you in the future. Essentially it’ll turn into a source of income for you that you aren’t dedicating 100% of your effort into. That’s perfect for a military member because you may get pulled away from it for training or deployments.
Services: One approach to providing a service is to think of something that you are passionate about and less than 5% of the people you know have in depth experience with. This could be car detailing, fantasy basketball, model airplanes, or watch collecting. Then build a site that allows you to talk about that passion freely. The point in this site will be to provide awesome content that either people can’t find anywhere else or has such a unique perspective. Match that site up with social media and draw as many people to you as possible. You start making money through providing links to companies on your site. The easiest way is to use Google Adsense but you could also find specific companies that you want to sell for and google for the following “Company X affiliate program”, where Company X is the company you want to sell for. If they have an affiliate program, they will provide you the code snippets that you need to include on your site that will link your readers with their company. Then when you viewers buy products, you get a commission. Another easy affiliate program is Amazon associates. This is not an easy journey to take, but if you are truly unique, you can elevate your game and reach out to specific companies and work out promotional deals where you get paid fees for having them as featured content.
Products: To invest time in building a product, you have to first find a pain point to solve or find a joy that people want more access to. A pain point could be finding parking, or spending too much time checking emails, or having to take your shoes off when going in your home. Obviously, the bigger the pain point, the better. And you know you are on to a big pain point when someone can tell you story after story about how frustrated they are with it. For example, if I asked someone if they liked taking their shoes off at home, they might say, “no it sucks”. But they won’t be able to tell me stories about how bad it was the last time they did it. Not a big pain point, and my product solution will not likely fly off the shelves. But you can also increase people’s access to joy. I started a company once called Malosi Rugby. I have since stopped restocking inventory since I run a different business now and it takes my full attention. I started a rugby supply company when I was looking on Amazon for a rugby ball that would ship to me using Prime shipping. The supply was limited and the balls that did ship were crappy quality. I decided that there was a gap in the market there and rugby was an incredibly fast growing sport. I found a manufacturer on Alibaba.com and had them send me sample products. I tested them out, made a design for my balls, and had them ship me around 300 balls and kicking tees. I spent less than $1000 on inventory. I then shipped all of my products to an Amazon warehouse and listed it as a Prime offering. I sold all of my first inventory in about 4 months at a markup of almost 10x the cost. Mind you though, I paid shipping costs, taxes, and Amazon fees in there as well so I don’t want you to think I made 10x on my investment.
The approach to thinking of a product to sell could also be used to think of a service. Sometimes you may have to hire a couple of people or partner with a couple people to service someone’s needs. That’s ok, but just be aware of how much time it will take for you to manage other people. With one person running the business, you can go fast, but with 2 or 3 people, you likely go slower but you can also go far.
Find out what your goals are: do you want to have this business take over your life and be your primary source of income at some point, or do you just want to make some quick money and ride the ride as long as it keeps feeding you money. Honestly, when I was in the military, my goal was the second of those two. I was fine doing businesses for the sake of experience. I didn’t want to lose money, but as long as I broke even, I felt like I had gained a bunch of lessons for free. It wasn’t until I left the army, that I decided to make entrepreneurship my primary source of income. But by then I felt I was ready for it.