Who ever thinks you can change the world?

I certainly didn’t.  I used to think my labels weren’t worth much.  Air Force veteran, mom, military spouse, and aspiring entrepreneur.  What could I offer?  Little did I know that those very labels were the beginning of something brilliant.

I found my identity in the bumpy journey to becoming an entrepreneur.  In my particular line of work, I get to help coach women to create flexible businesses around their busy (military) lives.  In doing this over the course of the past few years, my posture changed.  In giving back to women by helping them realize their potential as business owners, I saw that I could change the world a little bit every day and they were inspired to do the same.  An encouraging word here, a piece of advice there, and an occasional kick in the pants to help someone reach their full potential….I was helping people learn how to live, give, serve and grow.  And these were nothing new to me; they were the skills I had gained as a veteran, mom, military spouse and small business owner.

Now, here is the fun part.  You’re probably thinking, “oh yeah, good for you”.  But, guess what?  You have your own set of special skills that someone is waiting to receive through your entrepreneurial venture.  Yes, it’s true.  You could be the CEO of your own passion-filled business.

Today I realize, that the little things we do to give back to our families, serve our countries and communities, grow our businesses and live fully are of great value to the world.   And when we use our successful businesses to share these values and “pay it forward,” we will create an unstoppable ripple effect that reaches much farther than you would ever imagine.

So I’m on a mission.  A mission to show you that your labels are a gift.  You can take them and create a business and a life centered around your passion.  The world needs more milpreneurs who pay it forward and here is where we’ll start.

Welcome to MISSION: Milpreneur…..let’s take a journey to live.give.serve.grow together!

100 WAYS TO CREATE IMPACTFUL LEARNING MOMENTS

Abe Lincoln


I’m going to show my age with this next question.  Have you ever lost a picture?

I decided what I wanted to write about today, for Lincoln’s birthday, and I got really excited.  When my sister and I were kids, we took a trip across the country that impacted our world view for the rest of our lives.  My favorite moment from that trip was captured in a photograph.  When I tried to track it down last week, I discovered that the image is nowhere to be found.  It was taken in the age of film, when clouds were something you stared up at from a blanket on the grass.  The thought of losing that picture brought tears to my eyes.  And then I realized that the thing I was emotional about wasn’t the picture.  The tears in my eyes were tied to a memory:  when two little girls realized that their lives weren’t limited by lines on a map or lessons in a book.

PART I

THE SPARK:  EXPERIENCES THAT SHAPE YOUR CHILD’S FUTURE

Although he won't remember this trip, it's a memory I will cherish forever.

Taking my son to the same steps I visited as a kid was one of the most wonderful moments of my life so far.

With the picture hidden in the dark corner of a storage unit somewhere and the film long gone, all I’m left to share with you is a memory.  When I close my eyes, I can see it clearly: two girls, the smaller one with straight, brown hair, the older one with dark, frizzy curls, both wearing puffy 80’s winter coats, standing together on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.  Before our parents snapped the photo, I remember staring up at the massive structure, overwhelmed by the magnitude of the words etched on its walls.  I didn’t understand what they meant in the grand scheme of our nation’s history, but I felt the power behind the words.  Even with the cold air biting my face, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from those walls.  Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the figure of Lincoln, seated thoughtfully, watching me as I tried to wrap my mind around his words.  That moment sparked something inside of me that still shapes my life today.

“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true.  I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”

― Abraham Lincoln

Standing in the shadows of Lincoln’s watchful eye, a tiny flame came to life in the back of my mind.  From that point forward, the most impactful decisions in my life were extensions of that moment. What started as a spark became a flame that lit the way to each turning point in my life.  To this day, I have trouble explaining why I chose to join the Air Force.  I just know that the thought of serving my country stoked the same flame that was lit 10 years earlier at the Lincoln memorial.  Both my sister and I grew up to blaze our own trails.  My sister is the ultimate expatriate, from the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan, to a nonprofit in Kathmandu, to growing her family in New Zealand, stretching her influence as an entrepreneur and pioneer in global education.

My thoughts still go back to that picture.  I could have read the same words in a book and they would have gone in one ear and out the other.  I would have been intrigued, but not captivated like I was standing in the cold air that day almost 30 years ago.  As I sit typing with my 7-month old son in my arms today, I am in awe of his curiosity.  As he grows older and opportunities for learning go beyond grabbing a spoon, or learning to put one foot in front of the other, I wonder what moments will shape his journey.

Written by Angelina Stephens

Instagram.com/angelina.r.stephens.

Stay tuned for Part 2…with an exciting perspective on how to build character through impactful, engaged learning.  Get a glimpse into an education revolution that is building innovative leaders for the next generation!

Want To Grow A Business You Really Love?

Part I

It’s here!  The season of love, right?  What a fun one!  Valentine’s Day parties, flowers, chocolate, romance, all these quintessential things deemed part of the seasonal experience.  What if there’s a way to bring those things into your business?  It sounds kind of funny, right?  I thought so, too, to be quite honest!

Here, let me explain a bit…

A Business You Love

When reflecting on how I receive and give love, something hit me.   This “love” thing is about people first and foremost, yes, but it can also be extended to various areas of my life.  My business is a vehicle to have the resources I need and want to best love those around me, so why not give it some love, too?

This is a question I’ve asked myself daily for the past few weeks.  What does it take to grow a business I truly love?  Not just one that pays the bills and gets the job done, but one that actually fulfills me and leads me toward my greater goals and purpose.  The first thing I’ll tell you is the answers are not always clear or easy because growing a business isn’t always easy.  I’ve encountered many challenges, including some of the biggest I’ve ever faced in the past month.

So, where does that leave me with the answer to this question?

It Isn’t Always Easy…But It’s Always Worth It!

Here is what I know.  Just like I always tell my team, business is a lot like marriage and exercise:  It isn’t always easy but it’s always worth it.   There will be good times, hard times, sad times, times of momentous growth and times of loss.   It’s in the continuation and drive despite the ups and downs that you can find true purpose.   The hard times are often the ones that grow my love the most because I find out what it’s really all about.  My drive has to go deep, deep down into the depths of who I am and what I want.  By taking the next step, even when I can’t see what’s next or it feels scary, I’ve found all the things I truly love about my business.

The Amazing Gift Of A Business You Love…

It’s in helping those who have the heart to grow their business, it’s in connecting and building relationships with incredible people from all over the country, it’s in helping others realize their greater purpose and what drives them to grow and succeed.   Through the good and bad I cling to what I love, and because of that, I’ve seen tremendous growth in myself and in my business.   I can honestly say I love my business and what I do, and that is an amazing gift.

So, friend, do not be afraid to ask yourself hard questions and find what it takes for you to keep going and Grow A Business You Love!

Want more practical tips about how to fall in love with your business?

Check back soon for Part II.

Meet Our Guest Author – Susan Brown

Susan Brown is a former elementary school teacher turned business owner and stay at home mom of two little ones.  A Navy wife with deep southern roots who now calls the DC area home, she fits in lots of team building, volunteering, and baby cuddles into busy days working from home. In her spare time, she enjoys red wine, running, connecting with other military spouses, and blogging!

Progress Over Perfection

Hey ladies!  Ok, I need you to be honest for a second.  Could you be guilty of allowing perfection to paralyze you from achieving your goals?  It could be that you avoided a phone call because you were scared of not saying the “right” thing?  Maybe you had a business idea, but squashed it because you told yourself that it would never work?  Or maybe you DID try to achieve something bold, but it didn’t go as planned, and that one failed attempt to stole your desire to give it another try.

As I watched my 9-yr old daughter play soccer this morning, I was fascinated to see her team’s relentless pursuit of their (physical) goals.  No matter how many times they missed a goal, lost control and went out of bounds, or were given a slight correction by the coach, they had smiles on their faces and kept giving it 100%. They played with a bold and brave desire to do their best that was absolutely infectious!

REWARD EFFORT NOT ACHIEVEMENT

I attribute a lot of their brave demeanor to her coach.  I have always admired his style, which is to reward every try, rather than shame any failure.  It sounds a bit soft, but don’t think that he sacrifices top performance because of this style.  In fact, he coaches some of the most elite teams in the area with this method.  In essence, what he has perfected, is a lesson of which all of us need reminding.  And that is, that no matter how old we are we should keep our focus on progress, not perfection.

I recently attended a retreat with other successful businesswomen colleagues where the need for this lesson was reinforced. The retreat was an invitation-only event for those who had achieved new titles and promotions, so I was surrounded by an impressive group of proven leaders.  Our first agenda item during training was to connect with each person’s motivation for starting their business; or our “why” as it is labeled by author, Simon Sinek.  As we went around the room and each woman spoke, there were revelations about childhood, marriage, wanting to regain an identity, achieve a sense of security, etc.  It was a powerful session and the emotional connection through this exercise was absolutely unbelievable.  But the one thing that was surprisingly noticeable in many stories, was an overall unspoken feeling of guarded optimism by each woman that she truly believed she had what it took to achieve her big goals.  It wasn’t that anyone lacked belief in our company, the product we represent or the system we use.  Unfortunately, it was that they still had a shadow of doubt in themselves.  I found this realization completely ironic, because by anyone else’s measure these women had already proven themselves successful.  So why are we as women so hard on ourselves?

TEACH BRAVERY…NOT PERFECTION

The reason for each person’s ounce of self-doubt varied that day, but according to a 2016 TED talk, “Teach Girls Bravery, Not Perfection” by Reshna Saujani (founder of Girls Who Code) the overall problem stems from the way we raise our girls.  Think about it.  As kids, boys are encouraged to participate in daredevil acts like jumping off the highest playground equipment, playing with weapons, and being bold and aggressive at sports.  Yet, as girls we hear things like “act like a lady,” “be nice” or “don’t be too bossy.” And this kind of subtle societal disparity creates women who will strive, but only to the degree they can achieve perfection.  And if she falls short or attracts any criticism, she starts second guessing her abilities.  Over a lifetime, this breeds the exact feeling I was surrounded by at the retreat.  Unlike men who interpret failure as an opportunity to ask, “What went wrong?” we as women, blame ourselves for an imperfect outcome, and ask, “What is wrong with me?”

I’m not here to say that I’m not guilty.  In fact, I may very well be one of the worst offenders.  I was a straight A student, my friends will tell you that I am obsessed with keeping our house picked up and “presentable,” and I probably will have revised this article at least 5 times before you see it.  Beyond that, where I really notice my insecurity come into play is when I return to the male-dominated military world.  I only have AF Reserve duty in the Pentagon twice a year, but each session brings out an irrational questioning of my abilities.  In my business life, I confidently coach and lead a team of over 7,000 women.  But the second I walk through the Pentagon doors, it can easily seem like none of that success matters and it’s easy to question what I have to offer.  See how this quest for perfection works?  Thankfully, I have had to talk myself through this scenario for almost 17 years and I’ve gotten better at standing my mental ground.

CREATE THE RIGHT ENVIRONMENT

All that said, I think it’s important we truly begin to create an environment where we place more value on progress than perfection in our next generation.  I returned home from the retreat with an intense desire to create an environment where my daughter believes:

1)  That her ideas will always be as good as anyone else’s

2)  That she can try and fail, because failure is a natural stepping stone to success

3)  In herself and knows that that belief can’t be stolen by any single person’s words, by any tough situation, or by society’s norms

4)  That progress is worth more than perfection

So, for the sake of the young girls in your life, I challenge you to think about the way you see the world.  Is it perfection or bust?  Or are there small changes you can make to help encourage your girls to make bold, carefree attempts at going outside their comfort zone and tackling big things…regardless of the outcome?  As Reshna Suajani so eloquently stated, “when we teach girls to be imperfect, and we help them leverage it, we will build a movement of young women who are brave and who will build a better world for themselves and for each and every one of us.”

HOW THE FIRST LADY CAN INSPIRE YOUR LEGACY

Today I have hope for the future.  I am excited for the first time in a LONG time…I have chills just thinking about it.  When I close my eyes, and get ready to speak, the words that roll to the tip of my tongue bring on a surge of emotions that I haven’t felt since I was a kid.  I feel inspired, and it doesn’t have anything to do with a single politician converging on Washington DC.

The line at the top of this page implies that I am going to talk about the First Lady, but I would rather not talk about any single woman who boasts the title.  Instead, I would like to tell you about the First Lady of my imagination, the one who inspired the words that are sitting, buzzing, on the tip of my tongue.   I want to tell you how she pushed me to unlock something that I thought was long lost, that leaves me on the edge of my seat, on the brink of tears from excitement.

FAILURE: THE KEY TO CREATING YOUR OWN EXTRAORDINARY CIRCUMSTANCES

Although many take on a political role, especially in campaigning, the First Lady of my imagination is a person who has no political agenda of her own.  She didn’t run for office, isn’t worried about reelection, and isn’t obligated to a political party.

I imagine the First Lady, thrust into a room of staffers, pens to paper, ready to throw their life’s blood into whatever platform is launched by the words that leave her lips in that moment.  Suddenly, this person, who wasn’t on any political ticket, becomes a powerful figure, with the nation’s resources at her disposal and media poised to focus its attention on her efforts.  In that moment…the possibilities are limitless.  She can be the champion of any cause, setting the wheels in motion to affect real change in the world with a single whisper.

A former First Lady said that if you don’t accept failure as a possibility, you don’t set high goals, branch out…you don’t even try, because you are never willing to accept the risk.  I think it’s safe to say that an ordinary person is much more likely to fail than the First Lady in my mind.  Not only is she unbound by the limits of an ordinary person, she is encouraged by the wild ideas of my imagination, where no risk is too high.

I will be the first person to tell you that I will never be the First Lady, or the President for that matter.  But like many of us, I have causes that I’m fiercely passionate about.  Sometimes I daydream about ways to become a champion of those causes “someday.”  Sometimes I even tell people about vague future plans to give back, using words like “nonprofit” or “philanthropy.”  Usually, like most ordinary people, I jump into lively conversations when they come up, give to charities here and there, and leave the effort to change the world to the extra-ordinary people who are unencumbered by ordinary lives.

YOU MUST DO THE THINGS YOU THINK YOU CANNOT DO.

Another former First Lady said those words.  She was far from ordinary.  But her words should serve as a slap in the face to all of us who think the opportunity to change the world is reserved for those who find themselves in extraordinary circumstances.  The First Lady in my imagination was thrust into a room, given a platform, and was liberated by the expectation that she would change the world.

You must do the things you think you cannot do.

What if you set the expectation for yourself that from this moment forward, you would set yourself on a path to change the world?  What if you decided to accept failure as a possibility, no matter how high the risk?  The First Lady in my imagination is incapable of letting ordinary limitations get in her way.

Now, imagine yourself in her place, seated in a room, surrounded by eager faces, pens at the ready… 

What do you say?

Meet Our Guest Author – Angelina Stephens

Angelina Stephens is an active duty Air Force maintenance officer, freelance writer and entrepreneur.  She and her husband are devoted to military service and plan to retire to nowhere in particular (aka anywhere they want) by circumnavigating the globe to see the parts of the world the Air Force didn’t show them.  They recently sailed their retirement boat, and current home, from Texas to Washington, D.C., where they live with their 6-month old son.   In Angelina’s spare time (past and hopefully future), she runs, plays the drums, rides horses, plays basketball, and enjoys cooking with a large bottle of wine.  Presently, she is participating in a 6+ month baby-induced sleep deprivation challenge, and enjoys ordering takeout with a large pot of black coffee.  Follow her sleepless adventures at Instagram.com/angelina.r.stephens.

The Most Important Job…

img_0483This kid.  Some days he frustrates the heck out of us.  He picks on his sister, only wants to play computer and can grumble about just about anything.  On these particular days, I wonder if anything I am doing as a mom is working.  And if his future job might end up being a grumbly garbage man.  But then there are the good days.   Days like today, where I can catch a glimpse of the extraordinary being inside that grumbly, developing body and it causes my heart to swell!

Last week was the first week in our new school and Cole’s 4th new school as a military kid.  It can be scary and nerve-wracking the first few days as the new kid in school and we all brace ourselves for impact with each move for what the first week could bring.  Luckily, for the most part we’ve weathered each move (CA, VA, NJ, and now back to a different city in VA) without too much trouble.  But as a mom, I tend to stress on their behalf each time.  I’m sure most moms, and especially military ones, can relate.imagejpeg_0

To make us all feel better, the kids and I attended the school’s “meet the teacher” day.  One of the hot topics there was what “job” each 5th grader was assigned.  As the oldest members of the elementary school, the 5th graders get the privilege of helping out in many different capacities (which sometimes even results in missing some math).  Since Cole was new, and didn’t get a job assigned to him at the end of 4th grade like the others, he would need to pick a job, so I thought it’d be good for him to hear about the options.  The other kids informed Cole that there was everything from technology team, to art assistant, to grounds helper, to PE assistant to crossing guard.  Some required you to show up to school early (insert Cole groan) and others did not.  But I quickly inferred from these 5th graders that your “job” was a BIG deal!  We left running through the pros and cons of each potential job and headed home to enjoy a long weekend before the first day.

After many nervous questions and a few pre-school jittery feelings, the first day seemed to go pretty smoothly.  I dropped the kids at school, and although I know both were nervous, they handled it like champs.  Me, though–I was absolutely lost with the quiet at home.  I had plenty of work piled up, but for some reason I was completely scattered all day thinking about all the things that could have been happening at school.  Are they making friends?  Do they have someone to sit with at lunch?  Is their teacher nice?  Are they making sure they don’t feel left out?  What would I do if a bully picked on one of them?  Etc, etc.  It was the normal ridiculous line of thought that happens in a Mom’s head when you get too much quiet time- lol!

Yet, all the worrying was for not, when I was met with smiles outside the school after the bell.  They did great!  The only complaint was that they needed bigger snacks!!  In fact, now that the first week has come and gone, it seems like they’ve been here forever.  Both are full-speed into their soccer teams, music lessons and morning routines.  Each have picked out kids they enjoy in their class and also the ones they don’t. And on Thursday, Cole came home elated to tell me he had picked his job!  I was eager to see which one he picked, guessing he would have gone with something in his normal wheelhouse, like the technology team (more time to be on computers). imagejpeg_3

To my surprise, he was jumping-out-of-his-skin-excited to tell me he chose to be a helper for the special needs class.  He would get the pleasure of aiding 4 younger boys with autism who would use his helping hand to assist throughout their day.  He was just beaming as he explained how on the first day they did yoga together, how one of the boys loved when Cole spelled his name instead of said it, and how they even had their own quiet fire alarm, so that it wouldn’t “hurt their ears so much.”  I was literally almost in tears listening to my kiddo truly loving recounting his experience and how he found such comfort in helping these kids.

And what I realized in that blissful moment is that no matter where we live, no matter what school we’re in, or who is there with us, if we love and pour into our kids, they will find their way.  Probably in their own way, and not in the same way we would do it.  But they will find their own, beautiful, and unique path every time.  And on days like this one, we’ll get a tiny little sneak peak into what their blessed future holds.

So as I reflect on a week filled with lots of emotions, I encourage every military mom to take a deep breath and know that all your toils and tribulations are creating something wonderful.  It doesn’t always feel like it when you’re in the middle of it, but the challenging days will come to pass.  They always do.  Just remember that what you’re doing matters.  Every new school you ease them into, every new friendship you help them develop and every hurdle you help them overcome matters.

Each experience is building a strong foundation of service and character that even if you can’t see today, will reveal itself in time.  At the end of the day, our journey as military families may look a little different than the civilian kids down the street.  It most certainly has a few more zig-zags and a lot more speed bumps, but it’s still just as beautiful.  And if my prayers are answered, these amazing little humans will be ready to inherit the world’s most important jobs of the next generation!imagejpeg_2

Why Traveling is Important to Business

As I take a moment to write down my thoughts after returning from an amazing trip to Australia, I can’t help but reflect.  For a blissful week, we explored everything possible in the city of Sydney; the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, the fish market, the beaches, the amazing flat white coffees and everything in between.  Then we flew north to the Great Barrier Reef and stayed at the beautiful One & Only Resort on Hayman Island.  It was absolutely stunning!  And although we were only on Hayman Island for a day (my hubby’s job warranted an early return), it was totally worth the trek.  As I took in the Australian culture and warm reception from the Aussie people, it reminded me why traveling can be such a benefit to your business.

Here are a few reasons why:

  1. Solve problems and approach things in another way

There is something about traveling to a new culture that opens your eyes to so many new ways to approach life and business.  Take something as simple as how restaurants run, how toilets flush, how transportation works, or what apps are popular and you will find new examples of brilliance that can apply to the way you run your business.  For me on this trip, I was fascinated at listening how Huggies “nappies,” or diapers as we call them in the US, are so much more popular in Australia than in the US.  The explanation was all to do with marketing.  People in Australia like a much more laid-back approach to marketing and sales than Americans are used to.  Aussies need to feel like “a mate” before they will give you their brand loyalty and trust.milpreneur

  1. See how your business runs from afar without you

There is nothing like being absent to see the true stability of your organization.  As much as it can be hard to step away from the WiFi, social media and connectivity of your day-to-day operations, it’s worth doing.  That way you can get a true look at what you’ve built and how it operates in your absence.  I find that the leaders in an organization find their time to shine when you step away.

  1. Recharge by powering down

One of my favorite parts about international travel is the fact that I don’t buy a local phone plan and I take the time to power down. Now, this is major.  Because normally, I am connected to my phone at all times.  But on international vacation, I only check email and messages in my hotel.  I FaceTime my kids once a day and the rest of the time is meant for my brain to refresh and find its full capacity of creativity and passion again.  It’s amazing how rejuvenating it can be!  Now, obviously it doesn’t take an international trip to do this.  But, unplugging in our uber-connected world is a must-do for any business owner to find your passion and roots!

  1. Share your discoveries

I love coming home from a trip to recount all the details to my friends and family members who were watching from afar.  Luckily, social media provides a wonderful platform for them to follow along.  Not only does sharing my experiences help me more deeply connect with the joy of the trip, but it also gives those around me new ideas that may spark something great in them.  This trip, we brought back the discovery of an awesome Australian treat, Tim Tams, to our kids and summer house guests.  We also got to recount a great coincidental run-in with the Australian Rugby team in the airport. From this story, my son has a renewed love for Rugby after knowing that his new jersey was touched by an Australian Olympic player.  Subsequently, we scoured the Olympic Opening Ceremonies and found our Aussie connection on the TV.  And somehow, we spotted him!  The point is, you just never know what great new ideas your travel will spark in those around you!

  1. Travel = Fun

So often as small business owners, we are constantly doing, doing, doing.  Travel is a great reminder for the end goal of what you’re doing it for.  And that is a better life!  Even if you can only afford a small staycation, make it a goal to vacation at least once every year.  It feeds your brain, teaches you so many lessons, recharges your brain, influences those around you and reminds you that hard work really does pay off!

Warm regards and happy travels!

Milpreneur Karin Bourque: “Bad Wolf Bakery”

Milpreneur Highlight“Bloom where you are planted,” is the advice Karin Bourque offers when asked what one piece of information young, career-minded military spouses should know. It’s this philosophy that appears to have led her where she is today, sitting in her son’s Tae Kwon Do class being interviewed, while disciplining her 3-year-old, calculating what orders she needs to complete tonight for work, and determining what new items she needs to buy for her shop, Bad Wolf Bakery.

“My life is definitely fun. It’s never boring,” Karin explains as she contemplates how much more she has to accomplish today before she can finally find dedicated “me” time. Her positive outlook has been a guiding force as she created her own business in 2013—a business that now has a solid customer base and is continuing to grow and, well, bloom.

From Three Little Pigs to The Big Bad Wolf [Bakery]

Karin conceived of her idea for her bakery while in Hawaii for her logistician officer husband’s work. She has a Master’s in School Administration, and taught for four years before becoming a stay-at-home mom. Then, in the process of eating gluten-free and paleo, she found herself “bound and determined to make something amazing out of coconut flour and almond meal.”

Even Karin admits that many of her first creations weren’t, well, edible. Her husband signed her up for a cake decorating class, which helped her flourish in the kitchen. Soon, people began to talk about her tasty creations, gluten-free and regular alike. Through a move to Kentucky and another pregnancy, she continued to wear her apron and get busy in the kitchen, making “cakes for our neighbors, holidays, celebrations, and pretty much anything I could think of.” She began to share her gluten-free/paleo treats, and before she knew it, people were telling her that they loved her product. Bad Wolf Bakery, named for her kids’ love of The Three Little Pigs, was born. “A talented friend offered to create my logo, I set up an email address, website, social media accounts, printed business cards, and hit the ground running,” she shares.

The Joy of Baking

Karin admits that sometimes, she feels like she has three jobs: mom, military spouse, and business owner. While this may be true, her love of baking keeps her job from feeling too much like work. Her goal in creating the bakery, which does not have a storefront but sells goods online, was entirely about finding a job she enjoys that also offers her flexibility. Sometimes, those are jobs you simply need to create for yourself.

“BWB isn’t making me rich,” Karin points out. “But it is funding my love affair with baking. Whatever profits I bring in go directly back into my kitchen (or donated to the cause of the month as part of “BWB Gives Back”).” This philosophy about business has enabled Karin to think of the endeavor as a sort of “test run, figuring out sourcing of ingredients, shipping costs and marketing.”

She may not know just what’s ahead. Her husband plans to retire in seven years, and in just a year her kids will both be in school all day. “I’m feeling out this business to see if it’s really something I want to pursue in the future,” she explains. And that’s part of the fun.

The Business of Cakes & Cookies

It’s not all sugar and spice and everything nice in the world of running a bakery. For Karin, it’s also about making smart choices. “For any military spouse, your ideal business should be something you enjoy, bottom line,” she explains. “But you also need a market for your goods or services and you should be able to set up reasonable price points.” According to Karin, that means having a clear business plan, and realistic expectations. She also advices including the spouse in the process. “Running a small business is going to affect your whole household, whether you like it or not,” she adds.

In addition to maintaining her business savvy, Karin also focuses on leveraging social media. She describes it as her lifeline since she doesn’t have a storefront. While she admits that some policy changes on Facebook have hurt the reach of small businesses, it has still been the key way for her to distribute information. “Generally, less than 10% of my followers actually get to see my posts, but it’s the best way to organize photos, information, and put stuff out there for people to find,” Karin points out.

Her business also implements Instagram to expand its reach, using hashtags to attract attention and interact with more people. She supplements Instagram and Facebook with a blog and email newsletter to maintain contact and forge relationships with new and repeat customers.

Through the social media management, business planning, and actual baking, Karin still values the experience of actually being “present” while at home with her family. Working from home, for anyone, makes it easy for personal and professional time to merge. “It’s very important to keep your work schedule manageable and be clear with your goals,” she advises. “You can make it work though,” Karin adds. “You could consider getting your kids into a day program or preschool. You might want to hire
help with housework. And make sure you set aside time to take care of yourself.”

Through all the juggling and commitments, Karin’s journey is undoubtedly a fun one, driven by risks, rewards, and a lot of fun. Perhaps her best advice is that she recommends seeing it all as an adventure. This philosophy inevitably makes everything a little sweeter.

Meet Our Guest Author – Jill Pohl

Jill Pohl is a freelance writer in Washington, DC…at least for now. Her husband’s Air Force career takes them all over the country (and hopefully all over the world!) She currently blogs at www.visionsofjillhanna.com and writes for Elite Daily, Wall Street Insanity, and a variety of digital marketing agencies. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her at the Krav Maga studio, riding horses, or binge-watching Netflix and eating doughnuts.

Milpreneur Lisa Bradley: R. Riveter

Milpreneur Highlight

Some military spouse organizations offer to help spouses find employment through workshops, meetings, and job fairs. Lisa Bradley’s business, R. Riveter, actually provides them with jobs. Leave it to a military spouse to find a way to tangibly help fellow military spouses provide a second income to their household.

Riveter, which sells elegant handbags and even dog collars and handkerchiefs, promotes the idea that there are mobile and flexible careers that spouses can take with them. Every product is hand-crafted by military spouses employed by R. Riveter. The finished item is elegant, durable, and made in America using military-inspired materials.

The Path to Fashion

For R. Riveter’s creator, this is a labor of love rather than profit. “My parents were entrepreneurs,” she explains, “So the ups and downs of running a small business are not new to me.” 12660476_10208976459515282_1924985504_nToday, R. Riveter remains a passion project, but is also a successful online shop. It was what Bradley describes as her first true career.

Prior to starting R. Riveter, Lisa had a string of jobs that she describes as “for now” work that left her feeling “deflated and always having to redefine who I was.” With the support of her husband, Lisa worked with her business partner to create a line of handbags that would give her something to be proud of.

“Moving every two or three years made it difficult to have a resume to be proud of—or that employers would notice.” Entrepreneurship provided the solution. “It was time to quit complaining and do something about it,” Bradley insists. R. Riveter came to mind as a way to help her create a career, and provide employment to military spouses in her shoes.

Four Years Later…

Today, Lisa and her business partner divide and conquer. While Lisa’s partner runs the “production side” from North Carolina, Lisa operates the business side from her home office in Murfreesboro, TN.

Lisa describes her business as incredibly rewarding: “When you grow a business it takes on a life of its own—under your guidance. Knowing that the pains and pleasures are a product of our own decisions and our creation is the most rewarding career experience I can imagine.”

Her love of the pains and pleasures alike has enabled her to grow a business that is so much more than she had conceived of for herself. She doesn’t see it as a business about numbers and profit. For her, R. Riveter was successful the moment it taught her that “being fulfilled as a military spouse isn’t about that dream job or title I thought I needed to define who I was. R. Riveter taught me that you can do so much in this world and have a huge impact on people’s lives.”

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Her business has also taught her what the ideal business for military spouses is: one that’s both portable and flexible. This often comes, Lisa admits, with creating your own business (and employing other military spouses to share the experience). She envisions the perfect spouse-owned business as one that forges a community of spouses who work together, even across the country, to create something.

The process of collaborating with other spouses has been streamlined by social media, which enables all company employees to communicate easily. It has also enabled R. Riveter to share its message of positivity through hardship to military spouses stationed all over the world.

Making a Difference Matters

For Lisa, the entire effort behind R. Riveter is about making a difference. Her business shows her children the value of a strong work ethic, as well as American made products. It also shows them that a mother and wife can still be a successful business-owner. The day-to-day balance is hard, but possible.

She also prides herself on her company’s work to “forge a new way of manufacturing, where there are only goods and outputs. Traditionally the manufacturing industry is riveted with poor working conditions, low wages, and environmental hazards. R. Riveter is providing mobile income to military spouses to work from home, using recycled materials.”

For Bradley, her business is part of a mission to set a great example for other businesses, her children, as well as military spouses. She continues to encourage spouses to do whatever inspires them. “You have to follow your own instincts,” she insists. That’s what Bradley did, after all, and she created a successful business that gives to both its customers and its employees.

Meet Our Guest Author – Jill Pohl

Jill Pohl is a freelance writer in Washington, DC…at least for now. Her husband’s Air Force career takes them all over the country (and hopefully all over the world!) She currently blogs at www.visionsofjillhanna.com and writes for Elite Daily, Wall Street Insanity, and a variety of digital marketing agencies. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her at the Krav Maga studio, riding horses, or binge-watching Netflix and eating doughnuts.

Milpreneur Bridget Platt: Daddy’s Deployed

Milpreneur HighlightWe all aspire to spin the “negatives” that life throws our way into “positives.” Bridget Platt founded her entire business on her potent ability to do so. She never seems to dwell on the downsides of military life, instead pushing past them to secure her Master’s degree, establish a career teaching English, and ultimately start a business founded on bringing joy to children with deployed parents.

Sometimes, pilots’ spouses seem to have it particularly difficult. As many military spouses know, pilots are gone a lot. Bridget’s husband, an EA6B Prowler flight instructor, discovered that he would be leaving for four months, then deployed for seven, just 10 days after Bridget gave birth to their daughter. This is nothing new to many military families. The military has a way of turning a joyous event into a new challenge. For Bridget, this changed everything.

As she began searching for books to help her daughter understand her father’s deployment, she realized that there was nothing on the market that put a positive spin on this challenging subject. The books that existed to coach children through deployments were surprisingly negative. Bridget didn’t want her daughter to have any misconceptions that her life would be sad. With that, Bridget wrote what she describes as her “own positive story for her: one that would be brightly colored, a story that would show the strength of a military family.”

Helping The “Tiniest Warriors” Fight Their Battles

In August 2012, Bridget began her business to help the people she describes as our nation’s “tiniest warriors.”  With a tremendous cause but no business experience, she “read every book (The Lean Start-Up by Eric Reiss being her favorite), and learned how to formulate an LLC, register a trademark, obtain a text copyright, and operate a successful online business.”

With her business smarts and her passion at hand, she was able to find success “early on,” in spite of her struggle with being for profit while helping military families. She was able to overcome her concerns about profit after speaking with the president of a business/entrepreneurial magazine who reminded her, “You found a need for a product and you’re helping people. I have to imagine that any family would pay a lot more than $33 for such a fantastic coping tool.” This reassured that it was “ok” to charge for this valuable resource.

Mixing compassion with effectiveness, she has become the consummate CEO. She knows in her heart that she and her team are doing “great things,” which enables her to continue her effort to turn challenges into successes. Her obstacles have become learning opportunities for her. She explains that every misstep she made in the process of growing her business was because she didn’t trust her gut.

Daddy'sDeployed

Late Nights & Early Mornings

When you’re a mother, wife, and CEO, sleep becomes elusive. In order to have sufficient time with her family, Bridget came to realize that she had to “stay up late at night and wake up early in the morning.” But she is quick to point out that balance will be different for every Milpreneur. The important thing to know is that it is attainable. She was able to obtain her Master’s while functioning as a full-time stay-at-home mom with a deployed husband. She still struggles with balance, as do many spouses, parents, and hardworking businessmen/women.

Her knowledge of social media was central to the process of making it all work. A great deal of her business’ traffic came through social media for quite some time; ninety percent was through Facebook. Since then, she has handed her social media management over to another successful military spouse-owned company, Pressed Branding. Remarkably, her business’ Facebook presence has blossomed into “too much” for one person to handle.

BridgetBridget is sustained in her endeavors by the personal relationships she is able to forge with nearly “every family that orders a book.” She explains that they become part of her own family. She is able to enjoy their homecoming pictures, photos of them reading her book with their children, and stories about how the deployment books have helped.

Bridget insists that any military spouse can begin her own business. “We have an unfair advantage,” she explains. “We have programs like Patriot Boot Camp, V-Wise, and INC Magazine’s Military Entrepreneur Program available.”

She has been able to find the distinct advantages in military spouse life, from the lessons spouses can learn from deployments, to the opportunities and resources uniquely available to veterans and spouses.

It may seem like a lonely journey sometimes, particularly when deployments and frequent moves take you far from friends and family. Fortunately, the start-up community is a helpful and welcoming one, and if you ask Bridget, “There is no reason you can’t start your own business.”  Ever the optimist, she believes that “if you take every opportunity available, you will succeed.” Judging by Bridget’s own journey to success, her advice is probably sound. Who knows what you’ll stumble upon simply by keeping your head high, your ambition strong, and your goals lofty?

Learn more about Bridget’s endeavor at www.daddysdeployed.com!

Meet Our Guest Author – Jill Pohl

Jill Pohl is a freelance writer in Washington, DC…at least for now. Her husband’s Air Force career takes them all over the country (and hopefully all over the world!) She currently blogs at www.visionsofjillhanna.com and writes for Elite Daily, Wall Street Insanity, and a variety of digital marketing agencies. When she’s not writing, you’ll find her at the Krav Maga studio, riding horses, or binge-watching Netflix and eating doughnuts.

 

The Waiting Game

Well, it’s THAT time again.

You know it, because you’ll find me obsessively checking my phone for the email with THE NEWS.

If you’re military, you’re nodding your head because you know exactly what I’m talking about.  It’s assignment time!  And I’ve got a bad case of assignment-itis!

Assignment-itis (n.):  a condition periodically experienced by military spouses beginning anywhere from 3 months up to 3 weeks (depending on the severity) before a new assignment is announced.  Common symptoms include:  mild to severe anticipation, bouts of extreme excitement followed by bouts of equivalent dread, frequent daydreaming about life in each location, excessive hours of Facebook research, etc.

Every time we get to this point—and this is our 6th time going through a military relocation—I seem to jump on the same roller coaster of emotions.  But this time, for some reason, I have more anticipation than ever!  With less than 5 years left until the much-awaited 20-year point, life seems to be getting very real.  And now the looming assignment seems to have the ever-slight potential of permanence, which is ironic because stability and permanence are things that I’ve longed for for years, but now that it’s becoming a reality somehow it’s also intimidating! Oy!

If you have someone close to you that is military, it’s good to know what assignment-itis looks like so you can recognize their unique symptoms.  As for me, when I am in the thick of assignment-itis, here are the Top 5 Questions that you find me spending countless hours thinking about and toiling over:

  • Should We Rent or Buy?

Real estate decisions can be tricky as you move around the country.  There is the lure to invest and make money on property, which we have certainly done in the past and we currently rent out our first purchased house in WA state.  However, there is risk involved as well.  The moves are frequent and don’t always land during a healthy time to buy or sell.  Therefore, you can find yourself at the mercy of the market (we’ve been subject to this as well).  So, you just have to do your research and make a decision that fits best within your acceptable amount of risk.  Now that we are later into our career, we will only buy a house in a market that we can see ourselves coming back to!

  • Where Are The Best Schools and Neighborhoods?

As you decide on whether to rent or buy, you’ll also be interested in where to find a house in order to have access to the best schools possible.  Thankfully, we have always moved during the summer and we haven’t had to yank our kids out mid-year, but that is always a glaring reality, so quickly knowing how to find the best school is key.  When looking for schools, I tend to rely on two trusty resources:  1) www.greatschools.com and 2) the recommendations from friends.  Using both data points, you can usually find what you’re looking for!

  • What Is Fun To Do In The Area?

Honestly, this is my favorite part of moving!  There are so many treasures to discover in a new area, no matter where in the world you move!  I got some great advice early on in our Air Force life and was told to focus on the positive aspects of every move.  What can we get excited about?!  What teams can we go watch play?  Where are the best museums, restaurants, historical sites and theaters in the area?  Who do we already know living in the area that we can rekindle friendships with?   When living in CA we always made a point to visit the beach as much as possible and spent a ridiculous amount of time enjoying the sun outdoors (yes, skincare friends it happened).  In NJ, we have loved having access to Broadway in NYC to show the kids our love (aka addiction) to the theater!

  • Will It Be Hard On The Kids?

This concept scared the heck out of me as a young mom.  I grew up in the same small town, with the same friends and the same church for all of my childhood.  So the thought of multiple moves and schools was terrifying!   Add to that, that we frequently get asked if our kids have a hard time moving from outsiders as well.  But honestly, so far, I can confidently say that my response is NO!  My kids are 7 and 10 and they have loved every single move and have never complained (at least about the move….the drive, the weather or the food might elicit the normal kid complaints).  I attribute our success in this arena to some great advice I received from a spouse early on in our AF career.  She told me “that their attitudes feed off of ours.”  And she was right!  If I am positive about all the excitement of a move, then so are the kids!  They love to dream about what their new room might look like, what they can do in their new backyard and what potential friends will be down the street.  Other than the first day of school jitters, it has been rare that I hear anything negative specifically about the move itself.  Our system must be working pretty well, because my 10 year-old literally just months ago discovered that most people don’t move every 2-3 years.  He thought everyone did and that we were totally normal for doing so!IMG_0025

  • Is It Time To Use The F-Word? Could We Imagine Staying Here….Forever?

This last question is a new one for me.  As we near 20 years of Air Force life, the reality that we will finally land somewhere for good is quickly approaching.  And honestly, that brings with it a whole other set of questions.  Will I get antsy to move after a few years?  Is this the perfect location?  What if I don’t like it?  Will this meet our needs after we retire, etc.?

The questions go on and on…..but there is one thing I know for sure:  I will never regret this beautiful military life.  The vast experiences, the incredible friendships and the way it has bonded our family tight are things I wouldn’t trade for the world!  It may not look like everyone else’s life, but it’s been perfect for us!

PS….As I was writing this blog “the news” of our impending assignment finally arrived!!!!  It looks like we will be headed back to the Washington DC area in July!!!!!  Already online and infatuated!!!