Manage Your Business
Grow your small business with these lessons from military service
The following article was published on The Business Journal site as sponsored content by Chase for Business.
As an Army captain from 2004-2009, Jed Richard led an Airborne Infantry unit that secured populations in areas as large as 50x50 kilometers in eastern Afghanistan. When fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda made it too dangerous for engineering units to operate, Richard was assigned secondary engineering and contracting duties.
The West Point graduate with construction in his DNA (his father and grandfather owned construction companies) helped plan and build facilities that included local district headquarters, a school and medical center. His unit also built a bridge on the Arghandab River, which was destroyed by enemy forces the day after it opened.
After honorably leaving the military in 2009, Richard returned to the U.S. to work with the U.S. Department of State as a private contractor. His teams planned the design and construction of new embassy compounds, safe havens and major security upgrades for U.S. diplomats in over 30 countries.
Richard used the time working for two general contracting companies to gain a deeper understanding of the construction business. In 2014, at the age of 35, he drafted the business plan for a new company. The following year, his own firm—Richard Group—was born.
Here he shared lessons from his military experience that small-business owners can use to grow their companies:
Soldiers are taught to respect their commanders, their comrades, and even their enemies. Richard said small business owners should adhere to the same principles with employees, manufacturers, suppliers, subcontractors—and competition.
"That's what we learn in the military, and while it might be more regimented there, it carries over into the civilian world, too," he said.
Richard added that showing respect for subcontractors and helping them find solutions to maximize profits leads to them having faith in Richard Group.
Every stakeholder needs a leader
Tentativeness doesn't fly in the military, so Richard recognized the need for leadership across the company's various stakeholders.
"Every client and employee needs a leader," he said. "Someone who's competent, capable and successful leading their demands, whether it's meetings, scheduling, safety, quality or budget constraints — someone to take charge of a project and see it through to completion."
He added, "Employees recognize your confidence in meeting project challenges and begin to emulate these strengths."
A company's reputation, Richard believes, is based on the reputation of its people. Therefore, everyone at the company, from the owner to its most entry-level employee, must demonstrate a high level of professionalism from the time they walk through the door to beyond the time they leave in the evening.
As an entrepreneur, you probably have meetings or dinners with clients after the workday officially ends. When you do, don't let your guard down or ignore your company's core philosophies. Employees must also follow this principle when representing your company in off-hours.
Persevere through tough times
Even in the most difficult of times, it is crucial to stay positive, Richard said.
Though the pressures a business owner and soldier face are different, the leader of a company must keep employees' spirits high as they persevere through rough patches.
"You've got to have fun with what you're doing or there is no reason to spend all that time with your employees — you might as well go work for another company that makes you more happy," said Richard.
Align vision with capabilities
A military unit should not enter a battle without the proper planned resources. It should be 100 percent certain it is better prepared than its enemy in order to ensure victory and the safe return of its soldiers.
The same concept applies to business and allows it to grow organically.
"I am not going to force a 19-month-old company into a project that is not compatible with our systems, policies or procedures—or the financial backing—to support. Those jobs tend to fail. ... Not every project is the right project for a company," Richard said.
Reinvest what you've learned, invest what you've earned
Richard learned a new lesson every day of his military career. He reinvested the knowledge to become a better leader of his fellow soldiers.
He applies the same concept of investing in his business.
With less than $100,000 of capital with which to launch his business, Richard found a bank willing to extend him a credit card with zero percent interest for the first year. This helped him establish credit with vendors, suppliers and manufacturers and also gave him the opportunity to accumulate credit cards rewards points that could be invested in his company. He estimates that he has spent about $500,000 on his business credit card.
"When you don't have credit history as a new company, being able to charge $20,000 to $30,000 on a zero percent interest card was huge while awaiting payments from customers. It freed up other cash to move the business forward," he says.
Richard uses his rewards points on office supplies and gas, and has saved Richard Group nearly $6,000 in itemized travel expenses.
"Overhead costs are tough for small businesses at the beginning," said Richard, whose company realized more than $7.5 million in new business in its first 18 months and projects $12 million in new business revenue in 2017.
To learn more about how your business can benefit from the power of points and the Chase Ink Business Card, click here.
Marcus DiNitto is an American City Business Journals contributing writer. He is a former managing editor of SportsBusiness Daily, and Sporting News.