A growing number of Service leavers consider self-employment or starting their own business as their next step. Former Royal Engineer Clive Lowe, Deputy Director of Employment at the OA, explores the pros and cons of becoming your own boss. 



Service leavers transitioning out of the Armed Forces into today’s civilian workplace will find that there are many ways of working in the post-Covid ‘new normal’ workplace. Gone is the job for life. Careers are more fluid than ever before, with options to work in permanent, temporary, or interim roles or undertake flexible contracts.  

You may be thinking about setting up a new business, starting your own consultancy, or looking at a mix of self-employed and contract work in a portfolio career. If you are moving from the military direct to self-employment or from an employed civilian role, how do you know if it is the right career path for you? 

To help decide if working for yourself is something you are suited to, it’s worth spending time asking yourself some searching questions: 

  • do you want to control your own fate, or is long-term security more important to you? 
  • do you crave variety or structure in your working life?  
  • do you prefer working alone or as part of a team? 
  • do you enjoy being an expert or need encouragement and feedback from colleagues?  
  • are you happy dealing with every aspect of a business, including accounts and taxation? 


Owning a small business can be an exciting and fulfilling career path to follow, however, it’s vital to consider the advantages and disadvantages of being your own boss before investing time and money in starting down this route. 


Being your own boss 

As a small business owner, you control your destiny and are accountable only to yourself. You are responsible for all business decisions, such as what type of work you do, how to allocate your time, who you work with and how much you get paid.  


Owning a small business means having equity in something you have worked for. You may decide to retain this equity, sell it, or pass it on to future generations for others to continue. If you choose to sell your equity, you may decide to use that money to launch a new business venture or other endeavours.  


Launching your own successful small business can increase your self-esteem and self-worth. You might even inspire others to have the confidence to start their own small business. 

Community impact 

As a small business owner, the level of impact you can have on yourself, your family, your friends, and others in your community may increase. In addition to contributing to the local economy, many small businesses take part in or sponsor community events. 


Income instability 

You will likely experience income instability as a small business owner, particularly as you start your business. As a small business owner, you pay yourself based on how much revenue you can generate, so you might experience fluctuations in your income. To prepare for income instability, ensure you have plans in place to cope and this could involve living off savings or arranging a bank loan. 

Financial risk 

There is a level of financial risk involved in owning a small business, which means losing money is always a possibility. If you take out a business loan to launch a small business, you will need to work out how to pay off the loan while at the same time trying to generate revenue. 


As something that is completely dependent on you, your abilities and your finances, you may face a certain level of uncertainty as a small business owner. Having a clearly defined plan for your business is essential and will help you better prepare for the future. 

Longer working hours 

You may work extended hours as a small business owner. As someone who is solely responsible for managing and operating a business, you may have to work long days and sometimes weekends. As your experience as a small business owner grows, and you gain additional staff, you may have the option to shorten your workday and delegate some responsibilities to other people. 

Lack of guidance 

As a small business owner, you may not have a mentor to guide your business and financial endeavours. This can be challenging and lead to uncertainty regarding effective business decisions and strategic planning. However, there is a lot of free help and advice available from organisations who support new businesses. 


The first thing to do if you are thinking of starting your own business is to seek out the advice and training that is available to help you. X-Forces Enterprise work with Government stakeholders, commercial partners and charity partners to provide free training to former military personnel. 

X-Forces’ training has been developed to help ex-military personnel gain the knowledge, understanding and essential enterprise skills to help them decide if they want to pursue self-employment and what to expect on their business journey. 

Their Self-Employment Awareness workshop is open to all Service leavers and explores self-employment as an option for resettlement, looking at what starting up a business would mean to you, your family, and your finances. The workshop covers topics such as understanding the pathway to self-employment and whether it is right for you, planning the launch of a successful business, understanding markets, identifying your USP and conducting market research and competitor analyses. 

They also run a host of other business start-up workshops and courses that are open to veterans, Service leavers, spouses, dependants, Reservists and cadets over the age of 18, such as a one-day Self-Employment Discovery workshop and a Start-Up Skills workshop. These are aimed at those already running a small business or planning to launch one and offer help with business names and legal structures, writing a business plan, sales, marketing and financial forecasting.  


Securing funds to start a new business can often be a hurdle for Service Leavers, but X-Forces Enterprise works with Government to help make their Start Up Loans programme accessible to the armed forces community.  

The Government’s Start Up Loan programme can provide unsecured personal loans for business purposes of up to £25,000 (the average is around £11,000). Borrowing is available for up to 5 years with no early repayment penalties, and you will also benefit from a dedicated business advisor, 12 months free mentoring and access to free events and workshops.  


Harnessing the skills and experience you have developed in your military career can help give you the edge when it comes to preparation and planning for business success. 

Described as ‘The most prepared entrepreneur to ever enter the Dragons Den’, Hannah Saunders founded Toddle Born Wild, a natural skincare range for adventurous children. She felt that her time in the Armed Forces was a definite advantage in preparing her for the challenges of building a successful business.  

Having served as an officer in the RAF for 9 years, Hannah had developed a love of adventure and travel that she wanted to continue to enjoy with her young family. Having spotted a gap in the market when she could not find suitable skin care products to protect her young son’s skin, she decided to develop her own, and the company was born. 

After making her impressive pitch on the BBC show Dragons Den last month, Hannah received offers from three Dragons keen to work with her to fund the expansion of her business, which now includes balms, sun creams and hand sanitisers. 

In the report, ‘A Force for Business’, Mike Cherry OBE, National Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, observes that setting up and running your own business requires courage, determination and a strong work ethic. These are attributes that Service leavers have in spades and is why self-employment is a route well worth considering. 

According to the FSB, around 6% of small businesses in Great Britain are owned by veterans and span a diverse range of industries, including manufacturing, wholesale, retail professional, scientific, technical and construction. These small veteran-led businesses will continue to contribute to society for years and decades to come. 

Inspirational start-ups 

  • Tesco was established over 100 years ago by WWI veteran, Jack Cohen, who used his demob money to start the business and buy his first day’s stock, which he subsequently sold from a small market stall. 
  • Trailfinders was founded in 1970 by former SAS officer Mike Gooley with a staff of four. Today the company remains privately owned but has a staff of over 1000 and has made travel arrangements for over 16 million clients. 
  • Bob Parsons, founder of GoDaddy, joined the US Marine Corps and was awarded a Purple Heart after serving in Vietnam. After the Marines, he completed a degree in accounting and started his first company selling home accounting software. He sold the business for $64 million and used the money to start GoDaddy, which registers domain names and hosts websites worldwide. 
  • After graduation, Phil Knight, co-founder of Nike, served a year on active duty in the US Army and another seven in the Army Reserve. After leaving the Army, he worked on an MBA from Stanford before going on worldwide trip, with a stop in Japan, which would inspire his creation of the first Nike shoe.  
  • PJ Farr joined the British Army as a teenager, spending two years based in Cyprus before returning to London. Struggling to settle into employment after leaving the Army, he set up his own business providing broadband connectivity to construction sites. UK Connect is now one of the UK’s leading communications providers to the construction industry. 


Useful links 

X-Forces Enterprise is the leading organisation in the UK for enterprise and self-employment support across the military community. Courses, training, funding and support are listed on their website: 

Dragons Den is a BBC show where budding entrepreneurs get three minutes to pitch their business ideas to five multimillionaires. 

Federation of Small Businesses offers a wide range of services to small businesses including advice, financial expertise, support and a voice heard in government. 

Imployable is an online recruitment platform and app designed by two former Royal Marines that connect people with employers, training providers and volunteer organisations.  

Heropreneurs recognises and celebrates the energy, passion and dedication of the British Armed Forces Community looking to forge a new path in business. The Heropreneurs Mentoring Programme is freely available to members of the military community and their families. 

Become a member today

And access life changing advice that matters and life-long support that counts