Teri Young is an Army veteran and a Top Pro photographer based in Austin, Texas. She’s been hired over 75 times on Thumbtack. In honor of Veteran’s Day, we asked her to share her story.
Starting the next chapter of my life after serving my country in the U.S. Army was terrifying. I’m no longer in the military, but the military never really left me. Nowhere has that been clearer than my transition to soldier entrepreneur.
I’m telling my story because I want to help other veterans become soldier entrepreneurs. There are a few government programs, technologies, and pieces of advice that will make the transition easier. Fortunately, the mix of faith, courage and tenacity it takes to be an entrepreneur is ingrained in every solider. With a little extra guidance, I’m confident more veterans can be successful small business owners.
I had no idea I’d be an entrepreneur when I first went to basic training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma when I was 17. But, like an entrepreneur’s life, things moved quickly. After countless push-ups, sit-ups and two-mile runs, I earned the highest female physical fitness score ever recorded. I was leading and training other soldiers when I was hardly out of my teens, and I was pinned a Non-Commission Officer in Charge at age 20.
I spent six years in the Army, serving on bases in Oklahoma and Texas. I was more confident leaving the military than going in, but at 24, driving across the lonely Texas highway, I wondered how I’d adjust to civilian life. In other words, I was starting from scratch and was scared. But as the Army cadence goes, you must “drive on,” and that’s what I did.
First, I enrolled in Austin Community College, and then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. Two semesters in and pregnant with my now 11-year-old daughter, I spent my study breaks browsing photography blogs. I was fascinated by the ability to capture a moment in time and convey true emotion in a picture. I purchased my own camera and lenses and spent the next two years fine-tuning my craft.
As I developed my photography business, I took advantage of a mentoring session through a program called SCORE. SCORE helps connect established entrepreneurs, corporate managers, and executives to mentor small businesses. My mentor helped me outline my business goals and even taught me how to market myself to the right customers online.
I was lucky to be starting my business enterprise in Austin. The city’s artistic vibe allowed me to hone in on my creative side. I’ll always be an advocate to “Keep Austin Weird.” Also, the network of other young small business owners has been especially encouraging.
The resources in Austin helped, but so did technology. Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I hired a photographer using a website called Thumbtack to document our quirky, fun-loving relationship. The process was easy, so I decided to use Thumbtack to try finding customers of my own.
I quickly earned the coveted Thumbtack Top Pro distinction for delivering exceptional customer service. It has pushed me to raise my standards even higher and has driven me to want to pursue photography full-time.
This journey hasn’t been easy. But here are five things future soldier entrepreneurs should keep in mind:
- Be confident. If you’ve been in the military, you have the grit to be an entrepreneur.
- Know it won’t be easy. But neither was basic training, and you got through that.
- The government and local nonprofits can help. Take advantage of local programs that support entrepreneurs and veterans. Austin, for example, is considered one of the best places for veterans to start a small business, according to a Thumbtack survey.
- Lean on other soldier entrepreneurs. Fellow veterans are eager to give advice.
- Persevere. Veterans certainly are not strangers to challenges. If something isn’t working, assess the situation and adjust your approach.
If it weren’t for my military service, I would not be where I am today. The Army taught me to be a disciplined, decisive individual. I have learned to calculate my risks and assess situations with a clear, goal-driven perspective. My organizational skills allow me continue doing what I love every day.