The life of a military spouse is a rise and fall of emotion. At one moment, you can feel tangibly connected to what is probably the tightest knit community in the nation, and in another moment, you can feel like the loneliest individual on the planet. You can feel ready to take on the world all by yourself, then ready to pack it all in and retreat. You can feel 100% supportive and patriotic, then wonder why your family is sacrificing so much.
When the members of our Armed Forces sign up to serve, their spouses symbolically sign up, too. In the beginning, neither one can personally understand the extent of that commitment. Even if military service is a family tradition, the personal experience is another animal entirely. The love must sustain itself through the frequent moves, year-round training, demanding deployment cycles, and the stress that comes with career evaluations, promotion boards, and even more – the sometimes tentative and sensitive nature of familial relationships as a result of months of separation, combat, and the return of the service member back into a community worlds away from where he or she has been.
If one is looking for an example of love in its freshest and purest form – it can be seen in the eyes of military spouses just married: wide-eyed, excited, ready to see the world alongside their own personal hero. If one is looking for an example of love that has endured, it’s in the eyes of those military spouses ten years down the road, still committed, still in love, but with a unique independence and strength, because they have faced a lot of the world on their own.
In that time, the military spouse has attained an increased knowledge of what it takes for a marriage to be successful, what it takes for a family to thrive, and what it takes to find contentment. That knowledge is an advantage in this world, one that comes with being a part of an experience that is ever-changing, ever-adjusting, and ever-navigating. It has the ability to forge the spouse onward into a vast number of new challenges – one of which we are highlighting today in our Hawaii VA Loans 2016 Winter Ambassador profile: a military spouse entrepreneur.
For generations, military spouses have chosen to seek fulfillment and contribute to their families through work outside of the home. Military spouses have been our nation’s teachers, nurses, doctors, accountants, artists, writers, and countless other professions. Their level of commitment to their work and family through war-time is a case study in resilience. The military spouse entrepreneurial spirit has been kicking for decades with small businesses starting in and around bases across America and overseas. Spouses working with their hands have created art, crafts, food, and other products sold among friends and within the local community.
Today, rather than those businesses falling away with the change in duty stations, they have the opportunity to be mobile and grow exponentially with the daily advancement in technology. Yes, technology is vital to the military spouse and they are savvy with it. Their nook in the business world can now be elevated to a broader audience with the tap of a finger on a mobile app. Now, spouses have the opportunity to take their jobs and businesses on their military journey, and it’s about time.
So here the military spouse is: settled in their new city with a desire to grow their business. Where can they find spouses who have a similar passion? Where can they get their questions answered? Where can they bounce their ideas around? Where can they go to network? That’s where The Milspo Project comes in.
Recently highlighted by Forbes Magazine, The Milspo Project with its 30 chapters nationwide is working to become the premier resource for military spouse entrepreneurs by offering live leadership events, online resources, and local chapter meet-ups. We were delighted to find that their Honolulu chapter had been established eight months ago. Chapter Leader and Air Force spouse, Chavah Grant, along with Co-Leader and Air Force spouse, Leigh Ann Overly, and business owner and Marine spouse, Betsy Holt, sat down with us to discuss business inspiration, methods, and how their military life influences their entrepreneurial mindset.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Chavah, Leigh Ann, and Betsy – businesswomen, military spouses, members of The Milspo Project, and our Hawaii VA Loans Winter 2016 Ambassadors. Go get ‘em, ladies!
The Milspo Project Q&A
Q: Chavah, talk to me about the mission of The Milspo Project. How do you see it helping the military spouse community in Hawaii?
Chavah: I started the chapter about seven or eight months ago after I moved here from San Antonio where I had started a chapter there. The Milspo Project is all about empowering military spouses. It’s in place so that we can all support each other and learn from each other. Everyone is in a completely different place in their business walk. It’s really helpful when we get together and someone says, “I don’t know about social media…” and we have someone sitting right next to us who is a social media expert. You get so much out of just talking to each other and then we have our goals. The point is to empower each other to complete those goals. It lights a little fire under us!
Q: I’d like to learn from each of you about your business. What do you do?
Leigh Ann: I’m a marketing consultant specializing in social media. I’ve been in the marketing field for seven years. In the past five years, I’ve been able to carve out my niche in social media. Every company that I went to was not on board with social media in a time when it was very important to do so. I was eager to learn how to implement a social media strategy for each company. A year and a half ago, we moved here and my previous company wanted to keep me on as a permanent contractor. I still work for them, but I saw this as an opportunity to do this for more people. I’m doing it a step at a time. I love the idea of working for myself, because it’s a challenge, and I have to be driven.
Betsy: I am a branding expert and graphic designer. I’ve been designing things pretty much my entire life. I’ve always had crayons and coloring books and the whole nine yards. I’m still thrilled to get a package of crayons in my stocking at Christmas! It doesn’t even matter, my mom just throws them in for fun. I worked for a couple of small businesses as a graphic designer after college and realized that I had a passion for the branding and marketing aspect of everything – using the psychology of design, getting to know markets, and how design affects people. I love applying that knowledge to working with clients all over the world. I help them go from start-up to success. Perception is everything. Graphic design helps small businesses look and feel their best. That’s what I provide and what I love to do.
Chavah: I’m a bridal super planner and coordinator. I help brides get “unstuck” in their bridal process by helping to plan and figure out where they are in that process, then I fill in the gaps. We can either help from the very beginning if you have absolutely no idea what you want, or do the day-of, if you just want someone to come in so you can relax. I started off with interior design and event design, but weddings and events have been more fruitful. I’ve been doing events since I was nineteen, so about eleven years. I was running a culinary and events section of SeaWorld San Antonio. By nineteen, I was in management, and they kept adding stuff to my plate. When I left at twenty-five, I had a staff of seventy and fourteen managers underneath me. I was doing everything from hiring to firing and everything in between. I decided, “I make them somewhere in the $1.2 – $1.6 million a year range, I can do this! I did do this!” Then in 2011, I started my own business on the side. I did a lot of corporate events for Google and Yahoo. SeaWorld is large, so brides can’t normally afford to do weddings there. One bride came and said, “I want to have a wedding here.” I did their wedding and it was completely different and I loved it. Every wedding has three bridesmaids that are getting married, so my business just grew organically.
Q: What are the advantages that military spouses bring to being a business owner or to any job?
Leigh Ann: We’re not limited.
Betsy: You have these strengths inside of you. When your spouse deploys, you start doing things on your own like hanging curtains or building things or changing your own oil. You get really empowered. I think that applies almost doubly for business, because it’s something that you’re excited about and you want to do. The advantage we have is that we learn so quickly that we are so much more powerful than we may even know ourselves. For me, that was invaluable. I know for a lot of others that it was invaluable, too.
Chavah: It takes a really strong person to learn how to adjust to different cultures and to migrate their businesses into diverse atmospheres. If you’re not a military spouse, you don’t get that. I decided to go ahead and start doing weddings here about three months after I moved. After getting over the hump of readjusting, I realized the market is completely different here. Realizing that I can do that here, it’s very empowering. It’s something that only a military spouse would really know, because other business owners don’t have to do that unless there’s a reason to. Our reason is we have to. We have no choice. We have to roll with the punches. We have to figure out how to move those pieces into place really quickly.
Leigh Ann: There are no limits to what I can do. We travel, so I get into different markets and meet new people. For somebody who works in a corporation, you can look at further opportunities within that company or you can transfer around the country. It’s a guarantee that we’re going to move. I think that’s an advantage for me at least.
Betsy: We’re exposed to so many different cultures and different ways of living. You live on the east coast, you live in the west coast, now we live in Hawaii. Military spouses live all over the world and are exposed to different types of people and information. You can modify your business a lot better than someone who stays stationary. It’s very, very insightful for a business to know, “How does Hawaii business work? How does east coast business work? How does business in different parts of the world work?”
Chavah: There’s a lot that I take from Texas and bring to business here in Hawaii. I’ve found that people are really open to new ideas and things that happen in different places here. It helps to present yourself as a thought leader. It’s helpful to position yourself in that way, so that they see you in a different light.
Q: Where does the motivation come from to “start over” at each new duty station?
Leigh Ann: It’s sink or swim. For me, I feel like I have to contribute to our family. There’s no other choice. There’s a satisfaction that comes with working hard. As long as I know that I’m giving it my best shot, then I don’t want to just sit at home. I never wanted to even before I met my husband. I don’t want a change in my circumstances to change who I am.
Betsy: You don’t want to lose your sense of self. You want to contribute to your family and your community. Sometimes there are tantrums thrown, but that’s why you have shoulders to cry on and people to bounce ideas off of. It all kind of contributes to that empowerment moment. You have to be knocked off the ladder to know that you have the strength to get back up to climb it again and go even higher. You have those frustrating moments, but I think they’re all inevitably for the best.
Q: What excites you about Hawaii business?
Chavah: I didn’t realize what type of market I was stepping into when I got here. I thought, “Local weddings, it’s an island, a lot of people probably know each other and it’s probably a lot of word of mouth.” It’s completely the opposite. There are a lot of local weddings, obviously, but people are coming here from all over the world. In Texas, there’s a normal pattern for a bride – they’re going to be at certain expos. There’s no pattern here. I’ve done weddings for people from New Zealand, a girl that’s coming in from China next week – the fifth that I’ll be meeting with – it’s very exciting.
Q: What are some pros and cons of doing business here?
Chavah: I would say the pro is that the market is completely wide open. It’s literally a whole world that’s coming into this area. The con would be how do you find those people? How do you make sure that those people find you? My website, all that stuff, has to be worked on. My focus in marketing isn’t marketing now, it’s figuring out how people are going to find me.
Betsy: For me, the pros are that the time zone is really beneficial for me. I have clients in Sweden and Thailand and it’s amazing to communicate with them right now. That’s a very individual pro, but you do open yourself up to a global market. Another pro for me being creative is just being surrounded by such beauty. This really is paradise. I think the phrase “work hard, play hard” is so applicable here, because you do want to work extra hard during the week and meet your goals, so you can go outside and basically have a mini vacation on the weekends. That can be seen as a con, too, because you are pushing through, but you can reward yourself so easily here without necessarily having to spend a whole lot of money.
Leigh Ann: Getting into that international market – I think that’s more real for me. I never thought that I would be an international business woman, and I’m not yet, but the opportunity is there.
Chavah: It’s up to you to utilize the resources that you have, and this is such a good resource. That’s a pro for being a part of The Milspo Project. There are Milspo Project chapters all over the place. When a spouse moves, they will still be connected to us. It’s a backbone. It’s even more than a backbone, it’s like a shelter for you.
Q: What apps or programs do you find most helpful when running your business?
Leigh Ann: I like LinkedIn for maintaining connections and maintaining presence. Facebook, too. Facebook groups. It’s like a toss -up.
Betsy: I rely very heavily on Skype and Google Hangouts, so that I can present materials to clients digitally and have meetings with them. I get to know my clients over Skype.
Chavah: I try to literally embed in people’s heads to use apps for everything. My assistant in Texas started me on that. I brought him in and he was like, “How do you do invoicing?” I showed him and it took like an hour. He’s like “okay, I’m not doing that.” After that, I started to dive into that world. It’s amazing. There are literally apps for everything and everything is sync-able. I corresponded with brides four or five times and now we’re syncing it down to having an explainer video that includes everything they normally ask. Then, it gives them a button at the bottom that asks if they want to go ahead and book with us. It saves me at least five emails to each bride.
Q: When you’re not working, where is your favorite place to relax on the island?
Leigh Ann: I like Bellows. I just like to sit there, relax, and stare out at the very nice, blue water.
Betsy: Underwater. I’m a big scuba diver. I just started pilot training, too. Extreme sports are apparently my relaxing. It’s a really awesome thing to do with my husband. It’s just him and I, and we have a dog. I’m learning how to fly helicopters. My husband does that for a living. It’s really things that I can do together with him, but being underwater is super serene. I’ve been diving in Hawaii for over three years and I saw my first cuttlefish. I felt like I was brand new to diving again. I was so excited! I saw a cuttlefish!
Chavah: I’m definitely a beach person also. Lanikai beach. I’ll just sit there and look at one thing for fifteen minutes. My husband’s like, “I’m leaving you… I’m going home now…” That’s my favorite thing. I also love to go to Sky Lounge and all kinds of places that have great views and great drinks. That’s my other “adult nice.” Those two things are my favorite. As long as there’s a view.
Betsy: I think the best part about Hawaii is you have everything. There are great restaurants and awesome local cuisine. Then you have these serene beaches that are absolutely gorgeous. You have the nightlife and you can go hiking. You can do extreme sports. You can learn how to fly, you can go horseback riding… You have everything. It’s really fun!
Q: Thank you all so much. Is there anything you’d like to add?
Leigh Ann: This group is something that I was looking for when I first got here. I was desperately looking for other people. Working from home is really hard for me, because I need to collaborate with other people. I was sitting in a spare bedroom looking at a wall, sometimes looking out the window, trying to stay focused, not a lot of inspiration. I actually put out on the yard sale feed, “Is there anybody that wants to get together for coffee?” I wanted to start a business book club. Whenever I found out about this group, it was godsend. This is exactly what I’ve been looking for.
Chavah: I think people can think of military spouse as “you’re a wife or a husband of that person.” That’s it. They don’t think of anything else. A lot of employers are the same way. They find out you’re going to move or your resume has two years, two years, two years. You don’t get a long track record anywhere. The Milspo Project is really needed. I’m super excited that it’s getting so much attention so quickly.
Betsy: Military spouses are brilliant. Everybody has their own talents. We’re all from different walks of life and want to do different things. There are spouses that want to start their own businesses and that want careers. When I found these ladies, it was just so nice and refreshing to talk to people that have the entrepreneurial and career mindset. Also, every now and then, we all have our moments when our husbands go away, and I know that I can call up anyone in the group and just say, “I’m having a moment and I need some sort of support.” Whether it’s a business question or just being a friend…
Mahalo to The Milspo Project –Honolulu for such an engaging interview! We are extremely honored to have you represent the Hawaii military spouse community as our Hawaii VA Loans Winter 2016 Ambassadors.
To find out more about the businesses of Chavah Grant, Leigh Ann Overly, and Besty Holt, check out their contact info below.
To connect with The Milspo Project – Honolulu, go HERE.
Vida Chic Events
Weddings | Events | Interior Design
Heavens to Betsy
“Heavens to Betsy is spirited design studio fueled by a staggering passion for all things creative. Betsy has an energy and intuition that brings even the craziest ideas to life (on budget and on time!).”
Leigh Ann Overly
Sipple-Overly Consulting, LLC.
“Social media is my sweet spot, and I’m excited to be doing exclusively what I love.”
Photography by Keao Sunaoka