Face of Defense: Wounded Marine helps others go into business

27 Aug 2013 | Courtesy Story

Starting a small business or franchise is not an easy task. Former Marine Corps Cpl. Kevin Blanchard can attest to that. He spends his time assisting veterans and other wounded, ill and injured service members with understanding the steps to being a successful franchisee.

Blanchard joined the Marine Corps in 2001 as a combat engineer. In 2005, he was injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq's Anbar province.

"I lost my leg below the knee and had about 30 surgeries on my other leg because of the damage," he said.

Like many other transitioning Marines, Blanchard needed time and assistance in identifying what he was going to do for the long term.

"I tried a lot of things out," he said. "I gained as much experience [as I could] in many different things so I could figure out what I wanted to do."

The Marine Corps Wounded Warrior Regiment's transition cell provided Blanchard with resources for education, vocational training, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities.

"The regiment prepares wounded, ill and injured Marines for opening their own business by setting them up with such resources as financial planning guidance, Entrepreneur Boot Camps, connecting them with a mentor, arranging shadow opportunities and more," said Marine Corps Maj. Brian Bilski, officer in charge of the transition cell. "The goal is to ensure that Marines are confident about transitioning out of the service and into [their] own successful franchise or independent start up."

After Blanchard's service ended in 2006, he decided he wanted to be a co-owner of an environmentally friendly roofing company. But he quickly learned his heart was in supporting his fellow Marines and other service members in understanding the pitfalls and successes of starting a business.

He eventually found a job as a project coordinator at International Franchise Association, working on a program called VetFran.

"I went to a public affairs conference, and I met many people there," he said. "I kept in touch with one of the guys who emailed me an opportunity. I interviewed for that position, and two weeks later was hired."

The VetFran program provides discounts to veterans who want to go into a franchise. Resources that Blanchard and his team provide range from an online franchising course, a skills and attributes assessment, finance assessment, and partner links and access to the VetFran mentor network. In addition to the VetFran program, Blanchard also helps coordinate trade missions for member companies around the globe.

The purpose of these programs is to build confidence and financial stability, he explained.

"You have to trust in yourself," he said. "It is not always easy to start a business venture yourself. Have confidence in your abilities and be fearless, because you are taking a shot in the dark."

Blanchard is nearing completion of a master's degree in management. His goal, he said, is to "be a multi-unit franchisee, possibly in the fitness industry, and [continue to] help other veterans get into small business ownership."

His advice to other wounded, ill or injured Marines looking to start their own business or franchise is to, "stay focused, identify a long-term vision as clearly as possible, and communicate that vision frequently to your team."

"They should also remember that businesses need to grow, and in order to grow a business you need a clear vision, financial stability and to work 'on' their business, and not always 'in' their business," he continued. "This means constant sales and marketing, improving operational procedures and innovation. Think about it this way: if the goal is increased profit, then everything you do should directly increase profitability, if it doesn't, then you should re-evaluate."

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