Story by April Dudash

Military spouses hoping to turn a great idea into their own business have help from women who have been there.

The Military Spouse Foundation recently added two online courses to its website. Spouses can enroll in a planning and self-evaluation course to find career options that suit them and to connect with mentors.

The second course offers advanced training for entrepreneurs, walking spouses through the steps of writing a business plan, teaching them how to meet market needs and develop marketing, management and financial strategies.

"I'd hate to see other military spouses make the same mistakes I made," said Roxanne Reed, founder of the Military Spouse Foundation and a Marine Corps spouse. "If I knew then what I knew now, I would save myself a lot of money, a lot of tears and frustrating moments."

Reed started two businesses of her own a decade ago, at the height of the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Constant deployments and moves halted her pursuit of a doctorate degree and aspirations to work in the criminal justice system.

"I literally laid all my skills out on the table and I figured out what business path might be better for me," Reed said.

She started Jane Wayne Gear, a military clothing and handbag company, and All Fired Up Candle Co.

Afterward, hundreds of spouses came out of the woodwork to ask her how she started her businesses and juggled everything from paperwork to family life during deployments.

"The goals that they often put down are obtainable, but they're not obtainable that fast," Reed said about creating a business plan. "We help them to really see business for what it is and learn how to implement their unique lifestyle into their business course. It takes a lot of the weight off."

Now, her national foundation prides itself on acting as "mother, educator, mentor, adviser, supporter and advocate." The foundation's educational tools are being used by Family Readiness Groups nationwide.

Locally, women can find resources at the Women's Business Center based in the Center for Economic Empowerment and Development in downtown Fayetteville.

Laura Solano, whose husband is an Army captain, is a business consultant at the center. "We're always so active because of constant relocation, and we're always looking for something to do when we arrive to an Army base," Solano said of military spouses.

She said the center has begun offering seminars at Fort Bragg to transitioning female service members, retirees, military spouses and wounded warriors.

The seminar covers all aspects of starting a business, including zoning, legal requirements, shoe-string marketing techniques and financial support.

The center hopes to offer entrepreneurship classes on Fort Bragg soon, but in the meantime, the center also has scheduled a Feb. 7 networking event at the headquarters library in downtown Fayetteville. Solano said the event would include information about accounting and taxes.

Solano also is looking for service members and spouses with small businesses to participate as vendors in the April 26 Home-Based Business Expo in downtown Fayetteville. She can be reached at lsolano@ ncceed.org or 910-323-3377, ext. 29. Learn more about the Women's Business Center at ncceed.org.

Mary John-Williams turned to Fayetteville State University's Veterans Business Outreach Center and the SCORE mentorship program before starting her business.

John-Williams saw an opportunity in Fayetteville not long after moving here with her Army husband about three years ago. What began as a word-of-mouth business cleaning houses for fellow military spouses is now A Green Clean Environmental Inc.

John-Williams' company has cleaned office buildings and performed work for the military. The company's credo and name comes from its practice of only using environmentally-friendly cleaning products.

"The hardest part is finding the business," John-Williams said. "I am comfortable cold-calling but the hardest part is remaining memorable. Even if you didn't remember Mary, you would remember the company."

Find out more about the Veterans Business Outreach Center at fsuvboc.com. The Sandhills chapter of SCORE can be reached at 910-692-3926.

Advice, entrepreneur to entrepreneur

1. Don't give up easily. "Military spouses that move way too fast, they don't let the market embrace them," Reed said. "You have to be patient, and for creative types, it may be very boring, but that's business. Business is build the foundation. If you sprout out too fast, no one knows what you're about."

2. Tighten your focus. "If I were go to back and talk to myself eight years ago ... I wouldn't have so many products," Reed said. " In a small business, you can spend just as much time building 40 products as you can building five dynamic products."

3. Find the balance. Everything can wait until Monday, says Reed, who learned to combine her desire to be a stay-at-home mom with working from home.

"You can't let the business or the company become your life, because then it takes over everything else."

4. If you don't mesh with one business development organization, find another. "These agencies know of each other," John-Williams said. "They will refer you if you're not a good fit."

5. Learn when to say no. "You're very excited when your phone rings and somebody wants to hire you, but sometimes you're spreading yourself too thin and you're not making much of a profit anyway," John-Williams said.