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From Army life to entrepreneurship: My journey with Russ Nolan

It's been four years since we took the leap to run our business full-time, and looking back, it's been a rollercoaster of a journey!

I'm Gary Kendall, and after dedicating 25 years to the British Army as a Cameraman/Photographer, I, alongside my business partner Russ Nolan, embarked on our entrepreneurial journey.

We founded a video production company in 2016, almost three years before we officially left the Army in 2019.

Our goal was to ensure we were fully prepared before stepping into the civilian business world, but preparation entailed much more than we initially anticipated.

I wanted to work for myself rather than work for someone else and do something I enjoyed.

Key Preparations Before Leaving the Army

1. Choose a Business You Enjoy: For us, it was clear that we wanted to continue working in video production. It's crucial to start a business in a field you are passionate about.

2. Build Up Funds: We used our time in the Army to save money and invest in our business. This financial cushion was vital for purchasing equipment and covering initial expenses.

3. Set Clear Goals: Establish what you want to achieve with your business and set a realistic time frame. This will guide your efforts and measure your progress.

4. Plan Your Marketing Strategy: Decide how you will market your business. This includes understanding your target audience and the best channels to reach them and even a website.

Transitioning from military life to running a business was filled with challenges. We had to quickly adapt to new demands, from learning marketing strategies to managing finances. One of the major hurdles was letting go of the safety net provided by the military. Until that steady military pay check stops, you don’t truly understand the reality of being on your own.

Once we left the Army, we were thrown straight into a pandemic, which nearly finished us right from the start. However, we managed to push through, using the time to consider who our main clients would be. We now primarily work within defence, producing story-led content that aligns with what we did while serving and plays to our strengths and filming style.

Strategies That Helped Post-Military

1. Networking: This proved to be the most effective strategy for finding business. I joined local business groups and connected with relevant contacts on LinkedIn. Building relationships and staying active in professional circles is key.

2. Value Your Skills: Ensure you don’t undersell your skills. While staying competitive is important, understanding your worth and not working for free is crucial. Your expertise has value.

3. Consistency and USP: Finding consistent work and refining our unique selling point (USP) has been an ongoing challenge. We decided to niche ourselves in the defence sector, which isn't for everybody but it propelled us forward. You will face setbacks, but continuously working on your USP is essential for standing out in the market.

4. Embrace Failure: Don’t be afraid to try something new and fail. Each mistake is a learning opportunity. Ensure that your business is something you enjoy, as your passion will resonate with customers.

5. Work-Life Balance: One of the best parts of having our own business is managing our work-life balance. Enjoying what you do and knowing that your hobby is now your job is incredibly rewarding.

6. Maintain Relationships: Simple techniques like maintaining relationships and learning to listen can significantly impact your business. Building a network of trusted contacts can provide support and opportunities.

7. Veteran Support: There is a strong veteran network out there that is massively supportive and is a valuable resource to tap into. These networks are filled with like-minded individuals who share the same values as you. Reaching out for advice and support from other veteran business owners through organisations like Veteran Owned UK, Gen Dit Network, and Xforces. These are just a few of the many resources available to veterans starting their own businesses. These connections have provided guidance, support, and camaraderie, helping us navigate the challenges of entrepreneurship.

Final Thoughts

Since leaving the Army, we have only worked for ourselves, which gives us an immense feeling of pride. It's incredibly fulfilling to know we are paving our own path.

For Russ and me, the journey from Army life to entrepreneurship has been both challenging and rewarding. Our experience highlights the importance of planning, networking, and staying true to your passion. If you're considering a similar path, remember that every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow.

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