Overcoming Military Spouse Business Challenges

To say that a Permanent Change of Station (PCS), the military term for moving to a new duty station, has a significant impact on military spouse employment is an understatement. PCSing poses numerous and sometimes insurmountable challenges to maintaining a career. According to the 2010 Blue Star Family Military Lifestyle Survey, “Forty-nine percent of spouses felt that being a military spouse had a negative impact on their ability to pursue a career.”


For a growing number of pioneering spouses the choice to become their own boss provides a meaningful solution. But self-employment packaged with constantly moving your headquarters comes with its own set of challenges, such as finding the motivation to restart after multiple moves and absorbing the business costs associated with a move.


The Military Spouse Business Association (MSBA) is an organization founded and run by military spouses whose mission is to encourage entrepreneurship as an employment option for military spouses and provide guidance through the often murky waters of military business ownership.


Reinventing the wheel can be discouraging for a business owner. offers spouses an opportunity to share their stories, share their successes, offer suggestions, and keep each other uplifted. MSBA also facilitates local member meet-ups. Local meet-ups provide an opportunity for business owners to obtain motivation and support along with some assistance in understanding the local business rules.


Military spouse entrepreneurs face numerous cost hurdles with every move. Expenses range from moving business equipment and supplies registering the business in the new location, registering a trade name at the new location, and advertising the business. That is not to forget other regular business expenses such as website fees, attorney fees, tax accountant fees, state taxes, federal taxes and any membership dues.


You won’t find this piece of advice in any business manual: “Be sure to include starting over when moving your business every 2-3 years into your business plan. Don’t forget to factor in moving to a location where you’re not even sure if you can legally run a business.” However, most military spouse entrepreneurs and business owners must do just that. Frequent relocation is a challenge military spouses overcome in different ways.


In addition to rules and regulations promulgated by local, state and federal governments, military spouse business owners may also be required to comply with rules specific to a post or base where they may be stationed. For example, depending on a service member’s job, the spouse may not be able to market his or her product or service to the service member’s subordinates. In the case of on-post businesses, the military spouse’s business may not receive permission to operate from the base or post commander because the commander believes the business may compete with existing Exchange businesses.


A related challenge faced by military spouse business owners, which is not faced by their civilian counterparts, is the possibility of moving overseas and attempting to operate their business under the sometimes murky SOFA rules. SOFA stands for Status of Forces Agreement--SOFAs are entered into between the United States and countries in which they have a military presence. Among other things, SOFA rules impact whether spouses may work in the host country, or operate a business there. A common request from overseas spouses is to clear up some of the questions they have when they learn they may be running a business outside of the United States. To date, there has been no comprehensive guideline issued addressing the often varied, if not conflicting, information. MSBA is developing a manual that will provide a transparent and easily understood guideline for legally operating a business in a host country.



Overcoming Relocation Challenges:

“For most military families, relocation is one of the greatest challenges. Mr. Herrera embraced this challenge by creating his own business and growing it at each of his family’s new homes.”-L.D. Herrera, Expert Approach, Inc., www.ExpertApproach.com (Business Technology and Internet Marketing Firm)


Overcoming Health Challenges:

“...diagnosed with a chronic health condition that has basically left her house-bound. Amy rose to the challenge and created her own extremely successful work-at-home company.”-Amy Schofield, Schofield Strategies, www.SchofieldStrategies.com (Schofield Strategies provides writing and editing, human resources, grant writing, project management, administrative/operational processes, volunteer management, research, and marketing.)


Passion vs. Portability:

Stacey Swearengen, of Military Spouse Portable Career Planning, LLC, found that the “one-size-fits-all” advice she received as a new military spouse did not, in fact, fit her. She states, “Though unified by our love of a service man or woman; military spouses, fiancés and girlfriends have varied goals, values, skills and personalities.” She decided to start her own career coaching business to address the need for career passion in addition to just portability. She pursued certification in Adult Learning, Training and Development from Regis University and also became a certified career coach.-Stacy Swearengen, Military Spouse Portable Career Planning, LLC, www.PortableCareerPlanning.com (Career Counseling)


One’s Own Boss:

Louisa Gehring, Marine Corps spouse and owner of Semper Finest Care Packages, started her business after her husband was assigned to Twentynine Palms, a “notoriously hot and desolate desert base proved challenging for Louisa’s quest to find a new job in the marketing field, and combined with the arrival of her first daughter occurring two weeks after Greg’s deployment to Afghanistan, continuing a traditional career path seemed virtually impossible. Vowing to maintain an active career but desiring the freedom and challenges of working for one’s self, Louisa channeled her care package energy into Semper Finest Care Packages.” The business is currently located in Wilmington, NC.-Louisa Gehring, Semper Finest Care Packages, www.semperfinest.com (Helping families and friends to show their support by sending a specially designed Marine or soldier care package, filled with the items our troops really want and need while deployed.)


Learning to Compromise:

Shelly Geist owner of Kid e Clickers, LLC became tired of finding a new job with each PCS move. With a degree in Sociology and a passion for working with children, she would look for child related jobs. After 12 years of moving and job interviews at each new location, she decided to take career matters into her own hands. “...she could not have a specific “territory” as she would have to continue to move with the with military. She gave up on that dream until years later when she came across Imagine Tomorrow.”-Shelly Geist, Kid e Clickers, LLC, www.discovery.com/games/puterbugs (Teaches kids age 8 and younger to use technology to solve problems and build important skills for their future)


Finding Motivation:

“We have felt the enormity of starting where no one recognizes our name. We have felt the discouragement of starting in a bad economy. We have felt the hope that comes with potential clients. It was clear that we could not let our emotions get the best of us if we intended to succeed.” “A particularly educational presence for businesses in this city is the CCCC Small Business Center and Industry Training Center. After a consultation meeting with business consultant Pete Ellis, my motivation was reenergized.”-Cristine Riojas, Cristina & Co. Creative, www.TxDesignStudio.com (A full creative agency that works in flash web design, print design, event production, photography, and public relations.)


“Semper Gumby, Always Flexible”:

How do I manage the company, the kids, deployments, and my nomadic military lifestyle? The quick answer is that I believed in our concept so strongly that I didn’t even contemplate the logistics of having to move every bit from paper clips to workstations across the globe. The downside is that the costs associated with multiple relocations have to be factored into pricing, ultimately compromising the ability to compete on a level playing field. The only way around that is to stay true to the military family motto: Semper Gumby, always flexible.”-Joanna Williamson, Atta Girl!® Gifts, www.AttaGirlGifts.com (Home of the original military spouse and military family ribbon awards)


Embracing a new business model:

With so many incredible innovations in technology making it easier for people to stay connected regardless of their geographic locations, I'm convinced that the traditional model of office work is destined for at least partial obsolescence--especially in the legal world--and I plan to be on the forefront of this new age of work. Ultimately, this kind of work creates a win-win situation: I provide my clients with a flexible, low-overhead solution for their project-based work, and myself with the flexibility to embrace the chaotic lifestyle of a military spouse, while still doing interesting and challenging legal work.”-Celeste H.G. Boyd of Celeste H.G. Boyd, Esq. www.CelesteBoyd.com (Freelance Attorney)


Unique & Exciting:

“...I’ve had to be very creative about my career.” “My business has never been boring!”-Alane Pearce, Alane Pearce Professional Writing Services, www.AlanePearce.com (Author Coach/Publishing and Promotion Consultant)


Outside The Box:

“It’s been a crazy, rough, exciting, heartbreaking, and rewarding ride ever since. I’m proud of where we are. I have created income opportunities for other military wives, grown immeasurably as a business woman, and created my own opportunity in a very challenging lifestyle. I’m doing exactly what I should be doing and it feels good to be in that place.” “It has forced me to reach outside the box and go against everything I ever learned from studios about traditional marketing in order to create a brand that could survive in any market and any location.”-Joy Watson, Modern Joy Unscripted Life Photography, www.ModernJoyPhoto.com (Photographer)


Working a Business OCONUS:

“As for my proposed Photography Business, I spoke with our local AAFES manager who said the decision is made by the next higher level management. Our base had a photography studio in 2007 which closed sometime during 2008. Three or four times a year, a photography business will set up a table in our Post Exchange lobby and make appointments for a two or three day set up in the food court. These are usually themed glamour shot style, vintage style or simple classic family portraits with a backdrop. I decided not to pursue further proposals for this business but instead continue to take photos for my family and dear friends without financial compensation.”-Anne-Marie Detavernier, The Household 6 Diva, www.household6diva.com (Army Wife, Busy Mom, Balance Seeker)


Complying with SOFA Requirements Overseas:

“I think too, if this issue were more well known, families could make an educated decision to move overseas. For example, we have small children. My extra income would be just that. A supplement to our household budget for extras such as travel and other luxuries.

But 10 years from now? Let’s hypothesize my photography hobby grows into a well established business. Our children will be teenagers eating us out of house and home. We’ll be saving aggressively to help them go to college and buy their first car. Perhaps, if given the opportunity to be stationed overseas again, we might decide an unaccompanied 2 year tour would be better. I could continue to earn an income, make payments on our house, our children could remain in the the local school system, and we could travel back and forth on vacation. It would be our decision to make instead of moving overseas and suddenly learning my earning capacity as an Entrepreneur was zero.”-Anne-Marie Detavernier, The Household 6 Diva, www.household6diva.com (Army Wife, Busy Mom, Balance Seeker)

Add comment

Security code

Donate to MSBA

MSBA is 501(c)6 non-profit organization operating solely from the generous contributions of donors & sponsors.  Thank You!


Archived Posts


Registration with MSBA is FREE!  Register here NOW.

Contact us


Newsletter Subscription