Military spouses on Guam take a leap on entrepreneurship

Stripes Guam

Every year, thousands of military spouses follow their partners to new duty stations across the United States or overseas. They move their life with them, but often that does not include their careers.

Deployments, moves every two-to-three years, difficulties finding childcare and employers hesitant to hire a military spouse, are all among a long list of difficulties military spouses have that prevent them from getting work.

According to a 2017 survey of around 1,200 military spouses, nearly 70 percent have more formal education than what is needed for their current positions. The survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation for their Hiring Our Heroes program, also found that 31 percent of that group held a college degree. Despite the rates of higher education among them, military spouses also have higher rates of unemployment.

Military life demands many things from spouses, but they are resilient and from lemons they have learned to make lemonade. Here are four military spouses on Guam who took matters into their own hands and started their own businesses. Businesses that allow them to continue to support their partner’s mission while continuing their careers.

 

ROXANNE AUGUSTA
Photographer

Age: 32
Years as a military spouse: 6 years
Service: Coast Guard
 
What type of business do you own? How long?

I started a photography business four years ago that specializes in portrait sessions for couples and individuals as well as nature photography.
 
Is Guam where you started your business?

If not, where did you start it and was it an easy business to transition to your spouse’s new duty station? My business started in California but the first year was really spent experimenting and figuring out what made my heart sing. Thankfully, the transition to Guam was smooth. Prior to the move, I reached out to other business owners, so I knew exactly what I needed to get started here… Networking can be the foundation for your success and help with the transition between places.
 
What was your occupation before starting your own business?

I worked as a server/bartender, nanny, and office aide while in college and when my husband first joined the Coast Guard. I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in history. My dream job was to do research at a museum (nerd alert!) but I quickly realized it wouldn’t be an easy career field to transition every few years.

Why did you decide to open your own business and why, specifically, did you choose this particular type of business?

I knew that I would never be satisfied if I didn’t have a career path of my own. It was important to find something that I didn’t have to start from scratch every time we moved but I never really thought I was going to own a business. I had a passion for photography, loved meeting new people and wanted to create meaningful images. Once I realized that my portfolio could move with me, I decided to really focus and put more energy into developing my photography. 

Explain some of the difficulties military spouses have in finding a job and/or starting a business that civilians may not know about.

There are many challenges when you live a life of fluidity based off your significant other’s career. It is really hard picking up your life, much less your business, every few years… Everyone knows the challenges of moving but I think it is important to also focus on the advantages. First, you can pull inspiration from new places, people and experiences. Second, you get to expand your client base every few years. Not many people have that opportunity to reach new people and locations.    

What are some of challenges you’ve encountered in going out on your own and starting a business?

Some of the challenges that I have had to overcome is valuing one’s self and craft. It is very easy to succumb to self-doubt, especially in a field where there are so many talented people. That self-doubt and competition can lead to poor business practices, like not pricing yourself for profit and over working yourself, which eventually causes really talented people to give up their love. The biggest challenge that I have had to overcome was to learn what it takes to run a successful business. Knowing all the boring stuff like expenses, taxes, business licenses, but most importantly learning to price yourself to make a livable wage. I defiantly thought I would be focusing more on photography, but I quickly learned that in order to pursue photography as a career, I first had to learn how to run a business.    

What advice would you give other military spouses looking to start their own businesses?

My advice is to make sure you are passionate about whatever it is you want to do. It is very easy to give up motivation and call it quits, especially during the transition periods. If you love it without a doubt, you will not be working but pursuing your passion. Also take a business/marketing course or two so you set yourself up for success. Just remember that you can do it!

 

STEPHANIE CARUTHERS
KRAFTiBEE

Age: 35
Years as a military spouse: 10
Service: Navy

What type of business do you own?

KRAFTiBEE is a custom wood sign company that creates one-of-a-kind and personalized wood signs. Signs can be purchased as special orders or created during one of our private parties that are social events hosted by a customer whom invites her friends and family to paint together.

How long have you owned your business?

I started my business in March of 2018.

Is Guam where you started your business?  Why did you decide to open your own business?

We were stationed in Guam previously and once we came back, I knew I wanted to offer something like my crafting business on the island. There is a need for an affordable, creative outlet within our community and I created KRAFTiBEE to be a modern version of a sewing bee. Here, my customers can get together, be social, meet new friends while creating something beautiful to hang on the walls of their home for many years to come.

Explain some of the difficulties military spouses have in finding a job and/or starting a business that civilians may not know about.

As a spouse, it can sometimes be difficult to take your career with you and start over every three years. Prior to moving back to Guam for a second tour, we were stationed in Yokosuka, Japan, where I worked as an English teacher. I taught Japanese residents English as a second language for the three years we were stationed there.  As a military spouse, I always struggled to re-establish myself in the workforce every time we moved. Some employers may hesitate to hire military spouses due to the knowledge of frequent moves that occur, sometimes with little notice. However, military spouses have a unique ability to handle changes and are very adaptable in their roles within the workplace. Starting your own business can be a challenge when you are starting it outside U.S. soil, or on a U.S. Territory such as Guam. Knowing the local regulations, tax laws, and making sure you abide by them can be an obstacle if you are unfamiliar with them or if you are outside of your home state of record.

What are some of challenges you’ve encountered in going out on your own and starting a business?

One of my biggest challenges was learning to balance responsibilities at home as a stay-at-home mom and KRAFTiBEE. Finding this balance for myself has been learned through trial and error and a lot of late nights. Another challenge I have faced, is navigating the local business requirements for Guam. I am grateful I have access to the Business College at the University of Guam for guidance on where to start and how to find the requirements and laws. 

What advice would you give other military spouses looking to start their own businesses?

Some of the best advice I would give a fellow spouse on starting their own business is to be fearless. You have to push yourself to move out of your comfort zone in order to truly by fearless and achieve your goals… Also, evaluate the need for your business within your community. Without a need for the service or product you provide your business will never get off the ground. 

 

SARAH BOUCHER 
Shining Shores Sea Glass

Age: 35
Years as a military spouse: 11
Service: Navy
Type of business: I own Shining Shores Sea Glass. I make jewelry and art out of locally found sea glass. 

How long have you owned your business?

I started my business in 2016, shortly after we moved [to Guam] from Connecticut.

What was your previous occupation?

I was previously an Applied Behavior Analyst therapist for 11 years.

Why did you decide to open your own business?

When we arrived in Guam in September of 2015, I found out that there were no Autism services on the island. I was devastated that I could no longer continue my career.

Heading to the beach and picking up sea glass became a favorite pastime. And I quickly accumulated jars and bins full of sea glass. Needing to figure out what to do with all that sea glass, I used some rogue wire I had lying around from a different project and wire-wrapped a piece and put it on a necklace chain. I showed my friends via Facebook and they all wanted one.

My husband had the idea to sell the jewelry at the night market in Chamorro Village … and after a year of doing night markets and other fairs, I was able to open my own store there … I still catch myself in awe of what I was able to do and still so humbled by the success of this.

What are some of the difficulties military spouses face finding a job or starting a business?

I think military spouses do have a more difficult task of finding a job. Our resumes are long due to the frequent duty station changes, yet, we may feel the “why bother” mentality when trying to job hunt.  I know I felt very discouraged when I couldn’t do what I loved and went to college for. 

What are some of challenges you’ve encountered in going out on your own and starting a business?

Not knowing where to start is probably the biggest one, finding the “right” people to tell you what you need to do – the second and after that it should be smooth sailing.

Once I had my grip on things and became comfortable as a business owner, I felt great and have since helped three other spouses start their own businesses.

What advice would you give other military spouses looking to start their own businesses?

My advice to other spouses is that I know the constant moving is scary, stressful, and daunting, but make the best of it. Don’t get stuck in the “I can’t “-mode. Sometimes we must just stop making excuses not to do something. Make nothing into something. Be happy, be you, and that is where you will find your success.

 

KATHERINE HOVEY 
Micronesian Macramé

Age: 21
Years as a military spouse: 4 years
Service: Navy
Type of business: I make and sell macramé wall hangings, plant holders, clutch/purses, bags, dog accessories and jewelry. I also offer workshops and classes for those who like to be hands-on or love to get creative on a night out!

How long have you owned your business?

I started my business in March of 2017 and became official with my business license in August! It began as a hobby I did nightly to relax until I turned a “What if” into a “Let’s do this.”

Is Guam where you started your business?

Yes! I’ve been living on Guam since 2016 and began my business on the island in 2017. 

What was your previous occupation?

Prior to living on Guam, I worked two jobs as a pharmacy technician and at a bakery in Massachusetts. I was pregnant when I moved here and spent a lot of time in and out of the hospital due to complications with the pregnancy. Since I couldn’t work, my illness was the beginning of my drive to try and find a job I could do from home.

Why did you decide to open your own business?

Macramé became something I did in my free time to relieve stress... It wasn’t until my friends started requesting pieces from me that I realized I could do what I loved AND make a living from it! Starting my business was one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made. Macramé plays such a large part in my well-being that I never imagined it would also provide for my family as well.

What are some of the difficulties military spouses face finding a job or starting a business?

As a military spouse I’ve learned and seen fellow spouses struggle with finding employment. I’ve seen a number of friends turned down for positions they were more than qualified for once the employer found out their rotation date or simply learned they were a military spouse. It’s a little frustrating to see military spouses’ resumes go out the window no matter how qualified they may be... Moving also affects owning a business as well. I haven’t yet had to uproot my business, but I will say I am nervous to experience that process! I am very lucky because my art can be made from anywhere… Picking up and moving is a daunting task for families in itself but adding in the risk for business failure just intensifies any stress that’s present.

What are some of challenges you’ve encountered in going out on your own and starting a business?

Personally, I haven’t encountered any challenges yet specific to being a military spouse when launching my business rather I think PCS’ing gives business owners the chance to branch out across the country and the globe to build local support groups with every new duty station. For most business owners, outreach is a challenging task, however, if you’re willing to immerse yourself wherever the military takes you then transitioning and growing is within reach!

What advice would you give other military spouses looking to start their own businesses?

My biggest piece of advice would not to rush it. Take your time finding your passion and mastering your craft. Reach out to fellow business owners in your local community and gauge their experiences. It takes a lot of time and energy to run a business on your own and it takes self-discipline, all of which is impossible if you try to start a business centered around something you’re not in love with. …Making money and being your own boss are two very enticing things however it’s easy to get caught up in the fantasy of it all, but behind the scenes are countless late nights... Don’t let the hectic craze of military life hold you back from chasing your dreams, the beauty of this lifestyle is that we’re all in this together and the support of fellow spouses/families is relentless. Make small goals and dream big, be realistic, but think outside the box and you will go far!

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