SYRACUSE — Brian Bluff told a room full of military veterans that they’d better be ready for challenges if they want to start their own business.
“Check your gut,” said Bluff, who was the keynote speaker at the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) 2012 Veterans Business Conference at Onondaga Community College (OCC) on March 13. “If you don’t like to work weekends, if you don’t like to work nights, then this is not the right thing for you.”
Bluff is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He is also the president and co-founder of Site-Seeker, Inc., an Internet-marketing firm based in New Hartford that has 22 employees in New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, and Virginia. He started Site-Seeker in 2003 and had previously started another Internet-marketing firm, TCO Inc., in 2000.
“If you like a challenge, if you want to bury yourself in your work and do something important, something you feel good about, then [starting a business] is really cool,” he told the veterans. “It’s a good time.”
This is the fifth year the SBA’s Syracuse district office has organized its business conference for veterans, which is titled “Operation: Start Up & Grow.” This year’s conference drew 120 military veterans and about 60 exhibitors, representing more than 30 organizations.
Veterans who attended chose between workshops on social media, financing, and government contracting. Other workshops addressed marketing plans and selling to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
Bluff drew from his experiences in the Navy in his keynote speech. He recounted being on the USS Conyngham when a fire broke out at the front of the ship.
That fire killed one man and damaged the ship so badly that it had to be decommissioned. Bluff said he was a damage-control assistant on the vessel when the fire happened, and that he suffered injuries and burns.
“Our mission was to fight the ship,” he said. “As you prepare to begin your business, you’ve got to understand that your mission is profitability.”
Bluff advised veterans to plan for the worst and look as far into the future as possible when starting their businesses. And he recommended keeping as much cash on hand as possible.
He also said business owners should be prepared to take action quickly if their business encounters trouble.
“You need to take evasive action early,” he said. “Lay it out and then make a decision.”
Veterans should be willing to enlist organizations like the SBA, Syracuse SCORE, and the Small Business Development Center at OCC when starting their business, according to Bluff.
“There is no award for figuring it out yourself,” he said. “Take all the help you can get.”
Helping veterans find assistance as they think about starting their own business is one of the reasons the Syracuse SBA holds a business conference for veterans, according to Cathy Pokines, the director of marketing and communications at the SBA’s Syracuse district office. Attending the conference gives veterans access to a wide range of organizations, rather than having to choose from telephone numbers on a list, she says.
The conference typically attracts between 100 and 140 veterans, Pokines says. She estimated that more than 600 different veterans have attended since the Syracuse SBA first held the conference in 2008.
Veterans are good candidates to start a small business because of their military training, Pokines adds. They have discipline, courage under fire, and the ability to take calculated risks, she says.
“The hallmark characteristic of small-business owners is taking risks,” she says. “Because they’re risking their savings, they’re risking their employees’ financial wherewithal, and they’re putting their ego on the line.”
Veterans could qualify for various forms of SBA assistance, including the Patriot Express loan program, according to the SBA. That program is for members of the military community who want to start or expand a small business. The Syracuse district has processed 119 loans under the program since 2007.