Military Squashes Small Businesses

Small IT business.

Sister-site SpouseBUZZ has just put up a post about the how the officials at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) have effectively squashed a thriving home-based business that employed about 20 military spouses and provided fitness classes with childcare, helping keep the forces and their families fit even though they have kids.

Reading this article makes me want to poke someone in the eye, and it seems I’m not alone.  The JBPHH Facebook page has long list of angry comments that highlight all the reasons this is decision was bad.

But this isn’t a retelling of the perfectly good story already told at SpouseBUZZ.  This is a post about spousal employment, and home-based businesses, and the Department of Defense (DoD) and their bi-polar attitude towards spousal self-employment.

Military spouses often find self-employment a solution to their employment needs.  Running your own business means that you can control the amount you work, the hours that you work, and your overall schedule.  Plus, you can often move your business when you move with your active-duty spouses.

The DoD has identified that spousal employment is a major issue.  Every year, the DoD chooses to spend money and resources on supporting spousal employment issues.  The Military Spouse Employment Partnership is a DoD-sponsored program to help military spouses find jobs.  The DoD has even (previously) identified self-employment as one of its solutions, contracting a private company to offer self-employment training classes to military spouses.

And then, we hit reality.  The DoD says it wants to support military spouses, but a tangle of regulations and laws often make it hard for military spouses to run their small businesses.  And if the spouse lives on a military installation, or overseas, it can be  impossible for these spouses to legally run their businesses.

A quick run down my address book reveals the following self-employed military spouses:

  • a journalist working for a major news outlet,
  • a base ambassador for a military-oriented website,
  • a children’s book author,
  • a math tutor,
  • a jewelry consultant for a home party company,
  • a sales representative for an online vitamin supplement company,
  • no less than four photographers,
  • an interior designer,
  • the founder and owner of a military spouse website,
  • several candle sellers,
  • the founder and owner of an educational consulting company,
  • a consultant for a housewares company,
  • a realtor (most are self-employed),
  • a divine baker, and
  • a Certified Financial Planner.

I know I’m missing some, but it certainly gives a good picture of the breadth of business types that can be owned by military spouses.  We’re a smart and resourceful bunch!

Now, take the idea of each of these business, and start considering the hurdles they might have to jump to run their businesses.  I’m not talking about regular hurdles that all small business owners face, but special hurdles that exist because these people are military spouses, or because they live in military housing, or because they live overseas.

Just for starters, there are the basic questions of “where” your business exists.  As a military spouse, you might not live anywhere near your home state.  Where do you get a business license?  Where do you incorporate, if you need to take that step?  Where do you file your taxes on this income?

If you move into base housing, then you having to get base permission to run your business.  In my experience, the governing guidelines are vague and inconsistnently applied, both for different businesses on a single base and for the same businesses across different bases.

And, regardless of your business, moving overseas presents some serious legal issues, most of which come under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the host country and the United States.  From my research into this, the spouse employment portions of SOFAs have not kept up with the times, and pressing these issues is not a high priority when SOFAs are renegotiated.

So, I’m curious.  Have you ever run your own business?  Did you do while living in housing, or while living overseas?  Did you find extra challenges?  Did you get permission, or just run your business quietly and hope that no one noticed?  Do you think your business was positively or negatively impacted by your position as a military spouse?  (I know that military members often have their own small businesses, but that is a whole extra can of worms and I can’t possibly go into it in this piece.)

Please, please, share, and be anonymous if you think it is necessary.

Love you hear your thoughts!

About the Author

Kate Horrell
Kate Horrell is a military financial coach, mom of four teens, and Navy spouse. She has a background in taxes and mortgage banking, and a trove of experience helping other military families with their money. Follow her on twitter @realKateHorrell.