Dawn Halfaker, founder of Halfaker and Associates, took the stage at the Inc. 500|5000 Joining Forces Military Entrepreneurs Mentoring Fair at the Reagan Center in Washington, D.C. to talk about military culture and entrepreneurship.
"Business is just another form of combat," she told the crowd of about a hundred CEO's and military entrepreneurs. "Military culture does prepare you for the business world. But it isn't an easy road."
Halfacker revealed her inspiring story of starting her own business, a consulting firm for that specializes in services for the federal government. As a police officer in the army, she spent years working with Iraqi police officers at a police station in a city north of a Baghdad.
She said it was just another day riding through the city streets when her truck was ambushed by enemy insurgents. She sustained massive injuries that left her in a coma, and forced the amputation of her right arm.
"I woke up from my coma in the same moment I went into it," she said, as the audience became tearful. "I had no idea what was happening. And when they told me I lost my arm and that I probably wouldn't have a dream career in the military, I thought I had lost everything."
But a trip to Walter Read Medical Center for physical training changed her outlook she said.
"I got perspective. The vets there were positive, living their life. I decided to focus on what I had and not what I lost," she added.
Today, her Arlington Virginia-based company has seen quadruple revenue growth over the last few years.
After telling her story, Halfacker gave five points of advice specifically for the military entrepreneur, that were inspiring to everyone in the room.
1. Have a well-thought out, strategic plan. She suggests reading Jim Collins' Good to Great.
"No bank will give you a loan unless you can articulate your plan. Trust me I know," she added.
2. Leverage social media. Halfacker pointed out that many returning vets who plan to start companies might not live in the most condusive environments for networking.
"We do all our recruiting through Linkedin and Tweet out all our job openings," she said.
3. Focus on revenue producing activities.
"Seems obvious but in the military, you're used to taking orders. With a business you're in charge so make sure you aren't just doing what is easy or comfortable," Halfacker said.
4. Have a talent strategy. Halfacker said: "In the Army, you play the cards your dealt. Your team is your team. But in business, you need to seek talent for your team."
5. Relationships! Halfacker ended her talk pushing the importance of relationships in business.
"Definitely look to the military community for your first relationships," she said. "We're built for support.