I had the pleasure of interviewing Lisa Ducharme, Executive Director of the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce, she comes from a family line with over 200 years of military service in all branches of the military. She is a 20-year Air Force veteran, daughter of a retired Air Force Veteran and mother of an Army retired soldier. Ms. Ducharme has an in-depth understanding of veteran benefits, and experience as a business owner, she has been a partner with Veterans Outreach Into Community Engagement (VOICE) for over 5-years, where she participates in military outreach opportunities connecting military, veterans and their families to resources.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path? When I retired from the Air Force in December 2006 I struggled to find a job, when I found a job that I enjoyed, after 5 years, in 2014, I was laid off. I decided I needed a change, and went back to school to get a certification in 3D Animation and Interactive Media, which led me to start a business. In starting my own business, I made all the mistakes you could make and didn’t really understand what assistance or resources were available. When my business wasn’t going anywhere and I couldn’t make it work, that is when I started looking for assistance, and I applied for and was accepted into the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities at UConn. I learned so much from that program and about other resources available to businesses and veterans. When I was given the opportunity to establish the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce (NEVCC) to connect and help veteran, military and family member businesses under the United States Veterans Chamber of Commerce it was an opportunity I could not pass up.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? I was planning our kick-off for the NEVCC, which was scheduled for 11/11/2018 at 11:01 a.m., the reason for this date/time is because this year is the 100th Anniversary of the end of World War I. The launch was our tribute to those who served and sacrificed, “A Century of veteran businesses in the making.”, as our veterans past, helped our veterans present and we want to help our veterans in the future. As we were figuring out how best to make this tribute, the World War I Centennial Commission launched the “Bells of Peace” and asked Americans across the U.S. to ring a bell at 11:00 on 11/11/2018 in honor of those who served and sacrificed.
We wanted to add bells to our kick-off, so after searching where to get the commemorative bells, we found the perfect place, Bevin Bells in CT. It turned out that Bevin Bells is not only a 6th Generation family run business, but the current owner is a veteran.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story? The NEVCC will be the hub of veteran entrepreneurship, and provide New England veteran, military, and family member businesses with the education, tools, resources and network connections necessary to launch and/or run successful businesses. We connect veteran, military, and family-owned businesses in New England through advocacy and professional and community networking. We do this by facilitating workshops and trainings with organizations and individuals that are experts in their field, such as Quabbin Mediation, VETRN Streetwise MBA, SCORE, Small Business Administration, and Veteran Business Outreach Centers.
Early on as we were establishing the NEVCC we connected with Leroy Ashwood, owner of BRAVE for Veterans, whose business is successful, and is working on starting another business, as well as working on a variety of veteran issues. We have been able to collaborate with Leroy and also connect him to resources and provided him information that will assist him.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Use resources that are available, you are never alone! It is never too late to make sure your personal credit is in good shape, if you don’t know how to start, reach out to the American Consumer Credit Counseling services, they are there to assist. The stress of personal finances can be a big drain on business owners.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story? I so agree, everyone has a mentor who helped them get where they are. In my case, my mentor is a friend and she has been my “business buddy” since 2013. Anita Eliason, has owned her own business and now works as a Senior Business Advisor with the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center (MSBDC).
The most important thing about your “business buddy” is they need to be supportive and honest. Anita has always been supportive and honest. When I started my business in 2013, I had picked a business name that I thought worked, LLR2000 and Anita, said how does LLR2000 equate to your business? As I explained what it stood for and we continued to talk, the reality set in, if it takes this much to explain it to Anita, who fully understands my business, it was clear my business name did not fit my business. After some brain storming and looking online, we came up with Your Visual Alternatives. When I was thinking about establishing the New England Veterans Chamber of Commerce, Anita and I brainstormed what that would look like and what kind of resources would be needed, and she was the first person added to the Advisory board. The military has “battle buddies”, Anita is always going to be my “business buddy”.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life? For over 20 years the quote I have relied on is by Abraham Lincoln, “I do the very best I know how—the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won’t amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.” When it comes to business, I have many quotes that inspire me, one of my favorites is “There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.” — Colin Powell
We are only human, which can be a positive and a negative. When I do the best I can and it is not good enough, is it a failure? It is only a failure, if I do not learn from it. Over my lifetime and throughout my time as a business owner, I will always do the very best I can, and will prepare and work hard.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Use resources – When I started my business, I did everything by myself, didn’t use resources and went online and downloaded other people’s business plans. It was the wrong way to do it.
- Get a SCORE mentor – SCORE is available to anyone to use https://www.score.org/ “SCORE, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, is dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship.” I didn’t get a SCORE mentor (or have a business plan) until 2 years after my business was started.
- Work with the Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) – “SBDC’s provide assistance to small businesses and aspiring entrepreneurs throughout the United States and its territories. SBDCs help entrepreneurs realize the dream of business ownership and help existing businesses remain competitive in a complex, ever-changing global marketplace. SBDCs are hosted by leading universities and state economic development agencies, and funded in part through a partnership with SBA.” https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/sbdc
- Ensure you have a Business Plan – Although business plans can be very difficult, you should always have one. You do not have to do it by yourself, SCORE mentors can provide you tools and assist you through the process. https://www.sba.gov/tools/local-assistance/sbdc
- Learn Social Media – Social media is not for all businesses, but it is for most. Social Media includes blogs, LinkedIn, YouTube, and a wide variety of other social media formats. The reality is, in today’s world how are you going to be found in this noisy world without Social media?
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂 My movement is “Buy Veteran New England”. Our Veteran and Military members serve 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There were many times that they work through holidays and weekends. Many times, they get deployed or need to leave their families to go to training or to help others. Our family members serve as well, they need to adapt to all kinds of situations, and the children who move need to continually adjust. Here in the New England States, which include: CT, MA, ME, NH, VT, and RI, we want to run a “Buy Veteran New England” campaign and encourage businesses and consumers to purchase from veteran, military and family member businesses.
How can our readers follow you on social media? We are on twitter, and Facebook: @NEVCC2018 and can be found on LinkedIn https://www.linkedin.com/company/new-england-veterans-chamber-of-commerce/. Our website is www.NEVCC.org
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!