Teri Young is an Army veteran and a Top Pro photographer based in Austin, Texas, who has been hired over 75 times on Thumbtack. Here’s the story of how she made the transition from military life to opening her own photography business, in her own words.
Starting the next chapter of my life after serving my country in the U.S. Army was terrifying. I’m no longer in the military, but the military never really left me. Nowhere has that been clearer than my transition to soldier entrepreneur.
I’m telling my story because I want to help other veterans become soldier entrepreneurs. There are a few government programs, technologies, and pieces of advice that will make the transition easier. Fortunately, the mix of faith, courage and tenacity it takes to be an entrepreneur is ingrained in every soldier. With a little extra guidance, I’m confident more veterans can be successful small business owners.
I had no idea I’d be an entrepreneur when I first went to basic training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma when I was 17. But, like an entrepreneur’s life, things moved quickly. After countless push-ups, sit-ups and two-mile runs, I earned the highest female physical fitness score ever recorded. I was leading and training other soldiers when I was hardly out of my teens, and I was pinned a Non-Commission Officer in Charge at age 20.
I spent six years in the Army, serving on bases in Oklahoma and Texas. I was more confident leaving the military than going in, but at 24, driving across the lonely Texas highway, I wondered how I’d adjust to civilian life. In other words, I was starting from scratch and was scared. But as the Army cadence goes, you must “drive on,” and that’s what I did.
First, I enrolled in Austin Community College, and then transferred to the University of Texas at Austin. Two semesters in and pregnant with my now 11-year-old daughter, I spent my study breaks browsing photography blogs. I was fascinated by the ability to capture a moment in time and convey true emotion in a picture. I purchased my own camera and lenses and spent the next two years fine-tuning my craft.
As I developed my photography business, I took advantage of a mentoring session through a program called SCORE. SCORE helps connect established entrepreneurs, corporate managers, and executives to mentor small businesses. My mentor helped me outline my business goals and even taught me how to market myself to the right customers online.
I was lucky to be starting my business enterprise in Austin. The city’s artistic vibe allowed me to hone in on my creative side. I’ll always be an advocate to “Keep Austin Weird.” Also, the network of other young small business owners has been especially encouraging.
The resources in Austin helped, but so did technology. Earlier this year, my boyfriend and I hired a photographer using a website called Thumbtack to document our quirky, fun-loving relationship. The process was easy, so I decided to use Thumbtack to try finding customers of my own.
I quickly earned the coveted Thumbtack Top Pro distinction for delivering exceptional customer service. It has pushed me to raise my standards even higher and has driven me to want to pursue photography full-time.
This journey hasn’t been easy. But here are five things future soldier entrepreneurs should keep in mind:
If it weren’t for my military service, I would not be where I am today. The Army taught me to be a disciplined, decisive individual. I have learned to calculate my risks and assess situations with a clear, goal-driven perspective. My organizational skills allow me continue doing what I love every day.
Tell your self-made story or share your thoughts in the comments below.
Loved this story. As a Marine Corps Veteran and Photographer, Teri's story hit close to home as I went through a very similar transition. Thank you for the head's up on SCORE and great photos Teri!
Thank you so much, Teri, for sharing your experiences & life lessons with us. You said it perfectly, that it does take faith, courage and tenacity - not just in the military, but to follow your passion in business & in life.
Most of us like to complain, but we wouldn't all be here on Thumbtack if we didn't want to succeed & stay independent. Thank you also for helping other people with useful advice and reminders to keep learning & going forward through our challenges.
I'm also a Veteran turned Photographer.
What a transition it's been. Loved your story and thanks for the tip on SCORE. Interested in finding a similar group like this in the Dallas/Fort Worth Area.