At Excelsior Growth Fund (EGF), we know that one of the main motivations behind starting a business is the idea of freedom it represents. Through entrepreneurship, business owners can take ownership over their finances, have more flexibility over their schedules, and invest more time in causes that matter to them - whether that be family, friends or hobbies. Though many small business owners are able to attain such freedoms, it takes an enormous amount of work to achieve these goals.
To inspire your journey to independence, Excelsior Growth Fund spoke to Justin Constantine, founder of The Constantine Group, who shares his story of entrepreneurial freedom and provides practical and actionable advice to help you get on the path to living the life you want.
An extraordinary event leads to an inspiring career
As a young adult, Justin’s life had the hallmarks of success: He was enrolled in law school at the University of Denver and joined the U.S. Marine Corps as a Judge-Advocate General Corps (JAG) officer. Later, as a Reservist, he deployed to Iraq with an infantry battalion as part of the U.S. Marine Corp’s Civil Affairs team.
Then, during a combat patrol, Justin was shot in the head by a sniper. Despite an immediate prognosis of “killed in action,” Justin survived, thanks to his fellow servicemembers.
In the months and years that followed, Justin made a remarkable recovery and he returned to work in roles with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI. Though passionate about his work, Justin craved more autonomy over his life, “I almost died while serving in Iraq,” explains Justin. “So, after returning, I wanted to live a very purposeful life and be intentional in how I spent my time every day. As a typical employee, I didn’t have that freedom.”
Fortunately, while working for the FBI, Justin was often asked to give presentations and inspirational talks to corporate audiences and government groups.
“I was trained as a trial lawyer,” explains Justin, “and I’ve always enjoyed speaking in front of audiences, whether corporate groups or juries. With my retirement from the Marines nearing, I realized I could supplement my pension and Veterans’ Administration benefits by doing some speaking engagements.”
Network and market your business
Eventually, with a desire to create more autonomy in his life, Justin set out to turn his passion and talent for motivational speaking into a business. He quickly learned that in his new field, speaking engagements were typically “one-and-done” events: Repeat engagements are rare, so Justin had to continuously market and build his business.
“I networked everywhere,” explains Justin. “I was active on LinkedIn®, I went to conventions, I joined national associations, I asked friends to tell others about my work and I requested testimonials after every engagement. I made it clear that what I was doing was my business and I was determined to make it successful.”
Though Justin’s business model differs from many other small businesses, he encourages entrepreneurs in all industries to actively network and market their businesses.
“Freedom and autonomy over your life, time and finances, are some of the many benefits of owning a successful business,” say Justin. “And as a successful entrepreneur, I have found that marketing and networking yourself and your business are essential tools in achieving this success.”
Research available resources and ask for help
As Justin ramped up his marketing and networking efforts, he started to notice more interest in his services. Still, financial independence and autonomy didn’t come overnight.
“It took a solid year or more of constant marketing, networking and presenting to get to a point where I felt more financially solid and had flexibility over my schedule,” says Justin. “And one way I was able to get there was through EGF.”
Justin explains, “My loan helped me cover the costs I incurred as part of a marketing campaign I conducted with a third party and allowed me to focus on my long-term goals. Having the loan in my account helps with my payroll, which allows me to work on creating new content and building workshops and focus more on long-term goals because I don’t have to spend time prepping for smaller jobs. This has really brought a sense of stability and freedom to my business.”
Around this time, Justin also researched and sought out additional resources that could help him grow his business. One such resource was the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) certification, which made him eligible to compete for set aside federal contracts. He also invested in a course by a successful speaker and coach in order to adapt his tactics and improve his skills.
When asked about how business owners can achieve entrepreneurial freedom, Justin states, “Ask for help, but don’t simply ask someone to mentor you. Clearly define what you’re looking for, find the right people and resources, and use your time together wisely. And help yourself, too, by researching available resources and keeping your eyes open for ways to collaborate and multipurpose your skills and experiences.”
Set clear goals
Eventually, his tenacity paid off, as did his networking: Through a Wounded Warriors golf tournament hosted by former U.S. President George W. Bush, Justin made a key connection that led to a high-profile speaking engagement with TEDx in Boston.
Though he hadn’t developed a formalized business plan, he always had very clear financial goals in mind and strategized building his business to make those goals a reality.
“Setting clear goals helped me grow my business,” says Justin, “For example, I targeted large corporations from the start, because I knew they could afford the higher fees I wanted to charge.”
Attaining entrepreneurial autonomy and financial freedom
Today, Justin still books speaking engagements, but with the level of respect he’s achieved in his field, he can afford to be selective about the engagements he takes on, and only does one or two a month.
Instead, he now spends most of his time as the Chief Business Development Officer at JobPath, the most robust veteran employment platform in the country. He is able to leverage many of his contacts from his speaking business in this effort, and as a widely-known veteran of the Iraq War, Justin has found significant success at JobPath. And in conjunction with the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), he also recently published a book about employing veterans, From “We Will” to “At Will”: A Handbook for Veteran Hiring, Transitioning, and Thriving in the Workplace.
“I truly appreciate the autonomy that comes along with being my own boss,” explains Justin. Now, if I want to spend a whole day supporting my nonprofit efforts or writing or researching new ideas, I can do that. Frankly, there is no way I could be involved with so many nonprofit organizations, have co-founded my own nonprofit, and participate in other non-business-related activities that I enjoy, if I didn’t run my own business.”
Take one step at a time
Reflecting on his path to financial freedom and entrepreneurial independence, Justin advises that early on, entrepreneurs should consider hanging on to their jobs while building their businesses.
As he says, “Autonomy is great, but when you’re starting out, having income from a job enables you to make smarter decisions about the business you’re building, because you’re not making those decision out of financial fear. Instead, you know you’ve got your bases covered financially, so you won’t sell your entrepreneurial vision short.”
Be courageous and take chances
Considering all that he’s experienced, does he think entrepreneurship is worth the work?
“Absolutely,” he says enthusiastically. “When you’re working for yourself, the sky’s the limit in terms of how you can spend your time, what you can earn and how you live your life. That’s just never going to be the case when you’re working for someone else.”