Lieutenant Colonel Marlon James’ company is called Marand Business Solutions. It is a full- service management consulting firm, specializing in services that help maximize the success of management teams.
“I was always dedicated to helping people improve themselves,” says James. “Ever since Boy Scouts, I’ve always liked to lead others, and I like to see people improving. More often than not, people are just going- but there’s always an opportunity to get better. We learn something from someone else all our lives. I wanted to take that, and to turn it into a business.”
Early on in his career, James had already performed duties that led him in this direction. When he retired from the military, he worked for the state of South Carolina. As he worked, however, it became more and more difficult for him to feel satisfied with that environment. “I needed flexibility, the freedom to operate on my own schedule, and the ability to do the things that I wanted to do- to help other people and move them from good to great. That’s what helped me make my decision to start my business.”
James’ business began with research. When he first started out, he mainly worked with the Small Business Administration and Veteran Administration. At one of their locations, he picked up a pamphlet on vocational rehabilitation, which happened to have a small paragraph on self- employment. He began to research this option, and was told it would take “a lot of persistence.” His counselor gave him some ideas to start out with and helped him to narrow down his business plan and focus. “I had to take the ball and run with it… I made a checklist for myself with all the things I needed to do.”
After working through the details of the startup and figuring out the business name, in about six months James had really begun his business. He sent in several applications for certifications for his business, including a Minority Business Enterprise Certification, and as a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business. There were many small steps for him to work through, but James says it was worth the effort to legitimize his business, so he could be registered with the government to help with contracting.
The most rewarding part of owning a business, for James, is knowing that the success of landing a contract is his own: “Being able to land a contract, and deliver, and deposit that check in my bank account. You always see that first earned dollar taped to a wall in the barber shop, or someplace- I took a picture of my first check with my smartphone, went down to the bank and walked in, and everybody was smiling and clapping- it was a proud day. But even more than that, it’s about looking in the eyes of my clients. When I’m teaching a class, coaching a client, or delivering a keynote address and I am able to look into their eyes and see them retaining the information or asking questions is by far the most rewarding.”
Of course, there have been difficulties along the way as well. James says some of the mistakes that new businesses make, especially when landing a new deal, are tough to work through: “There are going to be times when you’re negotiating a new contract- and you go home and replay it in your head and think, “Why did I say that?’ You have to learn from your mistakes, you live and you learn.”
James himself has some experiences he’d like to do over- for example, he has learned now that there are a right and a wrong way to represent one’s business experience. He himself is a retired military veteran with over twenty years of experience in leadership training and management. However, when he was asked by a potential client how long he’d been in business, he focused on his current business (only a couple of months at the time), neglecting to mention his own extensive experience in this line of work. “There’s a big difference between four months and twenty years- the way you explain things to a potential client matters. If I was to give advice to someone on managing risk, I would tell them to watch how they market themselves. Don’t mislead someone to think you’re a novice when you’re actually an expert.”
As a retired US Army lieutenant colonel, James says that his military background was incredibly rewarding. He traveled to nineteen countries and served two tours of combat. After retiring from Fort Jackson as the Command Inspector General, he worked for the state of South Carolina. “I had a wonderful experience in the military,” he says. “Every skill translates to the business world. From any position in any branch of the military, it’s possible to become a business owner, because it encourages you to plan ahead. On a daily basis, you’re preparing for the next eventuality, always looking forward to the future. You bring that ability to the table, in an industry, and you have an advantage in that company. You’d be surprised how managers are looking for that. Those skill sets provide a key advantage that the average worker doesn’t have. ”
As a part of his vocational rehabilitation program, James took a couple of VA Accelerator classes and found them very worthwhile. “The advantage these classes have for ex-military is that they take the knowledge you already have in military lingo and translate it into common, everyday language. It makes it easier to have a conversation with people who aren’t necessarily veterans. These basics are important- you can assume a lot, but it’s important not to think that you know it all. You may think that you have expertise, but when you take these classes, you may be surprised.”
As more people see the need for improving their leadership capabilities, James hopes to expand his business. “It’s all about the people,” he says. He is currently working to expand his business into a supplier of equipment, commodities and other services to government, education and corporate entities.
“The final thing I would say is, don’t give up. Make sure you read everything- the answers you need can be found in books- and talk to others. It’s all about relationships. You can be certified in everything, but contracts are made by handshakes, and the difference between ‘networking’ and ‘not working’ is one letter.”
Marand Business Solutions can be found at: