Editor’s Note: MilSpouse Entrepreneur Spotlight is a monthly Q&A designed to celebrate the successes and acknowledge the challenges of a milspouse entrepreneur. In the past, we have highlighted Jessica Bertsch of Powerhouse Planning, Bridget Platt of Daddy’s Deployed, Stefanie Weakley of Abby Maddy, Patricia Marzella Mathisen of Nutrisha and Rosemary O’Brien of Pocket Parks Publishing. This month NextGen MilSpouse features Kristine Schellhaas of USMC Life.
Your Name: Kristine Schellhaas
Military Branch Affiliation: USMC
Years as a Military Spouse: I’ve been with my Marine for 18 years, been married 12 of those.
Business Name: USMC Life (usmclife.com)
Year Established: 2009
Tell us about your business: USMC Life aims to Inspire, Connect and Educate military families. We provide base guides for major Marine Corps bases, resources on military scholarships, discounts, deployment and family support, news and more. I was able to turn the website into a business by utilizing Google’s Adsense and providing advertising to companies who wanted to reach the military market. Finally, our site prides itself of being an advocate for the community.
Did you always know that you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I never thought I’d be an entrepreneur; I always saw myself rising through the ranks of a Fortune 500 Company. I worked for two large technology companies with more than 10 years’ experience. After I said “I do” to my Marine, I couldn’t find a job.
What motivated you to start your own business? I’m more of an accidental entrepreneur, to be honest. I never set out to start a company; I simply started a website to help make military life easier for Marine Corps families. We had been stationed in 29 Palms, Calif., for more than a year when I learned of a splash pad 15 minutes from my house (it’s a flat park with sprinklers). My husband was in Afghanistan and I was trying to keep my new baby and toddler cool in 115 degree temps; taking them to a 3-feet-deep pool alone was not fun. The splash pad was a saving grace for us. I decided to write down all the “what you wished you would have known” on a site, so I could help families PCS more successfully.
Several years later of updating and volunteering my time on the site, I eventually got a 35-hours-a-week job making $10 an hour. It was a new business and I created a lot of their initial programs, helping to set up their company for success. After I paid childcare and taxes, I barely had anything left. Summer was coming and I couldn’t afford to work once my son got out of school for the summer; it would have cost more in childcare than I made.
I began to wonder if I only gave as much heart and energy into my website, it too could become a real business. In those 3 years, it had grown to 14,000 monthly pageviews; I knew I was onto something.
Once school started again, I dug in and began working full-time on USMC Life; writing, sharing, networking and building relationships.
What is the best part of being an entrepreneur? I love being an entrepreneur. My business is an online business, so it’s ideal for me because I can work anytime and anywhere. I don’t have to worry about who has to stay home with the kids on snow days, who can take the kids to sports or worry about asking for several weeks of vacation time when we go home on Christmas leave.
I truly have followed my passion of helping others and I’m blessed that it has grown into what it is today. In October 2014 I was approached by a company who wanted to buy me out. My initial knee-jerk reaction was not only no, but heck no! That little voice in the back of my head reminded me that it was at least worth having a conversation, so I opened myself up to it.
By then, I had grown the site to over 2 million pageviews a year with 200,000+Facebook followers. Truthfully, I had taken the site as far as I could. I needed a strategic partner to take the company to the next level.
When other companies I worked with discovered that I was considering selling, they too asked if I would consider selling to them. I ended up with three businesses vying for my hand. In the end, I chose the company who provided the best fit for me and my website.
I sold USMC Life to Bright Mountain Acquisitions on January 2, 2015, and signed an agreement to manage the site for the next three years. Selling the site gave our family financial stability and I immediately paid off all my student loans. I now have the support of IT, content marketing and branding professionals. I still get to do what I love and the best part is that I own a significant amount of stock in the company, so in a way, I’m still working for myself.
Now that I’ve sold the site, it has provided an opportunity to step into a new outlet with speaking opportunities and coaching others. My memoir about our family’s military life is set to get released in late spring or early summer.
What are the biggest challenges you face as an entrepreneur? Balancing work and home life is really difficult. I work all the time. Seriously. All.the.time. It’s difficult to actually step away from work because I have that nagging drive that says, “Just go online for a few minutes and see what’s going on.” It turns into hours, but it’s also what has made me successful today.
Being a small businesses owner meant that I didn’t have resources that mainstream organizations had. I had to budget for everything I did, so hiring a team member or consultant to help me with the latest challenge wasn’t an option. I had to research and figure out how to solve my own problems.
Time commitments became an issue as well. I always had these great ideas for developing the site further, but I couldn’t find more hours in the day to do so. Over time, I brought on two employees and several volunteers to help me implement some strategic goals to help connect local communities together to share events, information, and resources. Without these military spouses, my business would not be where it is today.
Do you find that being an entrepreneur fits well with your role as a military spouse (or does it even factor in)?
I couldn’t imagine a better fit for military spouses than entrepreneurship. I think that’s partly why we see so many home-party consultants in our community; spouses want to find a way to earn extra money and create a portable career. Not only is this a strong motivation, but our service members don’t have the luxury of playing the normal role of mom or dad due to deployments and long working hours. Throw kids in the mix and it’s exponentially more difficult to manage sick days, before/after school care, business trips and more.
How do you blend working from home and your family relationships? Family relationships were much more difficult in the beginning. I was dealing with young kids at home and it was difficult to juggle various tasks. I was constantly interrupted with whatever I was working on and discovered that the only uninterrupted time I was going to have, was after the kids went to bed until the late night and on weekends.
Then there’s my sweet husband. He fronted all the money to start this business. He’s always been supportive, but after years passed with no real income we could count on, he grew weary seeing me working so hard with no real results. He always teased me and asked when my Master’s degree was going to “pay off,” meaning I had this great education but no job to show for it.
Yet, he believed in me and saw the site continue to grow. In 2013, I became an official LLC and deducted all of 2012’s expenses off our taxes. In 2014, the company was bringing in enough money to make a legit salary. I was grateful that he gave me the opportunity, encouragement and financial resources to create a business.
Having an understanding and sympathetic spouse is important, because your company will take a lot of time and energy away from the family.
Biggest lesson learned so far as an entrepreneur? Give to others. When I first started, I looked for advice and networking opportunities with people and companies I admired. Almost all of them refused to return an email. It was extremely disappointing, especially when I reached out companies whose primary mission is supporting military spouses.
Then there were the rare people who did reply. If they gave me a small piece of advice or even a “this doesn’t work for us right now, but contact us again in the future” type of response, it was a ton of motivation and encouragement. Because of that experience, I always make it a point to answer emails and do whatever I can to support others.
Best piece of advice for a budding entrepreneur? If you want a really successful business, you have to earn it. Plenty of people want to own their own businesses, but it’s not just going to magically happen just because you have a good idea. You’re going to have to work more hours and spend more money than you think. You’re not going to get immediate results, so you have to want it in the end.
Finally, remember that you’re never going to do it all on your own. I owe my business success to the followers who shared my content and remembered to step back, think critically and adjust when I received criticism. My volunteers and staff have supported the site because they truly believe in it. Many organizations have believed in me and provided some amazing opportunities not only as an entrepreneur, but as an individual. I’m truly thankful.