Army Maj. Timothy Page is leaving the service in October and plans to have his first "auto spa" location operating by April.
But getting that six-month business plan together has taken years of planning, research and work.
"I first got the idea when I got back from Afghanistan in 2007, when some friends approached me about being a silent investor in some car washes in Chicago," Page said. "That didn't work out, so I shelved that idea for later. I always had that desire to own a business, and over the next few years the opportunity became evident."
Part of Page's preparation for the career change was enrolling in the Small Business Administration's Boots to Business training program, giving him extra insight into the legal and financial challenges of similar start-ups.
He started and completed the crash course in business in just the last few months, and said the tips he learned are invaluable to his work.
Now, federal officials want would-be veteran entrepreneurs like Page to start their business planning even earlier in their military careers, instead of waiting until their waning days of enlistment.
SBA and Defense Department officials are now expanding the Boots to Business program beyond transitioning troops to any service member at any time in their career. Military spouses also will be able to sign-up for the program, space permitting.
The goal, planners say, is to give individuals who are thinking about setting up their own businesses more time for the planning and budgeting work that is integral to making those ventures successful.
"It takes a while to learn the language of business," said Barb Carson, who heads up the SBA's veterans programs. "It's not that troops can't quickly learn if they have to. But it helps to have some exposure to market, time to get some capital together, time to test the idea out before launch."
According to U.S. Census data, nearly one in 10 small businesses in America are owned by veterans. SBA statistics show veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans.
The Boots to Business program is offered as an elective track within DoD's broader transition assistance efforts. More than 27,000 separating service members have gone through the classes in the past three years.
Under the change, troops at any point in their careers (and military spouses) can sign up for the two-day course on business fundamentals taught by SBA experts, and have the option for a follow-on eight-week online course through Syracuse University's Institute for Veterans and Military Families.
James Schmeling, co-founder of the institute, said the lessons and principles taught in the course focus on timeless fundamentals, allowing students to use the information within months for short-term projects or years later for long-term goals.
"So for those who take the courses earlier, it gives them more time to identify business opportunities, look at ways to mitigate risk," he said.
Schmeling said the extra planning time also can calm the military-to-civilian transition for many service members, allowing them to switch careers with a clearer picture of the challenges ahead.
Page, who started his 27-year career as an enlisted man before going officer, said the resources he discovered through the program helped him get loans, scout sites and establish legal business standing in less than a year, but added that getting into the program even just a few months earlier could have eased some of that frantic pace.
"Most folks have an idea they're getting out at least 18 months in advance," he said. "Earlier than that, you're still pretty focused on your mission. But once you're thinking about it, you have to start planning right away."
The 43-year-old veteran-to-be will open his first Beltway Autospa in Forestville, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. His goal is to have three locations up and running within seven years, and five within the next decade.
Carson said she hopes the expanded timeframe for classes will help more troops strive for the same ambitious business plans as Page.
More information on the program and classes at various stateside bases is available at the Boots to Business website.