Milspo Business Network is a community organisation that supports the partners and spouses of Military personal to achieve their business goals. It was created by RAF wife and Graphic Designer Jess Sands, who after her frequent house moves due to her husband's career in the forces, had to quit her dream job. Employers in her sector were reluctant to employ military partners due to the uncertainty of relocations.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the hive mind has evolved into much more than a business network; it is a lifeline to many partners who are isolated alone across the globe, from the UK to Cyprus and Australia and spouses who don't have any business interests have joined.

Solitary isolation has become prevalent in recent weeks due to military personnel being relocated on short-notice deployment to help with the pandemic. While others are isolated overseas because of travel restrictions

The digital community currently offers virtual meetups, themed meetups with expert speakers, workshops, training and much more. Milspo is holding meetups online every Wednesday at 10:30 am. It's a supportive, safe space to discuss any struggles they're having or even for a chat if they're feeling overwhelmed and solitary.

Here Jess chats to us about how it all began and her reaction to the Covid-19 crisis.

How did the Milspo Business Network start?

I started my own business in 2012 due to a military posting, and shortly after that started ‘Miliprenures’ at my local base.

Every month we met and discussed business. It was a bit of a disaster! It was during the Afghanistan conflict and quite frankly most of us were just looking for someone to talk to. The business networking gently turned into a wine club – not much business talk but a lot of support through a difficult time.

Fast forward four years and with a few friends we have launched an online community. We championed spouse businesses with the MOD, started the first ever spouse business directory in the UK, and supported military spouses in business. We had networking groups all over the UK –Hampshire, London, Windsor – it was great!

Off the back of the passion for that community, in May 2018 I started a podcast series to showcase some of the amazing business owners that I had met since starting my own business. It was a little passion project, funded by my own business. That passion project took off like no other!

There are now over 6,800 listeners to the podcast series, an online network with over 450 members and online networking events happening most weeks! The podcast series is now kindly sponsored by the Royal British Legion, and The InDependent Spouse CIC, the overarching legal company of The Milspo Business Network is growing from strength to strength.

What gave you the idea to create it?

It was very clear at the start of my entrepreneurial journey that military spouses and partners inbusiness face challenges like no other community.

With military postings every few years, operational tours for up to 9 months, and absent partners it makes keeping stable employment all the more difficult. Despite this adversity we are creating the most amazing businesses that not only allow us to financially contribute to our families it also gives us a new-found confidence that so easily gets lost due to the instability of modern military life.

I wanted to showcase these amazing partners to others so that they knew they could do it too. To create a movement and to show the world there is more to the military spouse than what you might expect.

I think by connecting dispersed but our inspiring network we can help each help build healthy businesses that empower Milspo’s to flourish.

What type of business do you run?

My own business is a design company. I mostly create branding for business and charities and run it from home/my military married quarter.

How did the outbreak of Covid-19 affect the group?

Overnight every member in the group suddenly became married to a ‘key-worker’. Some serving partners were deployed suddenly to help with the Covid-19 Support Force, and others, who’s partners were already deployed abroad found themselves locked down either alone, away from family, or with their children. Members posted abroad found themselves locked-down in a foreign country without company. The majority of us found ourselves away from our families, due to military postings.

The network stepped in to re-purpose the online support it had given to weekly, online ‘Milspo Meet-Ups’. Each Wednesday we chat, check-in and support each other no matter where we find ourselves– UK or abroad. The meetings are business focused, so we can help each other keep our businesses going at this uncertain time, but are also evolving into support groups for those of us who are particularly isolated or struggling.

What are the highlights of running the network for you?

The comradery. The military community has always had each other’s backs, that’s not just restricted to our serving personnel, and we have always looked after each other through war-time. Now we face a new ‘home-front’ against coronavirus and we are rallying once again to make sure no one is left out.

‘It’s a daily reminder that I’m not alone. Having a place where like minded people interact and support each other is so powerful and some days I need to see other people doing great things to remind me that I too can achieve what feels like the unachievable!’

‘Military family life is demanding and often the thought of adapting your business over and over again to the challenges can feel overwhelming. Knowing there are people just a few clicks away who understand what you are going through and have tackled it themselves is invaluable.

Life can be hard but we are not doing it alone.’

Away from the group, how do you spend your downtime?

The best part of military life means that it’s always a bit varied.

If you spend your life moving every few years you tend to want to take advantage of living somewhere new, so we spend most of our time (when my husband isn’t deployed) checking out our where we are living. That can be anywhere from central London, to an air base in the middle of nowhere – but there’s always something to be found.

The best part of military life is also ‘the patch’ – the housing where the majority of us live. We’ve been so lucky to have some wonderful neighbours where we have lived (a god send during lockdown) so we spend a lot of time socialising with them and looking out for each other if one of our partners is away. It’s like a family away from your family. We are very lucky!

In business, who do you admire?

There are so many! It’s important when you are running your own business to surround yourself with people who inspire you so I am a big fan of Jo Malone, Carrie Green (Female Entrepreneur Association) and Holly Tucker (Holly & Co/Not On The High Street) who have written some fab books on their business journeys. But, of course every single member of the Milspo Network who inspire me every day and help me carry on. When you can talk to someone who has sent the person they love most to the deepest, darkest and scariest parts of the world and they are still holding it together and creating amazing businesses while helping others you know that you have found a group that is very special.

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