Jess Sands is an RAF wife and Graphic Designer who created The Milspo Business Network, a global network to support all UK military spouses, partners and other halves.
The organisation began after her frequent house moves due to her husband’s career in the forces, meant she had to quit her dream job. Employers in her sector were reluctant to employ military partners due to the uncertainty of relocations.
The Milspo Business Network is a community of over 500 entrepreneurial partners of UK personnel who connect, mentor and help others to build posting-proof businesses that can survive the challenges of military life.
The network is all about connection and collaboration, not competition, and we connect online and offline through events, training and mentoring.
The digital community currently offers virtual meetups, themed meetups with expert speakers, workshops, training and much more. Milspo holds 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.
Jess also hosts a weekly podcast – a series of fun, and informative weekly podcast which explores the world of running a business by chatting to inspiring Entrepreneurs.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
My name is Jess. I am business owner, married to a serving RAF pilot and am the founder of the Milspo Business Network, the largest community for military spouses and partners that run their own business in the UK.
There are, quite rightly, very few women who introduce themselves by mentioning the profession of their partner, but when you marry someone in the UK Armed Forces you suddenly find yourself in a weird world where a lot of your life is governed by your partners career and defined by the struggles that brings. From short notice operational tours abroad, to moving your family to a new place every 1-2 years, and now, the addition of suddenly finding ourselves married to key workers during the covid crisis. Coming together as a community of business owners supports and helps us connect with those who really understand the ups and downs of military life.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
I had always wanted to be a designer but I actually never really wanted to start my own business, and had never dreamt of building an online community but circumstances had a better plan for me.
After our first move to a new RAF base it was clear that employers struggled with the idea of employing someone ‘married to the military’ and I found it almost impossible to find a job in my career, despite my vast experience in publishing. It’s definitely something that is getting better now, but most of us find the flexibility of self-employment works best around family and military life, so we start our own moving-proof businesses that we can take with us everywhere.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
I think it’s safe to say that the nature of military life can throw a few challenges at you. In the six years of my marriage we have lived in five different locations and I have spent a lot of time alone whilst my husband has been deployed.
The Armed Forces may be off our TV screens but they are still deployed, even as we speak, all over the world from Africa to Afghanistan (yes – they’re still in Afghanistan!) and of course closer to home, helping out with flooding and of now as part of the Corona Support Force – they are away for up to 9 months at a time.
Add to that business life and it definitely keeps us all on our toes! Luckily the Milspo community is there to step in and support when we need it – both in our business lives, and as the network develops in our own military lives too.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
Winning as space as one of the first f:entrepreneur 100, that gave the network a larger platform nationally. It’s so important for those outside the military community to see what UK Milspo’s are achieving, despite sometimes falling in the shadows of our celebrated parters.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
From the very start I knew how important it is to surrounded myself with inspirational people and business leaders. There are so many in our community who have helped me gain the confidence to bring the Milspo network to the success it is and continue to inspire me.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I am a big fan of mentoring, in all aspects of life, but especially for business. As mentioned above sourounding yourself with people who truly inspire you can make all the difference and mentoring is a key part. We have a great mentoring scheme within the group and connect Milspo’s around the country, and the world with others who can help them along their business journey.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?
I think the best solution to help accelerate the pace of Gender Equality has to be around the implementation of flexible working, for all workers. The Ministry of Defence are making great progress with this, and are also making great strides around shared mat/paternity leave, however, until the rest of industry catches up we, as military partners really struggle to find careers that fit around our partners service that are equal to the experience we have.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Just keep swimming. Things are tough, and times will be hard but if you can send the person you love most to the darkest parts of the world and keep smiling then you can achieve anything else you put your mind to.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
The next (and most exciting) challenge is to launch the full support platform that will help all military spouses and partners be able to launch their own business and keep it running, no matter what life throws at it.
I can’t wait to support even more of us to build businesses that we deserve. For us running our own business so much more than income and security, it’s quite literally redefining our role so that one day we can introduce ourselves just as we are – without the addition of what our husband does!
WeAreTheCity has a back catalogue of thousands of Inspirational Woman interviews, including Cherie Blair, Paula Radcliffe MBE, Caprice Bourret, Anna Williamson and many more. You can read about all our amazing women here.