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Side jobs bring stability for many military spouses

Three Virginia military spouses talk about their career journeys and how side gigs have a huge impact on their work.

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By SANDRA J. PENNECKE | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: August 13, 2019

NORFOLK, Va. (Tribune News Service) — For some military spouses, orders to Virginia may mean a job search, but the modern gig economy might mean they get employment more quickly and easily.

The buzz word refers to the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.

Virginia is ranked No. 2 in the nation for gig economy jobs, according to FitSmallBusiness.com, an online resource for small businesses.

The report’s findings — which ranked all 50 states — were based on legal limitations, population, tourism, household income, income tax and the cost of health insurance.

Another report, sponsored by Wells Fargo and conducted online this spring by The Harris Poll, shows that military service members, their spouses and partners depend on the gig economy to supplement their household income.

The survey commissioned by the National Foundation for Credit Counseling — a nonprofit dedicated to improving people’s financial well-being — indicates that while military life presents a challenge to many when it comes to landing and maintaining private sector employment, the gig economy has helped to make a difference.

Inside Business interviewed three local military spouses who shared details about their career journeys and how side gigs have a huge impact on their work.

Nikki James Zellner

Nikki James Zellner worked a side hustle before she opened her own business earlier this year.

For Zellner, the creation of her virtual LLC, Where Content Connects, was a long time coming.

“I had worked almost a 16- to 18-year career in corporate media,” said Zellner whose background is in advertising, marketing and editorial development. “I had a very well-established, lucrative career prior to having children. We have kind of built this life around the fact that I have a professional identity that I want to continue to nurture.”

As Zellner worked her side gig, she realized the business she wanted to develop. Her boutique content consultancy helps women, solopreneurs and small teams organically tell their stories and connect with the right people.

Zellner credits The Milspo Project, a nonprofit that empowers and educates military spouses, entrepreneurs and leaders, with helping her move from her corporate job to her side gig to business ownership.

“That’s really when my eyes were opened that military spouses need something that’s theirs outside of being a mom and a spouse,” Zellner said. “The biggest struggles I hear from colleagues in the space is the constant relocation.”

Although Zellner, her military spouse and their two young children haven’t moved from the Hampton Roads area to date, she said there’s always that sense of wondering what the future will hold.

Many military families relocate every two to three years, and spouses are left with uncertainty.

“You don’t know if you’re going to be relocated to a state that’ll have viable employment for you,” Zellner said. “You don’t know if you’re going to have to change your licensing or go through the licensing process just to stay in a place for a year.”

She said remote work is a hot topic among military spouses because it enables them to start a job and then take it with them.

“I think the whole planet, at this point, is moving toward remote work as a viable option,” she said. “I think there’s certainly a huge set that’s still related to how do I find a 9-to-5 job as a military spouse or as a veteran, but there is a real niche out there for people who want to take the skills they have, start as a freelancer or on a side gig and turn that into an actual business.”

Victoria Jameson

After a divorce from her first husband, Victoria Jameson became a single mom with two young children.

That’s when Jameson, who is now remarried to Davin Jameson, a Navy diver, decided she needed extra income on top of her full-time job.

Employed in the real estate industry both in administrative support and as a personal assistant since the age of 19, she decided to create a social media marketing business on the side.

She started Jameson Social a year and a half ago and offers a variety of services including real estate advice and event planning.

She still works 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday for the Real Estate Information Network.

“It can be challenging on top of being a mom and then with my husband’s training schedule he deployed last year and he’s set to deploy again next year,” Jameson said. “I really love the thrill of having something that I created on my own. I never went to college — I’m all self-taught and self-learned.”

Erica McMannes

As an Army spouse, Erica McMannes moved 11 times in 17 years.

“So, any kind of traditional track of career growth or career path was definitely a challenge,” said McMannes who lives in Yorktown with her husband, Matt, a lieutenant colonel, and their two sons.

For the first 10 years she worked for the Army’s MWR program. But, then three back-to-back moves in three years followed and McMannes said it was a difficult period for her to have a job.

An 18-month stay in California introduced her to the startup space and Silicon Valley’s innovation hub.

“I started working for a veteran-owned startup out of San Francisco and that gave me the opportunity to continue to move,” she said.

Along the way, McMannes, who was working freelance and remotely, said she was asked to do things outside her skill set.

“But, I knew I had this global community of other highly skilled professional military spouses I could reach out to,” she said pointing out that the military spouse community has a 26% unemployment rate.

By developing pods of teams for one company, and then a second and a third, McMannes built a full-time career of her own.

She and fellow Army spouse Liza Rodewald started Instant Teams three years ago. Their business creates fully integrated remote teams – from a talent pool of military spouses with a variety of expertise including marketing, tech and customer service — for companies in just five days.

“That’s how I kind of ended up in that space transitioning from a pretty traditional career kind of forced into leading that gig lifestyle to give me that mobility and flexibility I needed every time we were moving around,” McMannes said.

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