Meet Leslie Brians: A Military Spouse with MadSkills
Hi, I’m Leslie! I was born and raised in Virginia Beach, VA, and in 2009 I graduated with a Master’s Degree in Architecture from Texas A&M University. During my time at A&M, I had this grand idea that after graduation I was going to work for a firm, become a preservation architect, and work on historic buildings as a profession. I even had an unsolicited job offer from an architecture firm upon graduation! But, I met and fell in love with an Army officer while in school, and we eventually married within months of my graduation. In 2009 I found myself unemployed and living in a new city as a new military spouse with a professional degree that did not work with military life. I knew I had to take matters into my own hands, so I started using resources around me to find a career that worked with my unique skill set. As a result, in my seven-plus years as an Army spouse, I’ve worked in fashion, marketing, public affairs, web design, and now branding, picking up unique skills at each duty station.
When we moved to Germany in 2011, working off-post was not an option due to regulations and no jobs were available on-post. A friend recommended using the Volunteer Management Information Service (VMIS) to find a volunteer position. I found an opening as a Marketing Volunteer for MWR and for a year designed most of the garrison’s event posters. I was lucky enough to work with and learn from the talented professionals in the Garrison Public Affairs Office. Soon, I began subcontracting for the webmaster and, when that position became open two months later, applied for it. I had zero coding skills when I first started subcontracting and learned everything through trial and error. I was awarded the contract and held the position until we moved back to the States in 2014.
In 2013, a few co-workers and I founded the non-profit InDependent with a mission to connect military spouses to health and wellness resources. In the 3-1/2 years since its founding, InDependent has expanded to 16 community groups worldwide, over 3,000 combined social media followers, and successfully hosted two virtual Military Spouse Wellness Summits with over 2,000 registrants each. I currently serve as InDependent’s Creative Director and initially had to give myself crash courses in branding and social media marketing to design the online presence for our non-profit that matched our mission. Founding my branding company, Leslie Brians Design, in 2016 was a natural next step in my professional journey.
What was your first move towards working in a remote capacity and/or becoming a military spouse entrepreneur?
In the modern work environment, there is little reason to require a graphic designer to work in one particular location. Everything is done on the computer. It made sense for me to craft a flexible graphic design career where I can take care of things at home and work on my own schedule.
I am the child of entrepreneurs. Growing up, I saw all aspects of running your own business: the good and the bad, and noticed that the pros often outweigh the cons. Initially, I set up my business with the sole purpose of doing contract work for R.Riveter as a graphic designer. They rely heavily on contract employees and establishing an LLC made sense from a tax perspective. I approached R.Riveter with an unsolicited proposal, and they brought me on as an independent contractor. I now work on R.Riveter’s graphic needs part-time, and I work on branding projects for other small business clients.
What is your definition of military spouses as an ‘untapped resource’?
Military spouses are the epitome of the “untapped resource.” Military spouses are the people who have voluntarily agreed to put someone and something else before themselves and are committed to making it work! Every employer knows that the most important attribute of a successful employee is someone who has the right “can-do” attitude. Military spouses know that moves, deployments, and Army life are seldom convenient. They are used to unexpected challenges and also to finding the solutions to them. They work around it. They adapt. They have experience interacting with people from all walks of life, economic status, races, religions, and nationalities and they revel in those differences and seek to find the commonalities. These are the skill sets that allow us to thrive in a military environment and also to succeed in any endeavor we take on.
What would you tell other military spouses looking to start a professional career?
Start today, be patient, and surround yourself with an awesome tribe of encouraging military spouse professionals. They will be your lifeline, especially once you hit rough spots, and there will be plenty. They can also be how you land a job. There is much truth in the saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.”
If you were put on a panel involved in an initiative to improve military spouse employment opportunities and corporate awareness of the MadSkills that professional spouses bring to the workforce, what suggestions would you make?
In regards to employment, I’d like to discuss with companies their lack of opportunities at higher levels for spouses. Many companies proudly proclaim that they are “military spouse friendly employers” but the vast majority of their positions open for hiring are entry level positions. Many military spouses have advanced degrees that leave them overqualified and underemployed, with 38% of the military spouse population falling into this category. Why more executive and advanced positions are not open to spouses in remote positions is a problem that I think needs to be brought up to companies.
In regards to being a small business owner, inspiration is everywhere, but once we actually get the ball rolling, we have no clue if we’re doing anything right. Most legal and accounting services are unfamiliar with our unique situations and can’t offer much guidance. For instance, how to register an LLC in a state outside of NC, while living and conducting business in NC and being a resident of another state. Or how to choose the right bank for your business. As a result, many Milspo entrepreneurs aren’t on the “straight and narrow” with the legalities or the paperwork for their business. Not because they don’t want to be, but because support in those areas is hard to find and they don’t have the resources to hire people to do it for them. I felt very overwhelmed with this process and could not get a straight answer from anyone on anything. These realities don’t work as legitimate excuses when the government comes to your door asking why things weren’t set up properly. Streamlining the process for military spouses at the state and federal level is a discussion that desperately needs to be addressed.
I started using resources around me to find a career that worked with my unique skill set. As a result, in my seven-plus years as an Army spouse, I’ve worked in fashion, marketing, public affairs, web design, and now branding, picking up unique skills at each duty station.Leslie Brians
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