Serena West is an Army spouse and mother of two who has a passion for encouraging other military spouses to thrive wherever life takes them. Although she has a degree in linguistics and originally planned to pursue a career as an attorney, life had other plans for her.
With two children in school full time, an increasing desire to help contribute financially, and the need to maintain the flexibility often required by military life, West started building and painting wooden signs. Five years later, her business Westhouse is an online boutique carrying home decor, apparel, and gifts perfect for the modern military spouse.
Q. What’s your military story?
A. My husband and I first met in elementary school but didn’t start dating until the summer before my senior year. After five years of dating, we got married in our hometown of Atlanta shortly after he returned from a tour in Korea.
My husband is currently a major, and we have been married for just over 13 years now. I could never have imagined the adventures Army life has brought us, and we look forward to many more. To date, we have been stationed at seven different posts as a family: Fort Bragg, N.C.; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Knox, Ky.; Heidelberg, Germany; Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash.; and currently, Fort Sill once again. He has deployed three times.
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Q. Tell us about your business.
A. I started Westhouse in 2014 when both of my children were school-aged, and I was looking for a way to provide additional income for the family while maintaining the flexibility military life often requires. I started with no power tools or woodworking skills, no knowledge of design software, and very little idea about the entrepreneurial process. From there, Westhouse grew into an online boutique carrying home decor, apparel, and gifts.
Most recently, I am working on an exciting new product line aimed at encouraging military spouses to bloom in all seasons. I believe that blooming doesn’t just happen; it is the result of consistently choosing what nurtures you, even in the smallest ways.
Q. When were you first “bitten” by the entrepreneurial bug?
A. This is such a funny analogy because I truly believe that for many of us, particularly military spouses, it does truly feel as if we’re just going along and all of a sudden entrepreneurship finds us. If I’m honest, the first few years of running Westhouse it still felt like a hobby I spent a ton of time on.
As time went on, I started to realize that it was a bigger opportunity than I originally thought, and I started to invest more in the education and process of truly running a business. Now, even though it’s easily one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, I love it!
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Q. What inspired you to take the plunge and start your own business?
A. In short, I worked in other jobs previously and struggled with the idea of having to put our kids in day care all day to do things I really didn’t enjoy. Once they were in school, I knew I had a few solid hours a day to do something that truly made me happy and would benefit my family also.
Flexibility was and continues to be one of the most important factors for me. I needed the ability to still be involved with the kids, volunteer, etcetera when I wanted to, and starting my own business afforded me those opportunities.
Q. How has the military community and experience influenced your entrepreneurial journey?
A. I fully believe that my experience with military life is the reason I am an entrepreneur. Were it not for the flexibility this life demands, I’m fairly certain I would have followed the track to a law career that I had always dreamed of.
Every aspect of my business and the community I am growing around it has arisen out of my journey as a military spouse and the needs I see in our community, as there is a noticeable shift towards spouses desiring to find the balance between being a supportive military spouse in all of the traditional ways and embracing individuality.
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Q. What has been the hardest part of starting your own business?
Not knowing what I didn’t know. Entrepreneurship was never on my radar, so I had very little knowledge about things like marketing, web design, product development, etcetera. It seemed that for a while, gaining understanding in one area would uncover three new areas I knew nothing about.
I am so grateful that in this information age, we have access to so much. From podcasts, to books, to webinars, it is becoming easier and easier to fill those knowledge gaps.
Q. What resources and programs have you found helpful in blazing your own trail?
Resources such as podcasts and books continue to be go-to sources for information. Growing Westhouse continues to show me how closely intertwined personal development is with business success. Most recently, you can find me listening to Building a StoryBrand with Donald Miller or Business with Purpose with Molly Stillman. I have found an incredible community out there of creative, female, small business owners sharing joys and failures, losses and wins — even the smallest ones.
Q. Why do you think entrepreneurship is a good career opportunity for military spouses?
A. Two words: Flexibility and control! Whether you decide to join a direct sales company or start your own small business, we can all agree that the path isn’t easy, but having the flexibility to be there for your family whenever you’re needed is invaluable. That, to me, is one of the greatest gifts of entrepreneurship. It also gives the gift of control.
Military life puts spouses in a position where several decisions are made for us: where we live, for how long, what career paths we choose. Entrepreneurship gives a little of that control back while allowing us to grow something that’s ours.
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Q. How has starting your business inspired growth in your professional life?
A. I continue to be amazed by all of the opportunities this business brings my way. The single greatest way it has inspired growth in my professional life is opening my eyes to a skill sets and passions I didn’t even realize I possess. From giving me the confidence to take on a leadership role as president of the spouses’ club at a past installation to exploring new future possibilities as Westhouse grows, I now have a professional life in which I can’t wait to see what the future holds.
Q. Tell us about your latest entrepreneurial project.
A. I am thrilled to share that I am preparing to launch a new product called the BloomNow Box this September. Each BloomNow Box comes with an assortment of curated items that encourage you to thrive and a new 30-day BloomNow Journal each month designed to help you cultivate a stronger sense of adaptability and resilience, better equipping you to thrive no matter what life sends your way.
As a community, we will walk through the journal process, providing accountability and support as we uncover the small choices that can lead us to become more adaptable, allowing us to live more joy-filled lives, no matter what comes our way.
The BloomNow Journal, part of the monthly BloomNow Box. (Photo Courtesy of Serena West)
Q. What advice would you give to other military spouses who want to start a business?
A. Just start! Conditions will never be perfect; you will never learn everything you need to know upfront, and it’s going to be difficult, but the toughest step is truly the decision to go for it. As military spouses, we are notorious for countdowns and saying that we’ll just wait until after retirement for all sorts of things. I say, stop the countdown. Navigating running a business as a military spouse will teach you to push through challenges, be adaptable, and get creative through experiences only this life will bring.
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