Unexpected Insights for the Christian Entrepreneur Pt. 4

“Go! For I will send you…to the Gentiles.”Acts 22:21 (NASB)

In Part 2 of this series, we talked about finding your message and standing for it boldly, no matter who doesn’t like it. We described your true audience as self-selecting. The message determines the audience inasmuch as the people you most want to work with and who will get the greatest benefit from working with you will respond to the message. Those who don’t probably aren’t your ideal clients or customers.

While I believe that’s 100% true, I’ve neglected an important factor.

Your message is made for someone. You are “sent” to reach a certain market, as it were. Paul had a very clear message, one that he couldn’t alter or water down. But he also had a target audience. The Lord had called him to preach that message to the Gentiles.

Paul is totally committed to the gospel. He was determined to concentrate solely on Christ and His completed work on the cross. This message is of the utmost importance: Paul could never tweak it to fit his hearers or to make it more appealing. But the message is precisely what those hearers need at the deepest level.

While the Apostle is dedicated to the message, he’s also passionately committed to his audience. The two can’t be separated. Both are utterly essential.

Consider the following:

1) By all means, your business should stand for something. Some people will be offended, and that’s okay. Stand firm.

2) Your message should be based on your provision for someone’s needs. If you stand for something irrelevant, you’re missing the point. Your message is only important in that it meets your market at a point of need.

3) Your message (and even your business) is not more important than your market. It’s important because of your market.

4a) Make sure you know who you’re “called” to serve. Otherwise you’ll waste a lot of time.

4b) Knowing who you’re called to serve implies that you know who you’re not called to serve. In Galatians 2:8, Paul explains that he was sent to the Gentiles and Peter was sent to Israel. There is value in knowing who not to focus your efforts on.

5) Unless your message is the gospel of Jesus Christ, you don’t have to be as stalwart as Paul on the wording or positioning of your message. But the changes you make should be for the purpose of improving your ability to reach your target audience.

Read Parts 1, 2, and 3 of the Unexpected Insight series. Or move forward to Part 5.

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Unexpected Insights for the Christian Entrepreneur Pt.3

(If you didn’t read Part 2 of this series, check it out here)

“Let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions.”1 John 3:18 (NLT)

I think if I had one message to share with the world it would be this: IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU. This idea applies to every area of life. Let’s focus on how it pertains to business for now.

Businesses don’t exist for their own sakes. Sure, you become entrepreneurs to earn money and to try to live the life you dream of. Hopefully you also hope to make the world a better place and improve the lives of others through your work. But ultimately, your business is not about you.

Walmart founder Sam Walton reminds us that “There is only one boss. The customer.” Without customers, you have a hobby, not a business. So why do so many companies treat their customers and clients like anything less than the very reason they exist?

Why do many entrepreneurs fall in love with their product or service, to the detriment of the people who they are designed to serve? Theodore Levitt gives some terrific illustrations of this point in an article he wrote for the Harvard Business Review in 1975 called “Marketing Myopia.” Using examples from Hollywood to oil companies to railroads, Levitt shows numerous billion dollar mistakes companies and entire industries have made because of their preoccupation with their products instead of their customers. Many businesses have made themselves obsolete in the process.

(I strongly encourage you to read “Marketing Myopia” and take notes. The historical and practical lessons are profoundly valuable.)

Instead of being enamored with what we offer, we need to make our customers our number one business priority. How do our products serve them? How do they want to be served? How could they benefit them even more according to their expressed desire?

Elsewhere I have called this mentality “lowercase syndrome.”

As a Christian entrepreneur, you put God first, others (aka your customers/clients) second and yourself last. You should esteem others more highly than yourself, offering yourself as a servant, even as Christ humbled Himself to become a servant (Philippians 2:3-7).

Should you try to earn as much money as possible? Absolutely! Do it by offering the most value in the marketplace, becoming the most trusted provider of whatever you sell and making it as easy as possible for your ideal customers to buy from or work with you.

(John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church, had 3 rules concerning money. The first rule is to make as much as you can.)

For many of us, business is what the Lord has purposed for our lives. Do you think He designed a plan for you that required you to focus on yourself, your needs, your desires? Of course not. Selfishness is never God’s desire. He wants you to consider the needs of the people around you. Your business might be one of His ways to help you think about yourself even less.

Be a good steward of your opportunities. Be a blessing to each and every one of your customers instead of thinking of them as walking dollar signs.

In the words of advertising legend Leo Burnett, “What helps people, helps business.” I think God is pleased with that.

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Unexpected Insights for the Christian Entrepreneur Pt. 2

Read Part 1 of Unexpected Insight for the Christian Entrepreneur.

“On hearing it, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’ Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, ‘Does this offend you?

“From this time many… turned back and no longer followed him.” – John 6:60-61,67 (NIV)

Although Jesus’ spoke His words to everyone, they weren’t accepted by everyone. In fact, scripture says that many people deserted Him because of His teaching.

Was this a surprise? Of course not. Verse 64 indicates that Jesus knew some would stumble. So why did He say what He did, knowing that He would alienate a significant portion of His audience?

Because the truth is the truth, no matter who rejects it. The truth will appeal to some and offend others. But the essential message itself must never be changed or watered down to make it more palatable to a wider “market.”

What in the world does this have to do with your business? More than you may think. Take a look at this Charles Atlas advertisements from the 1930s:

COMICAD_charles_atlas_3

Can you think of anyone who might find this (or the many other similar ads he ran) offensive? Did the potential backlash stop him from running them (and making a huge impact on the culture of the day)? Clearly not.

Atlas wasn’t worried about the people who might not like what he had to say. He wasn’t trying to convince them of anything. But the men who could relate to these messages were more than happy to send him money.

This is what Charles Atlas stood for, and he became an icon taking that stand in his unique, in-your-face manner.

So, what’s at the heart of your business, product or service? What do you stand for? Boldly take your stand right there, even though some people won’t like it.

(Example: In the copywriting arena, there’s always the long copy vs. short copy debate, or direct marketing vs. Madison Avenue-style general advertising. It’s simple enough to pick a side, and when you do, you instantly inherit opposition.)

There are 3 kinds of people you’ll encounter: 1) people who want what you offer, and with whom you can have a mutually profitable relationship, 2) those who never intend to buy from you and 3) people who don’t know you. If you want your business to become everything it’s capable of becoming, you need to tell your story, stand up for your position and be yourself. You and your message will resonate strongly with the people in group #1.

Who cares about group #2? Does it matter if they hate your ads or are offended by your stance on issues?

Individuals in the 3rd group will self-select their way into one of the first 2 groups as they get to know you.

Here’s the thing: if you dilute your message to appeal to everyone, it’s more difficult to tell the difference between people who are really with you and the ones that are “tire kickers.”

“Hard sayings” have a way of pre-qualifying your crowd.

In His 3 year earthly ministry, Jesus never backed away from the speaking the truth, even when it was harsh. As a result, He made more enemies than true followers. But in the subsequent months and years, those faithful few turned the world upside down for Him.

So here’s the point (which I’ve probably taken too long to get to): you can water down your message or choose not to take a bold stance on issues that are important to you and you’ll have access to a bigger crowd. But that crowd will be full of lukewarm listeners.

On the other hand, you can tell your story full-strength and create fired-up disciples and evangelists along with some folks who really dislike you and your cause. But there will be no lukewarmness.

Which way will you choose?

Tags: “christian entrepreneur”  business  marketing  advertising  messaging  bible

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Unexpected Insights for the Christian Entrepreneur, Pt. 1

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the LORD.” Proverbs 21:31 (NIV)

There is an interesting dynamic at play that Christian entrepreneurs in every industry have to deal with: finding a balance between taking action and having faith in God as Provider. How do we avoid going to one extreme or the other?

The verse above paints a clear picture we can apply to our business lives.

As people of faith, we know that God has promised to supply all of our needs (Philippians 4:19), and we should trust Him fully for this provision. But does that mean we sit idle and wait for Him to do all the work? Obviously not.

Ultimately, victory and success comes from His hand. (That’s even true for people who don’t believe it!) But He still expects us to “make the horse ready for battle.” It’s less a matter of God “helping those who help themselves” (which isn’t in the Bible, by the way), and more an issue of cooperating with what He wants to do.

In most cases, the Lord uses His people to accomplish his will in the world. He works through us. E.M. Bounds said that “Men are God’s method…When God declares that “the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect toward him,” he declares the necessity of men and his dependence on them as a channel through which to exert his power upon the world.

He wants us to be willing co-workers (1 Corinthians 3:9).

What does that mean in practical terms?

It means do your part. If you want to win the battle, you have to prepare the horses. If you want to get customers, you have to market your products or services. If you want to retain clients, you have to treat them right and provide them with real value.

Do the best work you possibly can, then leave the results up to your Provider.

Read Unexpected Insights for the Christian Entrepreneur Pt. 2.

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Six Business Lessons from the Book of Ecclesiastes

The holiday season is upon us!

Many of your business will make a large chunk of your annual revenue between now and the end of the year. And quite a few of us spend a large chunk of our annual income on gifts, decorations, food, and the like.

Paradoxically, we’re told that November and December are also months in which discontentment and depression skyrocket. Add in the rotten state of the economy (what a terrible time to be unemployed or broke), and there are plenty of people feeling gloomy these days.

I had a moment not a couple of weeks ago where I felt as if I knew exactly how King Solomon felt when he wrote the Book of Ecclesiastes. The invisible part of me exclaimed “Vanity of vanities; all is vanity!

But rather than submitting to despair, I found encouragement and inspiration reflecting on this book of wisdom. Now I’d like to distill some of that inspiration to you, if you don’t mind. I’ve pulled out six lessons which I believe will really benefit you as you strive to finish 2011 strong.

This is not a meant to be an exposition of the Biblical text, nor is it intended to be religious instruction. You can drop in on my weekly Bible study class if you’re interested in that. This newsletter is designed to help you build your business, and that’s what we’re going to do today.

Lesson 1: Enjoy What You Do

“A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work.” Ecclesiastes 2:24 New International Version

Who told you that work shouldn’t be enjoyable? The truth of the matter is that many Americans do not enjoy their jobs. Results released at the beginning of the year from a poll taken by the Conference Board indicate that only 45% of us are satisfied with our jobs. That’s the lowest level since they started taking the poll 22 years ago.

There are many factors that go into being satisfied with the work you do. There should be some level of enjoyment. Ideally, each of us would work in areas we’re gifted in, doing things we love to do.  Thomas Edison is quoted as saying “I never did a day’s work in my life. It was all fun.

Satisfaction also implies that your work means something to you. Your inner drives and passions should match with your work. If you’ve been hanging around me for long, you know that I’m a quote nut, so here’s another for you: Malcolm Forbes said that “the biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy.” You don’t have to go to work just to get a paycheck or earn a living. In fact, you’re really robbing yourself if you think about business that way. You have something special to offer the world. Something great. You just have to figure out what that is.

If you’re in a position you’re not crazy about, I bet you can still find something about it to enjoy or to be satisfied about. There’s nothing better than to enjoy your work while you work toward your dream, whether it be a job or an entrepreneurial opportunity.

One more note here. The New American Standard phrases Ecclesiastes 2:24 a little differently. It says that “there is nothing better than for a man to…tell himself that his labor is good.” You should only be doing work you can feel good about. What good is money if you have to sell your soul and beat down your conscience to earn it?

Lesson 2: Give It All You’ve Got

“Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might.” Ecclesiastes 9:10 New International Version

This is related to the first lesson. It’s worth saying, though.

To keep it simple, never give less than 100% in your work. Whether you run a Fortune 500 company or a neighborhood shop that’s been in the family for generations, work as smart and as hard as you can every day.

There are times when “coasting” seems like a good idea, You know the feeling. “I worked my butt off yesterday, so I think I’ll take it easy today.” This is especially easy to do when you aren’t finding satisfaction in what you’re doing.

You don’t need me to tell you that this mentality is appealing to all of us every once in a while. But giving into it is dangerous. Giving your best effort will bring success faster. You’ll experience breakthroughs that you’d have never come across just drifting along. And you’ll have a chance to gain mastery that comes with going all out. Anyone who wants to get to the top of their game and be recognized as an expert or superstar will have to put all their might behind their work.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t take vacations or enjoy your leisure time. You absolutely have to do that. But when you’re working, give it all you’ve got.

I’ve often noted that “success is never accidental.” If you insist on coasting or working half-heartedly, don’t hold your breath waiting on it. On the other hand, success can be coincidental. It tends to happen while you’re working hard.

Lesson 3: Live Up to Your Claims

“It is better to say nothing than to promise something that you don’t follow through on.” Ecclesiastes 5:5 New Living Translation

This lesson is simple enough, but so many businesses screw up at this point.

In a recent post on my blog, I put up a video of an old television commercial for Cash4Gold. I don’t have any issue with the concept of sending in jewelry in exchange for money. It’s a good idea: people need money, Cash4Gold and its counterparts are getting ultra-high rates for precious metals, so no one is really getting robbed, as far as I know.

The problem is how the commercial is set up. The claim is that you can end your “personal recession” by dealing with this company. Crazy, huh? A bit insulting, too. Do I look like an idiot? (Don’t answer that)

Jerry Della Famina says that “there is a great deal of advertising that is much better than the product. When that happens, all the good advertising will do is put you out of business faster.”

And Bill Bernbach: “Advertising doesn’t create a product advantage. It can only convey it.”

Many businesspeople and marketers feel the need to use hype and exaggerated claims to get attention for their product or service. Salespeople often overpromise to close the deal. This is no good. Your customers will find you out. And then, all your credibility is gone. The negative publicity you’ll receive often more than undoes the positive contributions gained by the dishonesty.

Don’t say you can do anything you can’t. Don’t promise to do anything that you won’t do.

If you say it, you better do it!

Having said that, never shy away from making big claims if you can back them up. Sometimes we are scared to make the bold statements about how great our product or service is. But if it’s true, tell the world. Otherwise you’re selling yourself short and robbing your potential customers of an opportunity to have a great experience.

Lesson 4: Pay Attention to the Seasons

“There is a time for everything.” Ecclesiastes 3:1 New Living Translation

In this passage, Solomon describes one of life’s great truths. There is a time for everything. Then he lists several of them: there’s a time to be born, to die, to plant and harvest, to cry and laugh.

So where am I going with this? Two things.

First, don’t let economic cycles destroy your confidence or courage. These cycles occur on a macro (nation- or even worldwide) level, as well as on a micro level (pertaining to you and your business personally). You will have to be smart to figure out how to thrive in both good times and bad, but don’t throw in the towel just because we’re in a recession. Don’t mentally give up, like so many of your colleagues and competitors already have. This is a season. It will pass sooner or later.

Second, I want to focus on Ecclesiastes 3:6, which says there is a “time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away.”

Specifically, I’m thinking about clients and customers here. There is a time when your business needs to be on the look out for new and more customers. For some businesses and industries, that may be all the time. For others, clients stick around longer and the need to get new or more is much less urgent.

Every business has to balance their customer acquisition efforts with their retention efforts. Some customers you want to keep. But there are times that you’ll want to cast some of them away and get new ones to replace them. If you have “bad” customers or clients, ones that take up too much of your time, pay you too little, or who just don’t work well with you, it may be time to lose those individuals.

Lesson 5: Protect Your Good Name

“A good reputation is more valuable than the most expensive perfume.” Ecclesiastes 7:1 New Living Translation

Lesson 4 is an important part of Lesson 5.

You build your reputation by doing good work, providing value, treating people well, etc. You can ruin your reputation by doing crappy jobs, disrespecting people or making them feel ripped off. I don’t know that there’s any more effective way to demolish your chances at business success than to allow your good name to be ill spoken of.

There are a million ways to build a solid reputation. Here’s a start:

  • Always provide all the value you possibly can
  • Never leave a job done in a way that you wouldn’t want God to inspect
  • Treat your customers the way you would want to be treated. You know what? Do better than that. Treat them the way THEY want to be treated
  • Meet your deadlines
  • Be consistent
  • Don’t overpromise
  • Overdeliver as much as you can
  • Be the expert

Warren Buffett teaches that “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” I don’t think it takes 20 years to build a good name (at least not any more), but what he’s saying is true. You have to work hard to obtain good standing in your industry or locality. It is incredibly easy to undo all of that hard work. Be diligent in protecting what you’ve built.

Lesson 6: Three Is Better Than One

“Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:12 New International Version

I know this has been a long newsletter, so I’ll make this point brief.

Develop intelligent strategic alliances. Partner with other businesses and business people who you can work with in a mutually beneficial manner.

A good example of this is the home inspector I used when I purchased my house. He had an alliance with a sales representative for a home security company. Whenever he would inspect a home for a customer, he’d present an offer from his buddy with the security system. Both knew that new home buyers are ripe for these kinds of offers. They worked together to compliment each other’s business.

Look for ways you can do the same thing.

I also advise people to get a strong personal network in place. Family, loved ones and friends are an important part of life. Who wants to be lonely? When we go through hard times, it’s nice to have people to comfort us. When things are going better than we could have imagined, we want people to celebrate with.

There’s an African proverb that says “if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Think about it.

In Conclusion

The road we’re traveling on can get rough. You may feel like crying, like quitting. You may lament with Solomon that “all is vanity;” it feels that way sometimes. I beg you, take heart, refocus on the goals you’ve set before you, and keep pushing. Mediocrity is not what you want. So don’t let it happen to you.

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