Christian celebrities, small businesses and the yuck with it – Part 1

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If  you’ve ever been annoyed with how many Christian books or authors or celebrities or small business are out there shlepping their stuff around – this one might be for you. And if you are the owner of one of those businesses or you are the author – this might also be for you. Part 1 today (for the business owner) and Part 2 tomorrow (for the consumer).

You see I am both. I am a consumer and the entrepreneur.

I put out the messages and I take them in. I am an observer and lover of all things marketing. I feel a unique sense of protection of my fellow business owners and a similar compassion for the audience. I am very much in both worlds.

Let me be clear – THIS IS FOR THE BELIEVER. The Christian. For the most part, no one is stewing on, judging, picking on, questioning motive about Toys R Us or Target or any other for-profit, regular ole business. Well, not as much as the out front professed Christian business owner. We are called to a different standard and should be.

Last disclaimer – I have stayed away from this because I’m likely to rub someone wrong – it is super hard to generalize any group of folks so PLEASE know my heart and give me some grace if you would please. 🙂 My goal is to encourage.

Advice to the Christian Business Owner – Part 1

Hello my friend. I get a call or email from one of my peers almost weekly. It’s sometimes a male pastor friend or a ministry leader brainstorming a product. And most of the time, it’s a girl just like me – a bright-eyed creative girl wanting to change the world or a mom trying  her very best to follow her passions and gifts while managing her home. I am by no means an expert, but I’ve done corporate marketing for years and I’ve had my own business with a product line and one book for about 5 years. Most importantly,  I have had enough failures in business to save folks thousands of dollars. As I looked at my bank account statement last night and put my head down (you guys would think it’s HUGE – but is actually barely afloat) – my husband kindly said, “It’s ok babe. you’ve got a great ministry.”

As you all get past the honeymoon stage of creating and dreaming and launching, you begin to realize the rub of doing business or ministry in the Christian sector. You might feel guilty for making money. You might feel stressed about needing to make more money. You might feel dirty or unsettled about the need to get yourself out there while not wanting to promote yourself or seem prideful. Frankly, what started as an inspiration and so very fun can feel like a burden. Or, quite the opposite – you can love it so much that you leave your friends and your family the dust and get quite swept away.

Here’s some unsolicited advice for folks like me and you. And I’ve learned each of these the hard way. Not because I’ve mastered each category.

Where is Jesus?

The yuck often starts coming from a leader in the Christian circle when all that is shared is the product or the sale piece or the new thing and somehow “Jesus” seems to get lost. Now, let me say that the critics are ruthless and the judgements are harsh. Tomorrow, I will encourage the consumer to be nice and assume the best. Today’s our day as business owners to just examine our work and see how we can do better. I have been guilty of getting out what’s pressing or urgent or what’s due for someone and looking back into my social media feed … oh my word, I haven’t shared one real, encouraging, God-inspired thought in weeks. It’s been all business and promotions. That’s where the yuck comes. Consumers start to doubt the intentions of pastors and ministry leaders when Jesus starts getting left behind – perceived or not. Now, multiply it x 500,000 because every other human is selling something.

Consider the Cost

The most important thing you can do before you start or before you write one check is to consider the cost. Sit with a mentor or another entrepreneur just like you and get the real truth about what the actual financial costs will be on your family, how much time it will take and all the factors that go into starting something that seems quite easy. I had NO IDEA all the costs associated with running an ecommerce store. I had no idea the impact it would have on our family life balance when actual customers showed up and started ordering. Your free nights on the couch? Gone! 🙂 Be ready for what you’re asking for. Be ready for spiritual attacks. If God told you to do this – YOU DO THIS – He is worth it and will overcome obstacles and show up! Just don’t go into it completely blind. Take your time. Do your research and use that time and information to launch smart. Consider testing your idea and your talents small – use them to serve the people you love right around you and see how it connects. Be faithful with a few and see where it goes.

Be Willing to Wait

This one is hard for me to suggest – because if I had waited until my kids were grown – my business wouldn’t be a thing. And I would’ve missed a chance to share my heart while it was fresh in that season. However, just know that the rub to be present with your kids (if you’re a stay at home mom) will be one of the hardest things you juggle. It is NOT impossible. There is much value that comes AFTER raising them and your ability to write will not go away. I felt strongly that my timing was when mine were little for book 1 and I’m feeling strongly about “wait” for another book. I see both sides!  I’m just suggesting you diligently ask the question through prayer. Is God asking you to write every day for a book that’s coming out in 10 years? Is he asking you to take a small step on a business that comes out in 5 years? Be willing to wait and trust His timing or his “holding you back” could be protecting what you love most of all. And you can’t go back on raising your kiddos. We’ve gotten caught up in a game of what’s popular and transferred that into almost prescription mode of what everyone should do. Scrap that. What SHOULD you do? not What COULD you do? What has God told you to do? We need your voices, your talents, your wisdom, your leadership locally as much as we do online. I am so convicted by this myself. I have seen the power of both and value both. Just don’t hide inside and get out there right around your house.

It’s a Stewardship Game

Stewardship is such a churchy word but I love it. If you have felt that nudge to start your business – and even called by God, then it’s now your job to step in and be obedient. Stewardship is about being obedient in many areas – taking care of all that’s been given to you as a gift – from the talent to the opportunity. So, not just the writing or the creation of the product, but ALSO, the marketing of the product is a part of that. You can’t hide what you’ve created. You actually have to steward it well. Handling your business with excellence is also apart of stewardship. I don’t see why we feel like Christian products or services have to be done or made cheaply. They should be the finest things out there – drawing people in. Let’s create things that are so relevant and irresistible for ALL people. So that they find out our God is worth it. Don’t go cheesy. Don’t go cheapo. Let’s be wise and frivolous, but remember who we are representing in all ways. Often times, this is a HUGE call and discipline to do less. I found myself addicted to creating and producing and felt the huge nudge to pull back and steward the products/book that I already had – vs try to go more, more more.

Results or Relationships

Here is where this world gets in trouble and I definitely have. Many folks who do a book or business discovered EARLY on that they have “influence” and they have influential friends. This is not a bad thing – God uses influence for INCREDIBLE things. I could name 10 people right now that I believe are changing the world in Jesus name. He can use anyone he wants this way. It’s when we get caught up in that pursuit to be somebody that gets dangerous. As a business owner or author – you have to decide if you truly value the results of your work or the relationships. Sure, your most influential relationships will you get you more exposure. Sure, it makes good sense to have your blogger and pastor buddies share about your stuff. And there is a lot of “I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine” going on that makes people feel icky. I have done it all. And, many many families are using scripture in their homes because so many of you share did. Marketing is NOT the enemy!

My MOST helpful marketing moments have been from my real friends – influential or not. Because they know  me – when they share my stuff – it IS authentic. You can almost taste their real love for my stuff. So, if you’ll focus on relationships over results (I learned this at Chick-fil-A) – the results will take care of itself. If you go to an event – worry more about the people than your sales. We can quickly become a photo show, blog post show and social media show about all the cool people we know (guilty) – when what sells and connects is real people. Real stories. Go back to what inspired you to start. Talk about that. Be you. Make time for relationships that matter – not just the ones that will get you something. People sniff that out. I sure do –  I can tell in one second who wants something FROM me or FOR me.

Profitability Isn’t UnChristian

I get really ruffled when people assume that Christian businesses or churches or things with scripture should be sold for dirt cheap or those businesses should never make a profit. Should we have a high standard for how we handle your money? Yes! Should we give and be a fantastic steward of those resources? Yes! In fact, I believe Christian business should be setting the standard in the world for generosity. Look at this way – the more you make – the more people you can bless. Pick a cause and work your tale off to bless them abundantly. Back to being profitable…  I don’t see any reason why Christian men and women can’t put out materials that support the body of Christ and profit from that. There is actual work, brain time, paper, design and services going into each piece. We wouldn’t ask a nurse to give us her services because she’s a Christian. If the motive is ONLY the money – that’s an issue. And that will be uncovered in time. Be honest, upfront and full of integrity with people’s money. Just like you’d want them to be with yours. Be more about providing value for them vs getting as much money as you can from them. It will be obvious which way you’re focused. Consumers are smart.

It should also be noted that MANY moms are looking for a way to make an income from home. And this can be done through blogs, books, small businesses – but it’s hard and a lot of work. I don’t want ANY woman to let them to feel discouraged if this is your reality. Find a girl just like you – who is making this work and share success stories. You can be profitable! And get through these tensions.

Expectations

I’ll never forget sitting with Ruth Soukup at one her awesome sessions for bloggers and realizing this HUGE problem. I wanted ALL THE RESULTS (growth, followers, sales) but I wanted NONE OF THE WORK. I wanted to be with my kids and have zero employees and zero hassle yet all the results that Ruth was having. It can’t work that way. The people I know that have “huge” small businesses and have grown to be very profitable in a way that supports their family in big ways – it’s a full-time job and I had to get real and honest. That’s not what I wanted from the start and not what I want now. So, please hear me – grasping that and being ok with seasons of your business is FREEDOM. If your desire is to grow a blog or online biz – there are people like Ruth and Business Boutique and She Speaks that do this well. When I stopped striving and realized I was asking for something I didn’t need or want, my joy came back. I’m not saying you can’t do both (work and love family) – just get to a place of discovering what you’re after and be clear on what it takes. I have LOADS of friends doing both extremely well.

Your Customers are Wise

Your people are smart. They can sniff out what you are up to. The very best idea is to be honest. They can see your sneaky links and hidden messages. They can feel when you’re desperate and when you’re flip floppy and not committed. They know when you’re faking it. Just step away for a bit. I am so guilty of feeling like I owe my people every detail of my life. You don’t. You don’t need to work out your junk online every time. Equally important – they also don’t just need the perfect you on showcase. Your customers will value honesty and authenticity over perfection any day. Fess up to mistakes and don’t be afraid to change directions.

Hard Questions & Challenges

OK friends, this section is super hard. This “tension” that you feel is hard. You don’t want to promote yourself but you have to some days. And sometimes, the tension you feel is that you’re starting to get swept up. Maybe you really did like the headshot and being on TV. Who wouldn’t? Sometimes, I had to get really honest (even went to a counselor for a while) about what is dangerous about this world of speaking/writing and why I got into this. What my desire was and was I willing to let it go? How did I want to be known in my own town? And am I ok with being unknown? Could I say NO to things? Am I ok with being left out?

The book Uninvited is HUGELY popular for a reason because some days it feels like a popularity club and the work you have to do ALONE for your business is simply exhausting. And tough on your heart. I get ALL OF IT. You need to do some hard, hard soul searching and just get honest with what you’re after. And be willing to let some of the striving go. In that space, you will get your joy and inspiration back. You will begin to see the world is much bigger outside of your computer and sweeter in the real life conversations.

Last A-HA for me was this… I realized I didn’t have to prove anything to anyone. I have always cared deeply about getting this message out to families – than I have making this a full-time job. One day – I realized I was actually feeling embarrassed that I hadn’t made it to a certain level and I knew I had it in me to do it. I was feeling this urge to push it further – just to prove I was a certain success. I just told God my embarrassing feelings about wanting to prove it.

And that was all it took to (mostly) get over the striving. I had to admit it. I realized it was my choice. I could just stop it – sit on the bench be comfortable with exactly where I am with no regrets. Realizing that proving it would be selfish and nothing be more – my true heart’s desire in this season is to be with my family. I would never be sorry for choosing the slower pace. The kids. Ron. You see – no matter where you are on the scale, you pick the number you’re analyzing – it’s just numbers. Don’t let them define your success. It’s not your worth. There’s not a Facebook number. Sales number or viral post that will decide if you have made it. Did you do your best with each assignment God gave you? Did you follow Him? Did you trust Him?

I STILL have a biz – it’s just on slow, simmer and chill. It’s on TRUST mode. God will bring me the assignments that are for me. And I can stop producing with at a hurried, violent rate that leads to emptiness because my worth is in HIM not in RESULTS.

I have learned to truly CELEBRATE those “big dogs” out there who seem to touch stuff and it explodes. I have learned to cheer on and celebrate the moms like me who have a dream and they scared. I have learned to hug tight the small group leader in a tiny town because she matters JUST AS MUCH as sweet Jen Hatmaker or Beth Moore or Christine Caine (who I adore) It all matters. You ALL MATTER.

As you wrestle with this online stuff, you have to know you’re not alone with the tension. It’s because God called you to something higher personally and professionally. Your heart is wired to honor God and his people. You keep seeking the Lord on your personal business decisions. You may GO FOR IT while I slow down and we can both honor the same Lord at the same time. I am for you. Keep dreaming. Some will quit and some carry on. I believe He will guide you.

Hang in there.

Tomorrow, come back – I want to encourage the people who get repeatedly beat with the marketing of all our messages collectively.

 

Comments

  1. Great message, Courtney! Been feeling the tug for “something” and realize I’m going to need to be content to trust God’s timing! He very clearly showed me that He wants to do something in my life that resembles the idea of what Moses had to go through….spend a long time building something different, that others will call unnecessary and that may only impact a few, but trust that it’s His calling and plan, not mine. Thanks for the reminder that waiting is okay!

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  2. I attended your workshop at She Speaks this year and although I loved what you taught as you provided tangible, helpful marketing tips, what impressed me most was your authenticity. The same is true in what you have written here. Thank you for addressing the real, hard things about Christian ministry that are always on our minds, whether we acknowledge them or not. And thank you for encouraging us in a real, authentic way. I am quite certain your children are gleaning much wisdom from the way you live your life.

  3. DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH I LOVE THIS? It’s awesome…real…and true…all of it. You are beautiful in every way! I love you and I love where you are going…I’m a friend, fan, and follower. Love your heart!

  4. As someone who feels like it’s “in me” to be a bigger success, have more followers, do more of the things – I really appreciated this post. There’s a tension there for me that’s unresolved. Been wrestling with if I should pursue writing at a cost to my family or if this is the season to put it on simmer – hearing your thoughts and your own experience with the same thing is so helpful. Thanks!

  5. I’ve been thinking about this so much lately … thank you for your honesty and such a great perspective. I will read this often 🙂

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