Podcast – Christian Branding; with Jason Wiser

Jason Wiser, our guest of the last segment, joins us for another great podcast discussing branding a business—whether some Christian business owners should brand as a Christian business or not. This is a vital step in the business process, and one we as Christians should not overlook. Not all are called to be branded as Christians, yet some are. Hear what we have to say and let us know what you think in the comments below.

For more information about Jason, you can find him on Google+ at webinationstation.com/Gplus or at his Webination Station website: webinationstation.com

 

Music: The City Harmonic “Wake Me Up”

Podcast – Interview with Jason Wiser

 

This week we introduce you to Jason Wiser, an entrepreneur, missionary and leader of a large Google+ Christian business community. He started a business, Webination Station, which is “helping Christians get online effectively.” His focus is bolstering online presence for churches, Christian businesses and non-profits through his skills with social media, SEO and website construction and design. He knows his stuff and will be joining us on next week’s podcast regarding “Branding” and hopefully more segments to come.

You can find Jason on Google+ at webinationstation.com/Gplus

 

Music: Josh Garrels “Zion & Babylon”

Do You Advertise as a Christian Business?

This is a serious question for many business owners. Should you advertise your business as Christian and risk backlash from non-Christian customers, or accept it fully and be completely honest with your market?

As Christians and business professionals, we ponder the pros and cons of how Christian businesses are accepted. While being honest about Christian principles and values for a business may prove risky in some markets, I believe it’s what we’re called to do.

Now, when I say we’re called to be honest about our business, I don’t mean you have to print Bible verses on every product you sell or line your storefront or office with Christian messages. At some point, Christian bombardment is costly for any business, so by no means am I proposing to do so.

However, it seems as if the only choice when declaring to be a Christian business is to bombard people. This is false. Being a Christian business owner, entrepreneur or freelancer can take the very image of someone who holds to Christian principles and standards.

Let’s be honest, the image of Christians has been blurred in the last decade, but people still appreciate honesty, excellence, commitment, diligence and kindness in the workplace. You don’t have to advertise these attributes as your “Christianity.” Instead, bring things attributes of your business to life by living them.

A study conducted in 2011 offers some tremendous insight as to how people perceive Christian businesses. The Barna Group, a market research organization, conducted a survey asking two simple questions: if you were going to buy a product or service in the coming year, would you be more likely or less likely to buy a particular brand if you knew it was from…

  1. A company that manages its business according to Christian principles?
  2. A company that embraces and promotes Christian faith?

 

Here are the results of the poll of 1,022 adults from across the U.S. ages 18 and older.

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Click to enlarge

What do these results tell us?

For managing according to Christian principles, about 2 out of 5 adult consumers (43%) said they would prefer the Christian business (with 27% of adults strongly agreeing). Most reported indifferent (51%) and only 3% reported opposition. That means a business operated by Christian principles generated a positive-to-negative ratio of 14 to 1.

For a Christian business that embraces the faith and promotes it, about one-third of adults (37%) said they would prefer this type of business (with 22% of adults strongly agreeing). Again, most were indifferent (58%) and only 3% reported opposition. That means a business that embraces the Christian faith and promotes it generated a positive-to-negative ratio of 12 to 1.

One stat deserving of our attention is the youngest generation of adults polled, called the Mosaics, who reported the least likely to care whether the business displayed Christian faith or principles. As these adults grow older, a shift could occur as to the favorability of Christian businesses.

However, for now, the stats show a favorable response toward Christian businesses, and if anything, people who are indifferent.

Again, I issue a statement of caution. Both these researchers and others admit that overtly Christian businesses are not favorable in the marketplace. People do not want Christianity shoved into their face, nor should they. Consider doing business with someone of another faith and how you would feel if they shoved Islam, Hinduism or Judaism in your face.

To conclude, I leave you with an all-encompassing passage:

“A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

The Coffee Shop Church

As one church neared death, another church began. Josh Grimes became the pastor of the small church on the brink of closing. He introduced an idea that 14 of the members weren’t fond of—that idea was to start a coffee shop where the church would meet.

“Everyone in that church left and got mad except for one person,” Josh explained.

With only one member remaining, Josh proposed his “church in a coffee shop” model to a dozen others who soon backed him and began meeting in a restaurant to discuss the future of a new business and new church.

“We closed the old church,” Josh said. “We put the property on the market and used the equity on the property to start the coffee shop.”

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A year of meetings brought the genesis of Avenue 209 Coffee House in Lock Haven, Penn. The church (The Common Place) wouldn’t meet for three months until the coffee shop was up and running, and had developed a substantial presence in the community.

In the meantime, Josh attended a coffee school operated by another church, and it was amidst his schooling that he learned “what is good for business is good for ministry and what is good for ministry is good for business.”

To explain the business and ministry concept, Josh gave a few laughs as he said, “If you treat people nicely, like Jesus would want you to, then they’re going to want to come back and buy more coffee. That wasn’t too much of a stretch for us.”

It’s not about exploiting Jesus’ teaching for profits, rather Josh learned how conducting a Christian business makes people feel welcome and accepted. He reiterated that what is practiced in church should also be practiced in business. The Christian business plan only makes sense.

Why Church in a Coffee Shop Works:

“We were pretty intentional from the beginning that we didn’t want to be known as the ‘Christian’ coffee house because we figured that would only attract the Christians, then we would go out of business,” Josh said.

The idea wasn’t for another Christian business hub where only Christians would gather, but rather a place where Christians and non-Christians would enjoy a cup of joe, casual conversation and community. Through being in the shop and around the staff, people would learn the meaning of the shop, but it wasn’t forced upon them.

They were intentional about being honest when customers asked who owned the coffee shop and what took place within the walls of the shop. Josh used customer interaction as an avenue to invite people to their church.

“We have a lot of un-churched people, in the sense that they don’t historically have a Christian background or they walked away from church for a long time,” Josh explained.

With a mixture of these people entering the coffee shop everyday, it only made sense to have church where the people were. “The traditional model was a big enough hurdle in their lives that they would not go to church even though they were very spiritual or spiritually curious.”

Whether it’s the traditional setting of churches, hurt from past church experiences or misunderstanding of Christ, Josh and his church set out to offer a setting where people could casually walk in and out and learn the truth of church, and ultimately, the trust of Christ.

Today: 

The coffee shop church continues to expand and bustle with people. One service led to two and now they must expand their space within the building to house more. Remodeling projects are ongoing to streamline the ministry capacity of the church and develop more functional space for the community.

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Intent is to stay in the coffee shop since it defines a place of gathering for so many and is strategic in its location and ministry.

“If we go to another location, we lose that entry point and it’s huge,” Josh said. “We have a lot of people that come because they were first customers and then became involved in the church community. It’s been pretty substantial.”

After four and a half years of existence, the coffee shop employs five people and talk of coffee roasting in-house is the latest buzz. The old rundown building is now a vibrant coffee shop, a place the whole Lock Haven community embraces as life giving in more than one sense.

Whether the northeast is a difficult location to operate a Christian business, Josh didn’t express any concern. He did have a simple message to say:

“I have found that liberal people and conservative people are all hungry for Jesus.”

 

 

Podcast – Starting A Business

Part of what we want to do here is educate people on how businesses start, how to get started if you’re an entrepreneur and seeking the Lord’s favor in our work. This discussion covers the preliminary aspects of getting started, such as knowing your skills, weighing risks, time and effort, and connecting with God. We want to encourage the growth and development of great ideas and facilitate a way to remain accountable to our purpose as Christians.

A couple of resources we mention in the podcast that we wanted to add here. One was Chris Guillebeau’s website. The other is the Chazown assessment.

As always, we have fun with our discussions and keep them casual. Sorry for the long intro, as Trent enjoys music too much and adding it to our broadcast. We would love for you wonderful listeners to provide feedback and ask any questions you have. If you do, we will start highlighting feedback and questions on our next episodes. So take to the comment section below and offer your thoughts!

 

Music: Kalai “Noon Day”

First Step in Starting a Startup

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Not everyone is built from the entrepreneurial mold, I understand. However, from the interviews we’ve conducted here, we’ve noticed Christian entrepreneurs are numerous and scattered across the world. So, if you’ve ever considered starting your own business, whether big or small, then you’re surely not alone.

If you’re like some, your first thoughts may come in form of “I wish I had this or that, but I haven’t found anything like it online or in a store.” Or you’ve considered your skill set and noticed you’re extremely talented in one area of your life and have a desire to make something of that talent other than using it for a 9-to-5 job.

However the initial thought or dream comes, it comes and you want to do something about it. But where do you start? Are you even called to start your own business or niche? Does God even want you start something new? Is it too risky?

You Need Focus:

If you’re even considering a new startup, I want you to take out a pen and paper, or your tablet, since we live in that age, and I want you to write all of your ideas. Try answering these questions:

  • What skill do you have to offer?
  • Or, what product do you have to offer?
  • What makes you different?
  • Have you noticed a demand for your service or product?
  • What’s your target age/market?
  • How can you get started on a small scale?
  • How much time must you dedicate?

If you’re about to develop a new startup, then you can’t neglect these questions. As Jason Stambaugh (our last interviewee) explained, you don’t need to drop everything for your dream, especially if you have a family and children. It’s unwise to quit your current job for an unorganized dream you have. No matter how skilled you are, you need to take the transition a little slower, unless your spouse can support or you have a huge lump of money sitting in an account—even then, you need to approach the startup with caution before you toss money to the wind.

Yes and No:

Someone in your life has told you that you’re skilled at something. If not, let’s get to know each other and I’ll tell you what I think you’re good at. Whether a parent, close friend or significant other has identified your talents, someone has probably mentioned what you’re exceptional at.

But, has anyone told you that you’re quite sloppy at something? Has anyone ever told you “no” in regards to something you wanted to try? I doubt many have been so honest with you. If so, then good for them. Honesty is key at this stage. You don’t think your idea is bad, but it may be the worst idea ever and you’re blind to it because you’re a bit biased. We all need someone to tell us “no” from time to time, especially if it’s going to save us financially and save us lots of grief.

See, we’re all really gifted at something and we’re all pretty awful at other things. I like to believe I’m good at writing, expressing my thoughts through words and producing different types of media. But I know I’m pitiful when it comes to physics and higher-level math. My mind doesn’t function that way and I’ve accepted it. It took a few classes in high school and college to let me know I’m not skilled at engineering or computer science. So what did I do? I stuck with what I’m skilled at doing.

You should do the same and if you don’t know whether you pitiful at something, just ask an honest friend or organize a focus group.

Gather a Group:

Get some friends and family members together. Sit them down and pitch your startup business idea to them and ask for some serious feedback. Allow them to be completely honest about your pitch and pinpoint holes in your plan. Just a word of warning, you may feel defeated after this focus group session, but don’t let that stop you. Just let it stop you from doing what you shouldn’t.

If your focus group would rather write honest responses on paper, then have them do that. Give them a series of questions to answer that will allow them to guide your ideas and thoughts. Consider listing these questions on a sheet for your group members to respond to:

  • Would you be truly interested in what I’m selling or offering?
  • What do you like the most about my startup idea?
  • What are the holes in my idea?
  • Who do you think my target market is?
  • How much time, energy and funds do you think my startup will require at first?
  • How can I improve the idea of my startup?

Use the answers you gathered here for greater consideration and brainstorming of your idea. Obviously, if everyone listed the same hole in your idea, then you need to patch that hole. Let this be a constructive learning process, a type of refining, and let it guide you rather than discourage you.

Try giving these questions to several groups and see what answers you get each time.

You Have To Pray:

If you fail to pray about this business endeavor, well, you’re doomed to fail. Take the right first step by committing to prayer. Question God and allow Him to question you. Ask others to pray for you during this process and give them specifics to pray about. Remember that God’s timing isn’t your timing, yet it’s perfect. If you’re not receiving a response as fast as you would like, don’t consider it a failure. As James said:

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.” James 1:5-6

Q&A with Jason Stambaugh, Startup Kick Starter

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Jason Stambaugh is a Maryland native, passionate about entrepreneurship and helping startups become thriving businesses. As an entrepreneur, he knows just how hard it is to get started, so he’s teamed up with his local chamber of commerce to create a contest for local business owners, sort of an American Idol for entrepreneurs. He’s a man of God, successful in what he does, and fond of small business. Here’s our Q&A session with Jason:

Q: What type of work are you involved in?

A: I have two companies. One is called Wevival, which is a social media, web marketing and development firm. Basically I work with businesses doing bread and butter websites, marketing strategies, social media, etc. Then I have new project, which is called Hometown Startups and I do local startup contests kind of like American Idol for entrepreneurs right in the local community.

Q: How did Hometown Startups get started?

A: I had just shut down operations on a business I had started and I was kind of licking my own wounds. Then I joined my local chamber of commerce to pick up some local web development and social media clients and through that process I became very involved and the chamber fell in love with it a little bit. Currently, I am the president of our young professionals group that’s here in Carroll County (Maryland). So that kind of gave me perspective on the chamber.

Then I also have a business partner who is in the educational technologies field and he was invited to a large communicational startup contest called LAUNCH Edu. Basically it’s SXSW, which is the big interactive conference, and for frame of reference, Twitter was launched there. So it’s a huge, huge conference. So he (business partner) was invited to go out to that and was a little skeptical and thought maybe it might be a waste of time or not a very good use of time. But he comes back and he’s just fired up about his experience and how great it was for entrepreneurs and for the community.

So that gave me a thought—why the heck don’t these cool opportunities happen in my backyard, in my community, for entrepreneurs? So that idea turned into last year’s contest, which is called the Carroll Biz Challenge.

Q: What happens at your contest?

A: Basically there is an application window for local entrepreneurs who have brand new business ideas or existing, early-stage startups can pitch some of their business concepts, and make great connections, get lots of publicity and compete for a $5,000 cash prize. They apply until the application deadline has been reached, the advisory board reviews all of the applications and scores them and then selects five finalists. Then those five finalists pitch in front of a live audience and panel judges at an exciting, live community event where the audience can vote, we can hear the pitch, the panel can ask the finalists some questions and we announce the winner on the spot and give them a big check.

Q: Do you plan to continue the contest annually?

A: Yeah, that’s my plan to continue it every year and my goal is to bring this big startup concept model to areas around the country. So I’m in the process of that and a big national push to bring this contest to more communities.

Q: Why were you so passionate about getting this contest started?

A: It’s kind of scratching at my own niche. I’m an entrepreneur and I was one of those guys that was sitting there scratching my head at my day job, in retail and banking sales, and I was just wondering why the work didn’t seem meaningful. I was building somebody else’s empire and you know, I wanted to do my own thing. Out of that desire, I paved my own way. But the reality is that there are a lot of people like me in Carroll County and local communities around the country and I want to provide all of them with a successful opportunity to get noticed, connected and better. Small entrepreneurs and people who have a great idea need a catalyst, something that helps them along their way, so what a better way to offer that in a community where they are living and working.

Q: What would you say in regards to small vs. big business and how important small business is to our country?

A: Sometimes you look at these stats and basically, there are all of these crazy stats where 60-70% of jobs are built by small businesses. I think that the small business ecosystem is absolutely vital to the economic future of our country. I mean these are the places where new jobs are coming. These are where new ideas are coming from. Now, I say that knowing that their definition of small business is quite the stretch. I think like 500-1000 employees or less is considered a small business. But forget the stats, the bottom line is that the upward trend of development of small businesses account for an enormous portion of the economy. They’re employing people, paying local taxes…they really are the biggest drivers in the economy.

But the trend I’m most interested in is this trend to micro-entrepreneurship, where people encourage other people to start and grow businesses that aren’t necessarily multi-million dollar ventures, but are ventures that feed families, pay mortgages and they add to the vibrancy of the local, small town economic development.

Q: Working with a bunch of entrepreneurs, how do you approach the constant question of risk?

A: I think that I am probably the most cautious of the people that I know who are entrepreneurs. I started my business in my other free hours even though I had a full-time job and I think that’s becoming a more and more popular philosophy that you don’t have to “bet the farm” on a business idea—you don’t have to put your family or kids at risk.

I applaud people who do that (give everything for a startup), but I also think it’s not very smart. So I always counsel people, anyone who is interested in starting a business, to take baby steps. Take small steps while maintaining your current cash flow and make sure you have a way to eat and keep your family sheltered while you make your business dream a reality. I would never counsel someone to go all in until they have a good feel for the market and for the product and service they’re offering.

Q: How do you incorporate your faith in your work?

A: Well, for frame of reference, I was in high school and just a typical high school kid. The gnawing thought I had after my senior year of high school—I was quite successful in high school, team captain, I was great at wrestling and theater, I had won a bunch of awards, I had a really prestigious internship, I was headed to one of the best schools in the country and I felt like I really owned high school—but I had this nagging thought about whether I could possibly get my arm around everything in this world. I felt like I had won and I had beat high school.

So one thing led to another and I started reading the Bible a little bit and then that’s when I got connected with Young Life and a particular leader at a local high school. Then one thing led to another and I was like, ‘man this Christianity thing sounds like a pretty cool thing’ so I rolled the dice and I’ve been a big part of local faith communities ever since.

In terms of how my faith affects how I do business, I’m certainly not a Jesus fish type of business owner. However, where it does come into play is essentially my code of ethics. Primarily, which is integrity. What I do, or rather what I think or say is what I do every single time and that’s a big part of how I do business and how I’ve been successful. So, that obviously means a lot of transparency and honesty. I think that’s something that someone who does business with me, well, I want them to notice.

I try to live up to those things as much as I possibly can, and as you know with business, it’s all about relationships. There is no exchange of value without having a relationship with somebody or someone. So, my goal really is to just be a witness in my faith and what I’m all about in all my business operations.

Seeds: From Farm to Cup

Coffee roasting was just a hobby for brothers Jeff and Brett Huey. With a stovetop popcorn roaster, they roasted a few pounds of coffee from time to time with several friends. Selling a bag here and there, popularity grew and a demand for the coffee increased among friends and their church community.

“It was a hobby because we loved coffee and we always had dreams and desires to have a restaurant or coffee shop to connect people,” Jeff said.

They upgraded to a larger in-home roaster, spread the roasting duties among those interested, and spent several months roasting from a friend’s garage closet. Labels led to branding and branding led to the name Seeds Coffee Co.

“Well the name is kind of two fold,” Jeff explained. “The actual bean is a seed. That’s what we’re focused around is the coffee seed and since we’re pastors, it’s a seed of the gospel or seed of faith.”

In October of 2011, Jeff and Brett sat down with close friends and planned the future of roasting coffee. The first order of business was to purchase a commercial coffee roaster, so they gathered $16,000 in one night to make the purchase and to have startup funds.

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Credit: Seeds Coffee Co.

April of 2012 rolled around and the commercial roaster was installed in the break room of an office space supplied for free by a friend. Seeds Coffee Co. officially became a coffee roaster in Birmingham, Ala.

Now with a café next door to their roasting facility, they’re able to put their product directly in the cup for the community to enjoy. Their vision of being in the community and serving people of all ages and all backgrounds is now a reality. They wanted a location for community gathering, and now they have it.

The focus wasn’t just coffee. The group was fixated on coffee growing countries, areas they wanted to reach with the Gospel. They wanted to pay farmers an honest wage and work to develop direct trade. Self-prosperity wasn’t the agenda, both Huey brothers reiterated.

Much Time and No Pay:

Jeff and Brett, along with the other entrepreneurs, decided against paychecks from the new startup. Instead, they rationed their time to work with the intention of giving everything to grow the business and ministry it was becoming. Jeff and the others had other jobs and sources of income, but Brett dedicated his days to working for Seeds for no pay.

“I think we saw the risk. I probably didn’t see as much as the others money wise. One of my main roles was to just give my time,” Brett said.

Not to mention Brett was a newly wed and entered his marriage with the plan of working for free while his wife carried the couple financially. “I always thought growing up that I wouldn’t let my wife make more than me, and this was when I wasn’t a Christian,” Brett explained with a laugh. “I’ve never felt like a failure for not being able to support.”

No one was paid at first. The only staff members paid today are two girls who work in the café and receive a part-time salary for their efforts. Intentions are for more jobs and salaries paid, but the business remains in the early stages of growth.

“I’m still not paid and that’s fine,” Brett said. “It hasn’t been an issue and it’s been well worth the time. If I’m going to be selfish then yes, I’m going to worry about myself.”

Brett mentioned how in just two months the business is nearly out of debt, an unheard of reality for most startup businesses.

From the Farm to the Cup:

“We started thinking this could be something really cool for ministry,” Jeff said. “What we see is that coffee has opened this door to so many things.”

The entrepreneurial team has traveled the four corners of the globe in search of building honest relationships with coffee farmers in hopes of developing direct trade and substantial ministry. Traveling to Guatemala, India and Sumatra, the Seeds team has seen the coffee production,  spoken with the farmers themselves, settled on a living wage for the people, and partnered with Christians on the ground to bring ministry to life.

“Every time we go, we hope to improve on making ground work there. A lot of vision is going into it,” Brett explained.

From the parable of the shrewd manager in Luke 16 grew the vision for the Seeds staff. This passage is commonly known for the teaching of only serving one master—either God or money. They focused on these passages:

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” Luke 16:10-11

To the team, it’s not difficult. God has trusted them with much and they want to be honest with what they’ve been given. This mentality is the life-blood of everything they do. They want to be honest with God and honest with people.

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Credit: Seeds Coffee Co.

The staff just purchased their first direct trade coffee from Sumatra. They work with an importer in Atlanta that is connected with the farmers they know in Guatemala so they can purchase the beans at a fair price for all.

Until Seeds reaches a certain level of sales and roasting capacity, they cannot purchase direct trade because the requirements are too high. However, the importer in Atlanta is as close as they can get to direct trade while retaining honesty and fairness.

Brett isn’t worried about the business going under or suffering fallout. He simply said, “if it fails, then it fails, we don’t worry.” It’s all an understanding of how God has provided and the staff is being faithful to their calling.

“We’re not business people, we’re not café owners, we’re not even really trained in coffee,” Jeff said. “We just love it and it’s presented itself before us as something we can use.”

Podcast – Hobby Lobby/Dan Cathy Discussion

So we’re a bit opinionated, but we’re not disrespectful. Hear a recap of the latest news from the Hobby Lobby lawsuit and why a tweet from Dan Cathy, president of Chic-Fil-A, is creating so much buzz. We discuss both at length and the issues behind both stories. We give you the facts and then we give you our opinion. Learn, be challenged and develop your own opinion. Head over to the forum to discuss more at length about these issues. We most definitely welcome your opinion.

 

Music: Michael Flayhart “Anthem Pt. 2″

Obamacare Loses Against Hobby Lobby, For Now

The Denver AP reports that Hobby Lobby will not have to pay millions in fines, at this time, for not providing birth control coverage to employees. The case will continue to battle in lower courts, but the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decided that Hobby Lobby could continue with their case without paying fines that were scheduled to issue on July 1.

Hobby Lobby originally sued on grounds of religious violation, as the founder and CEO David Green and his family do not agree with a birth control mandate issued by the federal government.

The judge had these words to say, “Sincerely religious persons could find a connection between the exercise of religion and the pursuit of profit… Would an incorporated kosher butcher really have no claim to challenge a regulation mandating non-kosher butchering practices?”

The U.S. Department of Justice has argued that opposing birth control coverage is a way for Hobby Lobby to impose religious beliefs on its employees.

For now, the case will return to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, which originally ruled against the company’s religious exemption request.

We’ll discuss more on this story on an upcoming podcast. Stay tuned.