Category Archives: Reference Architecture

image_pdf

Do not Wear Yourself Out to get Rich

Proverbs 23.4: “Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint”.

Hmmm……

Are you serious? Turn away good customers who are ready to buy my products and services?

Yep.

Do you mean, work less even though I could make more money and thus give more money to God?

Yep. (Hint: God doesn’t need your money)

Are you kidding me? Restrain my sales team?

Yep.

Think about it.

Why would God have written this – intended for our good? I can think of at least four reasons.

First, when we throttle our businesses and our success, we purposefully create margin in our lives so that we have time for the things that really matter – time with God and with family. I’ve met way too many business owners who chase the next deal, loading up their over-worked staffs with more and more work because they are incapable of throttling themselves or turning down another deal. These individuals have no margin. They usually end up crashing, losing their marriages, key employees and losing their money too. They burnout. They didn’t build in margin. They tried to stuff too much work into too few hours.

Second, when we throttle our businesses and our success, we demonstrate that we love God more than money. Many successful business owners get a taste of success and they are instantly hooked. They become intoxicated. They become driven by their need for money – they love it – they love profits – they love wealth and riches. They pursue what they love and no matter how much they have, they always want more. Christians are not to be like this.

Thirdly, when we throttle our businesses and our success, we show our employees respect by not expecting them to work longer and longer hours to support more and more sales. We show that we want them to have a life outside of work and we support them by making sure their workload is reasonable.

Lastly, when we throttle our businesses and our success, we show that we value wisdom and understanding more than money or riches. Proverbs is constantly comparing the value of material wealth to wisdom and you know what? Wisdom wins every time. Have the wisdom…. It takes wisdom to show restraint, because only the wise understand the empty and fleeting nature of wealth.

Money and wealth will never make your happy. Never. Ever. Never. Never. Never. Never.

So don’t be fooled. Work hard – yes. Make money – yes (see Luke 19). But if you can make more by pushing yourself and your staff to being out of balance, then turn back and have the wisdom to show restraint. Money isn’t worth it. Turn your heart to Jesus Christ. Only He can fill that big, empty void you’re stuffing with money. Let Him fill you and you’ll find yourself having the wisdom to show restraint.

Bill English

When you Think about your Business, Think about the BOSS

When most people think about their boss, they think about an individual. Some bosses are great – others – not so much. But in this post, I want to propose that a Christian Business Owner should use the BOSS as a way to think about the fuller system in which their business exists and interacts.

You’ll recall that one of the four purposes for business is Productsthat business exists to provide a means to produce goods and services that allows the community to flourish. When one considers the ripple effects of a business within the broader system context, it easy to see how attention to delivering products and services that builds-up the community is serious business.

So, what is this larger system? It’s called the BOSS (Note: I am using this term as it is used in the training materials published by Interpersonal Communication Programs, Inc. 800-328-5099):

Business

Others

Self

Stakeholders

A comprehensive look at any business will include consideration of at least these elements:

  • Cash flow
  • Break even
  • Profitability
  • Process
  • Product and Service mix
  • Organizational structure
  • Plant and equipment
  • Employee morale and satisfaction
  • Risk mitigation
  • Governance
  • Business Development
  • Core Values
  • Short and long-term goals
  • Strategic plan

But often, the ripple effects of the business are not considered – at least not in a strategic sense. I would suggest that the wider system includes:

  • Extended family
  • Customers
  • Partners
  • Vendors
  • Shareholders
  • Board of Directors
  • The general community
  • The next generations (if family owned)
  • Church, ministries and charitable organizations supported by the payroll and profits of the business

When we consider the larger BOSS system, we start to realize that a single business with 40 employees (for example) doesn’t just touch 40 families, it like touches 100 or more families to one degree of intensity or another. Each part of this system contains its own critical information. In order for your business to function well, all parts of the system must be in place, functioning as they should. For example, if you’re not good at finding reputable vendors who deliver products and services at a decent price, then you’re likely to overpay for goods and services or purchase inferior products or services. Supply chain management is a serious aspect of having a well-functioning business.

What you’ll find is that your actions and decisions will seldom involve or impact only one part of the system. And if differences across the system are not managed well, the potential for conflict will only increase.

So, the next time you take your team off-site to do long-term planning, place your business at the center of the larger BOSS system and take a look at the ripple effects of your business within the BOSS system. Then ask the difficult question: is God pleased with the effects my business is having in the marketplace? Do I have a well-functioning system? He’ll answer you directly and clearly. Celebrate what you’re doing write and ask the Lord (and perhaps some outside advisors) what you can do to improve.

Bill English

How Open Should an Owner Be about Their Christian Faith?

Recently, I’ve had several Christian Business Owners ask me about how much of their faith should they openly display in their business.

Their question brought me back to my high school days in which one of my classmate’s father owned a business. I was going to see him about purchasing a yearbook advertisement when I couldn’t help but notice in his lobby this rather large sign on the wall:

“This business is dedicated to the glory of Jesus Christ”.

If I recall correctly, he had lost both his business and his wife about a year later due to his affair with his rather well-blessed secretary.

How much should a Christian Business Owner share about his or her faith with employees, vendors, partners, customers and the community? Interestingly enough, the Bible is silent on this question. When you consider the four core purposes for business – Products, Passions, Profits and Philanthropy – you’ll find that even in fulfilling the purposes God has for business, there is ample room for variation on the degree of intensity and the frequency of display in which Christian Business Owners can engage when integrating their business into their faith.

However, I find that Esther’s life can give us some principles to live out which will call all of us in business – to one degree or another – to display our faith in the marketplace. But it won’t be some pretty sign or pithy saying or eloquent web page. We’ll have to lay our lives bare and be willing to risk it all to stay faithful to Jesus Christ.

At this point, if you’ve not read the book of Esther, I would ask that you stop reading this article – go read the book of Esther and then return here to continue.

You didn’t go read it, did you? Ok – we’ll move on anyways.

Esther was a Jew who, through a series of events, became the Queen to Xerxes, a king who seemed to like food (he was always holding a banquet), money (he used the banquets to display all his wealth) and women (he made sure he enjoyed an endless supply of women and rated them on how well they pleased him). So, we have a guy who probably was fat, very rich, all powerful and loved sex. Other than the “all powerful” part, this seems to describe many men in American today. There really is nothing new under the sun.

Not to be crude, but I suspect he enjoyed all kinds of sex – I doubt little was outside his range of enjoyment. Recall at the beginning of Esther, he wanted to display the beauty of wife for everyone to see – which meant he wanted to display her body fully naked to show all the men what he could enjoy at any moment, any time, at his discretion. She was just another luxury he had that others didn’t have. His arrogance was profound.

So, Esther makes it all the way to being his Queen without ever revealing her identity or her religion. Commentators have taken her to task for this, roundly criticizing her silence about her beliefs. I’m not so sure I’m all that critical of her. One can’t really know what it was like to have such luxuries given to them in exchange for pleasing the most powerful man on earth sexually. Today, we would call her a trophy wife or a “kept woman” or at the worst, a prostitute.

Yet, the writer of Esther doesn’t condemn her for her silence. Instead, the writer focused on God having placed her in her position of favor with the King so that His people could be saved. Much like Esther, as business owners, we have been entrusted with position and a platform in our communities.

Through another series of events, Esther becomes the only person on the planet who could save the Jews from complete eradication from the face of the earth and through her bravery along with three days of fasting before the Lord, God saves his people.

Now there are two macro points that I believe can be applied appropriately to Christians who own businesses. The first is this: silence about your beliefs is not condemned in this story. Now, before all you folks who protest that we should never be silent about our beliefs, I want to point out that there is a certain decorum that is expected in the business world about how faith is lived out – especially from those who don’t believe the way we do. Even within Christian circles, there are different level of comfort and expectations about how one goes about sharing their faith appropriately. Don’t be so quick to judge others if you don’t share your faith regularly. And if you do, check your arrogance at the door. God hasn’t made you like another and vice versa. I can’t find a place in the Bible where we are commanded to openly share our faith in the marketplace.

When I first started in business, we had daily prayer sessions at my business. I made it clear that no one was forced to attend and that non-attendance or attendance at the prayer times would have no effect at all on performance reviews. After about a year, it became clear to me that some used those times to get out of meetings in which they should have participated. It caused problems. My staff was about half Christian, half not. Those who didn’t believe didn’t say anything, but I received back-channel messages that all were not enthusiastic about the prayer times. I, myself, found it was more and more difficult to attend due to my travel schedule and my heavy meeting load when I was in the office. The prayer times eventually faded away and I didn’t try to resuscitate them. Was I wrong? I don’t think so.

I’ve met some business owners who open meetings with prayer. I was one of them. I’ve met others who feel it is wrong to share your faith with employees due to the power imbalance between an owner and an employee. I’ve often wondered how I would react if I worked for a Muslim employer who took time, with half the staff, to pull out their mats and pray toward Mecca. How would I feel? Would I be drawn to Islam as a result? Or would I resent that those who shared my employer’s faith got, essentially, an extended break to practice their faith while I was expected to work? Would I judge he quality of their work more closely because of their openness about their faith? Probably. I’m human, you know.

How open or silent you are about your faith with your employees, I’ve concluded, is a decision to be explored between you and God. I am not in a place to tell you what to do or not do. I believe this is one area in which we need to allow freedom and difference – and to value those differences.

The second point we can learn from the story of Esther is this: God has given us a position of status and a platform for speaking out at the right time by entrusting us with a business in the marketplace. I will suggest that as time passes, more and more of us will be called to risk everything we have to stand up for God. Esther risked her life to stand up for her people and God. He may very well ask you to do the same. I think the question will be whether or not we will be faithful to God, even if it means losing our business and our source of income, not to mention our reputations and influence. In the face of death, Esther stood up. Will you stand up? Will I?

The legal environment in which we operate is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity. The cleavage is widening and the divergences are become more profound. I don’t think we’re too far away from the Bible being labled as hate speech by the LGBTQ community and seeing them use the court system to create a set of laws that will profoundly call us to faithfulness and suffering. Christian businesses are under attack. There is a growing segment of our society that sees us as the real terrorists in America. Just read So many Christians, So Few Lions if you don’t believe me. Do you have a proper theology of suffering? Are you prepared to suffer for Christ?

So, in short, how much of your faith should you share in your own business – that’s entirely up to you and the Lord, in my opinion. On the second point, if God calls you to suffer publicly for Him and lose your business, will you stand up? Will you lose it all for Christ? On this question, I fear many more Christian Business Owners will be called by God to suffer. I think the jury is out on how many will be faithful.

Bill English

Sorry, Christians Don’t Get to Retire

I have referenced how I believe that we will need to work well into our 70’s because I simply don’t believe that most have saved enough to be independently wealthy and whatever safety nets that are provided by the Federal Government will have negligible effect in 15 or 20 years.

But I’ve not dealt with retirement, as a concept, directly until now. So let me be direct and blunt:

The Scriptures do not support the notion of retirement.

Retirement implies stagnation, non-productivity and ceasing of growth. It has been retired. It is no longer useful. No longer helpful. No longer “part of the game”.

Sorry, Christians don’t get to become useless, unhelpful, irrelevant and unproductive. It’s not part of God’s plan and it’s not part of His will.

Work is a gift from God. Work existed before the Fall, so work is not a result of the fall nor is work part of the curse that God placed on Adam. I can find no place in the Bible where there is even a hint of support for our American concept of retirement – sitting back, relaxing every day, being non-productive and living off the money we have saved or inherited.

What I do find are passages like this:

Isaiah 60.21-22:

They are the shoot I have planted,

the work of my hands,

for the display of my splendor.

The least of you will become a thousand,

the smallest a mighty nation.

In Psalm 1.3, the Godly person is one who:

…is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers

In 1 Corinthians 3.6, Paul uses the imagery of growth when he talks about him planting a seed, Apollos water but giving glory to God because He is the one who causes a person to grow.

One can even point to Philippians 1.3-5, where Paul writes:

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

The idea is that God never stops working in us to grow the “good work” and that He does so until the “day of Christ Jesus”.

The passages I have cited at the tip of the iceberg. There are literally dozens of passages that indicate that God is creative and that He wants us to work and grow until we reach heaven.

Now, this doesn’t mean you can’t sell your business as you get older, but it does mean that as a Christian, you’re not allowed to sit back and do nothing. You must be growing – developing – learning – becoming – until the day you see Christ face to face.

Sorry, Christians don’t get to retire.

Christian Business Owners Never Stop Learning and Growing

Proverbs 8.10-11 says this:

10 Choose my instruction instead of silver,

knowledge rather than choice gold,

11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies,

and nothing you desire can compare with her

The command is pretty clear: choose instruction and knowledge over money and wealth, because the wisdom that you gain from instruction and knowledge is more precious than any wealth you can accumulate.

There are many things worth more than money and wealth, the Bible teaches. This is just one instance where material wealth is deprecated in relationship to something else that God gives us. Another example is 1 Peter 1.3-7:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. [emphasis added]

Note that Peter tells us our faith is more valuable than gold – more valuable than material wealth.

It is a common temptation for Christian Business Owners to desire wealth because we have such a strong potential for creating it. When we own a business, our potential to create wealth is greatly enhanced when compared to a person who is employed with a predictable salary. And frankly, it is fun to make money. There is a feeling of satisfaction that we get when we’ve closed a big deal or earned a sizable bonus. Such reinforcements to creating wealth can build within us a deep desire to make more money – to get that feeling of satisfaction over and over, stronger and stronger.

Yet Proverbs tells us that we should pursue knowledge and instruction ahead of pursuing wealth creation. Peter reminds us that our faith is worth more than any retained earners we’ll create on our balance sheet.

Another common temptation for Christian Business Owners is to “pack it in” – to coast. To reach a certain age and then stop growing and developing, whether personally or professionally. When we do this, we’re running counter to the given assumptions of the Proverb’s passage – i.e., that we’ll be in a state of always growing and developing. Don’t let the lure of wealth with its’ comforts and perks cause you to stop learning and growing. Keep pursuing knowledge and instruction – keep pursuing learning and mentoring. Never stop. Don’t give up. Keep going. Why? Because those who stop growing become ineffective and unproductive for the work of the Kingdom (2 Peter 1.5-11):

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; 6 and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; 7 and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. 8 For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Ultimately, our work is for the Kingdom of God, not for our businesses. Anything that gets in the way of advancing the Kingdom and our holiness and sanctification should be jettisoned. This includes “coasting” as we get older.

Be sure that your heart is not set on accumulating wealth. And be sure that you’re learning and being instructed, regularly, persistently.

Bill English

Essential Planning: Management, Directors and Advisors

Proverbs 24.3-6 says this:

3By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;

through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.

The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength.

Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.

If these verses are applied to running a small, family-owned business, it is clear that a business (just like a “house” literally, a place or dwelling for one or more families) is built through wisdom, understanding, knowledge, guidance and advice. It is by knowledge that the rooms are filled with “rare and beautiful treasures”.

You might recall that when Peyton Manning was a two-time Super Bowl winner and was the MVP of the NFL several times. Peyton never lost sight of his need to be coached and to learn from those who were willing to pour into him their knowledge and wisdom. If only small business owners could grasp how important it is to be always learning, growing and improving – not just their technical skills – but their business skills as well.

This is why I recommend that small business owners realize and accept that as their business grows, they will need to develop and invest time with three different groups.

Management Team

The first group small business owners need to invest in is a management team. The management team runs the day-to-day operations of the business and the folks paid to lay awake at night and worry about the business. If you don’t have a management team, then most decisions will route through the owner and the business will only scale to a certain size, then stagnate. When your business is $250K/year, that’s not a big deal. But it will be rather difficult to run a $5M or $10M business without a management team. The largest I’ve ever seen is $23M – but they were paying the price in people leaving the company for better environments.

How you management team is comprised is up to you, but there are two basic ways: Organizational Chart and the Value Process. Most business owners will build their management team off of standard organization charts: managers for sales, operations, supply chain, finance and so forth. They departmentalize their company and then appoint people to manage parts of their company. It’s very common to see this. How well it works all depends on how well the business owner is able to build a team.

Advisors

This is usually the second group that most small business owners put together, but they do so grudgingly and really don’t like it because the cost of engaging and building a team of trusted advisors. Many take the position that advisors – consultants – are just there to take their money and not offer much of anything in the way of value. And while it is possible to waste money with trusted advisors, my experience is that most business owners end up paying more in other costs when they don’t properly build and engage their team of trusted advisors. Good trusted advisors will save you money, even though they have up-front costs.

Most small business owners are really good at what they do, but they are not good at accounting, contracts, compliance, hiring, firing, benefits, financial reports, banking and so forth, so it really is a good idea for them to have a team of trusted advisors who can help them work better “on” their business. And they will offer real expertise at a fraction of the cost of having the business owner him/herself read and learn the same information on their own.

Your trusted advisors should include:

  • Law firm – look for those who can help with contracts, policies, shareholder disputes (if you have a partner(s)) and HR/employment law.
  • Accounting firm – Have them do your quarterly and annual filings. Be sure to ask them about things you can do to lower taxes. And they should help you with your personal will, since that will be highly affected by the size and profitability of your business
  • Banking – look for a bank that can scale with your projected sales and size for the next five years
  • Financial Planner – be sure to pull out value out of your company on a regular basis and invest it personally for your retirement
  • HR/Benefits – you *will* need someone to help you with human resource elements such as payroll, policy manuals, job descriptions, benefits and so forth
  • Executive coach – believe it or not, an EC is become more and more common as small business owners look to sell or transition their business to their children. While most second or third generations know how to run the business, they often don’t know how to lead or how to think outside of what they have seen in their mom and dad. And often, the coaching has to help mitigate the family’s dysfunction so that the business can survive.

Board of Directors

As a business grows, so does the need for accountability and outside perspectives. A small business – even if completely owned by family members – will need outside perspectives both at the management and at the governance layers. While this is usually the last of the three groups to form, it is an important one for ensuring that proper governance is followed. Why is this important? Well, for family businesses, it is important for the family members to have a place where they can put their owner hat on and express themselves on matters pertaining to their role as an owner. What should not be happening is family members acting as owners during the day when their employee position doesn’t require it and, in fact, would negate that role for them during the day. For example, if one of the family members is an owner of 20% of the business but is employed as the Vice President of Sales, they s/he shouldn’t be talking or acting as an owner during the day.

Be aware the “outsiders” should be on your board – not just family and friends. You may want to include some trusted advisors on your board, but the board is there mainly to hold you – the business owner – accountable to accomplish certain things that you wouldn’t normally do yourself but you know you need to do. It’s a form of self-discipline. If your business is owned by your family, we highly recommend having non-family members on your board in order to get outside perspectives at the Board layer.

Summary

As your business grows, you will need to build and engage these three groups. And you, as a small business owner, will need to value what they bring to your business. Yes, it will cost you some money, but in the long run, these groups will save you money as they help you grow, become more profitable, streamline your operations and mitigate risk.

One caveat – as your business grows and you groups are formed, remember that your role will necessarily change and through delegation, you will need to know how to get more done through people than doing it yourself. This is where many entrepreneurs flinch and just say that they’ll stop growing the business so they can stay in control. That’s a legitimate business decision. But if you want to grow and sell for millions in the future, you’ll need to recognize that your role will change and you will be surprised as little you actually control after these three groups are formed. Your focus will be working “on” the business more than “in” the business, so reserving the things to yourself that allow you to work within your strengths will be very important.

Bill English