Christian Living

The upside of fear

Stupid spreadsheet.

Typically, I’m a pretty positive– upbeat — and self-confident person. I’m told I’m overly optimistic by my friends. But the past few weeks have brought about unfamiliar emotions. Negativity, melancholy, and anxiety. 

And since these are unfamiliar emotions I haven’t quite known how to respond. In situations where I’m typically chipper I’ve been quiet. In moments I typically shrug off bad news and instantly turn it into a positive I’ve been silent. I’ve been asked for ideas on things and just not had solutions where I normally have been so dependable.

It’s not that I don’t have stuff to say its that I think its time to be quiet and listen– I don’t want the wrong words to come out because of my emotional state so I just bit my tongue.

It all goes back to the spreadsheet.

The spreadsheet brought out fear I’d never had before. And, like all fear, it’s illogical and stupid.

The Spreadsheet

As a small business owner my income and expenses are all captured on a master spreadsheet. This gives me a month-by-month look at my business, where my money is coming from and where it is going. (Very similar to a personal budget.) Heading into the summer my balance sheet was very strong for the rest of 2012… this summer we had some record breaking months and some projects coming this fall which could double, even triple what we made in the same months of 2011.

Then over the last few weeks I’ve had to revise some of some numbers down. At the same time I had to make these revisions we ran into a normal business cycle where I pay a lot of money out while I’m waiting for a lot of income to come in. (I call this cash poor, invoice rich.) When larger businesses hit these business cycles they take out short-term loans. But we’re small enough where we just float through these times with our savings.

But it was those normal revisions and that normal business cycle which brought out all of that funky emotional junk.

Factually speaking, the numbers aren’t even that bad. We will still make more than we need. We are totally fine. But the act of making those changes and seeing all that cash go out planted a seed of doubt in me which grew into fear. “What if the cash doesn’t come back?” “What if it gets worse?” “Why don’t I have ____ in savings for when this happens?” “Why don’t I have a line of credit at the bank in case to cover this better?” On and on and on.

This is what I know about fear: Fear will make you dumb. Fear whispers lies in your ears. Fear makes you say no to things you should say yes to and visa versa.

And all of that was true of me in August. Our last camping trip came at a perfect time. Just when I was thinking, “What am I going to do?” We went and looked at the stars and took hikes and laughed and giggled until bed time.

Those 4 days gave me the perspective I so desperately needed: We are totally fine. 

Sitting by the fire helped calm my nerves. It helped lower my anxiety. It reminded me that everything would be OK.

The Upside of Fear

Sitting in church the other day I think it all started to wash over me. Not all fear is bad. I’m afraid of what a spreadsheet says might happen in 3-4 months? Really? How could I be so stupid? Talk about a lack of perspective in light of all that I know about Our God! Talk about allowing emotions to rule over facts! Talk about putting your faith and trust in something really, really small!

Here’s my observation: The only good kind of fear is the kind which leads you to taking positive action. 

Photo credit: James Stark via Flickr (Creative Commons)
McLane Creative

Start-up Mode, What We’re Learning

“So, how is the start-up stuff going?”

It’s a fair and caring question. I get it all the time.

Several months ago Kristen and I felt God pulling for a big change. Long before we even knew exactly how it would play out… we knew it was time to go for it. You know, a double dip recession and the worst economy in a generation is the perfect time to launch a start-up, right?

Actually, it is.

If you have a good business idea there is no such thing as a bad economy. If you want to think about economics, tomorrows biggest business winners are being determined today because the people who profit while everyone else is floundering will pay bigger dividends than those who either lose ground our don’t do anything now.

“It’s crazy.”

That’s my response when people ask that question because it’s the truth.

It’s crazy fun. It’s crazy the things I’m working on. And it’s crazy to think about all the conversations I’ve had as I’ve considered various opportunities over the past months.

It’s crazy to have to do things like month-to-month forecasts. And it’s crazy to have to rent an office for myself when I’ve had an office of my own provided by an employer since I was about 19 years old.

What I’m Learning

  1. I wish we had done this earlier. It’s not that I regret a moment of my time at YS, but as we ramp things up that I could have done this sooner and we’d be further along in our development.
  2. It’s not scary. Right now, there are millions of people doing jobs they hate because they are too afraid to make a change. I’m more afraid of doing a job that I don’t want to do than I’m afraid of starting my own business.
  3. Mission drives focus. I’ve been asked to consider projects that just weren’t right for what I’m trying to do. And a few times, in my insecurity, I’ve said yes to things that were more a distraction to my mission than they were profitable for our business.
  4. You have to stand up for yourself. In the past I’ve either just dealt with difficulties or had someone to help me with things I couldn’t correct. But now? I’ve got to have difficult conversations with people. I’ve got to be clear about what I am and am not going to do. If I won’t stand up for myself, I’ll get stepped on.
  5. Disappointment is part of the deal. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten amped for a big thing that hasn’t happened. It just goes with the territory. It’s not that I don’t allow myself to be disappointed anymore. But I have learned to deal with it quickly and move on.
  6. Dreamers get paid. Some of the most fun projects I’m working on happened because of saying, “Hey, wouldn’t that be cool if…?” Or it’s cousin, “How can we work together on that?
  7. Helping people is best. I LOVE helping people do stuff they thought wasn’t possible. There’s nothing quite like doing some training and seeing people go, “Oh, I could do ___ with that. Wow!” Believe it or not… that’s not that common. Traditional business wisdom would teach the opposite.
  8. It’s all about value. I have a philosophy that I want to deliver ridiculous value to the people I work with. Why? Delivering value builds loyalty.
  9. Admit when you suck. Just like I’ve had to learn to stand up for myself I’ve had to learn to go over and above when I’ve stunk. It happens. It will happen. Just admit it, pony up, and resolve to do better.
  10. Take advantage of the flexibility. The biggest mistake I’ve made in the past six months is not taking time off. I’ve gotten good about scheduling stuff. But vacation time? I didn’t do it. In 2012, I’ve got 4 weeks of downtime already booked.

Be Intent

The last seven weeks I’ve had laser focus on one thing: Be ready for September 1st. 

Buy office equipment. Set-up a home office. Lease part-time office space. Create financial systems. Set-up a business infrastructure. Write business plans. Write marketing plans. Lay the groundwork to build a customer base. Write proposals. Sign contracts. Get consulting. And a whole lot more stuff like that.

This has been my life. And I’m exhausted. Last night was another day when I started at 7:00 am and went until 1:00 am with only a few breaks in the middle. It will be like this until Labor Day weekend when I finally get to disconnect and reward myself.

Here’s an observation I’ve made during this season: When you’re starting something from scratch you have laser-like focus and unlimited energy because you can grasp the big picture all at once. What’s next is what is right now.

The flipside is: Existing organizations have a unique ability to lose focus at the exact wrong time.

What’s next takes priority over what’s right now and visa versa. A big project is coming up and right before it happens a key decision-maker goes on vacation. Your biggest sales opportunity of the year? You missed it because you scheduled an internal meeting instead. On and on. Mental errors cost you in an existing business because you can’t see the whole organization anymore.

It’s like observing an island from a plane before you land, when you’re at 30,000 feet you can see the whole thing. But when you land you can only see what’s in front of you. 

In life, just like in business, the difference between success and failure in life is razor thin. Watch any sporting championship and you’ll see it. A single mental mistake at the wrong can cost you a championship, or a deal, or whatever your measurable is for success. That same mental mistake a thousand times during the season never hurt you before. But in the wrong moment? You’re dreams are wiped away.

When those moments come. Be intent. 

social media Web/Tech

5 Things the App Store Teaches Us

A living exhibit of current apps being sold. Photo HT to Sachin Agarwal

More than 1 billion apps have been downloaded from the iTunes app store. Believe it or not, there are lots of people who still don’t think of it as a serious marketplace. A billion is 1,000 million folks. That’s pretty serious.

Here are 5 things that the app store has taught me

  1. Free is a legitimate business plan.
  2. Financial success isn’t so much about profit margins, it’s about price point.
  3. Traditional high margin businesses with complicated business plans can’t compete.
  4. The one hit wonder is just as powerful today as it was yesterday.
  5. Big business will always manipulate a free market system.

Some brief explanations to unpack the list above.

Free is a legitimate business plan

Would you have an account on Facebook, Twitter, or Gmail if it cost you $2.99 each to belong? Of course not. But how did Google, Twitter, and Facebook get to become some of the most powerful companies in the world without charging you a dime? TV has been doing it for years.

Financial success isn’t so much about profit margins, it’s about price point

When I developed my first apps for YS, the content was valued based on the retail price of the book. Consequently, they never took off. People aren’t going to pay the same $7.99 for an app version of a book that they’d pay for a hard copy because the perceived value is different. The question app buyers are asking is, “Will I get the free version or will I pay $.99?” Remember… all of Facebook, Google, and Twitter are 100% FREE! So your buyer wants to know why your app, compared to what they know is already free, has more value to them than that. To pay more than $.99 for an app you have to demonstrate ridiculous value. Consequently, if you lower your price point or eliminate the cost, you will access millions more customers and potentially make infinitely more money as a result.

Traditional businesses with complicated business plans can’t compete

Traditional media and brick/mortar retailers are struggling to figure out how to take advantage of apps. Look for yourself. Retailers apps aren’t really necessary but are just attempts to have “something” in the app store. An online catalog is pointless because of Google. A store finder is pointless because of Google Maps. Most traditional brands apps aren’t adding value– they are marketing. And people are extraordinarily good at sniffing out marketing thanks to the popularity of bloggers like Seth Godin. Companies with simple business plans are beating them in the app store because simple business plans have lower overhead, can take more brand risk, are more nimble, and will rely less on expensive “experts.” (If an app maker is an “expert” than why would they sell your company something for thousands when “experts” are becoming millionaires? Additionally, the counter-intuitive business strategy of free is nearly impossible for traditional business leaders to comprehend.

The one hit wonder is just as powerful today as it was yesterday

Angry Birds is to the app store what Don McLean is to the record business. Except we live in an age when a company that has a one-hit wonder in the app business will get a royalty checks from Apple for millions of dollars per month. Not bad for some college students from Finland, eh? Take that– Mattel or EA or any of the other major players in the game industry! Each of the original creators of Angry Birds will not only make a lot of money off of Angry Birds… they are now solid gold for life.

Big business will always manipulate a free market system

The editors at Apple have always claimed a certain level of editorial control of the app market. In other words the stuff at the top of the pile is at the top of the pile mostly because it is the best in the marketplace. But, in truth, they have allowed that to be manipulated by some levels of marketing of new stuff. Go to the app store today on your iPod, iPhone, or iPad and you will see ads for featured items. That wasn’t free and it is almost always big, publicly traded companies, who have bought that influence. Consequently, some of the biggest selling apps are not, indeed, the best apps in a totally free marketplace. There has been some manipulation.

Church Leadership Video Clip

Inverse Relationship Between Church Attendance and Business Models

Yesterday Tim Schmoyer was kind enough to mention a recent blog post in his weekly round-up video.

I thought some of the questions that the original post raised warranted a video response to Tim.

What do you think?

Is there anything to this inverse relationship between churches acting like businesses and a decline in attendance nationwide?


Piggy Banks

Jeffrey and Joel were visiting with the people of a tent city in the town of Carrefour, Haiti when they heard periodic banging. Used to the sound of big diesel engines and definitely used to the sound of kids laughing and playing games, metal on metal banging was distinctive pang and piqued their curiosity.

Under a tree, away from the main tent area, they met Daniel. Daniel is a mason by trade. But right now there are way more masons than opportunities to do masonry so he began to improvise. With all of the aid flowing into the tent camp there was plenty of garbage generated. One thing that seemed like it was useful for something was all of the one gallon aluminum cans which brought foods like beans.

After some messing around and possibly scouting out what was selling in the city, Daniel started cutting open the cans and making flat sheets of aluminum. Then, using only a large square chunk of steel and a smaller, shorter chunk of steel, he began shaping the aluminum into little boxes and punching a hole in them.

Bam. Instant piggy bank made from recycled cans.

Next, he began selling them to street vendors to sell up the hill in Carrefour. He sold them at 3 for 25 gouds. (3 for about 75 cents in US dollars) Each one took him about 2 minutes to make. So, in theory, Daniel could earn about 75 cents per hour. Remember, the average Haitian family earns less than $1 per day.

Jeffrey and Daniel bought about 6 piggy banks. (They paid him a little more than he was asking.)

Later that night as our team debriefed the day Joel brought up this story. And as the conversation morphed our team decided that we wanted to buy as many piggy banks as Daniel could make. Maybe, if we could get enough, we could use them to raise money for something like the Sons of God Orphanage?

The next day we went back to the tent city and found Daniel under his tree, banging away. We told him our plan and he liked it.

We will buy as many banks as you can make by noon tomorrow.

He thought he could make about 50. We said, no matter how many he makes… we’ll buy them all.

The next day, we were all a little apprehensive and hopeful. We had a feeling he’d have the 50 piggy banks. But we joked that we’d also walk into the camp and see tons of little kids with band-aids on their fingers from making these things all night long!

Daniel looked like a smart businessman. Maybe he’d hired the whole neighborhood to turn garbage into cash? Wouldn’t that be hilarious? I’d hoped we had enough money.

When we found Daniel under his tree it was clear that he was exhausted. He hadn’t slept. The interpreter tried to nice it up by saying that he thought Daniel had a fever. But it was OK, he had worked all night and we had come to buy what he had. His hard work was a good sign that he cared for his family.

He had 44 piggy banks. We counted them. We examined them. We made a big deal over how cool they were and well they were constructed. And then we talked about price.

You could tell he was nervous about that part. I don’t speak Creole but I could read his body language. Were the Americans going to try to offer him a bad price? And what would he do if we did?

The same price came up… 3 for 25 gouds. We told him no. We told him that he had worked all night and that we had rushed him. We told him that we didn’t feel right about paying him so little. We asked him if he thought it was fair if we paid him 25 gouds each. (It took a couple rounds of interpreting to get what we were saying.) He looked kind of confused by our proposition. I doubt anyone had ever told him they should pay him MORE because he had worked hard.

So, we counted them up and paid him just over 1000 gouds. (About $25 US) We shook hands, gave him the money, and walked away.

I don’t know what justice looks like. I can define justice. I can talk about it. But I don’t have a clue what it actually looks like.

I honestly don’t know if that was justice in action or just some silly Americans buying souvenirs thing. I just don’t know because I live in a world where basic justices are a given. But I do know business. I know that  on that day, under that tree, that act of business felt like an act of justice.

I pray that more Daniel’s find more ways to recycle things. Turning garbage into money is good in any longitude or latitude.

Weblogs YMX

Best of 2005

Note: I’m on vacation this week. My family has a rule for daddy– It’s not a vacation if daddy brings a computer. Each day this week I’m highlighting my favorite post from the archives. These are oldies but goodies.

Check Out YMX!

Hey, a buddy of mine and I launched a website lately for youth workers to connect up. This is filling the forum void left behind since YS closed their forums back in June.

Anyway, check it out at


This changed everything. As I look back on the last several years, no event changed my life more than creating Youth Ministry Exchange.

For years the youth ministry world was pretty self-contained. There were a limited number of players and it seemed impossible to get your foot in the door anywhere.

So we created a new door.

Within a month we created massive traffic for our new business. We had some sense that what we were creating was important– but the truth is we had no idea what we were doing. We were even afraid to call it a business. We didn’t have any of the legal stuff done. We never had a business plan. We never spent $1 on marketing. And the two original owners have STILL never met. 3.5 years later I was sitting in an office at Zondervan signing paperwork and waiting for a bank transfer as we sold Youth Ministry Exchange, LLC to Youth Specialties. It’s mind boggling.

How in the world does a guy go from being a no-name youth pastor at a church of 150 to shaking hands and receiving a check from the CEO of a major publishing company in 3.5 years? Simple: Looking at closed doors and building an open one to walk through.

Investing $72 in an idea changed my life.

Want my advice? If you have an idea that you are absolutely passionate about… do it. Do it now. The idea and the opportunity are never going to get better than they are today. But invest less than $100. If it’s a good idea it won’t make a difference if you invest $100 trying it out or $100,000. (Donald Trump may be good, but that guy has led his company into bankruptcy three times! Never finance an idea with debt. Pure and simple.)


The Resurrection of the Cottage Industry

Photo by James Whitesmith via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Is this the best time ever to start a small business? It sure seems like it!

  • Countless brilliant minds, long cooped up in boring corporate jobs, are on unemployment and unable to find new corporate jobs.
  • The internet has made the world pretty flat. You have a good product? You can move it online for about the same per unit price as the big guys.
  • Culture has a distaste for big business. Enron, big banks, BP, Monsanto, Wal*Mart– we’re all questioning if we can trust giant. But we know we can trust local.
  • The genie has left the bottle. With all of that knowledge leaving big business… these folks know how to run a business, are well networked, and know all the tricks of their trade.
  • It’s never been cheaper. Seriously, in a bunch of states you can legally start a business for less than $100. Using existing free tools like Craigslist, Etsy, or Ebay you can advertise a product for free. (Or darn close to it.)
  • People are more willing to buy thoughts, ideas, designs, and concepts than ever before! Consultant isn’t just a fancy word for unemployed anymore.

If you are thinking about it, let me encourage you on two quick things.

  1. There is no time like the present. I started my first company in 2005 and sold it in 2008. It wasn’t scary. It was fun!
  2. While I don’t agree with all the MBAs out there that you need a business plan to start a small business, I do think you need to do the 30 minutes of work in setting everything up legally. Get a Tax ID, get a business bank account, get a business license if its require, form the right tax entity to protect yourself. None of that is hard and you don’t need a lawyer to do any of that.

Here’s a bi-product I love. All of those small businesses need a website. Which supports my cottage industry.


6 Questions for Those Starting a Business

Grand Opening
Photo by whizchickenonabun via flickr (Creative Commons)

The Great Recession of 2009 has created a new breed of entrepreneur– the I-don’t-have-a-job-but-I-was-once-successful-in-business-and I-don’t-know-what-to-do-with-my-life-since-I-can’t-find-a-good-paying-job-that-satisfies-me-quite-like-my-old-job-did-entrepreneur.

What’s interesting about this group is that they have great ideas, limited capital, and a mixed bag of preparedness for starting a business. Honestly, that’s a perfect combination!

Tunnel Vision
Photo by rcameraw via flickr (Creative Commons)

The bad part is that since they don’t have jobs, they need this thing to take off instantly and provide for their families before their unemployment benefits run out.

I have a fundamental belief that people are at their best when up against that type of adversity. But while that kind of desperation can create tremendous energy to succeed– I’ve found that it can also lead to dangerous tunnel vision.

So here are my 6 Questions for Those Starting a Business as a result of getting laid off by the Great Recession of 2009.

  1. How little capital will you need to start generating positive revenue initially? In other words, how little can you invest to start making money with your idea now?
  2. What will you do to acquire customers outside of your sphere of influence? Your biggest weakness is thinking you have the contact base to maintain a business beyond 180 days– if you had that strong of a contact base one of them would have hired you by now. How will you grow your sphere beyond yourself in the first 30, 60, 90 days?
  3. Who are the gatekeepers to your success? Who are the power brokers in your niche and what do you need from them in order to succeed in this space?
  4. Have you defined the boundaries of your niche? What safeguards have you put I’m place to keep you in your niche?
  5. Is the product or service dependent or repeat business? If a repeat business, how will you manage customer relationships beyond the transaction?
  6. Is this a product or service that you need? If you don’t need it what makes you think it will keep you up at night making it awesome or that it will motivate others to evangelize your product?

What makes me qualified to ask these questions? In 2005 I started Youth Ministry Exchange with a small group of friends. We turned a profit on the first day and had positive cash flow every quarter until we were acquired by Youth Specialties in June 2008. In other words, I’ve done exactly what this breed of entrepreneur is attempting.

social media

5 Free Business Tips for Facebook Pages


How do I use Facebook to enhance my company, church, organization, or club?

As a person who utilizes Facebook in the repetoir of how I make my living, I get this question a lot. With hundreds of millions of Facebook users out there, and huge growth in the adult demographic, it makes sense for people to shift marketing efforts to Facebook. The trick is doing it without looking like an idiot.

What do you recommend? Here are my  5 things with Facebook. It’ll be the best marketing you can do in the next 1 hour, trust me. Just like anything else… nail the basics and everything else is just gravy.

Preamble: You need a page, not a group. If you only have a group right now… go create a page. Facebook is not investing in making the group experience better. All of their efforts for businesses are focused on pages.

1. Secure your URL. Once your page has 100 fans, you can go to and secure a unique URL. This will help you on a lot of fronts. First, it’s easy to remember. Tell people, “Like our product? Become a fan on Facebook at” I’m seeing this everywhere! I was at a golf course a couple weeks back that had a fan page. Hotels have it. Designers have it. Even dive bars have fan pages. Second, this helps your company on the Google front as well. It’ll make it easier for people looking for you and your products to find you… not your competitor. If you are a company that has brands/products it’s a good idea to also add a fan page for your top products.

2. Add FBML. With the page application FBML, you’ll be able to build a landing page for your fans. Here’s an example of mine from Youth Specialties. Here’s another one from Coke. FBML allows you to design HTML code and drop it into your page as a tab. Then in the page settings you can select which tab is the default landing page. With both the Coke and YS pages you see that it introduces the brand and products pretty strongly, right away. If you aren’t a web guru, I’d still add FBML and have your web designer pimp it out. (Or send me $500 and I’ll do it for you.)

3. Embed video or audio. Up until recently, Facebook has not allowed applications like FBML to embed stuff. It basically stripped out <embed> and <script> tags in the coding. But if your brand has some great audio/video that you think could help you sell your products, here’s a little hack.

Bear in mind you need to host these files on your own host, but that’s cheap and easy enough.

For video, you can embed FLV files using this code: <fb:flv src="Flash_Video_URL" height="###" width="###"/>

For audio, you can embed MP3 files using this code: <fb:mp3 src="URL HERE" height="###" width="###" artist="artist" title="title" album="picture"/>

That may not be a beginners option, but if you can pull it off it looks fantastic!

4. Connect your company website/blog to your Facebook page. If your website was designed in the last 3-4 years it probably has RSS feeds. It’s simple and easy to import an RSS feed from your website onto your page. Here’s the link.

5. Add your Facebook page Fan Box to your company website or blog. Complete the circle. You are sending your content to Facebook, allow your customers to see your precense on Facebook from your website.

That’s it. Those are the basics. Nail those 5 things down and you are off to a good start. In fact, I wouldn’t add much else to a Facebook page. Just make sure to update your status from time to time.