Faith is the Foundation for Entrepreneurs
Faith is the Foundation for Entrepreneurs- E. Michelle Mickens
The idea of starting a business can overwhelm most of us. Hundreds of questions run through our minds, such as “Can I really do this?” However, in order to be successful in any endeavor, you first have to believe you can succeed. The focus of this article is to inform and inspire entrepreneurs who have not taken the leap of faith to move forward with their heart’s desire. Here are three successful women entrepreneurs who understand the importance of operating in faith. This is may trigger a strong reaction for many of you scholars. Some may say you are delusional and good at lying to yourself.  However, these ladies are establishing their business footprints throughout the United States and one even has a global platform as well. I had the pleasure of interviewing these ladies asking them the following questions:
1. What did you learn before and after starting your business?
2. What do you wish you learned before starting your business?
3. Have you established any “best practices” or found any business models that has helped you improve operations?
4. For the type of business, you’re in, what metrics has been most beneficial for you?
Meet Ms. Alexander. Her home office is in North Carolina and she is the CEO of Inspiring Decision. Ms. Alexander has been in business for 12 years as a Cross-Cultural Consultant. One hundred percent of what she does and how she makes decisions are influenced by her faith in God. She seeks God in everything and enjoys praying before conducting training. One lesson Ms. Alexander learned quickly was all cultures do not accept open prayers; she had offended a culture because of praying openly. She has a strong background in mental health and substance abuse and nonprofit experience exceeding 25 years. When asked what she learned before and after starting her business, Ms. Alexander’s responded by saying patience. She learned quickly that other cultures do not operate as she did. She continued by expressing the need to know the culture before making contact with that country. Ms. Alexander loves culture and always wanted to travel the world which is why she is doing this work. She has 2 children and wanted to diversify their lives and have them learn about other cultures. Ms. Alexander emphasized that for any type of business, you need to have an international presence. “You must always think globally with anything you do.”
Before starting her business, Ms. Alexander wished she had learned that there was an easier way to get clients besides knocking on doors when working in Dubai. She was eager to get started but learned she didn’t really have to go door-to-door to get the business. This is why you must understand the culture before making contacts or you can hurt business opportunities. Ms. Alexander has also learned that she doesn’t have to physically work in various countries and can operate her business virtually. Had she known when she started, what she knows now, she would have put virtual business operations into her business plan sooner.
As a consultant, Ms. Alexander shared a powerful insight, “Everyone is not going to want it (international business contracts; to grow) as bad as you want it for them.” This was extremely hard for her to accept. This is usually because they lack the passion and will not execute. Her business model and best practices were developed by her over the years. Mind mapping and SWOT analysis are her go-to tools. Ms. Alexander used mind mapping for business planning and “brain dumps” and SWOT analysis for assessing whether to develop a product and t0 help make decisions.
The type of analytics she often uses are Hootsuite™ and Crowdfire. Hootsuite™ allows you to track, measure, and share key social media metrics. Crowdfire manages Twitter and Instagram user accounts. It allows you to know who is following you or has unfollowed you; understand how social media updates impact follower statistics and you can track how Instagram and Twitter accounts relate to each other. Ms. Alexander is relentless about tracking her followers and all social media. She weekly evaluates the analytics and based on responses to her posts, she decides which posts to boost. Surveys and testimonials are a few ways of getting the feedback she needs which determines where she should spend her advertising dollars. Ms. Alexander relies on “lots of social media data.”
Today, 90% of Ms. Alexander’s business is virtual. The holidays in Saudi Arabia such as Ramadan determines when she travels and it’s at that point when her business shifts to approximately 40% virtual. Ms. Alexander travels internationally anywhere between 1 week to 2 months. She has international contracts in Abu Dhabi, Thailand, China, London, Ghana, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Caribbean, and Greece. By January 2017, Ms. Alexander desires to have international contracts and established relationships in 5 more countries.
The mindset of Christian believers who launch their business in faith proves there is validity to “intangible assets” such believing in a God that cannot be seen, but influences how to run a successful business. This is true for my next interviewee, Ms. Kimberly Thompson, CEO of Kim Kakes. Ms. Thompson is established in Ohio and has been doing business since 2000. Ms. Thompson said that before she started her business, “the Lord was waiting for her.” She continued to express how “often we stay in our comfort zone,” for example, Ms. Thompson would make cakes only on holidays. She was quite comfortable at this level, however, when she decided to expand, she said God met her and He guided her steps. Before and after starting her business, Ms. Thompson learned the importance of maintaining consistency with her cakes’ taste and quality. Maintaining the integrity of her product is a vital work ethic for Ms. Thompson. She stands by her products for best service. Another unique aspect of her personal brand is she is willing to try again if a customer is not pleased with her product. Ms. Thompson will replace the cake or work to satisfy that customer.
Another learning concept for Ms. Thompson that she wished she had learned before starting her business, was how to price her product based on quality and value. She also wished she knew how to deal with people who would try to undervalue her products by trying to convince her to reduce her prices. Since starting her business, Ms. Thompson has learned to provide excellent customer service and she enjoys letting her customers know she appreciates them. Ms. Thompson delights in giving to charity and donating a certain amount of product depending on the charity. Ms. Thompson is a generous person and when asked about her business model, she simply said, “Giving is my business model.”
How Ms. Thompson manages her daily operations is uncomplicated. She utilizes personalized invoices and writes down everything such as her sales and donations. Ms. Thompson also uses PayPal software to invoice her online customer orders. Quicken is the software program she uses to maintain her financial records. Quicken tracks how she acquire new customers and tracks her raffles. She uses Facebook to attract customers, especially around the holidays. One marketing strategy Ms. Thompson participates in is a chef auction. This provides a platform where approximately 500 people are able to sample her products. She is always thinking of ways to build her customer base and usually when they taste her cakes that turn tasters into new customers.
Ms. Thompson is extremely committed to her church. As a giver, she never charges her pastor for anything of her products and she likes to donate cakes and cupcakes to her church. Ms. Thompson believes in the biblical principle of sowing seeds in good ground and she considers her church to be that ground. Character and integrity are KPI measurements for Ms. Thompson, especially as a Christian business owner.
The final interviewee was Ms. Kiarra Solomon, CEO of Fix Your Crown. Ms. Solomon has been in business for 2 years and has been doing business development for 9.5 years. She lives in Pennsylvania and began in Philadelphia working with nonprofits. Ms. Solomon worked with nonprofit organizations by helping them create business strategies, maximize resources, increase their reach, and find additional resources. She became passionate about helping businesses based on her work with nonprofits. Ms. Solomon also has a background in communications and would use this skill to help people build their brands, which ultimately lead her towards helping people develop their purpose. It was through the guidance of a Christian therapist that her eyes were opened to the fact that she could discuss God while operating a business. She liked the way the therapist did both and this became a significant inspiration for her to launch her Christian based business.
One thing Ms. Solomon said she learned about business is that it’s all science. It took her over 1 yr. to learn her own direction. She said, “You do not know what will and will not work until you start trying it.” Over the past 2.5 years, she learned how to try something and not worry about it not working. Ms. Solomon has a perspective on how to address problems. She recommends looking at issues called “mistakes” as a way to propel you to do what God really wants you to do. “Sometimes God will push us out of one area, and push into our purpose to compel us. It’s a learning process; it’s a science experiment.”
When asked what she wished she had learned before starting her business, Ms. Solomon response was she wished she had known the importance of having a variety of products and services ready in advance of initiating her business. For example, she primarily focused solely on coaching, which was her only real product next to a book she had written. If she knew sooner that she could have passive income at the start of her business, she would have 5 – 10 products ready. She would have released each product in a timed manner. The second thing, she wouldn’t have doubted herself for as long as she did.
Ms. Solomon operates a virtual business and is responsible for everything. She described her business model as being very different. She is precise on what needs to be done every single day from financial analysis, marketing, client management, and everything else in between. Ms. Solomon keeps a running tab on everything; she’s a planner and creates list to keep her on track. When she was asked about best practices or a business model she may have adopted, her response was “it’s hard to determine one model.” Ms. Solomon did say that she has embedded the practice to always have a lawyer to review all contracts.
Ms. Solomon is very analytical and uses different tools to analyze how her time is spent. For example, She scoped (that is Periscope) 8 times in one day and she tracks and measures how much interest is generated and much product is purchased. She needs to know what’s working. Knowing which platform is working determines where she will increase her marketing dollars. Ms. Solomon uses email marketing and social media marketing, which is measured weekly. She also measures all customer engagement through evaluating customer responses to her topics, the number of website views, and customer behaviors when they land on her site. Ms. Solomon uses analytics to understand demographics for pain points. Daily she measures if she is making money. She’s also looking at the number of hours spent at various social media sites by potential customers and a number of money customers spend, both existing and new customers. Every night she checks to see if these systems are working.
For entrepreneurs, especially startups, social media provides a conduit which connects people, provides a space to share information, and encourages participation in all business processes. The results can be positive provided that adequate training and control of users and employees who are in charge to use companies’ social media platforms are in place, particularly when gathering customer-related information. Social media is an ideal venue for startups to unveil innovative products and services to millions of potential customers globally and not invest large sums of marketing dollars into strategies that might not work. The ladies that were interview can attest to that.
An empirical study was conducted comparing entrepreneurs who were money-driven with those who were spirituality-driven, and it revealed those who were more spiritually connected found joy and passion in their work and those who were money-driven were only motivated by money; no happiness was created. A final disclosure about this study was there was no difference in what motivated these entrepreneurs nor was there a difference between their economic stability. Another study was examined which focused on spiritual and social entrepreneurship. An incredible discovery hypothesized the possibility of using social entrepreneurship to bridge the gap between Christianity exercised only in the church and addressing social ills using the marketplace. Social entrepreneurship would de-compartmentalizing Christianity from the church only. Social entrepreneurship can be used to provide a pathway for the marketplace and church to intersect. This connection would maximize the common goal between these entities, which involves solving the world’s problems.
Ms. Alexander, Ms. Thompson and Ms. Solomon embraces their spirituality, more specifically, their Christian beliefs, and unapologetically incorporate their values, beliefs, and behaviors into how the operate their business. They are living epistles of how faith in God drives sound business practices.
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