Owning a business is a rewarding, challenging and life-altering experience. In today's economy, the difficulties are plentiful, but so are the success stories, as many brave entrepreneurs battle against the odds to make their dreams a robust and blooming reality. These issues become especially intriguing when these trailblazers launch faith-based ventures.
As you may know, The Marketplace by The Blaze features and promotes unique small businesses that are run by owners who face some of these profound issues -- and joys. Scott Osborne of SentForHim.com and Mark Smith of Gifts Catholic, two of the faith-based businesses in the Marketplace, connected with TheBlaze this week to share their experiences building up their businesses. They also issued advice for Christian entrepreneurs who may be looking to follow in their footsteps.
THE SENTFORHIM.COM STORY
Osborne's idea for SentForHim.com, an affordable and unique greeting card company, came five years ago after he and his wife noticed that the messages in greeting cards have turned, in many instances, negative. While walking in a card aisle at a local store, he recalled having to very-literally shield his children's eyes from offensive messages.
"I remember thinking -- 'What happened to the old days when all the cards were family friendly?," he said. "We thought, 'Someone should do something about that.'"
Little did Osborne know that he and his family would be that "somebody," as he described feeling God direct him to inevitably get involved in the industry. The business, which originally launched in 2008, has evolved to provide some extremely unique services. A description on the SentForHim.com web site offers up the family's personal story -- and their profound efforts -- in detail:
Scott and Sheila Osborne founded Sent for Him (formerly known as Kainos Cards) in 2008, to help busy people send quality, Christian greeting cards in a fast and cost-effective way, thereby saving them time and money. The Osbornes had believed that many people were sending greeting cards less frequently due to busy lifestyles, and that the quality of cards was declining, with too many cards containing inappropriate images and/or humor. To address these problems, Scott and Sheila created an online greeting card website that makes it easy for customers to quickly find a card and personalize it with their comments and a signature (using a personal computer or Smartphone). The Osbornes then print and mail the card within one business day, or on the date selected by the customer. In addition, all cards are reasonably priced, at less than $3.00. This process allows any person from anywhere in the world, and at anytime of the day, to conveniently and quickly mail a customized greeting card.
With no prior experience in creating greeting cards or desktop publishing, and having limited creative and artistic skills (Scott and Sheila have banking, accounting and investment backgrounds), the idea of creating greeting cards that could compete against larger greeting card companies, such as Hallmark, American Greetings and DaySpring, seemed daunting. However, the Osbornes believed that with much help from above, hard work and perseverance, they could accomplish the task set out before them, despite the significant amount of time and effort it would require.
Slowly but surely the business has ramped up, with Osborne working a full-time job, while also devoting 20 additional hours per week to SentForHim.com. Naturally, like any small business, there have been ups and downs. The family's faith has been put to the test -- but in the end, God has always provided, Osborne contends.
"Because we believe that the Lord wanted us to do this, it's been a trial of faith. We've gone through periods where we receive fewer orders than we expected," he explained. "We've been at this four and a half years. I would think some people in our shoes would have dropped out, but we have progressed in faith."
Osborne has no shortage of advice for others who may be seeking to launch a Christian or faith-based business. Among his most important ideas for prospective entrepreneurs, he says that prayer is key.
"Before I create a card, I pray about it and I pray to know what I should write. What's the purpose of this card?," he continued. "Any faith-based business [owners] -- they would have to pray to get guidance."
He also recommended that business owners keep a journal. Doing so creates a diary of experiences that detail the overall business growth, including the trials, tribulations and blessings. As a result, reading about the journey he has gone on has been a telling and beneficial process for Osborne.
"What I've seen is a pattern," he told TheBlaze. "Where's there's stress, it's followed by a blessing."
THE MAKING OF GIFTS CATHOLIC
It's remarkable how similar some faith-based businesses' formation stories are. This is especially true when examining Gifts Catholic and SentForHim.com. Smith, who laid the groundwork for his business in 2003, had the business up and fully running by the following year.
Gifts Catholic, which provides Catholic products, is a full-time job for Smith and his family. The entrepreneur told TheBlaze that he has a background in chemical engineering, a fascinating fact considering the divergent, full-time work he's now engaged in. His personal story, as presented on the company's web site, provides a framework for how the business was founded and cultivated:
Years ago, I (Mark Smith) had a successful career as a Plant Manager for a large manufacturing company. But deep down, I was an entrepreneur at heart and was looking for the ideal opportunity to start a company of my own. After praying for discernment, my prayers were answered during a religious pilgrimage in Europe some 10 years ago. I found some beautiful, high quality lines of religious gifts and rosary parts at reasonable prices made by small family-owned companies that I had never seen in the USA. Friends were made, factories were visited, business relationships were formed, the groundwork was laid, and the leap of faith was made from a secure position in a large company… to a true passion.
Smith further explained his journey, in detail, when TheBlaze spoke with him earlier this week.
"Deep down inside, I realized more and more that I really was an entrepreneur at heart and I just started looking more and more for a good opportunity for a business to launch," he explained. "I really feel that God had a role in presenting [the opportunity to launch Gifts Catholic] to me, while I was so disposed on a pilgrimage."
Among the challenges he has faced, Smith noted the fact that, being an Internet business, there is increasing competition from larger producers. Businesses notice the high-quality products Gifts Catholic provides and then they proceed to copy them. In a year or two's time, these products are then being produced by competitors overseas and, thus, sold for less.
"We recognize there's not much we can practically do to prevent that," he said. "At the same time, we take pride in quality original products."
While he heralded the ministry that his business is doing, Smith also said that his advice to other faith-based business owners would be to solidly run their enterprise. Some individuals become more consumed with the ministry end of the spectrum, which can't truly be implemented unless a company's business practices and growth potential are in fact.
"It really does need to be run as a business to be successful," he explained. "Once you do that you can establish a solid financial platform than you can work on expanding the ministry based on that."
Smith also urged those seeking to launch a business to find an underserved niche. Locating a mini or micro-market, he said, while also finding a way to provide better products and services than are currently being offered elsewhere, is a recipe for success. Passion, of course, is also part of the arrangement, as Smith believes that one must believe wholeheartedly in what he or she is selling.