One of the questions that has been circling my mind recently is, ‘if I knew how hard running a business would be, would I do it all again?’
I am approached all the time by people asking me for advice and tips on how to start a business and walk into what God is asking them to do. I could talk relentlessly on this topic, but I thought I would share a few things in a series of blogs. Today, I want to talk about 10 things I wish I knew before I started on this journey and the reality of what ‘saying yes to Jesus,’ really looks like. I also want to share how with each challenge, God revealed a different attribute/side of His character to me.
Everything I am about to share with you has come from real-life experiences and is an honest depiction of my journey with Manna Cards.
1. Running a business is heart breaking.
Bet you didn’t expect that to be the first thing on this list…
I remember speaking to my former business partner Noel at the beginning of my journey in 2015. He sat down with me as we were considering what lay ahead and he asked me a simple but honest question, ‘Dani, are you sure you are ready for this? Running a business is heart breaking.’ And you know what? He was 100% right. Nothing could have prepared me for what was to come and for the deep and relentless valleys along the way.
There have been countless times I’ve screamed and cried over Manna and watched helplessly as things fell apart and didn’t add up to my expectations no matter how hard I tried to make it work.
What did I learn? Jehovah Shammah – The Lord is there.
2. Don’t measure success by the amount of money in your bank account.
This was something I had to remind myself almost daily. When talking to my friend Richard who owns a Christian Bookshop called ‘The Book Well’, he said ‘I wrestle with not letting money become a demon. I often go to sleep and wake up worrying about whether I can make the bills and if I can make ends meet.’
When you run a business, one of the biggest struggles you will face is finances. I don’t think I’ve prayed for a miracle so much in my life as what I have done consistently over my business bank account declaring that God would indeed provide manna in the wilderness of my finances. Sometimes the answers came in the form of random envelopes through the letterbox with donations, other times my prayers went unanswered.
How you define success will ultimately cultivate the condition of your heart. Ask yourself, are you in this for the money or are you in it because you want people to know Jesus in a new way? To this day, I have not taken a penny from Manna since 2016 because the finances just weren’t there. Although I didn’t have the money to support myself, I did have the money to support the vision of Manna and watched completely awestruck by the impact they had in people’s lives. Blessings don’t come in fat cheques and balanced bank statements, they come through seeing the hand of God provide His grace to peoples lives through the gifts in your hands.
Ps. The most valuable thing you should invest in is someone who knows how to do accounts. I thank God for the two people He brought into my life to help me, absolute God send!
What did I learn? Jehovah Jireh – The Lord will provide.
3. Don’t be afraid of failure
I’m going to be honest, most days I feel like I am failing at life. In a conversation recently, my friend Paula shared an actual ‘thing’ called imposter syndrome. No matter how successful you are, or how far you have come on your journey, you feel like a fraud. Which is why it’s important that you ‘fake it till you make it.’ The reality is that we all feel underqualified to do what God is asking us to do, but that’s the point! If we knew we could do it then He wouldn’t be glorified through our inadequacies. I have doubted and questioned myself every single day since I started Manna Cards…
‘What if it doesn’t work out? I don’t know what I am doing! What will people think if Manna goes bankrupt? Am I letting God down? Why am I doing this? Is it even worth it? Why don’t I just get a real job? Have I heard God right? Am I making a mistake?’
A wise man once said when asked about how his business was going and replied,
‘It’s going exactly the way it’s supposed to go.’
Let that sit with you a minute.
Don’t run away from the fear of failing. Recognising your inabilities is what makes you human and keeps you grounded in need of a saviour. Denying the reality of failure doesn’t make the potential scenario go away, but it does humble you and make you realise that you need to be dependent on the rock of ages who does not change even though the situation around you may shift like moving sand. What I have discovered is that growing with God through running a business is a never ending classroom. The more I learn, the more I realise how little I know. The moment you think you have ‘arrived,’ is the moment you have failed and missed the point. Even Jesus was led by the Father. We need to be led, we need to be teachable and we have to be humble to learn.
What did I learn? Jehovah Rohi – The Lord is my shepherd.
4. Disappointment is inevitable.
I went through three years in a row of constant disappointments and discouragement. I was stuck in this never ending cycle that just wouldn’t break. I found myself sitting at the table of a multi-millionaire who was offering me a business deal which would see Manna in a chain of shops all across the UK but I needed to provide them with stands and a wholesaler to supply and distribute the cards. The issue was, I didn’t have the money to buy hundreds of stands and every wholesaler I approached and started working with let me down. I was so close to seeing God’s Word flooded across the nation outside of Christian retail shops and into corner shops where people bought bread and milk, then watched it all fall apart.
I have lost count of the number of meetings I’ve been to that I was absolutely certain God was in the centre of, then watched them come to nothing. People who were inspired and in awe of what God was doing through Manna and pledged to donate thousands of pounds and help me one way or another but never followed through. I even sat with a global wholesaler and discussed trade prices to supply cards to their stores globally with the promise that they would be in touch, then sat by my phone for weeks waiting for a call that never came.
Nothing hurts like disappointment.
What did I learn? Emmanuel – God is with me.
5. Stay true to your vision. Take advice, but don’t take it to heart.
One of the most valuable things I learnt along the way was to let my convictions speak louder than my fears and the opinions of the people around me. People mean well, they really do, but sometimes their opinions pour fuel on your fears rather than a bucket of water. Surround yourself with people that believe in you, but believe in you enough to tell you the truth when you are wrong. Over the years God has blessed me with people who have been my ‘teachers’ and advisors. Never stop learning from the people God has brought into your life, absorb everything you can and grow through osmosis. You don’t know everything.
Equally though, be careful who you let speak into your life. Many people tried to advise me to shape Manna into something God never asked it to be. Although the suggestions were absolutely with the right motives of the heart and were not in anyway meant to hurt me, they sowed seeds of doubt into my mind on whether I was doing the right thing.
‘Why don’t you make cards that say happy birthday? Why don’t you make the cards a standard rectangle so they fit better in standard card stands? Why don’t you use photos instead of illustrations? Maybe if you changed the font and the colours of the cards they would sell? Why don’t you put a scripture in the inside? Why don’t you put the scripture reference on the outside?’
You name it, it has been said. At the beginning of my journey I briefly met a business man at a prayer meeting who randomly came up to me, knowing nothing and said,
‘Excuse me, I believe God has given me a word for you. Don’t let your business be a mile wide and an inch deep, a niche market is an inch wide and a mile deep. Never settle for the shallow when you can dig deep.’
Don’t try to turn your business into something that it was never created to be, stick to your convictions and don’t let your fears or the concerns of others distract you from that vision. God births original ideas, don’t be forced into manufacturing a copy when you can create a new thing with Jesus.
What did I learn? Elohim – God as Creator, Preserver, Transcendent, Mighty and Strong
6. Not everyone who says they are Christian walk in the ways of Jesus.
Ahhh, this was a painful lesson to learn. You are only responsible for your own behaviour, not other peoples. Not everyone who raises their hands and prays loudly in meetings actively walk out the principles of the Bible in their business and daily lives.
When I started Manna, bright eyed and bushy tailed, I thought everyone would carry the weight and conviction of the Holy Spirit in how they operated in business, unfortunately that wasn’t always the case. The details are irrelevant now as I have forgiven people time and time again, but I have been burnt many, many times. I have watched as people’s businesses have blossomed while Manna withered because of underhanded deals and unrepented sin.
Integrity starts with you.
What you do and how you treat people when no one is watching is so important. I once heard a saying that, ‘we are the only Bibles some people will ever read,’ and it is so true. Having honour in business is sometimes not reciprocated, in fact sometimes you will experience the complete opposite. What is the most difficult part about this lesson is trying to keep a clean heart before God and a short account of wrong doings. Your attitude, thoughts and response to people can be an obstacle and an idol before God and is every bit as much a sin as their behaviour towards you.
Everybody needs grace, including you. Remember the forgiveness to which you have been called to, you stand not in your own righteousness, but God’s. My pastor once said to me, ‘Danielle, bitterness is the fruit that grows from unforgiveness.’ Check your heart for bitter roots and pull them out until they stop growing or the weeds will choke you.
What did I learn? Jehovah Mekoddishkem – The Lord Who Sanctifies You and makes you holy.
7. Have boundaries both with yourself and with others.
Running a business is hard work. It’s long hours and little reward. Most days I would wake up at 7am, get dressed and hit the road in the Manna van to a long list of gift shops in different areas of Northern Ireland and would cold call and try to sell my cards. I would then come home to a long list of invoices, accounts, web maintenance, social media scheduling and replying to a full inbox of emails while mapping out the next days sales run. Burning the candle at both ends is a given in business and a quick and slippery slope to burn out and health problems.
I learnt that the hard way.
Learn to have boundaries with yourself. Get a different phone and switch it off at 5.30pm and separate your work from your personal life. Close your computer down at dinner time and invest in doing things that fill you up and bring you peace. If you don’t rest your mind and body, you won’t be able to give your all to what you have been called to in your business.
Invest in the relationships in your life. If you don’t balance your work and home life, you will inevitably miss out on moments with your loved ones and isolate yourself in ‘doing’ rather than ‘being.’ You are born to and called to community, don’t forget that. No man is an island no matter how much you wrap it up in Godly wrapping paper, don’t let your work become your idol, it will eat you alive.
What did I learn? Jehovah Shalom – The Lord your peace.
8. Expect plot twists.
We are all used to watching rom-coms where everything seems perfect then BOOM! Plot twist and we are all sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to see what will happen and the predictable happy ending… Well… It’s one thing watching it and another to live through it. The worst thing is, there is no script, breaks in scenes or guidance as to how it will all turn out in the end.
There were times that I literally had ‘spiritual whiplash’ from all the plot twists and unexpected forks in the road which rapidly shifted the direction of my path, but ultimately, they make better stories. Be open to change, don’t be freaked out, be a palm tree! Move with the storms and winds, if you try to stand against them, you will break and fall over. Learn to be flexible and hold things lightly or you will snap when things go wrong.
What did I learn? El Shaddai – God Almighty, All sufficient one, The one who holds all things together.
9. Mission isn’t just in Africa.
View your business as a mission. Overseas mission is SO important, but so is mission on the Highstreet. Everywhere in life where you follow the call of God in the workplace, at the school gates waiting for your kids or talking to the cashier in the supermarket is a mission field. Don’t discount God’s ability to use you at any time of the day in whatever way he wants too. Don’t pigeon hole yourself. Break the walls of your limited expectations and be open to divine opportunities and appointments with a stranger or a friend.
God is always moving, we just need to open our eyes to see Him.
What did I learn? El Roi – The God who sees, The God who opens our eyes.
10. Freely you have received, freely give – Kingdom vs Empire.
One of the things I constantly challenged myself on was ‘am I building God’s Kingdom, or am I building my own empire?’ So often there is a tension between the two horizons when we strive for success in our business, it can quickly become about ‘what we achieve’ rather than glorifying God and making His name known. As I have grown in my faith through the journey of both Manna and preaching across many churches across the UK and Ireland, the message has to be a resounding Kingdom centric focus inviting everyone to feast around the family table of Heaven.
Part of keeping my heart right in this way has been investing in other businesses, both overly Christian businesses and business owners operating in a secular environment who are operating with their Christian values and principles. Investing doesn’t always look like ‘financial seeds’, but sometimes looks like steps towards getting closer to what God has beckoned them to through the lessons I have learnt along the way.
Keeping your hand opened to give to people who are hungry to grow in their calling is so important. To build a community of people who love Jesus and want to serve Him through their giftings in business is part of what Jesus asked us to do in the great commission. Like Nehemiah, we see the hole in the wall that needs to be fixed to host the glory of God within the structure of our obedience. Whatever it is, however it shapes itself to be, do it heartily and work at it with all your might unto the Lord. For when we do that, we reveal the covenant and the promise that Heavens gates are open to all who receive the promise of God to reconcile a broken and hurting world to their Father.
What did I learn? El Berith – The God of the Covenant
Is it worth it?
I asked my friend Richard from The Book Well, if he knew that he would face all the hardships and struggles before he ventured into doing business with God, would he still do it? His answer was astounding.
“Absolutely. Wholeheartedly Yes.
“It’s heart breaking yet amazing. It’s frustrating yet a joy. It’s depressing yet I wouldn’t change a single thing. That is relationship. If it was perfect it would be boring. It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and how you make that journey and the people you meet along the way. If you feel that God is calling you to it, why wouldn’t you do it? It’s about obedience, sacrifice and response.
If you don’t do it, you will regret it. It is worth every tear, every sleepless night, every frustration and every heartbreak.”
I couldn’t put it any more eloquently. Doing business with God has been the greatest adventure of my life and I wouldn’t change a single thing. If you are reading this and exploring the idea of following God into business, take time to consider the conviction of your heart.
If you walked away from the possibility of doing it, would you regret it? If the answer is yes, step forward.
You won’t regret it.
Subscribe to hear our practical guide to setting up a business next week. If you would like to support myself or Richard, check out our websites: www.mannacards.co.uk and www.thebookwell.co.uk and support local Christian businesses.