Saturday, August 30, 2008

Depressing Prospects

Back in the day, Naomi and I used to be very active in a network marketing business. The Amway Corporation had re-invented itself in North America, morphing into a high-tech/high-touch business opportunity using web commerce as its primary sales conduit. The emerging business was renamed "Quixtar." Because I had quit Bible college, and was floundering in my ministry direction, I was very open to an exciting business opportunity. I was "prospected" by a very professional and friendly gentlemen, shown the business "plan," and got our first business materials to get started.

This new "network" of like-minded business "partners" did not leave us on our own though. Extensive training was available through weekly motivational and instructional tapes (pre-dating omnipresent car CD players or podcasts), monthly recommended books to read and quarterly conferences and conventions. In essence, one immersed themselves into the entrepreneur lifestyle. This saturation principle was designed to help you learn to eat, drink, sleep, walk and talk like a business owner. After all, business owners are self-motivated self-starters. In contrast to employees that just simply put in their time and collect a check that someone else has determined. This training was not provided by Quixtar (Quixtar is the "store" that provided both the business opportunity, and the goods and services that must be sold for honest commerce to take place). The training was provided by the network of business owners known as InterNet Associates ( or INA).

We dove into INA with reckless abandon, hoping to build a sucessful Quixtar business. I experienced a few problems though. A biggie was that I could never keep the conversation on business. My meetings and encounters with people always migrated toward a ministry opportunity. For several years we engaged all of the training offered by INA: weekly tapes, monthly books, major functions, etc. However, we had only slight success making money at it. It was not the fault of Quixtar. On the contrary, I've been "prospected" by many other opportunities since and found the goods and services they offer to be less impressive. Nor would I ever fault INA, for the training it provided parallels (and indeed uses) the best training sources on marketing, leadership and people skills to be found in western culture. No. The blame is our own for having not kept at it in the manner it was taught.

Many fine people were (and are) successfull building Quixtar businesses, and particularly because they followed the practices prescribed by INA. Much of the people skills and leadership instincts that I apply in ministry today are attributable to my time in the INA network. In addition, we maintain our Quixtar affiliation, enjoying access to their fine good and services at a discount. If it ever was our instinct to, once again, build a home-based business that offers quality good and services, plus offers an ethical and reputable business opportunity, we have it already.

The reasons that we do not want to build such a business now though are primarily the reasons why we didn't succeed before. Chief among them being that difficult line between relational ministry and relational marketing. I was before, and am much more so now, plagued with the concern over when business ended and ministry began. My own concience would be bothered with the issue of whether I'm having a pastoral moment with you now, or a business moment. Pastoring is one of those few jobs that one does not simply "turn off and on" depending on whether you're at the office. You take it with you everywhere. When I went to someone's house to show them the "plan," would they know that I still cared about them as a "pastor" even if they said "no thank you, not interested"? I could never build such a business while I'm a pastor. Even if I want to start back up building our Quixtar business, it will not be while I serve the Church in my present capacity; and since I hope to be serving as my church's pastor for years to come, I'll not be doing any network markeing for at least that long.

I say all that to say this. I was "prospected" today (again!). This time it was by a friend in a financial services business that uses peer-to-peer marketing strategies. In the middle of a job search season, the last thing you want to be told is that you pretty much qualify to be prospected by a friend out of the thin air. That's not the most encouraging thing in the world. "Looking at your resume sir, I see here that you have many good qualities and experiences that qualify you to start your own business that requires no qualification at all." That's does not feel good. I'd prefer someone just say they'll keep me in prayer. God knows our situation, and will undoubtedly provide for our needs. But if he gets around to it, I'd appreciate it if he would protect me from being prospected again until our income needs are met in a more solid fashion. Then I won't feel the humiliating sting of having been such easy prey.

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