By Jim Mathis
My family has been filled with people who worked for themselves, owning their own businesses. I always knew I wanted to do the same. My general plan was to develop a skill or craft that would allow me to be creative, set my own schedule, and be financially successful enough that I did not have to spend a lot of time worrying about having money for the things I needed.
I started Mathis Photo in 1973 and within a couple of years my wife and I could buy a house, two new cars, enjoy travel and start saving for retirement. Those were my goals, and we were accomplishing them. It was just my wife and me working out of our home. We made the intentional decision to keep doing just what we were doing for as long as we could without expanding or taking on more work than we could handle ourselves. We later moved to a small retail space, but even then, working together proved ideal.
If we had hired employees, added more services or additional locations, I would have had to become a manager, giving up doing the actual work that I loved. Most business owners do not seem to share those goals, thinking that expanding their business is always the best option. Consequently, many experience the stress of trying to make payroll, the quality of work suffers, and often their businesses fail.
Unfortunately, it is often assumed that the measure of a successful business is total sales, how many employees you have, how many new locations are added, or how big the warehouse is for products. Doing work we enjoy, simply providing for ourselves and our families, seem to take a back seat.
The small family business, even one that has been successful for many years, is rarely valued. The so-called “Mom & Pop Shop” typically takes on a negative connotation, even though an individual, a couple, or a few relatives running a business together are almost always the most sustainable model for producing excellent products and services over a long period of time.
When my wife and I also managed a coffeehouse for a number of years, hiring staff was necessary to accomplish the work. We did determine, however, the best model for us to achieve the hopes we had for that coffeehouse was to keep it at one location only. After that remarkable experience, I again have been working by myself for the past 15 years and have loved what I do.
The Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes presents this observation: “Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given to him – for this is his lot” (Ecclesiastes 5:18). There is no shame in this.
This is not to disparage anyone who aspires to work with a growing business or seeks to move up the corporate ladder. However, anyone planning to start a business would be wise to carefully consider how they wish to approach business growth and know what the ultimate goals are for the company. Is the plan to make as much money as possible, provide jobs for as many people as possible, or sell the business to a big conglomerate? Or might one want to have a good life with as few stresses and worries as possible?
The words of Ephesians 6:7 serve as a good guideline for how we work, regardless of the size of our enterprise: “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men, because you know that the Lord will reward everyone for whatever good he does, whether he is slave [employee] or free.”
© 2023. Jim Mathis is a writer, photographer and small business owner in Overland Park, Kansas. His latest book is The Camel and the Needle, A Christian Looks at Wealth and Money. He formerly was a coffee shop manager and executive director of CBMC in Kansas City, Kansas and Kansas City, Missouri.
- Do you operate a small business, or have you ever aspired to do so? If so, what are your overall goals – or what do you think they would be?
- What do you think are the pros and cons of owning a small business as opposed to working in or having a leadership role in a large company?
- Why do you think so many people perceive business success primarily in terms of numbers: ever-increasing sales, growing number of employees, and expansion into new areas and greater marketshare? Do you think that failure to achieve these things represents failure? Why or why not?
- Ecclesiastes 5:18 speaks about “finding satisfaction in toilsome labor.” What is your view of someone who considers success simply to enjoy the work that he or she engages in? Where in your opinion does God fit into this equation?
NOTE: If you have a Bible and would like to read more, consider the following passages:
Proverbs 10:4-5, 12:11,24, 16:26, 22:29; 1 Corinthians 3:9; Colossians 3:17,23-24