Born to Fly Podcast

1 of 97 episodes indexed
Back to Search - All Episodes

009-let's talk about money and sustainable business, with Ellen Graf-Martin

by Jane Trapman - Born to
December 4th 2020

$ support this podcast $

Ellen Graf-Martin served as a missionary for 5 years and ... More

Mhm Hello everybody and welcome to another episode of the Born to Fly podcast today we are going to talk about money and how we can build a profitable business and I'm going to do that with Alan graf martin who has seen two sides, most christian self starters are thinking of when they want to start something new which is mission and business. So welcome Ellen, thank you for having me. This is exciting. I know it is right, I'm looking forward to our conversation. Yeah talking about money, people are afraid to do that so I'm glad we're doing it. Exactly. So but before we start the money talk, can you just please tell us who you are and what you do? Sure. Yeah, I'm Ellen graph martin. I am actually a west coast Canadian girl that landed up in Mennonite country in Ontario via a very strange nontraditional career path. Um I was actually a missionary after university and then ended up getting a job after that after five years in missions, got a job in Ontario and and at the bottom of the recession started a marketing and communications agency here in Ontario.

Um I am the mother of one and the wife of one and we have our office in a tiny town in southwestern Ontario with horse and buggies clapping by which is really fun, cool and and that's what I love like you've seen the missionary side and you you are seeing the business side. So I think that's something that a lot of people who want to start something or thinking about so we're basically hitting the nail on the head when I say, you know, a lot of people or christians, I would say christian entrepreneurs struggle with either starting a ministry or a business or perhaps combining the two. And they mostly, they would see like either or we either go into ministry and we live off of gifts or we build a business and then once we do that, we integrate ministry in our personal lives. And I mean obviously there's also a group that combines business and ministry, but mostly they are convinced if it is that combination, it can be anything else in a non profit.

So I'm very curious what your opinion is, How do you see ministry versus business and if it can be combined should be non profit. So you know, what do you think? Yeah, well, and you know, I really saw that difference. So it was years ago, just a really short story, I signed up for this entrepreneur christian business owners luncheon and I went and number one, I was the only female business owner there, And number two was one of the only people at the time I am now over this, but under 40 and then when the speaker got up to speak, he started talking about the need to incorporate your faith with your work. And I remember sitting there and thinking if I'm a believer intrinsically my faith and my work are linked, like there's I can't separate that part of my life. It is who I am. And so how, like, why? Honestly, I was thinking, why are we even having this conversation?

Because we are here at a christian business owners event and our faith should not just inform our business, but it's who we are. And if we were in our business, it should be who it is. So, I think it's really hard. I think we're fake when we try to separate the things because we, you know, sometimes I would say, even I'm too business for church and to church for business. But what if what you're saying, what if you could actually be yourself and own your business and say, you know, the this common good and the common grace of God really compels me to use the gifts in my hand and connect with the people in my circle to do what God has called me to do, and it's okay, earn money and create employment opportunities for others and bring money into our communities. That's part of our mission is to actually be I'm fruitful wherever we are. And so we can be fruitful in our family, in our own communities and that actually can be an output of our faith.

So that's a really long answer. But I'm pretty passionate about this? Yeah, No. And I actually totally agree with you. I think, you know, we can't separate it to I'm not a different jane, you know, when I'm working, I'm just still one, I have the same values, otherwise, you know, let's not talk about integrity, but that's not, you know, integrity. Yeah. You say, you know, both should be combined or there's no other way because this is who we are as as believers. Mm I think it's artificial to think that we should have one business life and one faith life like we, I think we use all our gifts and all our, the scales. You know, God is the one who has given me the opportunities to grow skillfully. And so, and I probably saw this really uniquely because when in my missions time, um, for four years of that, I actually worked at a publishing company for lack of a better word. And I got to see this and how it really plays out.

And so when we would publish and missions titles and sell some remainder products, So kind of Overstock from different christian publishers and we would sell that in north America number one, to inspire people to get involved in World mission and number two to raise funds so that we could then equip the church in developing countries with the resources that they needed. And so it was very natural then to see this business as mission um, mentality and to like it was, I actually can't imagine a different way because it's just always how I've worked, if that makes sense? Yeah, maybe it's also because the word mission could be interpreted in different ways. Maybe one would say mission is going out there and spreading the gospel or maybe people think, well mission is helping other people, but I think any business is about helping other people, isn't it? It is. Well, uh well, well, I think the reality is we need people and so if we are engaging with other people, regardless of what kind of business we have, it's, you know, if we are on mission personally, that makes our business on mission.

So yeah, yeah, because I wanted to ask you about, you know, an example of incorporating ministry into your business, but I don't even know, you know, if there is an example there. Yeah, I don't know if we've had to incorporate it, it's just who we are. And so I think part of The incorporation of it really comes down to the why of what we do and so when you're clear on the why and and I know and that's hard because I mean the reality is when I started my business and I don't know, we'll talk about this. The reason why I did, it was too full. # one was um I lost my job, it was the bottom of the recession and so and this is what I knew how to do and someone asked me to start an agency the second why though was equally as important. I remember there was no one else doing what I was doing for work And in Canada and my husband said to me, if you don't do this, who will? And so I knew that God had a very specific Call and equipping of me so that I could actually use my gifts in Canada to support the church to be well disciple than to thrive and so to do more good in the world.

And so that why really is still the same y um that I have today, 12 years later. Um but that it innately incorporates it from the first day of the business. Yeah. So let's let's talk about Your business because I find it an amazing story. I mean, it was 2008, the crisis hit, you lost your job and the next thing you do, you start a business, because that's the most logical thing you can do in the midst of a crisis. Yeah, it doesn't make any sense. No, I mean, a needless to say, we are in a crisis again. Um so I think many would argue that it isn't the best time to start a business right now. But yeah, you probably think otherwise. And and I just wonder like, why you started the business, besides what you already told about the intrinsic way. Yeah. And you know, when I look back on it now, it is honestly, it's like not optimal. I don't know if I would recommend anyone do what we did because but at the same time, I say, you know what God can do what he is when he's calling you to do something, he will give you the equipment you need.

And so I would say you know when I look back on it, my husband was like not only did I lose my job at the time because it was the bottom of the reception or recession, we were only married for six months, we had big plans of what we were going to do. My grandmother who was like my best friend in the world had just passed away um and my husband was on work share, so back then it was like you could actually like he was partly on employment insurance and so he was not working on Fridays, we were reduced in income and I was going to start a business, but so I would say it's it's not a great time to start a business in some ways because the stress level is high, so the personal cost is high, but I also think the opportunities at the bottom of a recession or in a really deep crisis time are significant. And so even for funding, there are amazing funding and incentive opportunities at the bottom of a recession and everyone's scrappy and it's okay to do things in a little bit of a scrappy way, like an entrepreneurial way um when you're at the bottom of a recession and if you can start your business during really tough times and make it go you will be able to thrive in better times and we've seen that play out so there are a lot of lessons I've learned from that.

Yeah, no I can't imagine and you said a couple of times that you are called, you were called by God to start a business cages, tell us a little bit like how what what is that like what is it like to be called or how did you feel called to do it? Yeah, I think a lot of different ways, I think part of it was my husband even saying if you don't do this, who will? And so he identified that there was something very unique that God was doing through the work that I was getting to do in my previous employer um I think the other was when you, when you see the the bottom fallout to be able to ask like what next, what now and I and I know you know I always have said God if you open the door for me I will walk through it until you close it and I will trust you to be faithful to close the door that I shouldn't go through. And so when I got an email, so it was September 15, 2008 I got a phone call saying the company has gone bankrupt and you no longer have a job and you know of course immediately start looking at okay what job can I get.

So I was looking and searching, I was interviewing, I was pulling out my old, I actually studied criminology and universities, so I'm looking at careers in that and at the same time though saying what is in my hands like skill wise and who is in my circle, I'm reaching out to the people around me to just say hi and to make sure that you know they were okay and I had two people say would you continue doing the work that you were doing? And one of them said very critically, he said would you start an agency? And I think that's a fairly significant God opening a door of opportunity and not only I was so grateful and so I want to encourage anyone who's listening, who has an opportunity to give someone else an opportunity. Um you know, he said, what do you need? I will pay for a phone and I will pay for it because I was like, I need a phone and a printer and he said I will pay for a phone and I will pay for a printer, let's go. Yeah, so that door opened and it would have been a really great freelance job for me, but the reality is that the door kept opening and so it turned into a real business and so that was a different door opening, I can imagine, okay, so yeah, you were just being very aware of your circumstances, reaching out to people and um yeah, you know, connecting with God, being in prayer and basically then noticing the door that was being open for you?

Yeah, and I think God is really kind and he was very faithful and so when we asked him to show us the doors that are open to us, it's amazing because he actually is a good father and we'll say here's the door, but we have to be aware of it and looking right, Yeah, exactly, and looking, I think that's a very good one, being active, proactive in looking as well. Yeah, So you started your business or your agency in October 2008, You did so well that you have to incorporate and hire your first employee in February 2009, which is within you know five months, so I'm going to ask you the obvious question, how did you do that? I think it was, again, it's that same, like I keep going back to the same thing like what is in your hands, who's in your circle and um it was making the right building on the relationships that I already had and seeing how I could help, so when you are the person who can help someone else with the skills that are in your hand, um it makes you, it makes you valuable and, and so I remember my dad was an entrepreneur as well and he always said you know, how did you make money for them today?

And he didn't ask me, how did I make money for me, but always how did I make money for them? And he always said to me when you have a job, if you make money for your company, you will never be without a job and so like for your employer and so I took the same view in working for clients and saying how am I going to make money for them today? And and really the bigger question is how do I bring value to them? And I think when you bring value, it's amazing the opportunities that present themselves because you are able to bring value to those, you're not just looking for a transaction, you actually want to bring value and so that's what we've done and so yeah, within, so it was by december I realized I had too much work and we had to do so I started october december, I was like I have too much work um and but it was scary, I'm not gonna lie, it was really scary, but we're like okay, we need to incorporate And so we incorporated and officially our first employee came on board March one of 2009, although he kind of started a little bit in advance because he was excited as well.

So yeah, wow, okay, so basically you shifted from the focus from you to your client or your customer and put them in the center and make money for them. That's basically, you know, when we talk about businesses for other people, this is basically what we're talking about, I guess. Yeah, it's true, that seemed to work out well, it did work out. Yes. Well you said, you know, leveraging, leveraging the relationships that you have, that's really key I guess, in in building a sustainable business. But is there any more that you can share on, like any advice on building a sustainable business? Yeah. And I think so that sustainable business is like, now this is almost the money conversation because the reality is you don't have a sustainable business if you can't pay your bills. So I think there are a number of keys to that, but I think, I think one of the keys is saying, okay, what is the minimum viable product, I need to make this work?

And so I knew what our expenses were and I actually had the goal that I would always get a paycheck. So um that was, that was kind of the minimum viable project product. It wasn't a huge paycheck, but it was a paycheck and it was enough. So that was the first piece of what do I need to do to be able to do that. The second was how do I keep our expenses low? And it's interesting, you know, for me, I started the business out of the second bedroom of our apartment and it was so funny because you know, we were planning on buying a house that fall and all these other things and those dreams, it was, I had to say goodbye to those dreams. Um I didn't get to buy the house right away, but it was saying okay if we can keep our expenses low, I can keep a paycheck and we can invest in the business and keep building the business. So um but I do think to be sustainable, you need to get paid and so how do you get a paycheck and and not only to be sustainable for you, but if you are married to be fair to your spouse um as well is that you you need to get paid for the work you're doing.

And so that's sustainable. And keeping those expenses low, it is really exciting to think about having fancy stuff. And um like I talked to one guy who actually, his agency went bankrupt in the bottom of the recession and then he said we did kind of all the wrong things. We went and bought all the flashiest computers, We bought all the flashiest software, we bought all the flashiest um furniture and space because we wanted to impress people. So I think you know, what do you need as kind of your minimum viable product for bringing value to your clients well that makes it sustainable, so it doesn't have to be fancy, it can be the second bedroom of an apartment. Amazingly a year later we were able to build or move into a home that we love in a community that we love where office landed up. But you know we went a lot of years being pretty scrappy and bootstrapping and it's a wonderful time to do that in the bottom of a crisis working from home works.

Yeah, so I think that's really important. And then the other piece is to leverage the financial opportunities that are available and know your numbers. So one of the reasons that we could hire um or I could hire the first employee that we had was because I've went and researched what financing was available, um not loans, but government grants for hiring an employee. And so um there are great organizations and there's a lot of money out there right now to help pay for an employee. And so it's a real in the government actually can invest in your business. Um or local programs can invest in your business through leveraging those. But you have to be as entrepreneurial about finding that money as you are about building your business because that is business building. And then I think I think this is the fourth, I've lost count is knowing your numbers.

One of the best things that my husband and I did when we first got married was to learn the Dave Ramsey money management system and I mean Dave Ramsey, his delivery is pretty harsh but the tools that he has a really good and so using those, my husband and I were able to eliminate debt personally. And so they gave us a really solid financial understanding of how to build a business and we have built the business with no debt but knowing your numbers when we switched bookkeepers years ago our our new accountant said I've never had a business owner who knew their numbers as well as you do. Like I could tell you where every dollar in the business was really going in those first four or five years because I knew that being sustainable meant that I would be really wise with my money. And so because it ultimately wasn't my money, I wasn't I didn't get into this for the money.

Uh but it wasn't my money. I just thought that I get to steward this business and so yeah does that, is that helpful? Yeah. Yeah. Especially that last part was exactly what I was thinking about. You know like this is money that you get, you have to Stewart it and therefore you have to be careful with what you do with it and you have this responsibility to know where it is going instead of just spending it right? Yeah. No I wrote them down so that you you said for things so always um you know pay yourself that's one keep expenses low so don't buy all the fancy stuff only by the things that you really need leverage your financial opportunities and know your numbers. Those are really, really helpful. And I think the other piece as you get into it is to realize when the wolf is no longer at the door. And I had a coach who really had to coach me because I realized I was in this mindset and I mean my mission years, my five years in missions really equipped me well for for this.

But but at the same time I had this mindset maybe because we started in the bottom of the recession, but that the wolf was always at the door like we could always go broke if we didn't get the next contract. And so I think that my fifth would be to see God's provision as well. If this is your faith journey, look for God's provision because he has and then you can relax a little bit because yeah, those first four steps are a lot of hustle. But the 5th 1 is also being willing to say it's not all about me and that, you know, God has provided faithfully for me over the last 12 years in this business, we've never gonna season without work. We've never had to lay someone off for work shortages. We've never, you know, when I look back, it's amazing. It's amazing. I've had a paycheck for a steady paycheck for 12 years and there is a time to say, Okay, the wolf is no longer at the door. I don't have to hustle that hard and I can actually relax a little bit and just really see how God is provided.

I'm still learning that though because I still end that boot strapping entrepreneur. So it's hard. Yeah, no, and I understand, I mean you feel responsible for your business and at the same time, you know God is in control and it will go his way anyway. So yeah, but it's that fine lining of balance story. I don't know how it's attention, it's like two points where being pulled, right? Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Yeah. So I always ask people on the show about a failure that they experienced and I know we had a pre call and you said, well there are so many, so I wonder which one you've chosen and you want to share about, you know, um, as an entrepreneur, you fail daily. This is like part of the, you realize, um, what keeps you up at night. I think honestly probably the biggest failure was if I would to say especially in money wise would be in or our failure.

I don't know if it's the biggest is not believing, not trusting God for his provisions and wasting a lot of nights of not sleeping worrying about how I was going to pay people worrying about how we were going to pay the bills, What worrying where like I think I spent way too much time worrying about that. Um That was that is a failure. And I think the the other failure would be not now, these aren't fatal failures. But what they mean is that they could be fatal because they cost you peace of mind and also can really distract you from your wife and what you're doing. And in my case these these failures, such as they are make me a not nice person to work with as well. So when I am not trusting God and not resting in that and not seeing his provision, I am a horrible boss because I am micromanaging and I am controlling and you know all of those everything. So that's that is a fairly significant failure.

And when I'm not sleeping, you know like it's that when mama isn't happy, no one is happy and that's kind of the idea, you know when I'm not sleeping because I'm so worried about work, no one's sleeping. So that is a failure. You know of just taking personal stock and saying, okay, this isn't okay. The other, the other would be not valuing what we do enough. I mean that plays out over years. So when you can't value yourself properly at the beginning and keep moving forward on the valuation of the work that you do, you pay for it ultimately pay for it in a whole bunch of ways. Um But which I probably don't need to go into. But um I think those would be the two big areas. Yeah. Is there like the first time totally makes sense. Like if your personal mood is bad and it will definitely affect the others as well. And the other one of not valuing yourself or the things that you do for others, like is there, was there ever a moment that you underprice yourself or something?

And that was like a total disaster or Oh, forever. Yeah, that is my challenge. So I think that one of the challenges that I have is that we work for a lot of non profit organizations and they just don't have the budget. We also work with publishers and christian film companies. Um, film companies tend to pay decently, which is amazing and really helped subsidized or they really helped subsidize for a number of years. The ministry like mission support that we gave. However, especially in a year like this, there aren't any films releasing because the theater's aren't open. So, so you know, that's when you really are aware of it. But what I, what I would say was the wisest thing that someone said to me was that it needs to be fair. So rather than saying value your time, which feels really icky and awkward to be really honest. Like I don't know how do you value yourself? It's really hard, but when someone said to me, it needs to be fair fair to you, fair to the client fair to your employees.

And I mean that the three pronged fairness peace to me really made a lot of sense. So we, we try to be very accessible to non profit organizations which means our rates will never be what we would charge if we were, I was joked that if I was marketing vodka it would look very different. Um you know our hourly rate but we want, we're, I'm called to do what we do and so our rates reflect that. But they have to be fair and they have to be fair to me um as the business owner and they have to be fair to my employees that my employees can be compensated fairly. Again, they're never going to be the best paid marketers in Canada because of the clients that we serve in the mission that we are on. Um and that I mean ultimately we are Stewart in donor dollars for our clients. And so we just really have to keep that in mind. But it still has to be fair. And so even things like committing to when we have a student, we won't repay the living wage of our area, not just minimum wage.

And I really see God honoring that because he is kind and he is good. Yeah and thinking about that. It should be fair that you also should know for yourself what is fair. So that's where it all starts and then you know this is fair, this is what we stand for and not fall for the negotiation I guess. Yeah. And I think, I mean that goes back to those four things knowing your numbers and your minimum, if you know your numbers really well, you know what is fair for you and what is fair for me 20 or 12 years ago is not the same thing as today because it looks very different. My My understanding and knowledge and systems and tools and things that I bring to the table for clients are light years ahead of what I brought to the table 12 years ago. And so yeah, the value has grown now. Has it grown what it could have potentially if I was in another industry? No, but at the same time it's grown, it's fair like I'm being paid fairly for what I do and my staff should be as well. Well adam, thank you for for sharing that knowledge.

And I just want to ask you, where can we find more about you and your work and I know you you also have your personal mission of getting christian films to Canada. I mean people want to probably know more about that too. So where can we find that the best place to find to start is graph martin dot com, G R A F M A R T I N dot com and from there there's a big black hole of all sorts of things that you can discover. But I also am at Ellen graph martin dot com online. And so yeah, that's the best way to connect. Yeah. And it has their own podcast as well. So yeah, the change makers podcast, if you want to know what other leaders are thinking and how they're especially in this season of Covid, how they're shifting and changing. Its a great podcast. I have loved this season. So perfect. Yeah, so listen to that too. This was great. I am excited. I mean this is it's actually women entrepreneurs month. So this is a great time to be having this conversation.

It's october yeah, yeah, I love what you're doing, I love what you're doing. Thank you. Thank you so much. Thank you for listening to the Born to Fly podcast. If you liked it, please leave a review on google podcast or apple podcast and don't forget to share it with your friends. If you'd like to know more about Born to Fly, go to Born to Fly dot faith there. You can discover our how to find your calling cores and the community for like minded entrepreneurs. Looking forward to having you back next time. Yeah.

009-let's talk about money and sustainable business, with Ellen Graf-Martin
009-let's talk about money and sustainable business, with Ellen Graf-Martin
replay_10 forward_10