Catholic Entrepreneurship is on the rise! Are you sitting on a burning business idea? Now is the time to act.
To begin with, the last seven years in the US have seen high and stable rates of entrepreneurship overall. The majority of Americans say that their city is a good place to start a business, according to Babson College’s 2017 report on entrepreneurship in the U.S. This is the highest number since Babson College started conducting the survey in 1999.
With the rise of the side hustle, Catholic entrepreneurship is becoming a more accessible dream across the country. From small rosary shops to national ministries, Catholics are looking for ways to use their creativity — and their business chops — to spread God’s word, while making a living.
If you have an idea you’ve been sitting on, here are some tips for developing that idea into a business and launching your new product or service into the world – or at least into the Church.
“I believe this is Heaven’s idea – from the promptings in my heart, like a restless spiritual nagging,” says Julia Miller, founder of FreshRosary. She was an established wedding florist, which she describes as a “hobby-gone-mad that came into my life as a young stay-at-home-mom,” when a friend of hers asked her to be the florist for her mother’s funeral. Among the floral creations she provided for the funeral was an eight-feet rosary made of roses. The rest, as they say, was history.
Of course, your idea might sound great. It might be something you’re passionate about and even something your friends and family find interesting. But if it’s not saleable (or, in the case of a nonprofit, fundraise-able), it won’t last. In a recent interview with HubSpot, entrepreneurship expert Jules Pieri said that “the critical first step” in starting a business is “to assess the potential market size of an opportunity.”
Internet research is a great way to start doing this research, from Google Trends (are people searching for rosaries?) to Amazon’s bestseller list (are people buying them?). You can also visit trade shows, talk to your regional Small Business Administration office and look for market data in your industry, Pieri says.
Experimentation is also a good way to know if your idea has merit. Samantha Povlock, founder of FemCatholic, says that when she created the online platform, she didn’t know at first whether it was a good idea, “except that I knew the mission was authentic to ME. As it grew, I read a lot of business advice that recommended ‘talking to your customer,’ and as I continued talking to women about the platform, I realized, this is genuinely making a difference in people’s lives. That was evidence to me that I wasn’t the only person who needed something like this to exist; other people did too.” She says when she opened the first call for contributing writers and received 50 applications, “That was the first time I thought, wow, there really is interest in not only being part of the audience but in helping move this work forward.”
How do you know if starting a business is something God is calling you to do? Prayer, listening, talking to trusted family members and friends. Discernment is an important part of every aspect of our lives, including Catholic entrepreneurship. For instance, Cecilia Escobedo, founder of Hair Bows 4 Life, says that she asked the Holy Spirit to help her name her business.
“Discernment of spirits is so incredibly easy to overlook but it is absolutely nonnegotiable,” says Povlock, “because you are going to get all sorts of advice – both Catholic and secular – and ultimately, you have to decide what’s right for you and your organization.”
Unless you have a pile of cash set aside, starting your new ministry or business as a side hustle is a good option. This approach to Catholic entrepreneurship gives you the security to experiment while still being able to make next month’s rent. If you do decide to start a side hustle, time management and self-discipline will be key. When your projects don’t have external deadlines, set your own (and stick to them). Have a detailed calendar, whether on paper or online, that helps you keep up with tasks and deadlines. (Color-coding is always great, especially when you’re separating your day job from your weekend gig.)
Side hustling can be disruptive to your personal life. Carve out time to be with loved ones just like you carve out time to work. It may be that you can sometimes combine the two. If your side hustle is in marketing, ask your boyfriend to join you at your favorite coffee shop and read a book while you write copy. Are you a craftsman? Skype with your parents while you’re working on your next project. Multitask when you have to; be fully present when you can.
If you’ve been working for any length of time, you’ve probably heard the advice that networking is important to professional success. When you’re starting a new business or nonprofit, it’s especially critical to connect with people who have similar interests, as potential customers, partners, word-of-mouth marketers or simply friends who can offer sound advice.
The key to good networking is authenticity. When it comes to Catholic entrepreneurship, potential founders are frequently warned not to use people, and networking can often feel negative like that. But when it’s approached with authenticity and generosity, networking is simply building relationships. Don’t approach other people with the goal of finding out how they can help you; approach them with the goal of learning about them. You may find business opportunities there, or you may just make a friend. You may have a brief conversation and never talk to them again. Regardless of the outcome, you’re getting your product or service “out there,” and you’re treating people with dignity and respect. It’s a win-win.
Here are some ways Catholic founders can connect with each other and with potential customers or volunteers:
Escobedo recommends finding or gathering a group of like-minded founders in your niche and supporting each other with ideas and advice. “I found two groups in the last three years,” she says, and “I wish I had such groups from day one!”
“It is so important for us to constantly nourish our own soul while we try to nourish and inspire the souls of others,” says Amy Brooks, the founder and president of Catholics Online. “If our ultimate goal is to become one with Christ in heaven, we should start here and now. Connecting and supporting one another unites us, and hopefully gets us closer to be one with Our Lord.”
You probably go to Mass every Sunday. Do you talk to the people sitting in your pew? Have you found a ministry to volunteer with? Community is vital to Catholic entrepreneurship, just as it is to Christian life in general. If you have a Catholic business, your customers are also your spiritual brothers and sisters. Get to know them. Attend those fish fries during Lent, or get involved in a ministry that you’re passionate about. Connecting with other people will help you grow as a Christian while growing your business.
Catholic Entrepreneurship can be lonely, especially once you move from side hustle to full-time gig. Don’t neglect your relationships; they will keep you sane and motivated. Povlock says she’s met some of her best friends through FemCatholic. Use your business to meet friends, but don’t lose track of the old ones, too.
The Rule of St. Benedict states, “Whenever you begin any good work, you should first of all make it a most pressing appeal to Christ our Lord to bring it to perfection.” Catholic entrepreneurship should start by dedicating your business to the Holy Spirit, and whether or not it’s a financial success (we hope it will be!), God will use it to touch lives.
About the Author
Taryn Oesch DeLong is an editor and writer in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she lives with her husband and works in digital media. Passionate about supporting women in work, in life, and in health, she is the managing editor of Catholic Women in Business, assistant editor and contributing writer at FemCatholic, a contributor to Live Today Well Co., and an almost-certified fertility awareness educator. When she’s not helping writers craft stories and writing her own nonfiction and fiction, you’ll find Taryn reading Jane Austen and drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea, playing the flute or the piano, or volunteering. You can follow Taryn on Instagram and Twitter @tarynmdelong, on Facebook, or on her blog.