“Will you take $10 plus a book review instead of $20 for your book?”
That question came after my “Quit messing with your blessing” talk I gave at a local church Business As Mission (BAM) meeting. I told the story concerning my encounter with a Christian non-profit officer who I had hoped I could connect my Christian startup workshop content with their growing list of “starving” members and create a win/win for both of us.
The story was of a director who had asked if they could borrow my books and look at them. Hmm. I had been around enough to know that (a) most may never buy, (b) some never give them back. Most grab the information they needed for free and then give the book back with a quick, yet stilted smile and a typical, “No thanks.” Why pay for it when they were “just shopping”? No different than a shopper asking a brick and mortar store owner about their experience and information about a product they sell. After the business owners educate them, the customer says, “Thanks, but I can get it cheaper online.”
I hesitated when the director asked to look at my content. I proposed instead, “Well, I can either take $20 for each book or I need a book review if I’m going to give you a free copy of my book.” A “laborer is worthy of his wages” (1 Tim 5:18) is what it says in everyone’s Bible. To ask for or take something for free is coveting (Exod 20:17) and stealing (Exod 20:15). To do so shows contempt for anyone’s labor, knowledge, and experience. You’re not to love your neighbor for yourself (what can I get for free?), but love your neighbor as yourself (how can we mutually benefit each other?).
With a frown they crossed their arms and said, “Well, I guess I won’t be doing that today!” We left and returned to our respective Christian marketplace corners. They returned to their “ministry status” attitude expectations as a 501(c)(3) non-profit. I left disappointed… yet again. Back to working on elevating the non-profit “ministry” mindsets and attitudes to the higher calling of transacting business from the Bible’s perspective in God’s economy.
After my BAM talk ended, I was engaged with encouraging another Christian about starting a business. I was caught off guard by someone leaning over my shoulder from behind and handing me a $10 bill. They wondered if they could do a book review instead of giving me my full $20. Still focusing on talking with the person I was with, I put the bill in my shirt pocket without a word and continued “pouring into” this person who needed my business help. A minute later, a friend of theirs did the same thing. The rest of the meeting, I got the full asking prices for my books.
What had this Christian business person done? They had “negotiated” the price of my book to fit their wants. Each book costs me $3.85 + $0.75 S&H, or about $4.60 my cost. So $20.00 - $4.60 - $10 = $5.40 in profits. I’m now out $20 in profits from the sale of two books. To authors, that’s the price of a couple of meals or more, or more coffee to motivate oneself to write more. Considering the thousands of hours of time and the amount of money devoted to producing a book which the reader gets for mere pennies from the author’s investment, this customer’s behavior to discount the book such as large amount is a shame. When I got home, I was upset that I was interrupted to negotiate a book price when I reflected on what had transpired. I unpacked what had happened to my wife…she was angry, I learned a lesson…don’t negotiate like this again.
Later that same week, this same “negotiator” connected and wanted to meet with me and share what they were doing in their business. If they transacted business like that over $10, would I want to do business with them in the future? How would Jesus do business?
A few weeks later, I told this story to a wealthy businessman friend who had attended my talk. A look of disgust came over his face as he pulled out $20 and gave it to me (I can now buy a cup of coffee supporting my local independent coffee shop working on my laptop). A similar thing happened to a pastor who gave a talk at a Men’s Bible study I attend. He discussed his mother received a check for $25,000 for a $125,000 life insurance policy after his father’s death. She called them back to complain and they apologized, “Send the check back and we’ll reissue a new one with the correct amount.” Most grieving widows might have cashed the check without any further questions. But the pastor mentioned two critical issues: His father casually mentioned the new life insurance policy just before he passed (i.e. keep good financial records) and the insurance company’s unethical business behavior (slighting a grieving widow with their “mistake”).
To cheapen the price means you cheapen the value
Being a good steward of what God has given you is great, but don’t be a stingy steward.
Prov 20:14 (AMPC) It is worthless, it is worthless! says the buyer; but when he goes his way, then he boasts [about his bargain].
Bad business happens if left unchecked. Checking both our business and customer ethics means knowing God’s accounting eye is upon all of us. We’re forbidden to increase our property at our neighbor’s expense, whether we’re a buyer or seller. Whether by fraud, force, or fiefdom (position or title), we’re not to cheapen the product or service of another well below its fair market price. We’re to love our neighbor as ourselves. When I share my various book price negotiation stories with others, I get mixed reactions. Some don’t think twice about it. Others are upset. Still others explain their views supporting the person’s negotiated “$10 discount” approach.
Here’s the “shoe is on the other foot.” What if I had done the same thing to their product? If I had told them, “How about I pay you $100,000 for your $200,000 enterprise software/commercial building/house?” The percentages are the same, but the profits are completely different.
That $10 or $100,000 in profits means something different to each person. For the $10, it’s meals for a family; for the $100,000, it’s a lifetime of savings and earnings and their profits will probably be used for retirement or their children’s inheritance. Another Christian I know regularly visits garage sales to find “depressed” sales of items. They boasted once of purchasing a valuable piece of art for $36 when the value was about 10 times as much. They said, “My $36 offer was a good negotiation technique” when that’s all that they had in their wallet. The seller took them up on their low-ball offer. Yet the $36 price was stealing from the true, fair market price of the art, the buyer took advantage of the seller.
What is the importance about price and value in a business relationship? Do you think I would want to do business in the future with someone that “negotiated” like these stories above going forward? Was the promise of a “book review” worth the $10 discount even though everyone else has paid full price and gave me good reviews? Did they promise they would do a book review in order to get a cheaper price, never intending to do what they promised? If they negotiate like that on a $20 book, I’m sure I can expect the same negotiation tactic on a $200,000 or $2,000,000 price.
Charles Spurgeon, a nineteenth century preacher in England, said in a sermon in 1876:
I think you may judge of a man’s character by the persons whose affection he seeks. If you find a man seeking only the affection of those who are great, depend upon it he is ambitious and self-seeking; but when you observe that a man seeks the affection of those who can do nothing for him, but for whom he must do everything, you know that he is not seeking himself, but that pure benevolence sways his heart.
When you transact business, do your business habits reflect the good name and reputation of Jesus Christ? The more I study business in the Bible, the more I have to change toward His business perspective.
Pro 22:1 A good name is to be more desired than great wealth, Favor is better than silver and gold.
How do you treat others versus transact business?
Another Christian business meeting at another local church and a very prominent local Christian business person gave his testimony. He hit the nail on the head. “Christians! Stop asking for something for free and discounted prices from your fellow Christian’s business.” After 20 years in business, he had heard it all. I even watched a religious person, who I once respected, tell all of their Facebook friends to hurry and get the “below cost” advertised price at a local business before the business recognizes their costly marketing error. What if they had made the error in their business. Would they have wanted others to encourage a shark feeding frenzy of customers on their business?
How you transact business is just as important as how you treat someone. George Westinghouse got his “Holland Puritanism” and unique view of capitalism, his character, and business ethics from his mother and the Westminster Larger Catechism (Question 141: What are the duties required in the eighth commandment?). It taught,
Thou shall not steal. The duties required in the 8th Commandment include the following: maintaining truth and faithfulness and justice in contracts and commerce, between man and man; rendering to every one his due; restitution of goods unlawfully detained…to preserve and respect the property and rights of others just as we care for our own.
Westinghouse, like Henry Ford, believed in manufacturing assets over capital assets, the latter a view by Andrew Carnegie who thought Westinghouse’s view was too close to socialism. In reality, Westinghouse emphasized “manufacturing assets naturally extended to the employee” and took a paternal view of his employees. The view of a father figure buying tools and training them how to use them while Carnegie was about control. “Westinghouse, a staunch Republican, had no sympathy, yet alone empathy for the socialists”…“only a passion for the team that made him a success.” It’s about people and value, not price.
When very rich Abraham was buying Sarah’s burial plot, he paid full price (Gen 23:9, 13), even after being coaxed into getting it for free (Gen 23:15). Why? Because Abraham was doing business on behalf of God. He had both his and God’s reputation and name at stake. While Exodus 20:7 says, “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain” and, think language here, it’s really about one’s lifestyle, including how one transacts business. Pay full market price. Or, maybe even sow into someone’s life instead. For example, consider these YouTube videos: Heartwarming: Man Gives Hard Working Waiter A $300 Tip! and A Church Tipped a Pizza Delivery Guy Over $700. Talk about blessing others rather than negotiating a “blessing” for yourself.
Think about who you represent when you’re dealing with others in the marketplace, whether as a customer or as a business owner. We represent the King of kings and Lord of lords.