When I first moved to Minnesota, I joked  that there was a church on every corner. That’s a bit of an exaggeration, of course, but it seems that most major thoroughfares are dotted with them.

For several years, there was a church that I passed almost every day. Like most churches, it had a message board out in front; unlike most churches, this message board actually contained messages. Even more unusual, the messages were changed a couple of times every week so there was always a new one to check out.

Some of the messages were attention-getters like the one that said, “Satan loves a dusty Bible.”

Others were funny. My favorite one said, “Trouble sleeping? Try a sermon.”

Mostly they were lovely philosophical reminders to be kind and to make a contribution to making the world a better place.

One day I called the church and said, “In case no one has told you this, I want you to know how much your message board is appreciated by those of us driving by.”

The secretary said they’d gotten many positive comments on it, then added that the senior pastor went out at 5:30 in the morning to change the board. “Please thank him for me,” I said.

Several months later, I passed by the church again and saw a gathering in the yard. A fancy new message board had just been installed.

It had a burgundy and charcoal frame and was lighted from within. It was pretty spiffy, but I noticed that the message simply listed the times of their services.

What’s the point of posting the times of their services, I wondered. Those hours never change and surely their members already know when services are held.

If the point of posting them was for the convenience of non-members who might want to join them, I’m not sure there’s any obvious reason to pick this church over any other.

That’s the way it’s stayed. I hardly even noticed it after that.

I’ve tried to imagine what happened here. Maybe the senior pastor retired and nobody else wanted to do it. Maybe not enough people let them know that they liked the effort.

Or perhaps, and I hope I’m wrong here, the church forgot that it’s really in the inspiration business. Most likely, somebody decided it was too much bother to keep the messages up and in making that decision lost an enormous opportunity to contribute some random good.

This church isn’t the only example of losing sight of an opportunity to inspire. I once read an article entitled, “That Angry Flier Just Might Be Your Flight Attendant.”

The article pointed out that all the difficulties experienced by the airline industry are taking a toll on their employees. The sentence that really grabbed me  said, “Even before all the industry’s woes, attendants complained that their pay was too low for ‘friendly’ service.”

I was so astonished by that I must have read it over three times.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once told an interviewer, “It’s not our customer’s job to lie awake nights figuring out how we can serve them better. We have to take responsibility for improving.” Maybe he should talk to the airlines.

If you want to make this coming year the best one you’ve ever had, take the challenge now to find ways to use your business as a tool to inspire.

Whether you’re repairing small engines, teaching yoga or designing websites, you’ll find there’s no shortage of opportunities to encourage other people—if you are so inclined. Inspire them by your joy, inspire them by your commitment, inspire them by caring about their success.

As Alfred A. Montapert said, “There is something better than putting money into your pocket and that is putting beauty and love and service into your life.”

Those are options that inspire.


“Too much money, not too little, is a bigger problem for most small businesses,” says Paul Hawken. “In a business, money does not create anything at all, much less ideas and initiative. Money goes where those qualities already are. Money follows, it does not lead.”

Here are a few ways to pump up the initiative.

° Create attention-getting devices. Your business name, tagline, or vehicle call all get you noticed for the right reasons. If you need inspiration, study how the Geek Squad did it.

° Adopt a protégé. Since we learn best by teaching, what better way to sharpen your skills than by helping someone else? The satisfaction of encouraging and supporting someone else’s success is immeasurable. Ask any teacher who’s had a student go on to do great things.

° Become a media darling. Radio, tv and Internet programs are always on the hunt for interesting people to interview. So are local newspapers. Be one. Don’t just think of this as a way to promote yourself, however. Offer useful information to the audience. You never know who’s listening.

° Join forces with a bookstore. A friend and I once spent an evening at a local bookstore listening to two women who were feng shui consultants. Although they were not authors themselves, the store had publicized their talk. A nearby table display was piled with the store’s inventory of books on the subject.

Another variation of this came from a career coach who did a reading list of books for career changes printed on her letterhead. The list was placed on a display table at the bookstore along with the recommended titles.

° Add a personal touch. In this noisy, often indifferent world, looking for memorable ways to distinguish yourself can make a huge difference. Use your photo on brochures and your Website, have a trademark color, do something that nobody else is doing…like sending handwritten thank you notes.

° Show up on stage. Give talks to local groups, volunteer to be part of a panel discussion at a conference. You may not get paid for these gigs, but you’ll be creating connections.

° Participate in community events. A dogsitting business expanded their visibility and customer base by marching in a local parade wearing t-shirts emblazoned with their business name.

You might donate a prize to a local fundraiser, volunteer for a community project, talk to a local high school on career day. Opportunities exist whether you live in a small town or large urban area. Look for them.