Below is the article I submitted to The Director.  It was published in their December 2006 issue: 

Thou Shalt Not Use This Firm
by Timothy B. Totten

The phone rings at the funeral home.  It’s an older member of your family church, asking you when Mildred Johnson’s funeral will be held. 

You speak before thinking, “I didn’t know Mildred had died.”  The caller assures you that Mildred is, in fact, dead and that her funeral is supposedly scheduled for tomorrow.  You frantically call the church, only to find that your competitor is handling the arrangements.  Worse, they were recommended by your family minister. You have several options in this scenario.  You could get mad.  You could call the minister and accuse him of trying to destroy you.  You could imagine scenarios where your competitor bribes the right reverend or his wife. Or, you could ask yourself serious questions to find the real cause.

What does your minister think about your prices?  Maybe your competitor offers lower prices or special pricing packages. 

Does your minister know what your charge?  You may want to spend some time with him to explain what average services cost at your funeral home and share the ways you can help families bring down costs.  If you don’t charge more than your competition, you should point that out.  Perception often trumps reality, and if your competition pushes their prices, your minister may think they are less expensive simply because they are willing to advertise their charges.

Does your minister appreciate your contributions to the church?  If you’re not contributing very much, he probably knows it.  The simple truth is that people are more willing to “reward” those who help.  If your competitor gives more to your church, expect your minister to notice.  If you expect your family church to entrust you with the majority of member funerals, you have to be more active as a member and contributor.  There are usually things that your church needs, but no one knows how to ask you to provide them.  If you don’t inquire, you’ll never know. 

Also, ask yourself if you’ve promised something to the minister that you haven’t delivered.  Who wants to recommend a person who doesn’t follow through? Does your minister try to be impartial?  You might have a hard time with this one, but you’ve got to find a nice way to encourage him to use you as a resource.  Can you afford to offer him a discount coupon that he can give to a needy family?  Would you be willing to waive certain fees if the client is a member of the church?  Your minister might also think that you’re well off and don’t need his help.  He might even recommend a competitor because he feels sorry for the other funeral director.  If he thinks you don’t need him, you may need to ask for his help.  It’s also possible that he doesn’t realize the influence he has on the members of his church and doesn’t understand why you’d want his endorsement.

Does your minister think that his staff can do a better job than yours can?  The sad reality is that many people believe that they are more qualified than a funeral director.  Of course, the parts they see are the simplest; arranging flowers, greeting guests, handing out memorial folders (the more difficult parts of your job are behind the scenes and therefore, are not visibly valuable to the public.)  You may attend a church that wants to handle all parts of their services and your minister might regularly recommend direct cremation with a memorial service coordinated by the church because he misguidedly believes he is saving the family money without forcing them to sacrifice important services.  This is often the most difficult type of minister interference to break and may require reeducation of the minister or a change in churches if your business is to remain built on the funerals generated from your home church. Maybe your minister just doesn’t like you?  This is the hardest question, because it has nothing to do with your business offering, and everything to do with you personally.  If you’ve annoyed your minister or gotten off on the wrong foot, you may never be able to repair the damage.  You can, however, rehab your business reputation by harder work within the church.  Can you afford to offer the minister’s wife a part-time job at the funeral home?  This would allow you to impress her with your work ethic and caring attitude while converting one half of the parsonage to a loyalty position.  Just remember, don’t make the minister’s wife clean toilets or work with the finances.  If she goes home complaining about grunt work or how you handle your money choices, you may have done more harm than good. In the end, any business relationship with your family minister should develop out of a personal friendship.  This man or woman is your spiritual leader.  You’ll build a better working relationship through the trust and compassion that comes out of this close spiritual journey.