Here are 9 Keys for Successful BAM Deployment that have been themes shared over and over by experienced BAM practitioners and mentors. These are principles and practices observed over years of listening to BAM pioneers, writing BAM stories and collecting information about how to do BAM. Many of these Keys have been shared by BAMers and BAM leaders over the last few weeks as we have explored the topic ‘Launching Out and Landing Well’ – they come out in the stories, snippets, and teaching we’ve shared, as well as in the BAM Think Tank research we’ve been drawing on.
1. Walk with God
Abide in Christ. It’s essential to be connected to the Vine, a growing disciple of Jesus, if we are to bear fruit! That means spending time listening and talking to God in prayer and being attentive to His calling and direction for your life. It means growing in Godly character as you are rooted in His word, and opening up to spiritual input from others. Prayer is mentioned over and over by BAMers as a foundation stone for BAM in practice, at all stages: preparation, launch and continued growth. Having a sense of call and leading from God is another often cited core driver for BAMers. Spiritual formation through discipleship and teaching is a life-long pursuit – whether through books, sermons, devotional materials, courses, retreats or intentional relationships. Making yourself accountable to peers or elders that will challenge you to grow in Christ-like character is another way to keep soft and open to the refining work of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
2. Think Right
Again and again BAM practitioners and mentors articulate that thinking right leads to doing right. The way we think and what we value will shape our actions, behaviours and what we build. Whether your thinking about business has been moulded by secular ideas, or by unbiblical attitudes from your church heritage, it’s important to make an honest evaluation. Many of us need to dismantle the way that we think about business and intentionally develop a biblical worldview of work, business and the economic sphere (not to mention, mission, relationships and human flourishing!). The sacred-secular divide is prevalent in our churches and influences the thinking of many Christians in business, weakening our foundations. Business is a God-given institution intended for the common good of communities and nations. Business should be affirmed as an arena in which Christians can serve Christ. Business as mission takes these truths and intentionally directs the innate power of business towards the world most pressing issues: spiritual, social, environmental and economic poverty. Many BAMers start with a particular motivation when they launch into BAM, which can sometimes lead to a very narrow view of business as a means to a particular end. While there is nothing wrong with having a strong, focused motivation, we must also cultivate a biblical worldview alongside, and that includes embracing the fullness of God’s design for business.
3. Know Business
Too often in business as mission we have prayed and hoped for the best whilst neglecting fundamental business principles. Business startups have a high failure rate in general, BAM startups face a whole range of additional challenges. Take time to gain the business skills and experience that you will need to understand your industry, business model and business context. Crunch the numbers, do the financial planning, conduct market research, develop an HR plan, manage your risk and so on. Don’t neglect the expertise you will need to put the necessary systems in place as our business grows. If you don’t have the experience and expertise you need, find it – whether that is by getting industry experience, taking a course, finding an internship, joining a startup, expanding your business team, engaging a coach, building a board of advisors, hiring a specialist and so on. Even basic business know-how will dramatically improve the odds of a business getting past launch into long-term stability. Business as mission will always be a steep learning curve, but preparing well to do the business you want to do will hopefully keep you from crashing off the curve.
4. Understand BAM Practice
We are building on the shoulders of a generation of business as mission pioneers. There have been successes and failures that we can learn from. There is a growing body of resources dedicated to unearthing BAM principles and fruitful practices. Meeting BAM practitioners, reading BAM stories and visiting businesses will help you learn from those who have gone before and avoid making unnecessary mistakes. Take time to build up your understanding of fruitful BAM practice. Research BAM experiences in a particular industry, read case studies, learn about other BAM companies, network at a BAM conference. In whatever way possible, learn lessons from others who are willing to share them. Some places to start include: BAM Think Tank papers, stories, books containing case studies.
5. Go as a Learner
One consistent theme that comes through from practitioners on the ground is the importance of being a life-long learner. Teachability and flexibility have been identified as highly desirable traits in a BAMer. Be committed to understanding the new culture(s) if you are doing business cross-culturally. Invest in learning the language, master it if you can. Employ good Christian development principles in your business approach. Avoid a ‘saviour-complex’ by realising you have much to learn, and instead come with servant mentality. Don’t come with answers, but with questions, ready to listen and understand. Listen to the national church, to the local community, to respected leaders, and to those who have gone before you.
6. Do Your Homework
An important key for BAM success is adequate preparation and planning. That includes activities as diverse as taking a research trip to writing a business plan. Make sure you understand the context you are in and that you are pursuing a real business opportunity. Conduct market research, make sure your supply-side is in place, work the numbers and understand your sector as thoroughly as possible. Make use of local business networks or Chambers of Commerce if they exist. Make sure you understand essential facts such as government, tax and legal requirements for both setting up and running a business. A great resource to get you started are the World Bank Doing Business Reports. Pick the brains of whoever you can find who has been in the same business and/or done business in that location. And plan. Whether you choose a traditional business planning template or a lean startup approach, make sure you work through the process of discovering whether your business is viable – or not.
7. Team Up
Businesses are built on good teams. Business as mission is no different. One of the most important factors for business success is getting ‘the right people on the bus’. As Peter Shaukat points out in his article on entrepreneurs and business builders, ‘In virtually every successful BAM business we’ve seen there is visionary leader and a second individual that is playing a key role in helping keep the business on the rails’. What characteristics and roles does the business team need overall? What are your own strengths and weaknesses? From there either join or build a team that has complementary skills and strengths in roles that are as clearly defined as possible.
8. Find Mentors
One of the most often mentioned fruitful practices for BAM practitioners is to engage mentors, advisors or coaches. We have already mentioned mentorship above in the context of spiritual growth, business know-how, specialist input, understanding the local culture and learning from pioneer BAM practitioners. Mentors and advisors come in all shapes and sizes, for all kinds of circumstance. Mentors may come alongside you for years, or be coaches that are engaged for short-term, specialist advice. One source of mentorship that is being employed more and more by BAM companies is the establishment of an Advisory Board – a group that can give well-rounded input to the owners of the business.
9. Build an Ecosystem
Beyond engaging mentors and coaches, BAM businesses benefit from a wider support network. This network forms an ecosystem around the company that helps your business survive and thrive long-term. The ecosystem may include: access to funding, pastoral care, prayer support, auditing and evaluation, peer-peer support, outsourcing business functions, training, and so on. BAM companies are part of a web of relationships, with clients, suppliers, employers and stakeholders of all kinds. Part of that web is the ‘360° support network’ that the BAM practitioners have around them.
by Jo Plummer
Jo Plummer is the Co-Chair of the BAM Global Think Tank and co-editor the Lausanne Occasional Paper on Business as Mission. She has been developing resources for BAM since 2001 and currently serves as Editor of the Business as Mission website.