One of the foundations of business as mission is that the company must be profitable and sustainable – otherwise how can it be a business long-term? We know that making sales, maintaining cash-flow and reaching profitability are a non-negotiables for BAM company health. Commercial success is critical.
But what else besides commercial success is vital to the endurance of a BAM company – or indeed to the BAM practitioners who run it?
Endurance vs Attrition
Missionary attrition is a term adopted by ‘member care’ experts to describe missionaries quitting the field earlier than planned and the factors that contribute to that. There is much we can learn from the wider mission community about the causes and cures of stress and attrition, however, when you add a commercial operation into the mix, there is an added layer of complexity.
What are the stressors common to business as mission that wear down a company’s chances of long-term survival? What causes practitioners to give up and go home? What causes BAM attrition, and conversely, what helps BAMers endure?
Attrition: the action or process of gradually reducing the strength or effectiveness of someone or something through sustained attack or pressure.
Endure: to undergo strain without yielding, to last or continue to exist.
We are beyond the pioneering era in business as mission. We now have multiple companies in our community that have been going 10, 15, 20+ years. We are starting to learn lessons about being fruitful for the long-term and are also seeing more clearly the challenges to being so. So far there has been little or no solid research into the particular subject of BAM attrition and endurance and few dedicated resources developed on it.
A friend who mentors more than 20 BAM companies recently confided that he is increasingly coming across family and marriage problems in his mentoring work. As an entrepreneur and former business owner, this is squarely is outside his area of expertise! While he continues to help BAMers overcome barriers to grow their commercial operations, there is a danger that these efforts will be undermined by relational stressors. He has been helping to identify resources and counsellors to support these business owners, however many of these do not understand or take into account the difficulties of running a business alongside having holistic missional goals. How can a couple do intensive work on their marriage while running a business? And yet, how can they afford not to?
What Causes Attrition?
Because there has been little research on the question of BAM attrition and endurance, we took a straw poll among seven BAM mentors to help us plan this series. We asked them to share the top three or four reasons for BAMer attrition that they most commonly observe. These are all factors or circumstances that erode a BAMers ability to stay in their job and thus cause them to leave the field or their company, they could be gradual or cataclysmic:
1. Commercial failure – a really broad category that was cited by all those we asked and most often put down to poor business planning, change in market, lack of capital or lack of financial controls.
2. Wrong mindset – mentioned by five of the mentors, this includes not being serious enough about the business and being lured into doing business as mission, but not really being called to it.
3. Build up of personal stress – including culture and family stresses that affect health and ability to stay in the country or company.
4. Team troubles – relational issues with team and local partners or the inability to build an effective business team.
5. Lack of moral support – a lack of support and encouragement from mission agency, spouse or supporters etc.
6. Lack of mentoring – insufficient engagement with a mentor or coach, through choice or lack of availability.
7. Threatening environment – threats to security and ability to live in a location such as natural disasters, terrorism, uprisings etc..
As we begin this new series on BAM Endurance: Principles and Habits for Long-term Fruitfulness we will look deeper at some of these issues and share strategies and solutions.
We won’t cover every issue the mentors mentioned since topics such as launching and landing well, business planning and financing have already been covered in other series. We will focus mostly on personal and relational health: covering work-life balance as well as spiritual, physical, marital, family and team health. We will also touch on some often neglected business topics, such as succession planning and avoiding mission drift, that intersect with personal health and are critical for the long-term endurance of a BAM company.
It must be noted that while we are advocating for endurance we are not talking about continuing on at all costs rather continuing on in good shape. If I were to try and run a marathon now, I may not finish and if I pushed myself to finish I would undoubtedly exhaust myself and probably sustain injury. If I wanted to finish in good shape, I would need to prepare and train. I would need to draw on expertise, I’d need to exercise and have the right nutrition. I would be foolish to try and run a marathon without shoes that fit properly or without pausing en route to take on fluids.
BAM endurance does not mean flogging ourselves or our relationships for the cause, but acknowledging that the race will be tough and that we are better off knowing what the challenges may be. Then we will be in a stronger position to build in good habits, practices and strategies that will sustain our personal and business health and help us endure well.
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.