We asked seven BAM mentors to share the reasons for BAMer attrition that they most commonly see. By attrition we mean negative factors that erode a BAMers ability to stay in their job and thus cause them to leave their location or their company – these could be gradual or cataclysmic.
Here are the top four factors the BAM mentors shared and some observations about each one:
1. Commercial failure
As expected, the most commonly cited factor was commercial failure. This covered a very broad area, but there were two strong themes within this category: money and market.
“Money” included both inadequate capitalisation and lack of financial control leading to cashflow problems. “Market” included lack of adequate business planning to determine whether there is a market for the product or service, and lack of ability to pivot to changes in the market.
Sometimes it’s a failure to do suitable and effective research and planning. Is there a need for the product or service? Simple as that. – DS
I’ve got a couple of businesses that are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, and I think it’s problematic. And, in these instances, because they aren’t the type of owners who are the typical risk takers, they don’t make decisions to change their business model easily. – NH
It has been my experience that many BAMers do not pay enough attention to finances. It is imperative to know if you are making money or not. If you are not, sooner or later, you will fail in business and end up back home wondering what happened. Some “BAMers” solve this problem by soliciting funds from home to cover business losses. I know of one situation where the business soaked up $500,000 to cover losses over 10 years. This, then, is not business, it is a charity. This is fine as long as you don’t try and pass it off as a business. – GS
Money is a big one. Many entrepreneurs don’t think wisely about whatever precious financial resources they have, and allocate available finances to the wrong priorities. Many people get to a very precarious position (less than one month operational expenses) before they begin to plan for how to extend operations with rapidly disappearing finances. Bloated operations, product development delays, unclear priorities, dwindling market opportunity, refusal to pivot business as the market changes, natural disasters -these are real examples of how poor decisions and lack of planning can kill a business. – CI
If I hear one more potential BAMer claim they are going to open a coffee shop I think I will faint (or worse). What is really needed in the local context? Do some market research. Do some homework, talk to people that have been there for a while. Do a simple cashflow before you start to see if you can survive there. Plan on things going poorly for at least six months to a year. You will need cash, which you will pay back, to get a business started. This is no different than anywhere else in the world. – GS
2. Wrong mindset
Having the wrong mindset is perhaps not something that readily springs to mind as a reason for BAM failure, however, it was mentioned in some form by five of the seven mentors, and came in high on the list.
Mindset can be a problem, seeing “the business” as “a (personal) project” rather than a high-priority living organism that is about more than me and other priorities I might have which lead me to a view that my leaving is not really all that big a deal. – PS
They aren’t really business people so aren’t committed to business sustainability. They don’t “eat breakfast” from the proceeds of the business so it’s easier to walk away. It may not have been their personal money that began the business so they don’t have “skin in the game” in the same sense. – NH
Mindset is what I see as the primary cause of business failure. In my experience, many founders have begun with the wrong mindset. When I ask the question as to “why business or this specific business?” entrepreneurs have often responded with something akin to “God has ‘called’ me to ‘X’, I must respond to his call.” While I am not going to question the “call” of God on the heart of a man, I am going to question the discerning process many use to confirm that call. And once confirmed, how one pursues the equipping process to fulfil the call in an excellent manner. A soldier never goes into battle without the proper equipment and preparation, why would an entrepreneur? A misguided mindset, no matter the intention, has led entrepreneurs to make very poor decisions without the proper undergirding to endure the pain, failures and long periods of desert-wandering that often accompany building a good business. – CI
The most common reason I see is the BAMer suddenly deciding ‘business is not for me’. – DS
It’s the wrong choice… when someone is not called to BAM but is lured by the glitz of the ‘latest’ missiological fad and they stretch their gifting too far. BAM is great if you’re called to it, terrible if you’re not! – RA
3. Build up of personal stress
This category included cultural, personal and family stresses that affect health and the ability for the BAM practitioner to stay in the country or company.
The most common cause of attrition is family and personal stresses resulting from lack of community or accountability and excessive independence – common among entrepreneurs. – RA
All the normal reasons why missionaries go home: family, culture, health, etc. These are usually cataclysmic or at least at a fairly rapid speed. I see this more often than the other factors below. Being in these places is hard on families, or the kids need to go to college, or the parents need care. When you add a business to the stress of living in another culture sometimes it is just a relief to have a family issue that can legitimize your quitting. – NH
Then there is burnout caused by stress, from business leadership, being in a different culture, etc., which might impact health, marriage, and so on. – PS
We will be looking at the issues of spiritual, physical and relational health in this series on BAM Endurance.
4. Team troubles
This factor includes relational problems within the team or with local partners – or simply the inability to build an effective business team to grow the business.
The most common reason for attrition that I see is relational friction between a BAMer and one or other key team members. Either there is conflict that causes a falling out or different goals or visions emerge for the company. There is lack of ability to build a cohesive team. – PS
Entrepreneurs can be so razor-focused on the business of starting and running business, they don’t consider the implications when it comes to the topic of management. This includes management of self, management of resources and management of others. This is as important as the business product or service. Central to the theme of management is people, and this can be an entrepreneur’s Achilles heel because inability to create clear and cohesive structure and hold people accountable to that structure can be misconstrued as compassion. As the company grows, it will eventually hit a wall, because it has been engineered around the entrepreneur’s limited management skill set. Most entrepreneurs are too deeply entrenched to notice the warning signs, until it is too late. – CI
Then there is poor selection of local partners that can kill the business. In many situations the first thing a local potential business partner thinks of when they see a Westerner walk into town is, “here comes a walking ATM.” I have seen this happen so many times. Usually, the BAMer is not aware of this situation and receives ringing endorsements about the quality of the potential partner (because the endorser will benefit from the relationship too). The local person will promise the sun moon and stars in order to become the BAMer’s local partner. After that has been arranged the BAMer will be very surprised to find out that there is no separation between business finances and personal finances… and it all deteriorates from there. – GS
Three More Factors
Three further factors were mentioned at least two of the mentors:
Lack of moral support – a lack of support and encouragement from mission agency, spouse or supporters etc.
Lack of mentoring – insufficient engagement with a mentor or coach, through choice or lack of availability.
Threatening environment – threats to security and ability to live in a location such as natural disasters, terrorism, uprisings etc. and no contingency plan in place.
We’ll leave you with some final observations from our mentors on this topic that are too good not to share:
Expats vs Locals
I now have two different constituencies for business consulting: the missionary expat BAMers and local bi-vocational pastors. And they are very different as the local people are more serious and don’t have the option of leaving. – NH
In sharing these factors I am assuming the BAMer is “expat”. National BAMers in situ may well have very different issues. – PS
Seeing the signs?
The same misguided mindset causes many to chart and pursue a doomed course without recognizing the danger signs, and pulling to the side of the road to ask for help. They don’t recognize the Lord has provided those who’ve gone before to speak from experience, to give coaching and advice on decision making to help them cautiously navigate the path. When they do seek advice, they refuse to change direction because they can’t see the collision waiting to happen around the next corner. They are not teachable. – CI
Few people who leave the field ever explain (and often don’t know themselves) the real reasons. They have socially acceptable explanations that they share with churches, friends and sending agencies. – RA
Looking at these factors from a causal perspective can perhaps usefully be turned around into identifying the solution set, either in a pro-active, pre-emptive way (e.g. team selection, motivation, mentoring, etc.) or a reactive, responsive manner (i.e. given the emerging issue how are we going to deal with it). Both approaches to crafting a solution set are equally valid and both are necessary. – PS
Join us in August and September as we explore some of these solutions in The BAM Review series on BAM Endurance: Principles and Habits for Long-term Success.
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.