If you’ve ever developed a business plan, you’re probably familiar with the overwhelming task of researching, writing, and late nights drinking copious amounts of coffee or whatever your favorite energy drink is just to stay sane amidst the neverending process. On the other hand, you may be one of those freewheeling, gungho entrepreneurs that just got an idea in the shower, and moments later you were ripping the carpet off the floor to build your new tap-dancing and karaoke studio. No plan. Just total grit and will-power to stand up your idea in spite of the overwhelming evidence that there is no market for a tap-dancing and karaoke studio… “at least, not yet,” you say.
Whether you’re the planner or the not-so-planned, I want to encourage you to begin your business with the use of a one-page, business model template. You may be familiar with a tool called the Business Model Canvas (BMC). This business modeling framework was first proposed in the PhD thesis of Alexander Osterwalder, and it is an excellent resource for mapping existing corporations and what makes them innovative. What we will describe here is a variation that is specifically designed for start-ups and small businesses engaged in missional work. If that’s you, keep reading…
Download blank template here.
The Business for Transformation (B4T) Canvas is a template for mapping Business as Missions (BAM) structures that are focused on reaching Unreached People Groups (UPGs). Its purpose is to walk you through the start-up process, plan for initial stages of growth, and define how your missions work will take place within the business you engage in. Let’s begin.
Step 1: We have an idea!
The first step in developing your transformational business is to determine a market need. Where is there an opportunity? We often start with a solution and then retrofit our ideas into a problem area that is backed up by a little bit of data. I want to challenge that approach as we begin the model here by first defining the problem that is being solved. Starting here will get us to an idea that has real, lasting promise in the marketplace – and let’s not forget, if you’re starting a B4T, a lasting business is probably key to a lasting ministry.
Problem. The problem with most businesses is that most of us do not start with the problem. Did that make sense? When you think of your brilliant tech innovation or that fancy new pastry for your bakery, it is absolutely essential that you ask yourself, “Does anyone need this?” or “Am I actually solving a problem with this innovation?” Just because I cannot find cookies in the shape of Disney characters at any of my local stores does not mean that this is somehow a problem that needs to be addressed.
When we think about defining the problem in a new business, it is absolutely critical that we are “needs-first” in approach. This means that whatever product or service we offer, we must determine that there is enough demand out there to support needing an entire business around it. So your friend wants a tumbler that holds 6 gallons of liquid. If you’re going to open a factory, you better do some market research and collect a lot of data that backs up the several million dollar budget that takes!
Define the need. Are eggs too expensive at your local supermarket? Are they too processed? Too small? Too brown, and the ratio of egg white to yoke is just all wrong! If you’ve come this far and you have data in hand to support your thesis, you’re probably ready to begin crafting a solution… I know. I know. You already have. We’re just backfilling data. Right? Well, things could be worse for our new business I suppose.
Solution. More likely than not, you probably started your planning with the solution, and that’s okay. Most entrepreneurs start with a personal aspiration like, “I want to make a lot of money” or “I want to be my own boss.” Since you are filling out the B4T Canvas, however, you probably started with something like, “How can I reach my community with the gospel?” or “How can I practially share my faith in a country that doesn’t give out missionary visas?” Often start-ups begin, not because a potential customer has a problem, but because the future business owner has a need and intends to solve it by starting a business. It’s okay to start with your need as the business owner. However, my challenge to you is that you research and test your business ideas to ensure that you are in fact solving a problem. Put simply, your problem (reason for starting a business) will not be solved unless you provide a solution to someone else’s problem.
On its face, providing a solution to a problem may seem obvious, but let’s take it a step further. Imagine some business people who may want to eat lunch fast and get back to work. So you open a fastfood restaurant. Great! But what if there are a dozen fastfood restaurants just like yours within a two minute walk? What makes you think that anyone will go to your restaurant instead of theirs? Are they even busy? Or are they more than capable of solving that problem for everyone in the area who has that need?
There are two elements at work here. One is saturation. If the market is overly saturated, it may be a good idea to steer clear of the fastfood restaurant idea. But that is the less important of the two. The other element is what we call a Unique Value Proposition (UVP). A value proposition is to say, “We offer fastfood.” But a unique value proposition is to say, “We offer the fastest service in town!” Or maybe, “The highest quality fastfood in the city.” Do you see the difference?
When you fill out your solution box, make sure that you begin jotting down possible UVPs that your business could have. You may not know at first where you will shine, but your best chance at success will only be possible if you offer a unique solution to the problem.
The goal is to develop a solution that goes hand-in-hand with your vision for transformation. This is your ministry approach. How are you going to bring transformation through your business? Use this section to begin strategizing how you will make an impact.
Typically there are three categories for transformational impact: employees as mission, customers as mission, or philanthropy as mission. Will the business minister primarily to employees? Will you hire believers and focus on impacting your community as you add value to their lives through your products or services? Or, less common in a B4T context, will you impact your community with donated profits? In every case, it is critical that gospel proclamation, discipleship, church planting, and the like are outputs of your transformational plan (Romans 10:14).
It can be easy to fall into the trap of simply saying things people want to hear and hoping that the Holy Spirit will nudge them in spite of our words. This might be a good time to point out that Francis of Assisi never said those infamous words, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” Remember, “love is not self-seeking” and, it “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:5-6). It is sometimes uncomfortable to show real love; it is occassionally offensive; it is certainly never proud or self-righteous.
Now, you might be asking, “Why do I need to do ministry through the business? Can’t I just work a few hours on my business each day and then do my ministry work the rest of the day?” Certainly every situation is unique, and I will not jump to the assertion that there is never a case where this may be necessary. However, it is extremely difficult, and many decades of Business as Missions studies have taught the BAM community that attempting to do this generally results in failure. Let us not be “job fakers.” Let us be “job makers” – to the glory of God! Starting and operating a business in your home country is hard enough. Doing ministry in your home country is hard enough. We do not have time to split our time between the two and they should not be separate. There is no sacred/secular divide in the kingdom of God.
Our friend Dick Brogden once said, “…business is not just pragmatic, but it’s powerful, because it’s continually propelling us into new conversations, relationships, and opportunities where we can proclaim Christ, find those who are interested, and then drill down into discipleship with them.”
That is B4T. That is transformational business. That is marrying our mission to the marketplace in a beautiful dance that doesn’t result in burn out, fake business, or daily runs to the bank to keep the neglected structure afloat. Your transformational plan should display the opportunity to share the gospel in a business context rather than forcing the issue into a model that is ultimately waging war against your soul.
Read Part 2 of the B4T Canvas Here