A few weeks ago, we featured the first part of an interview with Michael and Lisa, who have led a manufacturing company overseas for several decades. This week, we pick up where we left off in our conversation, as Michael and Lisa share some advice for those just starting the journey of building a missional enterprise, as well as some challenges they faced on their journey. The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
M3 Weekly: What advice do you have for people aspiring or just beginning their journey in missional enterprise?
Michael and Lisa:
Passion. First, you need to do something that you are passionate about. For us, it was manufacturing, which fit our training and experience. However, when you start a business, you can easily feel like you are way over your head. You face challenges beyond what you have been trained to do. Whatever you do, you need to enjoy it. Unless you like doing it, it will be hard to persevere when you feel overwhelmed.
Team. It is great to have people around you. You really need some support from teammates. You also need people from the outside who will occasionally come in to go over what you are doing and give advice. If you want to have good results, go get good counsel from people who have done it before. Get that counsel early on, because it’s harder to go back later and retrofit good practices once you’ve started.
Intentionality. When you’re thinking about starting a business overseas in a cross-cultural environment, take a very intentional approach rather than a haphazard one. There can be a temptation to sneak in and do your business on the side. It takes more time upfront, but do your business the right way, officially. To create something that is sustainable for the long term, think big. It can be just as much work to create something small as it is to create something bigger, so be willing to think big.
Decision-making. Once you make your first sale, you are going to have people coming every day with opportunities that all sound good. In trying to make decisions, look at the potential risk of a bad decision. Measure the downside risk – what will I lose if this goes wrong? But you may find two options that are both good with very little downside. In those situations, you just need to make a decision and get going. Many people get stuck trying to evaluate better vs. best. Don’t waste time. Just choose one.
Cash flow. The number one reason companies fail is CASH FLOW. It is not sales or marketing as most would believe. In fact, companies that go bankrupt often have file cabinets full of signed purchase orders. Those companies can’t fulfill their orders, because they run out of cash to run the business.
The cash flow problem shows up differently depending on the type of business. For example, manufacturers, short on cash, can’t buy raw materials or pay their facility overheads, and can’t make their products. Service companies, short on cash, can’t meet payroll or hire consultants for the next big project they just landed. In the end, it is always cash flow.
From Day One, an entrepreneur should watch, study, and understand the cash flow risks of the enterprise. Keep on top of sales collections; know what expenses are coming in 30, 60, and 90 days. If you see cash flow problems coming, you may need to sell your products for less and/or incentivize your salesmen to keep coming cash in. Avoid taking on debt to cover cash flow, but find alternatives to solving the problem.
M3W: Finally, can you share some examples of the challenges you have faced?
M&L: When you lead a business, people will come to you asking for all kinds of things, and often they want money. You need to listen and respond carefully. One time an employee came to us asking for money. His brother-in-law had wounded a neighbor in a knife fight. Our employee wanted to borrow money from us to bribe the judge so that his brother-in-law would not go to jail.
I told him, first, that I’m not going to loan him money to bribe a judge. Second, I told him that his brother-in-law had an obligation to apologize to the man he wounded and arrange to make retribution, including payment for medical expenses, and even working the field of the wounded man during his recovery. If he did those things, I said, he could tell me the exact cost of the expenses to make retribution, and I would provide a loan for that amount. And, even if the brother-in-law had to go to jail, he should still make retribution.
On another occasion, we delivered to a customer a product that was not working. Our salesman came to us explaining the lie he was telling the customer. He said that we absolutely can’t tell the customer that we made a mistake.
So, I stepped in, took a look at the data, and explained to the customer that the salesman’s excuses were not true – we had delivered the wrong materials. I said that I would take back the product and replace it with the right materials for the job. I explained the situation in detail, and the customer was very appreciative.
Our salesman came back from that meeting speechless. He wanted to know, “How did that work? Why did telling the truth work?”
When it comes to ethical issues like this, you better have your hat on right from day one. The solutions are not always obvious, but your approach can compromise your ability to do what you are there to do. Situations like this happen every day, and it’s these moments that open the door to share the gospel.
Let’s pray this week that God will help us cultivate reverence for Christ as Lord in all we do in our businesses.