Five Tips For Starting a Business as Mission

In 2016, Christine and her husband started a missional coffee shop in Manila, Philippines. Here are her best tips for other people interested in business as mission. Photos courtesy of Narrative Coffee Company

We came to the Philippines wide-eyed and idealistic.

Let’s start a coffee shop: make money for missions and make good coffee. How hard can it be? 

Nineteen months later, what started as a vision for a large coffee shop with meeting rooms has turned into a small pour-over bar in a 10 square meter entryway within a co-working space. What started as a desire to make money for missions turned into a vision to mobilize and equip other entrepreneurs to use their business to serve God and people — here and abroad.

What began as a small dream that “might work” has become a reality, a joy and one of our biggest challenges. 

Through our change in size, refinement of vision and many sleepless nights, we’ve embarked on a journey of learning the importance of serving God with what we have, what we love and what we do. We’re learning that life and community change happen when we’re engaged in all areas of society — business, education, politics, arts — not only in ministry at church. 

For the past two years, we’ve received an abundance of help and advice from those who have gone before us in business, in ministry and in coffee. In honor of all we’ve learned, I want to pass on five of the biggest things that have helped us shape our missional business.

See the business as a part of your ministry.

 

business as mission narrative coffee manila

Don’t separate “business” and “mission.” How you conduct your business every day is ministry, not just a means to it.

 

So often, we can think of business as being the vehicle for missions or the “necessary evil” for connecting to people and serving the community. Tasks like legal paperwork, business plans and market research can seem like activities that hold you back from doing “the real work.”

But God calls us to do all things for His glory — even if they look like paperwork and seem like isolating activities.

So what if instead of seeing these tasks as projects to complete, we see them as a part of what God will use to teach us and use us? See the market research as a way to learn more about the needs of your community. Engage your creativity when preparing your business plan, and use all of it as a connecting point to the people around you. Ask questions. Get help. Redeem the everyday tasks.

We first realized the need for this when a friend and mentor asked us this very simple question: “Do you see the act of serving coffee as ministry?” My husband answered honestly, “No.” The ministry is the relationships, right?

Our friend reminded us that Jesus taught that giving cold water to the least of His followers marked you as His disciple. A cup of cold water — a tangible expression of service. If we make delicious coffee to the very best of our ability and serve it with love, this is service to Him who has given us these gifts.

Learn the laws in your host country.

 

business as mission narrative coffee company

Navigating the legal systems in your host country will set up your business for long-term success.

 

When we move into a new culture, we take time to study the language and learn the culture. Part of loving our host culture is learning the laws that govern it. While this is generally important when moving to a new place, it’s especially imperative when opening a business.

What are the legal implications of registering your new business? Can you, as a foreigner, even own a business? What do taxes look like? What certifications do you need (safety, fire, cleanliness, etc.)? Will you be a for-profit company or a nonprofit organization? Do you need a board? Trustees?

For some countries, there’s a difference between what the law says and what people usually do. Learn these differences, and know who to trust when you ask for advice. 

This is one area that God used to challenge us as well as direct us in terms of how we would establish our business. It’s easy to obey the law when the laws make sense and everyone obeys them. But what about the times when it’s normal to work around the laws?

When looking to incorporate the business, there are laws about what foreigners and cannot own. We explored the implications of opening as a non-profit and as a for-profit. With each new conversation and each new step in understanding, we asked God, “What do you want this business to be?

Currently, we are still in the process of making these decisions, and we see how the law is helping us discern the best path.

Be intentional about your suppliers.

 

business as mission narrative coffee company

It’s not just about building relationships with customers. You have the opportunity to build meaningful, long-term partnerships with your suppliers, too.

 

For us, it started with the coffee. Our industry prides itself on knowing — really knowing — the supply chain. We want to know the family who labored over this coffee — who picked the beans, how they were processed and where they come from. We want to know who roasted them, and we want those people’s story to be a part of ours.

Not only does it make it more fun to get to tell that story when we serve their product, but we also know exactly where the money we spend is going. We know it’s going to feed families and help friends fuel their businesses. We love having our business help other’s businesses. 

Be intentional, build relationships, spend your money not just on the product but on the story and potential behind it. You can honor God by sourcing quality products rather than just getting what’s cheapest and easiest. Be wise with where your money goes, and know that sometimes that means spending money on relationships and quality.

We realized that we could do this with more than just the coffee: We paid a friend to build our bar, we visited the small chocolate factory that makes the chocolate we sell, and we sat down with the artists who made our aprons. This is one area of business that God can use to build relationships and connections to what you’re doing outside your own community.

Find a mentor (or two).

 

You are guaranteed to encounter obstacles in your business that you don’t know how to overcome. Ask for help often.

 

When we came here to Manila, we didn’t really know coffee. We liked it. We loved learning about it and talking about it and drinking it. But we needed to learn.

Similarly with business, we didn’t really know business. We had some ideas and big dreams but we didn’t know the ins and outs of how to start a business. For both of these things, we sought out people to mentor us.

As our needs and experiences changed, so did our mentors. We did not stick with the same person the whole time, but God brought in and out men and women who He used to teach us what we needed to know in that season.

Find people to teach you. Ask for help. Be a learner of your industry and of business in general. Even if you’ve worked in this field before, learn the field in the culture you’re in. Seek wisdom from other expats who have started a business internationally and from locals who know how to work in business in their own culture.

And know that one person may not walk with you through the whole process. Each season of starting a business can look a little different and require different help. “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed” (Proverbs 15:22, ESV).

Let it take unexpected turns.

 

Your business likely will not look like you planned. But each change gives you a chance to rely on God.

 

If I could show you what our business looked like in my imagination as we were preparing, it would look different every few months or so. Then to compare it to what it is now — it has changed so much! But it’s better than what we could have planned on our own.

There was a season when each new conversation drastically changed what we wanted our business to be. We allowed these conversations to do so because we wanted to be sure we were walking forward with open hands, allowing God to make it be what He wanted it to be.

Our friend and fellow business owner, Isiah, puts it this way, “I may be the business owner, but I’m still really the employee. God is the owner of my business.” Even setbacks may be God’s way of changing your direction, of using His business to give Him more glory.


Are you interested in business as mission? TEAM can help you assess your entrepreneurial readiness and get on track with coaching and mentorship. Get started now by exploring the 100+ ways you can serve.

For more from Christine, check out her Facebook Live interview where she shares even more insights on what it’s like to run a missional business.

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About the author

Christine Elizabeth
Christine Elizabeth

Christine lives with her husband and pug on the 29th floor in Metro Manila. She is co-founder of a specialty coffee shop in the central business district in Manila and loves connecting people and resources. While living in the Philippines, she also calls the US and Canada home.

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