A number of years ago, I had coffee with a friend who told me about some of the problems he was having with the local authorities. They had called him into their office to question him. They wanted to know more about what he was doing in their country.
The end result…
He was denied permission to operate his business!
He told me how they had not given him the reason but he was suspicious it was “religious” in nature.
As I began to ask more clarifying questions and dig deeper, it was clear that he had not set up a “legitimate” professional identity and the authorities were suspicious. The end result was that they denied him his residency visa.
A side note: Over the past 20 years, I have met a number of people who had true businesses but the government still denied them their residency visas. You may lose your visa because of religious reasons only.
So how can you be legit?
As I have pondered this question over the years, I believe there are 5 things that help you set up a legitimate professional identity: PROFILE, PROFESSIONAL, PERFORMANCE, PROFIT & PRESENCE!
Profile: Do you fit the business or humanitarian profile?
When my wife and I moved into a closed country, we did not fit the normal business people profile. We left our home country with our small family to start a business in an Arab country…yet we had no idea what business we wanted to start.
We had left the land of opportunity to move to an Arab country to start some business! Does that make sense?
From the word go our friends and neighbors were contacted by the authorities to find out who we really were. From there, we enrolled in a language school and received a visa as students! As I compare how we began and how my secular European businessmen counterparts began, I realize that we did things way differently.
We stuck out…we had an abnormal profile which caused lots of questions and undue concern.
As you look to start a professional identity, carefully think through your profile and whether it is helping or hurting your cause.
You might want to use our BAM360 Test & Booklet to take a deeper look at your identity. We all have blindspots! This tool can help you discover areas that you may need to work on.
Professional: Is my business professional?
I once heard of 5 men who started a business for under $5000. As investors, they were each entitled to get their residence permit from the business.
As I sat with a police friend, he said, “We are not stupid. People set up these small, fake businesses for the sole purpose of doing missionary activities.” He then listed of each of the 5 men and told me about their life styles, income & living conditions.
Are we professional in the way we start our businesses?
I am not saying that you need to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars to begin your business! However, I feel strongly that you do need to set something up that is professional and makes sense to the local community.
I, personally, think that for each partner in the business, there should be at least $10,000 of capital investment. So for a three person business, you should looking at at least $30,000 of investment.
As I mentioned, this is just my opinion and rule of thumb.
As you start your business, you will want to make sure you have done your due diligence. Have you done any market research for your new business? Have you created a business plan?
Our goal is not just to appear that we are business professionals. Our goal is to be Christian business professionals
Performance: How much effort are you putting into your business?
One part of legitimacy is tied to your performance. I believer your performance is tied to 3 things:
- How much time you put into your business?
- How much effort you put into your business?
- Are you working on things that will actually drive the business forward?
If you are putting consistent & effective hard work into your professional job, you will definitely see it improve.
Many workers fail in this area. They actually don’t want to put the required energy, time & finances into their business in order to get it off the ground.
Profit: Is your business generating income?
Finances are not the only goal of your business, but it is definitely a measurement that the world uses.
One way to prove that your business is legitimate is to produce income! I am not talking about “fake income” that you just channel through your work funds. I am speaking of real revenue that is generated from your clients.
No one wonders if a business generating $1,000,000 in revenue each year is legitimate. I’m not saying that every BAM business needs to generate $1,000,000. I am saying that you should be aware of the amount of income & profit that your business is creating each year.
Your accountant, your employees & the government are aware of how much business you do. Trying to figure out the profit goal is a good thing to think about.
Remember, it’s not bad to make money! “The LOVE of money is the root of all evil“
Presence: How do you present yourself?
Most of us are not business people and so do not present ourselves with confidence as professional people.
One thing that is very helpful in starting out well is to establish your story (true one) so that you can present yourself well to anyone who asks.
First and foremost, we are Christians; however, we also need a professional identity that makes sense to the host culture. If you are a businessman, then be a businessman. Dress like one! Carry business cards. Live it out for the Lord.
If you work with an NGO, then be a NGO worker. Dress it…live it! Do not be ashamed of what the Lord has called you to be. We have found it very helpful to develop professional business cards, literature, and information which you can quickly give to friends and authorities.
This will help them understand who you are and place you in the right box.
Starting off well can be crucial in many countries – especially those whose governments are more careful and closed.