Back in the day when I worked in non-profit arts fundraising, mission statements were never far from my mind – every request for funding and grant application asks for your mission statement, and I practically had my company’s statement memorized verbatim.
But I’ve learned that mission statements aren’t just for non-profits, and in fact, a for-profit business can hugely benefit from having one, too.
A good mission statement encapsulates the essence of your business – your industry, goals, and underlying philosophies and values.
Having a strong mission statement can do two awesome things for your biz:
First, for your potential clients and customers: it acts as a written elevator pitch so they can learn super fast what your business is all about – and whether it’s a good match for them (and vice-versa).
Attention spans are getting shorter and shorter these days. A well-crafted, tightly-written mission statement makes it easy on your potential followers to quickly grasp who and what your business is.
Second, for your business: your mission serves as a compass for critical decision-making. Whenever you’re faced with a choice to make and you don’t know what to do – or even if you think you DO know what’s best – just ask yourself, “Does doing this serve my mission?”
This quick check will help you keep your business on the right track. Anything that doesn’t serve your mission statement gets set aside – for use with another business you have in the works, for the future when maybe your mission statement has expanded to include it, or tossed out altogether.
Have I sold you yet? If so, you might be wondering, how exactly do you write a mission statement?
Here’s the recipe.
Gather Your Ingredients
Don’t worry, no exotic spices needed! Your ingredients are just the answers to these questions:
- What image of your business do you want to convey?
How would you describe the personality of your business? Is it…
Whatever it is, make sure YOU know what it is, and have it firmly in mind as you craft the few short sentences that will pack your business into the proverbial nutshell. Knowing the personality you want to project will help you choose language that’ll convey the character of your business.
- What business are you in?
Be specific! If your business manufacturers solar panels for outdoor dog houses, say that. Don’t try to cast a wide net by being imprecise or vague – your mission won’t speak to your customers if it sounds like your business could be for just about anyone.
- Who are your customers?
Again, be specific – are they other businesses or individuals? Women or men or both? Kids? People with a specific problem or challenge? People who live in a certain area, speak a particular language, or have a specific hobby?
- What values do you embrace in your business?
Cutting-edge innovation? Creativity? Integrity? Serving others/giving back? By being clear about your values, you’ll not only turn off those people whose values don’t align with yours (who probably wouldn’t end up buying from you anyway), you also draw in the ones who DO hold similar ideals – just the kind of folks who would love to support your business.
- Why are you in business? What is your motivation?
Ok, yes, people generally start businesses with a goal of making money (duh!), but hopefully you have some sort of greater purpose beyond that. For example, did you start your digital textbook business in order to help bring education to low-income single moms? Does your telecom startup aim to improve Americans’ daily communications? Are you hoping that your exercise website will improve the health of overweight individuals?
- What differentiates you from the competition?
What’s your secret sauce? Maybe it’s the fact that your bookstore is owned and run solely by single moms. Maybe it’s that your bakery uses only local products and grass-fed dairy. Maybe it’s that you’ve got 30 years of experience at the top of your industry. Whatever sets you apart will help you get remembered by potential customers, and will also target the right people – people who are looking for what you have to offer that’s different from everyone else.
Combine Your Ingredients
This part of the process will be different for every business, but basically you want to explain (briefly but specifically) what makes up your business, hitting on the industry, customers, values, goals and key differentiators. It sounds like a lot, but I promise, it’s possible. Here are a few examples I wrote of successful mission statements:
ABC Beef is a Southeastern Pennsylvania-based meat supplier, dedicated to sourcing only the highest-grade, local, grass-fed beef for individual consumers, to make the healthiest, tastiest meet easily accessible to all in the Delaware Valley. Our weekly home delivery is unique in our region and brings both outstanding convenience and unparalleled service to our customers.
Earth Mother Spa and Salon seeks to change our world, one massage at a time. We believe that a calm and healthy body creates a peaceful mind, peaceful minds create love, and love has the power to do anything. Our unique atmosphere envelops you in soothing sights and sounds of nature with a 360-degree projection of a natural landscape of your choosing, allowing you to escape your worries and enjoy an all-natural, environmentally-conscious salon treatment.
Power Career Coaching is dedicated to providing incomparable, no-holds-barred, kick-ass advice to shoot you to the top of the corporate ladder. Our executive-level clients don’t come to us for coddling – they come to us for RESULTS, and that’s what we deliver, like no other coaching company. Our focus is on taking bold action and getting FAST results, and our 97% satisfaction rate and 96% referral rate speak for themselves.
A Note on Length (yes, size matters…)
A mission statement doesn’t actually need to be just a single statement – two or three will allow you to get in all the important stuff without writing a run-on sentence.
But you’ll find there are some companies whose mission statements are only a sentence (or just a phrase!) long. And when you come across them, you’ll be tempted by those little devils to take the easy way out and write a cute little one-line mission of your own.
My advice: DON’T.
The reason some companies can get away with this is that they’re already household names – think Disney or Mary Kay. Most folks know what these companies do, so they can get away with having a ridiculously brief mission statement that fails to mention their business or industry.
Hate to break it to you, but that’s not you (yet).
If you’ve got a young business, you need to explain exactly who you are in your mission statement – don’t try to be coy or mysterious. Save that for flirting at the bar. You need to bring your business right out into the open so that people know just what kind of company it is, so they can decide if it’s the right one to invest their own precious dollars in.
If you have a catchy one-liner that you just can’t bear to let go of, use it as your tagline.
Words of Warning
Folks, there are a LOT of badly-written mission statements out there – trust me, I read about a hundred of them while writing this post. Don’t let yours be one of them! Follow these do’s and don’ts to write it right.
- For God’s sake, do use proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation, and write complete sentences! This also means don’t start your sentence(s) with “to”.Terrible real-life example (identity hidden to protect the not-so-innocent):
“To combine aggressive strategic marketing with quality products and services at competitive prices to provide the best value for consumers.” (Guess what – that’s not a sentence. Grrr.)
- Don’t use your mission statement to report on business news.
“To meet the challenges reflected in our mission statement, XYZ Corp. recently created a new working group to begin to develop new hands-on community service initiatives at the Corporate and cross-company levels, all as a supplement to the many fine initiatives ongoing at many of XYZ’s Businesses.…” (I think someone got “mission statement” and “press release” confused here…)
- Don’t be vague. If someone reads your mission and still doesn’t get what your business does, it’s not specific enough – especially if your business name is equally elusive.
“To supply outstanding service and solutions through dedication and excellence.” (This one’s a double whammy – it’s not a sentence AND it’s annoyingly ambiguous.)
- By the same token, don’t state the obvious.Real-life example:
“Our goal is to be the leader in every market we serve, to the benefit of our customers and our shareholders.” (You want to be the best and do well for your customers and investors? Yeah, so does basically every business every started.)
- And also don’t be so detailed that you end up with a novel.
You know what, I just can’t even bring myself to include the actual example I found, which was for a top-name financial services company, because it was 274 WORDS LONG. Twelve sentences!! I fell asleep halfway through it.
Time to Get Cookin’
Writing a mission statement may not be the most glamorous part of running your business, and you can probably think of about twelve other to-do’s that more directly impact your bottom line.
But there’s serious value in going through this process – not only because, in the end, you’ll have a well-crafted mission statement to help define and guide your business, but also because going through the process itself helps you to get crystal clear on who and what you want your business to be.
If you can’t immediately answer one of the questions above, take the time to give it some serious thought and figure it out.
If you’re not 100% clear on the character, industry, customer base and key differentiators of your business, your customers won’t be either.
Does your business already have a mission statement? Does it answer the “ingredients” questions above? Do you know of an outstanding company mission statement? Share your comments below!
Photo credit: Weerapat Wattanapichayakul | Dreamstime.com