Just because your business is small, doesn’t mean it doesn’t have big dreams. Starting your own small business requires taking risks, working long hours, and, most likely, making some personal and financial sacrifices.
Most entrepreneurs wouldn’t take the risks without having some kind of passion, core values, or beliefs about improving the world or their community. Oftentimes, it’s the passion, values, and beliefs that drive them to build their startup—whether it’s creating an app to help families stay connected long distance or making the world’s most sustainably made vegan pizza.
A business plan defines how you’re going to run your business (yes, also important), but a mission statement helps you define that passion and purpose.
Learn more about writing a mission statement in the QuickBooks Start Your Business series:
What is a Good Mission Statement?
A company’s mission statement captures its purpose and trumpets it to the world. It’s a short statement that articulates the “why” and “how” of the business.
There’s a lot riding on the mission statement. An effective mission statement is a powerful tool for guiding efficient decision-making, creating company culture, attracting and keeping employees and customers, informing your marketing and advertising messages, and helping you build a strong brand.
This should serve as your “north star”, keeping everyone in your company together and working toward the same goal. With a clear view of your mission, you can develop scalable, repeatable operating processes that enable your business to grow in a more or less orderly fashion. Without it, you’re likely to experience communication breakdowns, inconsistent delivery of your products and services, and chaos as you try to grow.
Building a High-Quality Mission Statement
Companies sometimes pair mission and vision statements. Technically, these are two different ideas—a mission statement defines the business’s objectives and how it will achieve them, while a vision statement speaks to the future state of the business, and perhaps even the world. However, some companies combine their mission and their vision into a single statement.
There is no one right way to do it. So before we get started on creating your mission statement, we suggest reviewing some mission statement examples. Start with big-name brands like Amazon, Patagonia, and Coca-Cola. Then check out the brands you expect to compete with so you can get some inspiration on how to write your mission statement. If you’re feeling lost, it’s OK to use a mission statement template to help you get started!
Some brands choose to focus their mission statement on how their company impacts the world, while others stick closer to defining what the company does and how it benefits its customers. One thing to keep in mind is that in a larger company, a mission and vision exercise will typically involve dozens of people and outside agencies to ideate, draft, and polish different versions of the statement or statements until all of the stakeholders are aligned. What you see is the winning, world-class version. No doubt there were other unchosen versions that some people liked better.
The point is, don’t get hung up on perfection. Your mission statement will be unique—just like your company.
How to Write a Mission Statement
The exercise of creating a mission statement can be a powerful one. It’s sure to result in deep thinking and debate about the company, values, direction, and vision for the future. If you plan to make this decision with a business partner or team, it’s a good idea to lay out a process ahead of time to ensure that everything is engaged and the debate is constructive.
Decide on a process
The first thing you’ll need to decide is who should be involved. Is it just you running the show? You and co-owner? A few key team leaders and employees?
While you will probably not want to involve every person in the company, everyone on your leadership team should participate in the exercise and ideally, align on the outcome. You might also want to include customers, board members, advisors, and, perhaps, some key team members. To get the best result, it’s wise to include a diverse group of people that will have different perspectives on the company.
After you get the group together, decide how you’d like them to be involved. Maybe you want to send out a questionnaire to a wide range of people, compile the answers, then present them to a smaller group that will work together to draft the statement. Or maybe you’d like to have a writer take down the answers and create some drafts for debate before you meet.
Set aside some dedicated time for group discussion, but don’t leave it open-ended. Define a process and an outcome. For example, we will block out three hours to brainstorm and draft some options, then we will vote for one. Or we will vote on our top three drafts and test them on a defined group of stakeholders, collect feedback, and reconvene for a final vote. Appoint a moderator or facilitator to keep the group on track.
If you are a very small company, maybe all you need are three people in a room for a couple of hours. For a mid-size company with several stakeholders, you may need to use some strategic planning, or even bring in an outside firm to make sure all points of view are included.
The Anatomy of a Mission Statement
So, what are the ingredients of a solid mission statement and what makes it stand out? Here is a breakdown of the three basic elements:
1. Your company’s purpose
This should go beyond simply stating what you do. Think of the benefit and impact of what you do. Is your purpose to connect people, make life easier, or improve productivity? What want or need do you fulfill for your customers?
2. Describe how you do it
How you do what you do is part of what makes your business unique. That could include sustainable sourcing, a commitment to diversity, working through partnerships, extra convenience, cost effectiveness, or serious dedication to customer service.
3. Who you do it for
Who are your current and desired customers? Are they athletes? Busy moms? Pet owners? Making sure your mission statement identifies your customers helps your customers identify with your mission.
Making it Resonate
Once you have gained clarity on the three basic elements, it’s time to make it sing. There are three keys to doing this:
1. Keep it short
Less is more. The ideal length of a mission statement is two to four sentences, and no more than 100 words. Remember, this is a central tenet to your business. It’s something you want employees to think about every day. It should be easy for them to keep top of mind, without having to open their employee handbook and read a paragraph or two to refresh their memory. It should be easy for customers to grasp and remember, as well.
2. Keep it simple
Don’t make people have to think, piece things together, or have to Google a word. (They probably won’t.)
3. Make it engaging
Smart copywriters make their writing compelling by using powerful verbs to trigger certain emotional responses. Think: “empower” vs. “enable”; “challenge” vs. “question”; “discover” vs. “find.”
There are tons of “power word” lists available on the internet, sorted by the type of emotion they are known to elicit. Simply search for “copywriting power words” and note a couple of your favourites to have on hand while you’re doing your writing exercise. Play around with different buzzwords and see how they change the feeling of your mission statement.
Your Mission Statement in Action
A well-crafted mission statement that resonates with your employees, customers, and partners is a valuable asset to your business. Work to incorporate it in as many places as you can—on your website, on social media and LinkedIn, and in your advertising. Internally it should be prominently featured for employees to see and absorb on a regular basis.
While it should not change often, the world is always evolving, and your business may evolve with it. If you are using it as your north star every day, you may eventually notice that it is losing its resonance and needs to be reworked. If you get to that point, congratulations! Your mission statement has probably served you well and carried you far. Now go and write another.