As a business owner, the list of things you have to do is a long one. There are countless things needed to get the business up off the ground, and the time you need to put into running the business can be overwhelming – especially in the early years.
So, where do you fit in time to craft an appropriate, thoughtful mission statement? Let’s be honest – most businesses don’t. Caught up in the many other tasks they need to handle, most business owners just let this seemingly minor detail slide. In some cases, they’ll get around to it years later. In other cases, it simply never happens.
We are here to argue in this article that mission statements are very important for businesses. Below, you’ll find some discussion on why a mission statement is worth your time and attention, and we’ll get into the details of how you can produce a good one. As an added bonus, you will likely find that once you have a good plan for this process, it won’t actually take very long at all. Let’s get started!
How a Mission Statement Can Benefit Your Business
Everything you spend time on in your business needs to offer some sort of practical, tangible benefit. If it isn’t going to benefit your business in some way, you might as well focus your energy elsewhere. With that in mind, a good place to start this article is by highlighting some specific ways that you can see improvement in your business once a mission statement is in place. Even if you only experience one or two of the potential benefits below, your effort will not have been wasted.
- Guide decision-making. This is the big one, so we might as well start here. A well-defined business mission statement can be a huge help when it comes time to make key decisions that will guide the future of the company. When you aren’t sure about what direction to go, or when there is disagreement among decision-makers, you can refer back to the mission statement to make sure you are staying focused in the right areas. It’s common for companies to get off-track over time and drift from their original mission, so having it established concretely is a great way to avoid such a fate.
- Inform potential employees. When hiring, it can be helpful to have a clear mission statement in place that you can present to potential employees as an explanation of what your company does and what it hopes to achieve moving forward. These concepts can be surprisingly hard to articulate in an interview setting if candidates start to ask you questions about what your business is all about. Instead of fumbling over your words and trying to come up with a good explanation, you can have your mission statement ready to go.
- Stability through change. It’s inevitable that changes in leadership and various management positions will occur. Sometimes, such changes can throw a business into turmoil, with the changes leading to dramatic shifts in direction for the company as a whole. A good mission statement can help to steady the ship, keeping things pointed in the appropriate direction even as different people are in charge.
There are certainly plenty of other benefits to mention beyond these, but this list is a great starting point. Let’s now turn our attention to what is necessary to build a mission statement that is going to deliver the value that your business deserves.
Think About These Key Points
As we shift into a discussion focused on how to produce an excellent mission statement, let’s talk about some key points that you should keep in mind early in the process. These points will help you frame what you are trying to do with this mission statement – and what you are trying to avoid.
- Some things go without saying. There is no need to point out in your mission statement that you are trying to make money with your business. That goes without saying, and it doesn’t need to be included here. Basically, you can think about achieving financial success as the byproduct of accomplishing what you set out in your mission. Rather than monetary rewards, your mission statement should be focused on what you are trying to do for your clients or customers, as well as possibly your employees.
- Keep it short. One common mistake when trying to write a mission statement is letting it stretch out far too long. You want to keep your mission statement short and sweet, getting right to the point in just a couple of sentences. For some businesses, a single sentence might even get the job done. As a good guideline, try not to let your statement drift on any further than 100 words. Going much longer than that is going to make your statement harder to read and use, and it might wind up being largely ignored as a result.
- Wording matters. Once you know what message you want to convey in the statement – more on that below – you’ll want to spend some time crafting the wording of the message to make sure it comes through clearly. It might even be worth your time and effort to hire a professional writer to take the rough form of what you come up with and craft it into something that is concise, easy to read, and memorable.
Even just these three points should take you a long way toward producing an effective mission statement. Next, we’ll help you understand how to get started putting ideas down on paper and inching closer to a finished product.
Make a Huge List
We mentioned above how many businesses fall into the trap of writing a mission statement that is much too long to be effective. Another common error is to start out narrow in your thinking, believing that you already know what you want to say. That might be true in the end, but it’s much better to start out with a wide view so you can bring in a bunch of ideas before getting more specific at the end of the process.
The best way to start is to just use a blank sheet of paper – or the digital equivalent – and just start emptying your brain of everything that relates to the business in question. What is it that your business sells? Who do you serve? What are your goals for the industry that you are in? Do you have a specific geographic focus? How are you attempting to be different from your competition?
Don’t limit yourself when making this list. It doesn’t matter if you don’t think that some of the things you are listing are going to wind up in the mission statement. In fact, most of them won’t – and that’s okay. You just want to create a brainstorming sheet that includes as much of what you know about your business as possible. This is the raw material that you will then use to start building the mission statement that is going to lead you forward.
A Four-Piece Formula
While there are no specific rules that govern what you can and can’t include in a mission statement, we can recommend a formula that includes four pieces to bring this all together. Those four elements are as follows –
- What it is that the business does should be one piece of the puzzle
- Another piece is how the business does what you have said that it does
- A third piece is what people or other businesses you are trying to serve
- Finally, the value that you offer is the last component to include
It’s important to note that these four elements don’t need to be included in the order used above, and you might be able to skip one of them and still come away with a clear mission statement.
Sharpen Your Focus and Identify a Winner
At this point, you should have everything you need to enter the last phase of this project. You have a long list of ideas about your business, and you have the four elements we identified above that you might want to include in the mission statement. Now, it’s time to bring that together and watch your statement take shape.
Go through the big list you made and start to cross out things that don’t relate in any way to the four elements we highlighted in the last section. If you can’t think of a way to tie the note into any of those four categories, cross it out and remove it from the process. Going through your brainstorming list in this way will likely cut out a lot of it and leave you with something that is leaner and easier to manage.
With some whittling down complete, start to organize your remaining ideas by category, with each option put under a heading for one of the four pieces of our formula. In other words, you’ll have some ideas under “what you do”, “who you serve”, etc. It would be great if you could settle on two or three options under each of the four categories, as this will give you just enough to work with to finally combine everything into a single statement.
The last step then, of course, is to tie it all up and formalize your statement by picking out items from each of these categories to bring together a couple of sentences that summarize everything you want to convey about the company. As mentioned earlier, this might be a good time to bring in a professional writer – either a freelancer or someone already on your staff – to polish up what you have created and make sure it reads nicely.
Perhaps the biggest value of all that a mission statement can offer is that it requires you to slow down for a moment and think about your business. Often, business owners are too caught up in the day-to-day work that needs to be done to take a step back and figure out how they are going to move forward in the big picture. Set aside a little bit of time to work through this exercise and you should be able to create something that will be useful to your business for years to come. Good luck!
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