For the New Year

With 2017 eyeing the door, and 2018 knocking on it, many people will be taking this time to reflect on their previous year. They will look at what they were proud of, what they could do better, and areas where they will change. They will make resolutions, large resolutions, defining ways they will better themselves in the year to come. They will enter 2018 ready for action, prepared to keep their resolutions, no matter what…

…and ultimately will drop them within a week. Mark Twain put it this way: “New Year’s Day – Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

As a small business owner, you may feel obligated to change something this year to make yourself more productive, more successful, or just to be able to handle the pressure of running a business better. Perhaps you’ve tried this before. And you may wonder why it hasn’t worked. The answer is fairly simple.

Resolutions are broad, sweeping, changes to habits or character. They are rarely practical, almost never clearly defined, and are not easy to track. You can write them down, but how do you measure how close you are to achieving them? If you want to improve the way you do things in 2018, don’t make resolutions: set goals.

The difference between a resolution and a goal: “Exercise” is a resolution. “I am going to exercise more this year,” said many, many liars over the course of time. It is broad, vague, and altogether too ambitious. “Lose two pounds this week” is a goal. It is clearly defined, easy to keep track of, and manageable. Furthermore, if you accomplish this goal, you can up the ante next week.

A good example that is more applicable to the small business owner: you may resolve to do more with social media this year. However, this leads to an unfocused approach to social media marketing that may very well do more harm than good for your brand. A better approach would be to set a goal. For example, increase Twitter followers by 10% this month. This gives you a clearly defined, trackable goal that then influences your marketing strategy.

The great thing about setting manageable, short-term goals is that they eventually develop habits. As you work to increase your Twitter followers, you’ll find that you develop good marketing habits, like posting every day, responding to customer comments, and sharing content. Overall, I think you’ll find that consistent goal setting is the best way to increase productivity, and build a better business.

3 Affordable Marketing Methods

Everyone knows marketing is essential for businesses, especially small businesses. Without the help of media exposure that larger firms experience, it can be difficult to spread the word about your business and your service. Also, it often seems that the price you pay isn’t worth the benefits you receive. Furthermore, marketing is a constantly evolving sector of the business world, making it hard to keep up with competitors. What every small business needs is an affordable way to stay relevant in their communities. Below, I will outline three ways you can spread the word about your business without breaking the bank.

Social Media

This is an obvious one. As a matter of fact, most if not all of you reading this now probably implement social media as a marketing channel. But aside from the bare minimum of occasional Facebook posts, how can you use social media to market your business?

  1. Ask for feedback: Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram all serve as direct lines of communication between you and your customers. Why not take advantage of that to see what they think? A simple “how are we doing?”-type question on one of these platforms lets customers know you’re interested in their opinions, and want to improve their experience as much as possible.
  2. Utilize hashtags: Hashtags help your posts show up in searches on social media sites and in Google. They are especially useful for Twitter and Instagram. Try to use phrases that are commonly searched. These can also be used to start a conversation about your business, or involving your business.
  3. Content, content, content: Jeffrey Hayzlett, former CMO at Kodak, writes in a 2016 article for Fortune that “Developing quality content should be the rule, not the exception, regardless of industry.” For small businesses, this means pictures and videos of your business, customer testimonials, blogging, and above all a consistent online presence. Being active, active, on social media is the easiest way to reach customers of all types in 2017.

Email

In a 2015 article for Entrepreneur, Kabbage CMO Victoria Treyger advises making email a “heavy hitter.” “Not only is it effective,” she says, “it’s also desired. In study after study, consumers regularly say that email is their preferred channel for brand communications.” Emails can be used to inform customers of upcoming sales, new items in stock, or new plans for the businesses future. All of these things help keep your customers engaged.

When emailing customers, make sure your message is clear and concise. Just because people like email marketing doesn’t mean they want to read an essay. Make sure the design is clean, and add something interactive, such as a website or Facebook link. If you are promoting a deal on your website, something like an “Order Now” button would be appropriate.

Consider utilizing a marketing platform such as Campaigner for this tactic. These services are very affordable, and help you design email templates, automate the process, and maximize the effectiveness of your email campaigns. Considering the already heavy burden on small business owners, services such as these can add a lot of value to your marketing. 

Texting

Texting is a fast and easy way to reach customers, especially those in their teens and early twenties. In some cases, it can be even more effective than email marketing. Texts are easier to open, and take less time to read, making them an ideal marketing channel for young consumers.

A brief note before I can go on: spam texting can cause problems with the FCC. Minda Zetlin, in an article for Inc.com, advises business owners to “make sure customers really do want your texts – and you can prove it.” In other words, make sure you have a record of customers who have opted to receive your marketing texts.

One of the biggest keys to successful text message marketing is to offer something of immediate value. KeySplash Creative CEO Susan Gunelius, in a 2012 article for Entrepreneur, advises that since “text messaging is an instantaneous medium, you should include real-time offers. Whether you’re providing information about a sale or a new product, the message should describe the benefits of acting now.” Gunelius also advises users to identify themselves when communicating with customers, to avoid “the spam treatment.”

Remember, marketing your business doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. There are plenty of ways to affordably communicate with consumers. Oftentimes, these are just as effective, even more effective, than other traditional marketing channels, such as radio or print ads. The tactics outlined above would mean more work for the owner, but would go a long way in freeing up capital to compensate employees, expand your business, or improve your products.

 

For further reading:

Best SMS Marketing Software – fitsmallbusiness.com

 

6 Ways to Market Your Business for Less Than $100 – Entrepreneur

 

101 Small Business Marketing Ideas – The Balance

 

Cybersecurity, Part II

by Tyler Raymie

Last time, we looked at some reasons to start thinking about cybersecurity for your business. You may have found yourself asking, “Ok, how can I protect myself?” Below is a high-level overview of three fundamental aspects of cybersecurity, as well as some resources for further study. This technology doesn’t take a genius to understand, just a little patience and willingness to learn. Your business’s survival may depend on it.

 

Firewalls

“Firewall” may be a term we are all familiar with, but many of us don’t know what exactly a firewall is. According to cisco.com, “A firewall is a network security device that monitors incoming and outgoing network traffic based on a defined set of security rules.” Basically, a firewall will use filters to keep certain pieces of information out of your network. Most firewalls will let you choose which filters you want. In a post on their website, Comodo explains that firewalls can be configured to “prevent access to certain websites,” “prevent employees from sending certain types of emails,” and “prevent outside computers from accessing computers inside the network.” Some operating systems have firewalls built-in, including Mac OSX and Microsoft Windows. According to Microsoft, setting up a firewall is “the most effective and important first step you can take to help protect your computer.”

Firewalls can often act as your router, and even have “more advanced features that are designed to offer a superior level of [defense],” as opposed to a normal router, according to Manx Technology Group. For this reason, they recommend a firewall for a small business, rather than a traditional router. MTG goes on to list various features you will want when choosing a firewall. These include:

  • “Internet connection support”
  • “Wireless support”
  • “Antivirus”
  • “Intrusion Prevention Service”
  • “Web filtering”
  • “Reporting”
  • “Virtual Private Networks (VPN)”
  • “Technical support”

Popular vendors of firewalls include Cisco, Fortinet, and Sophos.

 

Antivirus software

Geeks On Site offer the following explanation of antivirus software: “Antivirus software, sometimes known as anti-malware software, is design to detect, prevent and take action to disarm or remove malicious software from your computer such as viruses, worms, and Trojan horses.” They go on to list the three scanning detection processes antivirus software uses:

Specific Detection, Generic Detection, and Heuristic Detection. Specific Detection “works by looking for known malware by a specific set of characteristics.” Generic Detection “looks for malware that are variants of known ‘families,’ or malware related by a common codebase.” Heuristic Detection “scans for previously unknown viruses by looking for known suspicious behavior or file structures.”

In a March 2007 article for TechRepublic, Erik Eckel lists 10 thing to look for in an antivirus application. These were:

  • “Potency”
  • “Low overhead”
  • “Centralized administration”
  • “Email protection”
  • “Compatibility”
  • “Effective reporting tools”
  • “Technical support”
  • “Certification”
  • “Simplified licensing”
  • “Reasonable cost”

Techradar offers suggestions on which antivirus software to use for your business: http://www.techradar.com/news/best-business-antivirus-8-top-paid-security-tools-for-small-businesses

 

Data backup

Losing data can be the ultimate business killer. According to atlantatech.net, “the cost of lost or stolen data access is estimated at $1.7 billion per year,” industry-wide. Backing up your data is the simplest step you can take to avoid these huge costs. In a 2014 article for CIO, Paul Mah advises that businesses use the “2+1” strategy. “For critical data,” he says, “businesses should make two full copies, maintained on separate physical devices. In addition, a third copy should be kept offline, preferably stashed at another location.” He points out that having one copy in a different location “protects a business from fires, floods and other localized natural disasters.”

Cloud backup solutions are gaining traction among small business owners these days, with companies like Carbonite, CrashPlan, and Backup Blaze being major players in the field. The previously mentioned Atlanta Tech article gives the following as factors to consider when choosing a cloud backup provider:

  • “Is Public, Private, or Hybrid Cloud the Best Bet for Your Business?”
  • “Which Type of Backup Schedule is Best for You?”
  • “Do They Offer Sufficient Flexibility for Your Storage and Scalability Needs?”
  • “How are Their Uptime Guarantees?”
  • “Do They Offer Sufficient Data Security and Compliance?”
  • “Do You Have Adequate Bandwidth?”
  • “Is There an Opportunity for Unified Business Communications?”

While cloud backup is the hip thing to use, Paul Mah recommends tape storage technology for your backup.

There are plenty of options out there for Cybersecurity. It all may seem a little overwhelming at first, but the important thing to do is educate yourself. Below, I’ve listed some resources that can be very useful in learning what security you need, how that security works, and what the options available are. Be sure to check them out, and ask your SBDC counselor about the Cybersecurity Workbook.

For further reading:

https://www.cio.com/article/2378019/small-business/how-to-build-a-storage-and-backup-strategy-for-your-small-business.html

https://www.techrepublic.com/article/10-things-to-look-for-in-an-antivirus-application/

http://www.techrepublic.com/blog/10-things/10-things-to-look-for-in-a-hardware-based-firewall/

https://www.comodo.com/resources/home/how-firewalls-work.php

Cybersecurity, Part I

by Tyler Raymie

Why should a small business need to worry about cybersecurity? Sure, there are hackers and data thieves out there, but they only go after big corporations, right? Some of the numbers regarding the threat to small businesses may surprise you. While you shouldn’t let these statistics paralyze you, or shy away from the competitive advantage technology can provide, you need to be aware of the risks that exist. Let me outline for you why you need cybersecurity, and give you some numbers for perspective.

Organizations are relying more and more on cloud services. While this provides extra convenience, it is also a great target for potential hackers. Additionally, any device connected to the internet can be attacked. Munichre.com reports that “one-third of U.S. consumers experienced a computer virus, hacking incident or other cyber attack in [2016].” Clearly, attackers are more active now that they know the pool of potential victims is growing. Not only that, but they know that businesses are viable targets as well. On October 31 of last year, nudatasecurity.com reported that “64% of companies have experienced web-based attacks.” Unfortunately, the increased convenience and capabilities that come with cloud storage, digital technology, and the like, also bring increased risk in the form of viruses, ransomware, and data breaches.

These attacks can damage your business in any one of a number of ways. The most prominent form of damage among small businesses, however, is financial. A 2015 report by juniperresearch.com estimated that “the average cost of a data breach…will exceed $150 million by 2020.” Now, this number is inflated by the cost of breaches to major corporations. Still, a recent Poneman Institute study revealed that small businesses (less than 1,000 employees) spent an average of $879,582 recovering from data breaches (between May 2015 and May 2016), because of theft or damage. Also, revenue losses among businesses breached averaged $955,429. This can be absolutely devastating for your business. According to the study, 60% of small businesses who experience these attacks go out of business within six months.

At this point, it may seem obvious that there is a serious threat to small businesses from cyber attackers and data thieves. According to smallbiztrends.com, “43% of cyberattacks target small businesses.” That number is staggering, considering the number of large firms and individuals who could be targeted instead. In a June 2, 2017 article for Business News Daily, Sammi Caramela observed that “The…reason small businesses make such appealing targets is because hackers know these companies are less careful about security.” Most small business owners underestimate the threat to their businesses. As Caramela points out, “small businesses fall into hackers’ cybersecurity ‘sweet spot:’ They have more digital assets to target than an individual consumer has, but less security than a larger enterprise.”

You don’t have to live in fear of a cyberattack on your business. But you shouldn’t be naïve either. Next week, we’ll go over some valuable tools you can use to protect your business.

Also, be sure to get the Cybersecurity Workbook from your SBDC Adviser.

Crowdfunding: Pros and Cons

By Tyler Raymie

Crowdfunding has become a popular way of obtaining capital among entrepreneurs. Everything from movies to bottle cutters have gone through the financing process on sites such as Indiegogo and Kickstarter. Many have achieved success this way. Others have failed. Today I want to explain what exactly crowdfunding is, and what the pros and cons of using this method are.

According to investopedia.com, “Crowdfunding is the use of small amounts of capital from a large number of individuals to finance a new business venture.” The purpose of crowdfunding is to increase the availability of funds for entrepreneurs by putting them in contact with a larger pool of potential investors. On the other side of the equation, investors can avoid the risk of putting large sums of money into a single venture, and instead only donate amounts as low as $10. Entrepreneurs are required to provide updates to investors periodically, protecting the investors’ interests. Crowdfunding is sometimes rewards-based, meaning investors will “get to participate in the launch of a new product or receive a gift for their investment,” according to Investopedia. Equity-based crowdfunding is another option. This option works more like a typical investment, where funders become partial owners of the company. Equity-based funding is fully regulated by the SEC.

Crowdfunding comes with its own set of problems. According to floship.com, there’s “a huge amount of uncertainty when it comes to the accounting rules for funds raised through crowdfunding.” Because crowdfunding doesn’t work like a typical investment (such as a loan), there is confusion as to whether funds received in this manner should be declared as capital or income. Additionally, each state will have different rules on taxing this money. Some legal experts are also concerned that the lack of regulation will lead to scammers using crowdfunding sites to grab free money (Forbes). This is due to the businesses seeking funding not being required to provide financial statements to investors. This may cause many investors to put a lot of money in the hands of irresponsible business owners. There are other problems with crowdfunding, but these are some of the most widespread.

Despite the risks, crowdfunding has considerable benefits that come with it. After all, there have been a number of successful ventures that have used crowdfunding to reach their goals (onlinemba). Notably, all-or-nothing crowdfunding platforms have no participation fee, and return funds to investors if the project doesn’t reach 100% of its goal. It can also be a valuable marketing tool. According to Tanya Prive on Forbes, “an active crowdfunding campaign is a good way to introduce a venture’s overall mission and vision to the market, as it is a free and easy way to reach numerous channels.” This is because “many crowdfunding platforms incorporate social media mechanisms, making it painless to get referral traffic to your website and other social media pages.” Another attractive aspect of crowdfunding, according to nibusinessnessinfo.co.uk, is that “your investors can often become your most loyal customers.” After taking part in the financing process, it is likely that they will not only buy whatever you are selling, but also will refer their friends to the product or service. This makes your investors your marketing team, minus the salary expense.

Like all investments, there are considerable risks and benefits that go along with crowdfunding. When done the wrong way, investors can waste considerable amounts of money, and business owners can lose customers and develop a negative image. When done right, however, it can result in visionary products being developed, and benefit everyone involved in the process. If you decide to invest in a crowdfunded project, be sure to proceed with caution. If you decide to use crowdfunding to obtain funds, make sure you keep your investors informed, and develop a plan beforehand. Despite the criticism, plenty of businesses and entrepreneurs have used crowdfunding successfully, and you can as well.

 

Special Thanks: Jolene Schaefer

For further reading:

https://www.nibusinessinfo.co.uk/content/advantages-and-disadvantages-crowdfunding

https://www.cnbc.com/2015/09/15/how-to-crowdfund-successfully-tips-from-experts.html

Interviewing: Some Guidelines to Follow

Job interviews can be tough as an employer. In most instances, you don’t know the candidate beforehand, and have to learn enough about them in a 30-45 minute interview to determine if you’re willing to let them behind the counter of your business (or on the factory floor, in the office, etc.). There is no surefire way to interview that will reveal which candidate is the best. However, there are guidelines you can follow that will help you learn about the candidates, and give you enough of a sense of them to make a good decision. Let’s start by looking at ways to prepare for an interview.

The first part of preparation is getting to know your candidate. One way is by reviewing their resume. In addition to reviewing the information they provide, review their LinkedIn profile, and make use of the information presented their. Be wary of using outlets such as Facebook, as you may be running up against discrimination rules. You don’t want to go into an interview with any biases about the candidate, so make sure you have the right attitude before they arrive. After you have reviewed the candidate’s information and qualifications, come up with a list of questions to ask the candidate. I will go into further detail on this below. Lastly, select an appropriate environment for the interview. A good rule is to select somewhere quiet and professional. Coffee shops are common, and some libraries have small study rooms you can use. Of course, if you have your own office, that would probably work the best.

When the interview starts, observe the candidate as you listen to them. Be on the lookout for “closed-off” posture, such as crossed arms. Additionally, take note of whether or not the candidate dressed appropriately. During the interview, don’t be afraid to delve deeper into questions. Nikoletta Bika, for workable.com, advises: “Asking one question about a past experience may not tell you a lot about a candidate. You don’t just want to hear their story. You want to understand their way of thinking, how they reached a solution, what was the impact of their actions and how others perceived them.” It can be very helpful to ask questions that force the candidate to expand on their past experiences. Miss Bika also reminds us that the “interview isn’t only about [the interviewer] assessing the candidate. It’s also a chance to present the company in a way that will persuade the best candidate to accept their offer.” This is a reminder that a job interview isn’t meant to be a one-way affair. You need to be selling your business just like the candidate is selling themselves. Also, it’s a good idea to take notes, especially if you are interviewing multiple candidates.

There are a number of good questions you can ask the candidate. While I’m sure you have heard most of the common selections, here are a few less-used interview questions that can help you determine if a candidate is the right fit for your business:

  • Tell me about a time that you made a mistake at work. How did you handle it?
  • What do you expect from your employer?
  • “What are the three most important attributes or skills that you believe you would bring to our company if we hired you?” (com)
  • “What did you like most about (a job on their resume)? What did you like least about this job?” (com)

These questions help you get a sense for what motivates a candidate, as well as how they interact with their coworkers. Most interview questions are meant to reveal something about the interviewee’s cultural fit, expectations, motivations, and skills. There are plenty of resources available to help you develop a set of interview questions (see below).

Always finish the interview by asking the candidate what questions they have. These can tell you a lot about the candidate. If they don’t have questions, or if they have very basic questions, it could point to a lack of interest or preparation. The questions they ask may be just as important as the answers they give you in determining what type of employee they will be.

Interviewing candidates is one of the toughest parts of growing as a small business. There is only so much you can tell about a potential employee’s character, work ethic, and skill in a single job interview, so be sure to do your research beforehand. Always remember that you have more than just answers to judge a candidate on (body language, apparent preparation). Also, remember to come up with your script and stick to it, for all of your candidates. Everyone has their own way of interviewing, but these guidelines will help you identify which candidates are the best fit for your business, and which ones to let go.

 

Special thanks to: Amy Dutton, Michael Wampler

For further reading:

Interview Techniques from Experienced Interviewers – workable.com

Best Interview Questions for Employers to Ask Applicants – thebalance.com

Professional Recruiters Reveal 16 of the Best Interview Questions to Ask – insperity.com

Recruiting for Small Businesses

By Tyler Raymie

Recruiting isn’t an issue that is often associated with small business owners. Often, owners will simply hire the first candidates they interview to fill an opening, so they can get back to running the business. However, for many customers, your employees will make or break their experience. When this is considered, it becomes apparent that finding quality employees is vital to the success of any growing company. With that in mind, let’s take a brief, high-level look at some of the major questions associated with recruiting.

What type of people am I looking for? Obviously, the necessary skills of employees will vary by what kind of job you have open. However, there are certain character traits that are common among great employees in any industry. Three common examples are:

  1. According to a 2012 Forbes article by Alan Hall, this is always “the first factor to consider.” It is essential for employees to possess “the necessary skills, experiences, and education” to provide first-rate job performance.
  2. I like this one, because many other factors play into it, such as reliability, accountability, and work ethic. An employee who is committed to a business feels that they have a personal investment in the business, and will put forth a greater effort to see it succeed. You want employees who aren’t afraid of commitment, and that are looking for more than just a paycheck.
  3. This is another one that implies other qualities, such as creativity, teamwork, and a willingness to learn. An adaptable employee can thrive in a wide variety of situations, and so can be incredibly valuable for a small business owner who has a multitude of varying tasks to complete.

There are other qualities that are important to look for, but these three are among the most common from CEO’s and business owners.

What tools are available for recruiting? Two big ones for small business owners are your local Chamber of Commerce and social media, such as Facebook. Chamber members will usually receive free access to job boards, allowing you to reach a wide selection of candidates. Social media websites such as Facebook, as well professional sites like LinkedIn, allow you to transmit your job opening through your personal and professional network. They also allow you to reach out to your friends, family, and business contacts. This, too, allows you to reach wide variety of candidates, many of them a potential fit for your opening. Print ads in your local newspaper are another option. While you may not be able to reach as many potential candidates, this is still a viable and effective option for reaching out.

How do I recruit the right kind of candidates? The way you present the job opening can go a long way in attracting the right kind of candidates. The staff at Entrepreneur Media suggest that you complete a “job analysis” before writing your ad. This analysis should cover “The physical/mental tasks involved,” “How the job will be done,” “The reason the job exists,” and “The qualifications needed.”  Next, you should write a job description. According to Entrepreneur, “This is basically an outline of how the job fits into the company.” Focus on the position’s responsibilities and goals, as well as “whom that person will report to,” and “how the job relates to other positions in the company.” Once you have these, you can use them to write an ad that will attract the right kind of candidates. Entrepreneur suggests that to write a “targeted ad for your business, look at your job specifications and pull out the top four or five skills that are most essential to the job.” Make sure the requirements are educational and experience-related, as these are the hardest for the candidate to fake.

There is no single, definitive method for recruiting employees. A lot of it depends on the type of business you run, as well as the type of position you need to fill. However, these methods are suitable guidelines that can be applied across industries and settings. It may not seem like a priority, but your employees will define the experience of many of your customers. Hiring the right ones can be the first, most vital step in effective marketing.

 

Special thanks to: Amy Dutton, Haylee Weaver

 

For further reading:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/alanhall/2012/06/19/the-7-cs-how-to-find-and-hire-great-employees/#1193db8253c8

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/248026

https://www.hr360.com/employee-recruitment-hiring/

3 Essential Aspects of a Mission Statement

Last week I talked about why mission statements (or elevator pitches) are important for small businesses. Today, I am going to give some advice for writing them. It may seem like a simple enough task, but you are trying to sum up the primary goal of your business in a few sentences, or less. This can either be an exercise in futility, or a proverbial goldmine for your business, all depending on how much effort you put in. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three essential aspects of your mission statement.

The first thing you need to check with your mission statement is that it is fulfilling its purpose correctly. You want to make sure what you are saying actually means something, and isn’t just some ethereal piece of writing that no one understands and has little consequence in the real world. In a 2012 article for Forbes, Jim Nichols compares a business’ mission statement to the military’s “commander’s intent.” “The commander’s intent focuses on an end state communicated to each and every member,” He writes. “If the commander’s intent is to take that hill, then even the last soldier standing knows that he has to take that hill, regardless of rank, positioning, skill, etc.” Your mission statement should communicate to all you employees your end goal. However, it doesn’t need to be overly specific in doing this.

Secondly, you need to make sure you keep your mission statement simple. It is not where you define how you will achieve your end goal, only where you define your end goal. In a 2014 article for Entrepreneur, Mike Kappel explains; “A mission statement helps you pin down on paper what you are going to achieve.” He goes on; “Don’t let your mission statement constrain your business too much. Just make sure that your mission statement is sensible – but allows for growth.” You don’t want your statement to be too vague, so use language that is easy to understand. A great example of a short mission statement belongs to the nonprofit organization TED: “Spread ideas.” It doesn’t paddle on about how they will spread ideas, or even any specific type of idea. It keeps TED’s mission simple, understandable, and leaves it room to grow. Most importantly, it sums up exactly what TED does in two words.

Lastly, you need to express what makes you unique. This is your mission, not your competitor’s. The website allbusiness.com advises you to “identify any underlying philosophies or values that guide your company.”  Comparing Tesla and Ferrari gives us a good example:

Tesla: “Our goal when we created Tesla a decade ago was the same as it is today: to accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.”

Ferrari: “To make unique sports cars that represent the finest in Italian design and craftsmanship, both on the track and on the road.”

We can see that although both companies are creators of expensive vehicles, they have highly contrasting mission statements. One is focused on sustainable transport while the other is focused on style and speed. Be sure that your mission statement communicates what makes your goal different from your competitor’s.

This should help you develop a mission statement that represents you. Remember, your mission statement should be personal, and should show that you care about what you are doing. Don’t worry about being too specific, but make it clear enough that it gives your business direction. This may seem like something small, but if it’s done right, it can define your business for years to come.

 

Special thanks to: Susan Pitts, Bryan Ziegler, Todd Rausch, Amy Dutton, Joel Youngs, Tricia Janes

The Value of a Mission Statement

by Tyler Raymie

Do mission statements have value for small businesses? While some may not like the idea of a “mission statement,” per se, being able to communicate your business’s purpose, range, value, and distinctiveness in a short paragraph, even a few sentences, can be extremely beneficial. Think of it as your high, high, HIGH level business strategy, and off of which everything else in your business can be built. With that in mind, let’s look at the audience and various purposes of a mission statement.

Who is your mission statement for? Most customers are unaware that it even exists. Think about the last time you went into Wal-Mart and thought “my, they are really fulfilling their mission statement today.” It probably never happened. There are three main audiences for your mission statement. The first is yourself. Not only do you create it, but you are most affected by it, as it defines the primary goal of your business. The second audience are your lenders and investors. Most mission statements are too vague to have a strong impact on these groups. However, a good mission statement can provide a strong opening to a business plan, which may be useful in obtaining capital. The third and most important audience is your employees. These are the people who will have direct contact with your customers (in most cases), and so need to feel as strongly about your business as you.

So, with audience in mind, let’s look at the purpose of a mission statement. In a 2013 article for Forbes, Patrick Hull writes that a mission statement “provide[s] you and your employees with the framework and purpose [of your business].” Consider Ferrari’s mission statement: “To make unique sports cars that represent the finest in Italian design and craftsmanship, both on the track and on the road.” Everything Ferrari makes and sells falls within this framework, down to the details. They build fast, sleek vehicles for affluent customers. Your mission statement should sum up your business’s goal without putting it in too narrow of a box.

It can also help differentiate you from competitors. In a 2014 article for Entrepreneur, Tim Berry asks; “Look at your company’s mission statement, if you have one: Would your customers know that’s yours and not your competitors?” He is making the point that your mission statement should communicate what makes your business unique. If your competitor could use the same statement as you, it is too vague.

One more important purpose of a mission is to motivate your employees. Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer wrote about the importance of giving your employees meaning in 2012 for the Harvard Business Review. They talk about the importance of amplifying meaning to employees, in order to engage employees more consistently and intensely. “To accomplish this…[employers] must communicate to employees how their work contributes to these sources of meaning,” they write. “Often, a well-articulated mission statement is the place to start.” A well-thought out mission statement can inspire your employees to achieve. But words alone don’t do the trick. As Amabile and Kramer write, “far too often, mission statements turn out to be empty lip service to values that aren’t lived every day by managers inside the organization. So this is the leader’s second task: walking the talk of the mission statement.” Unless you as the owner act like the mission statement means something, it will be utterly lost on your employees.

Maybe you don’t like the idea of a written mission statement. While there are more important things for small businesses to worry about, one cannot deny the value of a basic, central goal that defines the company and communicates your value. Being able to communicate every facet of your business in a short statement will keep you focused in day to day operations, and encourage your employees to do the same.

 

 

Special thanks to: Susan Pitts, Bryan Ziegler, Todd Rausch, Amy Dutton, Joel Youngs, Tricia Janes