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