Many companies claim to have a “mission statement” or a “vision for the future,” but how you use these documents makes a big difference in your company. As a small business owner, you’ve probably been in a position where two things that matter to you, say a profit motive and the motive of helping your customers, come into direct conflict and you have to make a choice.
When well-constructed, mission and vision can be two of your most helpful documents, giving you insight when you come to a challenging choice or a frustrating pivot in the business plan. Here are some simple steps to follow to build a mission and a vision for your small business that will guide you during tough decisions.
Building Your Mission and Vision
Step 1: Consider the near-term, medium-term, and long-term dreams.
Before you dig too deeply, the vision process requires actually dreaming about the future. Plenty of start-up founders are ambitious in general but have a hard time envisioning the specifics, preferring to focus on the here-and-now. Give this a try though. Ask yourself some simple questions:
- What would success look like 6 months from now?
- What would success look like 18 months from now?
- What would success look like in a decade?
- How can you see your own role evolving? What will you lay down/pass off, and what tasks do you want to pick up over time?
- What major hurdles are coming, and how would you like to clear them?
- What major positive factors could aid your business in growth?
From these, formulate some kind of near-term, medium-term, and long-term goal. The time amounts are more specific to you, but imagine that the first term involves getting to the point where you are generating consistent revenue, medium-term is breaking even or close to it, and long-term is a sustainable, profitable business.
Step 2: What are your deal-breakers, hallmarks, and value-adds?
To begin drafting your mission, however, you need more than just benchmarks of success and plans for taking advantage of opportunities. You need to know the kind of business owner you want to be. This includes:
- Deal-breakers: what kinds of business practices are you absolutely opposed to? This really ought to include anything illegal, given the bad consequences, but it might include things that simply strike you as wrong but are legal. Some business owners prefer very transparent pricing, a particular kind of pay scale for employees, or some other closely-held way of doing business.
- Hallmarks: The opposite of a deal-breaker is a hallmark: these are the things you want your business to be known for. Most companies, for instance, have customer service standards, but if you want to be known as the best in your industry at customer service, that would be a hallmark. If you want to be known for using the best quality materials, or having the happiest employees, know that is something that matters to you.
- Value-adds: Another way to think about the unique place your business holds in your industry is what value you add. Certainly, you may sell the same general kind of product as other companies, but do you do so with a really rock-solid returns policy? Or with sustainable materials? Or with local sourcing? Any of these items matter to you, and they can become part of how you tell the story of your brand.
Step 3: Draft a priorities statement, in order of importance.
Once you know the answers to Step 1 and Step 2, you have to ask a hard question: which of these priorities matters more than the others? You may protest that you want everything, but assume you cannot have it all, or you’ll have to choose some things first. Perhaps you’ll have to aim to be profitable after a certain number of years but you might not hit your 6-month goals for growth given the slow build-up in your industry. You might want to pay better than market rate so you have ultra-low employee turnover, but that would be too expensive early on. Arrange your priorities in order.
Step 4: Allow the priorities to shape (and reshape) your vision for the future.
Writing a mission and vision statement can be as simple as a few sentences or as long as a full page for each paper, but basically, your mission statement will answer “What kind of company will we be?” and your vision statement will answer “Where will our company go in the future?” These questions are much easier to answer when you are armed with your priorities from Step 3.
When people read your finished, polished statement, they might not notice the trade-offs; they’ll just see a list of ambitious goals. However, you’ll know, when you see the statements, what matters most to you.
Step 5: Make it a point to revisit these documents at key decision moments.
When you are making a choice that affects the future of the company, pull out your finished mission and vision statements. Talk with your trusted team and see what choice fits most within the values of the mission and the timelines of the vision. What needs to be given up and what can be gained? These documents aren’t just pretty, outward-facing documents, ideally. Instead, they give you the most value when you use them in every major decision.
When your customers disagree with your choices, these statements give you language to explain your rationale. They show your clients why you went in that direction, and that you are living by your values by making that decision.
Step 6: When these documents feel out-of-step, discuss why and how to revise them.
Of course, there will be times when you know the right decision and the current mission/vision statements are in conflict. This is a time when you can decide to revise the mission and vision. While they should be very thought-out, they also cannot stay the same forever, since the industry will change all the time. Use revising these documents as a chance to celebrate successes, understand challenges, and move forward confidently.