Creating a mission statement isn’t rocket science. I’ve created many over my three decades in business. Actually, I’ve created, revised, and scrapped them. I’ve conducted how-to research, polled my business advisers—I’ve even met with the president of a university who was an expert in this area.
Folks, I’m here to tell you that most of the business training on this subject is overkill.
Here are some practical, no-nonsense tips I’ve learned over the years that will help you create a winning mission statement for your business.
#1. Make your mission statement short and simple.
A one-sentence mission statement is best. Don’t use big, fancy words. If it’s longer than one sentence, you’re probably making a mistake. Eliminate all superfluous words. Use fifth-grade language so everyone can figure out exactly what you’re saying. If an entry level employee can’t memorize your statement in one minute, you’ve missed the mark. Being short and clear is more important than having a long sentence with proper grammar that nobody can remember. If you must go with a long sentence or even two sentences, okay, but later you’ll wish you hadn’t.
Here is my latest mission statement for Patriot Software, “Our mission is to make accounting and payroll fast, simple, and affordable for American small businesses.” Simple. It mentions the product, details the customers, and avoids flowery prose in favor of three pertinent adjectives common folk can understand. And simplicity is what you need to remember. Many people won’t relate to the deep relationship you have with your business and how you’d like it to be the best, most fulfilling, most perfect solution for your customers’ needs. That kind of depth actually confuses people, and it may even confuse you as to what your business is actually doing.
The more simple you can make your mission statement, the easier it will be to keep your business model true to the entire statement. That’s important to remember because, as you grow and change, you’ll want to change what your business offers. Your business statement may be a catchy saying when you’re first starting out, but later on, it will serve as your lighthouse in a foggy sea of business decisions. A clear and distinct light is much easier to spot.
#2. You have to create your mission statement yourself.
It has to be from your heart; from your gut. You can’t outsource this. Why? Because this is your mission. If you don’t believe in it, how will anyone else?
It’s okay to look for inspiration or motivation in other places. In fact, you may want to use some words that really resonate with your customers, or are well understood in your industry. However, this is not free rein to copy someone else’s statement.
Again, this comes down to understanding why you are running your business and what motivated you to start it in the first place. Your mission statement is not so much for the present as it is for the future — when business goals become less clear and you need a mantra to help guide your decisions and the decisions of your customers. If you can look at your mission statement and keenly understand what your business is about and why it exists, chances are so can your customer.
#3. You can’t include everything in your mission statement.
You’ll have to leave some things out. You’re the business owner. You’re in charge. You’re the expert on your business. Therefore, ignore everybody that tells you that your mission statement needs to be longer or more comprehensive (aka more complicated!). They’re wrong.
#4. Your mission statement has to be real.
It should so clearly describe what you’re doing in your business that your customers would easily agree with it. When customers see or hear your mission statement, their heads should be nodding in agreement, as though they’re thinking “Yep, that’s what Charlie does alright.” Or “Yep, I can see Charlie achieving that someday.” In other words, your mission can’t brag about quality if your business has no quality. And you can’t talk about reaching “number one in the USA” if it’s not within your capability to make that happen. Your mission has to be realistic, not contrived, and reasonably achievable.
#5. Make your mission statement “not too” …
… not too broad and not too narrow. Most entrepreneurs like to experiment; to try things — which means they often lose their focus and attempt to tackle things that they shouldn’t tackle. Just like the guardrail on a treacherous highway is designed to keep cars from going off a cliff, your mission statement is designed to keep your business on track. The next time you have a business idea, see if it falls within the guardrails of your statement. This is why you want your statement to be not too broad, but not too narrow.
#6. Your mission statement cannot do it all.
People will say you also need a Vision Statement, a Passion Statement, a Core Values Statement, a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), a Unique Value Proposition, etc., etc. Okay, fine. You can go and create those items with sentences or paragraphs of their own, but don’t try to have your mission statement do everything. It’s okay to insert some of your passion (e.g., save the whales) or insert what makes you competitively unique into your mission statement, but remember Rule #1: keep it to one short sentence!
Why do I stress simplicity so much? Because I’ve found that a simple tool that is easy to understand and use will often be used in creative, yet intuitive, ways to solve more complex problems. I’ve also found that complex tools that can do everything rarely get used because the investment of time and energy to learn everything is defeating. If you create a mission statement that tries to do everything, it means your mission is to do everything. Can you really do everything? Chances are you can’t.
Instead, focus on what you can do. Your customers will ask you do to things beyond what your mission statement says–that’s customers for you. You can do more than your mission statement implies–all missions change–but the core of the mission statement should promise what you know you can deliver, and nothing more.
#7. It’s okay to iterate.
Remember what I just said about mission changing? It’s okay to try out a new mission statement, only to throw it out and replace it two days later. It’s also okay to have a mission statement stand strong for years and then replace it with a new one. As your business changes and grows, so might your mission statement. But don’t change your mission statement simply to neatly encompass one of the many ventures that you want to try as an entrepreneur. Instead, remember the guardrails concept.
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