Writing a mission statement that doesn’t suck
Traditional, structured business plans usually include business descriptions, SWOT analyses, market research, financial projections, and various strategic breakdowns (eg sales strategy, marketing strategy, etc). And, at the veryyy beginning, in the executive summary, is your mission statement. A good mission statement is supposed to succinctly describe your business and what you’re trying to achieve. It’s your North Star and keeps your overall planning focused.
Unfortunately, most mission statements aren’t very good. If you follow traditional formats and advice, you’ll wind up with something very philosophical and abstract. These philosophical mission statements make sense in mega-corps with dozens of departments, services, and silos. (Because how else are you going to succinctly describe what Amazon, Deloitte, or 3M does?) But, even if you aren’t super niched down, your business is much smaller and more focused than that. There’s unifying aspects to what you do. Instead of writing a business professor pleasing philosophical mission statement, write a concrete and representative mission statement that helps with strategic planning and keeps you grounded in your business.
Start with a value-proposition formula :
It’s tough to begin writing from a blank page. (That’s why so many people Google ‘mission statement examples’ and end up with something abstract.) Start with a basic formula, like “We do X for Y by doing Z,” to get the gist of your operations down on paper. Focus on the main segments of your business and ignore those minor services you’d like to phase out. Then, we’ll build from there and add any missing pieces of your mission.
Using my firm as an example: We help marketing agencies (and consultants) with accounting and business strategy by managing their tax compliance and being their go-to business guide.
My example could obviously use a lot of work. But, that’s the point. It doesn’t need to be perfect. You’re starting then improving. And, you’ll also notice that my example doesn’t include literally everything I do (like, I also do personal taxes or audit defense) and neither should yours. It shouldn’t include literally everything because then it gets muddled. Focus on your business’s core.
Adding your desired outcomes :
Why you’re doing something can get very philosophical (eg, ‘to save the planet’ or ‘to make a difference’). Instead, focus on and ask yourself more concrete questions, like “If everything goes according to plan, what’s the desired outcome for my clients, my employees, and myself (and the other partners/shareholders)? How can we concretely improve their lives?”
Using my firm as an example again:
Clients: We want to help clients actually understand their finances so they can be more confident in their businesses.
Employees: We want to build a modern accounting firm without the unreasonable busy season hours.
Myself: We want to build a remote firm that allows me to travel while working.
And, you can flesh those out even further. The clients section can include what type of clients you work with, beyond just simple niching (for example, I only work with clients that want to do things the right way aka no tax fraud. Or, you might only work with clients that truly understand the benefit of long-term demand gen marketing). Or, the employees section can include your desired company culture, how competitively you want to pay, PTO, etc.
What makes you unique :
Every business has something at its core that makes them unique. That could be a unique management style (like open-book management), unique methodologies (like demand gen marketing), unique long-term plans (like selling the business to the employees), etc. These unique aspects that’re at the core of your business should be included in your mission statement. Add a sentence (or a few) at the end of your mission statement that outline (and enshrine) your uniqueness. Although, it’s okay if you can’t immediately think of what makes you unique. (Like, I can’t figure out what makes me unique to keep my example going for this section 🤷♂️) You can always add it later.
As short or long as you need it to be :
Mission statements are solely for internal strategy. They don’t need to be perfect and polished for external observers (like potential new clients). And, just because the internet says mission statements should be short and succinct, doesn’t mean yours has to be. There’s no mission statement police that’s going to come in and critique your mission statement (unless you email it to me 👮♂️🚨). Make it as short or long as you need it to be to get the point across and keep you focused during future strategic planning.
How to use your mission statement:
A great mission statement will summarize the important parts of your business and can be used anywhere you internally need that summary. At the very least, you should include it at the top of your strategic planning meeting minutes and worksheets to keep your planning focused and give yourself guardrails. But, you can also share it with new employees/contractors, include it in your company wiki, add it at the top of your careers page, etc.
Write a draft mission statement. It doesn’t need to be perfect. It needs to be done. (And, feel free to email it to me.)
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