As a small business owner, I disregarded the importance of core values until we made our first hiring mistake.
At the time, we were a close-knit team of four employees. We hired a fifth employee that the team was split on as a candidate. I made the decision to proceed with hiring the candidate anyway because of a gut instinct. Three months later, I had to fire the candidate and another employee to help save and maintain our company culture.
After that experience, we formed core values to avoid future mistakes and base judgments on foundational elements. Five years later, the company experienced a successful acquisition. Establishing core values was one of the reasons why I think we were able to build a company worth acquiring.
Core values help guide the decisions, actions, and behaviors of a company. As workplaces have gone remote, hybrid, or remained in-person, a company’s core values have served as a North Star for employees and executives faced with tough decisions.
But what are some examples of small business core values, and how do they impact a company?
We asked CEOs, founders and company leaders for their best recommendations. From "sisterhood" to "dedication to customers," these strategies may help you develop or add to your core values.
17 examples of core values in small businesses
- Be the human your dog thinks you are.
- Strength in numbers.
- Go the extra mile.
- We believe in family.
- Dedication to customers.
- Team members always come first.
- Enjoy the ride.
- We embrace change.
- Grit is powered by love.
- Radical candor — care personally, challenge directly.
- The company wins when the team members win.
- Sense of adventure.
- Be a radical giver.
1. Be the human your dog thinks you are
“Be kind, show care for your colleagues. And even if you’re an expert, give others context, reinforce the positive and help them understand. This ideology helps us create an inclusive environment where our employees are comfortable asking questions, and productivity is heightened as a result.”
— Joe Spector, Dutch
2. Strength in numbers
“Employees wear a lot of hats when working at an early-stage startup. There are always lofty goals and never enough resources to achieve those goals alone or working independently. Strength in numbers — which we define as utilizing all available resources — inspires us to rely on those around us to accomplish our work, together. One example of this is operating in an Agile environment and using Kanban workflows, where a team member can easily jump in on a bottlenecked area to make sure things keep moving.
“There’s a good quote behind the value as well: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ By working together and relying on the creativity of our community, a strength-in-numbers approach enables us to go much further as a company.”
— Adrian James, Terkel
3. Go the extra mile
“To highlight when a team member goes the extra mile for a client or another team member, we share kudos messages in our monthly internal eNewsletter — often in the form of verbatim praise from the client or a direct quote from a colleague. This newsletter goes out to our team across Canada and at our virtual quarterly meetings.
“Since we are mostly remote, it’s important to communicate those successes to the whole team and ensure people know their work is valued. We want to recognize when someone goes out of their way to solve a problem, puts in extra effort, and sees an initiative through beyond the typical amount of work required.”
— Colton De Vos, Resolute Technology Solutions
4. We believe in family
“Since 1977, our business has been owned and operated by commercial finance brokers, who also happen to be family. While there are many challenges to having a family business, there are also many benefits. As a family of commercial finance brokers, we are real people providing real solutions for our customers for generations to come.
“Family-owned businesses have always been the backbone of our economy, and we are proud to be a part of that.”
— Carey Wilbur, Charter Capital
5. Dedication to customers
“We always act in the best interest of the client. We are a customer-centric company and we go above and beyond to make sure that our client strategies and recommendations provide the most value based on their needs. Some companies focus more on sales numbers, but our dedication to our clients has been the hallmark of our success. We take the time necessary to build a rapport and understand our clients' needs.”
— Chris Abrams, Marcan Insurance
“It's so hard to choose one core value above the rest, however, our core value of balance is integral to the framework, functioning and philosophy of Miss Details. It permeates every aspect of the work we do, from balancing data and design to create effective sensory branding, to mapping out a marketing strategy fueled by both logic and emotion. Personally and professionally my goal is to have and promote a healthy work-life balance for my team — which is a little more difficult as an entrepreneur!”
— Tanya Gagnon, Miss Details
“When talking to clients about their finances, they want to ensure that they are in a safe space where I will not share their personal information with others. At the onset of the coaching relationship, I guarantee that clients know that their conversations with me are treated confidentially. This lets them know that they can speak freely without holding back on their struggles with their finances or their relationships. Ultimately, clients can talk comfortably and start making strides in accomplishing their future goals.”
— Annette Harris, Harris Financial Coaching
8. Team members always come first
“I run a digital online company using a team of virtual assistants. Keeping employees happy across multiple geographies can always be a challenge. But one core value I use is a quote from Richard Branson which goes: ‘Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.’ This helps keep employees motivated, and improves retention and overall productivity — thus improving the business's sales and revenue.”
— Mogale Modisane, ToolsGaloreHQ.com
9. Enjoy the ride
“I work at an IT solutions company called Electric, and although that product might not sound fun, working here certainly is. One of our core values is to enjoy the ride and I think the company does a great job of promoting it. We've done Drag Queen Bingo over Zoom, taken happy hour boat cruises on the Hudson and members of our team even met Dan Levy when he was a keynote speaker at our big annual event. There's a culture of fun and excitement here and I think it energizes us to perform better and make work more enjoyable.”
— Ryan McSweeney, Electric IT Support
“In a primarily female industry, sisterhood is a company value that keeps our culture supportive and empowering. This value helps share our passions and connects us within the company and to our clients. These deep connections are powerful in maintaining a positive employee experience and an exceptional customer experience.
— Vanessa Molica, The Lash & Sugar Company
11. We embrace change
“If the last decade has shown us anything, it’s that change is occurring faster than ever. To sustain your small business in the long run, it's crucial that you embrace this change and learn to adapt to it. While many small companies hate change and want ‘business as usual,’ avoiding updates to their processes at every turn or having to pivot, our company embraces it. Learning to love change and embrace it makes us more nimble and flexible. This allows us to more quickly adapt to changing customer preferences and modes of doing business. To me, this core value has been especially pertinent and important during the last two years of the pandemic.”
— John Ross, Test Prep Insight
“In this remote work environment, it can be easy to hide mistakes or feel the need to cover up why you weren't at your computer. Fostering transparency as a core value ensures no one tries to cover up their mistakes or feels the need to fib. Being a 100% remote organization, this is something we make sure our team feels confident in from day one.”
— Alison French, Emerged
13. Grit is powered by love
“Being an entrepreneur takes grit. Grit is powered by love. You must love what you are doing or you’ll never ever have the strength to get through the challenges.
“This is our core value that drives everything we do. We work hard to develop recipes, engage with readers and maintain brand awareness, but it would be impossible without genuine love for cooking, interacting online, and having a vision for our brand. It is a grind, but because we love what we do and love our readers, it makes it so much easier to tackle inevitable challenges.”
— Sylvia Fountaine, Feasting at Home
14. Radical candor — care personally, challenge directly
“Radical candor is the idea that you should share opinions directly and openly with your team. With smaller, growing businesses there is not a lot of room to hide your thoughts or feelings, both in the sense of physical space but also in the sense of being able to scale and build effectively. Radical candor forces us to lay all of our cards on the table — even if it may be uncomfortable. It allows us to uncover things that need to improve, small issues that if left untreated will become larger problems at scale. By having your entire team practice radical candor you work together to build a better business and are constructively forced into looking at things from multiple perspectives and be more successful because of it.
— Sam Gallen, collystring
15. The company wins when the team members win
“At Mashman Ventures, one of our core values is to ‘Always chase after your vision.’ Everyone on the team is constantly encouraged to chase after their own goals in business and in life. When the team meets, we ask each other about recent wins at work and beyond to celebrate them. We ask each other if there's anything we can do to help, offering our expertise to each other. We also emphasize personal growth for everyone on the team.
“Our founder, Isaac Mashman, likes to say that ‘At the center of all achievement is personal growth.’ When everyone on the team is eating well, the company must be doing well. In creating this culture, all of us on the team grow professionally and personally, have a great support system, and the company benefits as a result.”
— Eric Chow, Mashman Ventures
16. Sense of adventure
“My favorite core value is our sense of adventure. It's what we built our company on, and we still live by it. Successful entrepreneurs don't wake up one morning and decide to become one. They've always had an entrepreneurial mindset. Don't be shy if you have a business idea or project; try it. ‘You'll always miss the shots you didn't take.’ Without my sense of adventure, I would not be where I am today.”
— Ouriel Lemmel, WinIt
17. Be a radical giver
“On January 1, 2018, I made ‘giving’ my word of the year for 2018, and that decision has had ramifications in my business and ripple effects across the people I serve. My entire team approaches business from the perspective of serving more and giving more value to everyone in our audience. Although it's not the reason we give, we've found that the more we give, the more we get. Giving is no longer my word of the year; it is the essence of my business.”
— Bobby Klinck, BobbyKlinck.com
Creating core values for your small business
As you can see from these examples, creating core values for your company can be a fun and incredibly impactful way to shape an organization and guide employees.
A perfect core value aligns with the beliefs of a founder and the employees who work within a company. If everyone can buy-in, understand, and get inspired by a core value, then you know you’ve found a winner.
Use these core value examples to get inspired and create the guiding principles for your small business.