On the top 10 list of things that startups and small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) have to worry about, how to write a mission statement usually doesn’t appear.
Often, the focus is on selling, which makes sense: you can’t grow if you don’t earn. In the maelstrom that is small business life, core administrative tasks often get shunted aside. Business founders view creating a mission statement as one of those tasks that can wait … and wait.
But that’s a mistake.
Growing a business requires exceptional teamwork, and teamwork is only possible when everyone is working toward the same goal. Imagine a team of sled dogs all pulling in different directions: they would expend a lot of energy and go precisely nowhere.
Well-crafted mission statements define goals, ideals, values and identity in a way that helps all employees — veterans and newcomers alike — understand what they’re working toward and how. Learning how to write a mission statement can also attract top-tier talent looking for evidence that a prospective employer will be a good fit.
How to write a mission statement that’s the foundation of your brand
Developing a brand identity is critical for any organization that intends to compete, and at the core of every successful brand is a mission statement. When an SMB figures out how to write a mission statement with clarity, employees will spend less time wondering if their actions are aligned with the company’s goals.
Before you begin to write your mission statement, think about the kind of image you want to create for your brand in customers’ heads.
Consider the mission statement of electric car innovator Tesla: “To accelerate the advent of sustainable transport by bringing compelling mass market electric cars to market as soon as possible.” Figurative use of the word “accelerate” cleverly makes the mission statement sound as sleek and speedy as the company’s cars.
Avoid being vague with your mission statement
While mission statements like, “Our goal is to be the best company we can possibly be,” or, “We live to delight customers,” might seem like noble sentiments, they’re too vague to be of any value. Yes, many mission statements are boring, but that doesn’t mean yours should be.
Avoid the kind of flowery, generic marketing language (“best in breed” and “purpose-built”) often found in press releases.
Overly broad statements won’t help employees understand what they’re working toward, and that’s one of the core functions of your mission statement.
When researching how to write a mission statement that suits your company, consider actively identifying your core business in your end result. A great example of a direct mission statement is eBay’s: “At eBay, our mission is to provide a global online marketplace where practically anyone can trade practically anything, enabling economic opportunity around the world.” It wastes no words and defines the company’s entire business model in a single sentence.
Keep the sparkly unicorns to a minimum
As you learn how to write a mission statement, remember to be inspiring — but you don’t want it to be so idealized that it’s meaningless. A health food chain whose mission is to “ensure every child eats a healthy diet” sounds unrealistic and inauthentic. Unless your company is a nonprofit, it exists to succeed in sales and stay in business, so don’t dance around the issue. Consider the more realistic mission statement of health food restaurant chain, Sweetgreen: “To inspire healthier communities by connecting people to real food.”
While it’s a good idea to include some social consciousness in your mission statement — it resonates, particularly with younger customers — don’t let your list of goals run away to fantasyland. Insincerity definitely will not resonate.
Consider Coca Cola’s mission statement: “To refresh the world in mind, body and spirit. To inspire moments of optimism and happiness through our brands and actions. To create value and make a difference.” It’s a hefty claim for a company that sells bubbly sugar water with no nutritional value. Customers today have better hypocrisy detectors than their parents’ and grandparents’ generations and will easily spot insincerity, so balance idealism with practicality and honesty.
Keep your mission statement short
There’s no doubt you’re learning how to write a mission statement because you have a lot to say about your company. But keep in mind that customers, employees and potential hires aren’t looking for a dissertation. They’re looking for your company’s identity captured in just a few sentences.
“Your mission statement, at its absolute best, should be able to double as your slogan,” says Dave Smith for Inc. “Concise mission statements are also more memorable and effective. So there's no need to make it overly complicated; just state the purpose of your company, your reason for starting it in the first place.”
Begin your mission statement with the short-term
When considering how to write a mission statement that suits your organization, remember that companies, like people, change over the years. If your company is small and growing, or a new startup, think about crafting your mission statement to focus on your short-term goals of building the business by serving a need or a niche market. While it’s nice to think your company will become a global behemoth in 20 years, the kind of mission statement that’s relevant to Boeing or Apple probably won’t suit your SMB.
If your business does succeed and grow, you can revise your mission statement in the future to reflect your new, larger presence in the marketplace as well as your long-term goals. Once again, be sure to balance idealism and realism.
Of course, once you’ve figure out how to write a mission statement, your work isn’t done. You need to put it into practice from the perspective of sales, marketing and customer service. Be sure to properly communicate it to your employees. You might even want to consider asking your employees for feedback on your new mission statement before you set it in stone. If employees don’t respond to it well, or don’t understand it, you might have missed the mark.
“Once you’ve written a mission statement worthy of your business, your job is only half-finished,” says Chuck Cohn for Entrepreneur. “A mission statement is most effective when you impart its message to your team — and when they align their actions with the mission’s vision.”
Now that you’re familiar with how to write a mission statement, you can display your company’s brand and goals with confidence.