Every entrepreneur knows you can’t start a business without drafting a proper business plan first. In doing so however, many fail to address another key inaugural document – much shorter yet equally valuable. Writing a mission statement for your company at the very beginning is critical, and here’s why.
What is a mission statement?
In its purest form, a mission statement defines why your business exists. It crystallizes your long-term goals, lays out your market commitments and outlines the key pillars of your company culture.
A conventional mission statement should signal your corporate purpose to everyone the business is likely to affect, be it your customers, employees, shareholders, suppliers or the community at large. At the same time, it should at least illustrate every relevant aspect of your company’s operations. This includes the nature and quality of your product(s), the type of technology you use, your potential for disruption and growth and the overall market position. Oh, and it should also be no more than 1-2 short paragraphs long.
What is NOT a mission statement
There are plenty of myths about what a sensible mission statement looks like. While each of the following documents are essential in their own right, neither can act as surrogate for a standalone mission statement.
To that end, a mission statement is NOT the same as:
- Vision statement – while the two often get needlessly clumped together, a typical vision statement focuses on the company’s future, highlighting what it strives to become and accomplish. A mission statement, on other hand, is firmly set in the present day, and explains why the company exists in the first place.
- Company slogan – While both serve as marketing tools to an extent, a proper mission statement aims to provide actual, explicit insight into the company’s goals and structure. That being said, many international corporations struggle with including pertinent, concrete business information in their statements. In its mission statement, for example, General Electric simply claims that its goal is to ‘invent the next industrial era, to build, move, power and cure the world.’ As you grow, the line between a corporate slogan and a mission statement can sometimes get blurry.
- Business plan – while you may decide to incorporate your mission statement in your business plan, the two are by no means interchangeable. A business plan is a comprehensive, 8-12 pages long overview of your entire company, complete with exhaustive financial projections and market research data. It is also primarily an internal document, whereas a mission statement is commonly shared with the public.
Why write a mission statement?
The main purpose of any mission statement is two-fold.
For one, it should aim to inspire and delight – not just your workers and shareholders, but your company’s target customers as well. That’s why you want to try and avoid too much corporate lingo in your statement. ‘Maximizing profits and minimizing costs’ can be a sound business credo, but good luck trying to elate anyone with it.
But perhaps the more important function of a mission statement is its undeniable role as your company’s internal compass. Whenever you’re unsure if your business is on the right course, the statement provides a clear-cut reference point. It also serves as a powerful accountability tool, constantly reminding the founder of the promises he’s given to his staff, investors and customers. Lastly, an effective mission statement becomes internalized by every employee, and can be basically used as a pocket guide to everyday business decisions.
How to write a mission statement
While there’s still a heated debate raging about the statement’s ideal format, most analysts agree on a few best practices:
- Take your time. Mission statements are deceptively short. While the final draft should take about 30 seconds to read, it can take hours, if not days to materialize on paper. Besides, when it comes to penning a mission statement, it’s about the journey as much as the final destination. The brainstorming process itself helps entrepreneurs further investigate the reasons for starting a company and strengthen their determination. Make sure you set aside enough time to do this right.
- Don’t do it alone. While the founder should obviously have the final say, asking for feedback is crucial. Consult with your partners, employees or even your customers on what they see as your business’ biggest strengths and weaknesses. Gaining multiple perspectives helps create a statement more likely to be embraced by everyone.
- Ask questions. At the end of the day, a mission statement is a compilation of relevant answers to several key questions. These questions often include, but are not limited to:
- What does your business do?
- Why are you in business?
- Who are your customers?
- What value do you bring to your customers?
- How does your business address the needs of your employees?
- How are you different from your competitors? What level of service do you provide?
Examples of effective mission statements
For further guidance and inspiration, here are a few mission statements composed by established industry giants:
‘At Microsoft, our mission is to enable people and businesses throughout the world to realize their full potential. We consider our mission statement a commitment to our customers. We deliver on that commitment by striving to create technology that is accessible by everyone – of all ages and abilities. Microsoft is one of the industry leaders in accessibility innovation and in building products that are safer and easier to use.’
Barnes & Noble
‘Our mission is to operate the best specialty retail business in America, regardless of the product we sell. Because the product we sell is books, our aspirations must be consistent with the promise and the ideals of the volumes which line our shelves. To say that our mission exists independent of the product we sell is to demean the importance and the distinction of being booksellers.
As booksellers we are determined to be the very best in our business, regardless of the size, pedigree or inclinations of our competitors. We will continue to bring our industry nuances of style and approaches to bookselling which are consistent with our evolving aspirations. Above all, we expect to be a credit to the communities we serve, a valuable resource to our customers, and a place where our dedicated booksellers can grow and prosper. Toward this end we will not only listen to our customers and booksellers but embrace the idea that the Company is at their service.’
‘Mattel makes a difference in the global community by effectively serving children in need . Partnering with charitable organizations dedicated to directly serving children, Mattel creates joy through the Mattel Children’s Foundation, product donations, grant making and the work of employee volunteers. We also enrich the lives of Mattel employees by identifying diverse volunteer opportunities and supporting their personal contributions through the matching gifts program.’