Despite lower unemployment rates and a stronger market, the startup slump is very real. Shortly before the recession in 2006, more than 550,000 businesses opened their doors. In 2015, the most recent year surveyed by the U.S. Census Bureau, that number was 414,000.
It seems entrepreneurs are still afraid to step into the unknown and turn their ideas into reality. But one of the ways they can empower themselves to take action is to create a mission statement that explains what a business does and offers a clear sense of purpose to employees and consumers. While entrepreneurs can’t control market volatility or future corporate developments, they can use mission statements to better reflect their organizations’ visions and situate themselves in a dynamic marketplace.
From Conception to Execution
The best mission statements appeal to the type and breadth of audience a company hopes to reach. For example, Nike’s broad statement — “to bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world” — accurately represents a global corporation that speaks to billions of consumers, as an athlete’s anatomy isn’t culturally or geographically prescribed.
Smaller businesses and startups, however, are often more specialized organizations that operate in more refined, niche markets. Thus, they might utilize a more honed statement that their potential consumers find compelling and educational. Brandless, for instance — an online packaged-goods store selling everything from food to body products — bills itself as a company offering high-quality products at a low price for consumers who value social and environmental responsibility.
Beyond defining goals, a company’s mission statement can also guide product and service offerings, in addition to production methods or codes of conduct. Still, understanding the concept behind a good mission statement and actually creating one are different processes. Here are a few strategies entrepreneurs can use to define and craft their organizations’ purpose.
1. Define Your Mission — for Both Consumers and Employees
Why did you start your business? What differentiates from the competition? What role do your employees play in your business? What is your growth platform? You need to unearth your company’s core ideology and objectives in order to determine what your mission statement should say.
For employees, your statement will allow new hires to be on the same page as the rest of the team. For consumers, a well-crafted mission statement includes some barometer of satisfaction and success. Instead of pasting “To be the best at …” in the business plan’s executive summary, include actual and measurable goals that help consumers see your business as an opportunity.
Amazon, for instance, wants to be a place where consumers can find and buy anything. Both of these goals are measurable, helping the company define itself to consumers while promoting directional growth.
2. Write a Draft. Then Another. Then Another …
Mission statements come in all shapes and sizes, from this lengthier example by Universal Health Services Inc. to Life is Good’s succinct “To spread the power of optimism.” But no matter what complex obstacles a business tackles, the best mission statements embrace simplicity.
Cut out the fluff and leave those multisyllabic words at the door, which includes not writing a long paragraph full of industry jargon. If you want consumers — and investors — to actually read the statement, stick with a few sentences that are enlightening and accessible.
Defining and refining your company is a difficult process, though, and it’ll likely take a number of tries. Oftentimes when your team sits down to write a mission statement, the focus on the perfect wording creates too much back and forth. While getting the right word or phrase is important, focus first on the statement’s message and content, perfecting the copy only afterward. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help from those you trust or work with.
3. Keep It Current
Even current small businesses owners who have already implemented mission statements may find that the nature, scope, or scale of their business has shifted since the company’s founding. Don’t be afraid to periodically refine that statement to reflect your current operation.
There’s no concrete limit to the number of revisions you can make, though changing it too often can have a negative effect. In this case, consumers may see your company as unstable or flighty, so try to keep some degree of consistency by grounding changes under a larger and more fixed umbrella of purpose even when you update your statement.
A mission statement doesn’t have to be profound, nor does it have to reveal everything about your company. By clearly defining your core objectives and vision, writing simply, and maintaining a current and consistent approach, entrepreneurs can establish a greater sense of who their company is and what it offers, even when the nature of business remains nebulous. So don’t be afraid to sit down and put something in writing as you embark on your big idea, because it’ll no doubt help your company get off the ground.