Writing a mission statement for your company can seem so daunting. How do you boil down all of the most essential values of your business into a single, concise statement? How do you make sure it communicates the right message to your team and to customers? It seems like there’s a lot of pressure to get it just right, and this becomes a point of paralysis for many business owners.
That’s one of the reasons Matt Smith and I wrote Startup—we wanted to share our experiences with overcoming challenges like mission statements, which we know can bring momentum to a screeching halt when a business is brand new. Our primary goal was to show new business owners that there is no “one right way” to tackle the various steps of getting a startup business off the ground, and therefore no reason to allow yourself to get stuck while you’re trying to do things perfectly.
If you’re struggling right now to create a mission statement for your company, I have some bad news. I don’t have the magic solution—I think every business owner needs to find his or her own process. That said, I feel strongly that mission statements are important and helpful for solidifying the direction of a business, and I’m invested in making sure this doesn’t become a roadblock for entrepreneurs, especially new ones.
How We Did It at Maven Publishing
Here is an excerpt from Startup, which details how we developed our mission statement at Maven:
Maven’s mission statement, “A boutique publishing house of non-fiction, making published authors out of entrepreneurs, business people, and professionals,” is close to the traditional definition of a mission statement. It says who we are, a boutique publishing house; what we provide, non-fiction publishing; and whom we provide it to, entrepreneurs, business people, and professionals. For us, it was important to be specific so that we would know how to effectively market our services.
That mission statement didn’t come easy, though. A lot of time and back-and-forth went into creating it. There was probably an entire week where my original partner and I emailed each other ideas about how we wanted our business to operate and the various values that were important to us. I don’t want to say that it was wasted time, because it was helpful to know that we were working towards the same vision, but at the same time, that week could have probably been used more effectively. We did a lot of talking and not a lot of doing.
I also think we were wrong in thinking that we absolutely had to come up with a mission statement before launching. It has ended up being a prominent feature on our website, so I’m glad we have it, but in retrospect, I don’t think we needed to have that set in stone before we started marketing ourselves and taking clients.
My advice: have a vision, but leave room for flexibility. And whatever you do, don’t let a lack of the “perfect” mission statement keep you from launching your business.
A Slightly Different Approach to Mission Statements
At Maven, we had decided that we wanted a mission statement before launching, but that’s not a requirement for everyone. Here’s what Matt said in Startup regarding Modmacro’s mission statement:
At Modmacro, we place a lot of value on having a documented mission statement. I find it a practical tool to use as a grid that we run decisions through. Without having a defined mission, how do you know when something is off mission? However, agonizing over the development of a mission statement before you even launch may not be the best way to spend your time.
What Matt and I both realized when we thought about our own experiences with mission statements is that they’re important and helpful, but that they don’t need to be 100% set in stone before you launch. Sometimes, you need to get your company up and running, do a few jobs, and interact with real customers before being able to put your true mission into words.
Mission Statements Evolve Over Time
According to lots of popular business “how-to” books and websites, a mission statement should include the following: the nature of your business, what you provide to your customers, your company’s values, and what sets you apart from everyone else. Those are all great things to communicate both internally and out into the world, but these things can change as your company grows and develops.
Starbucks is a great example. Starbucks has changed dramatically since they first opened their doors in 1971, and their mission statement has adjusted accordingly. Their original mission statement, unveiled in 1990, reads: “Establish Starbucks as the premier purveyor of the finest coffee in the world while maintaining our uncompromising principles as we grow.” It communicates their commitment to selling quality products, which was their primary focus at the time.
As the company has grown into the international juggernaut it is today, their mission statement has also evolved. Today, their mission statement reads, “to inspire and nurture the human spirit—one person, one cup, and one neighborhood at a time.” This statement was introduced in 2008, and it reflects their newer desire to be known more for the communities they build, rather than the products they sell.
If one of the largest, most famous companies in the world has a mission statement that has changed so dramatically over time, yours almost certainly will, too. With that in mind, put careful thought into your mission statement and make sure it communicates the right message, but also don’t let the need for the perfect words derail you or allow your business to stall. You can always reevaluate your statement as needed.
Creating a Mission Statement That Works
Every business owner will have a different approach to creating a mission statement. Brainstorming between partners made sense for us at Maven because we had no other team members at the time. As a different example, here is how Matt Smith and Modmacro developed his company’s mission statement (from Matt’s 2015 book, Kill the Noise):
As a team, we’ve invested a lot of time in developing our mission. I’ve done interviews with everyone and conducted brainstorming sessions about what our core values really are. We didn’t rush the process because it’s the kind of thing we want to refer to often. For example, I want our mission posted near my desk so I can consider it every time I’m on the phone with a client. I want to be able to see that statement during the conversation and ask myself, “Would this project be on-mission for us or would this be a diversion?”
Matt involved everyone on his team because he wanted to make sure that the company’s mission statement would be meaningful and useful to everyone. To accomplish his goal of making Modmacro’s mission statement a practical one, he needed to gather feedback from his team members and put together a statement that would resonate company-wide.
In a larger business, it may not be feasible to involve the entire team in the process, but it is very wise to solicit input from a select group—perhaps your leadership team, or possibly even randomly selected team members. It’s imperative that the mission statement represents the company as a whole, and that’s not something that should be done by the business owner alone.
Try to Get It Right, But Don’t Get Stuck
Remember, a mission statement is vital to keep everyone in the company moving in the same direction. That said, it can change and evolve over time. It’s important to get it right, but it’s also important to be flexible with it. Consult your team, conduct interviews, create surveys, and hold brainstorming sessions, but by all means, don’t let the process of finding the “perfect” mission statement stop you from doing the most important thing: running your business.