Words on a wall. Fancy signs. Snazzy sales and marketing copy. Recruiting tactics. Buzzwords that are spoken during an all-hands meeting. Corporate jargon. These are among the typical responses you'll get when you ask someone, “What is a mission or vision statement?”
The implication is that mission and vision statements are fluff pieces that offer more vanity than value.
While that's frequently true, it doesn't have to be.
When carefully crafted, mission and vision statements provide remarkable conviction of purpose, clarity of direction, and confidence in decision making and actions. When they're not, well, then they're duds.
I like to think about strong versus weak mission and vision statements as a matter of opposites…
Fluff versus substance
Vanity versus integrity
Generality versus originality
Substance. Integrity. Originality—these are empowering ideals, as well as characteristics of compelling leaders who form and run compelling companies. And those characteristics come to life in their fullest form through well-crafted mission and vision statements.
Well-Written Statements Give Your Business an Edge
It's simple: Well-written mission and vision statements give your company a clear advantage. Poorly-written statements are a notable disadvantage. And not having any statements at all is a risky hedge because of the important questions left unanswered, including:
- What is our noble purpose, our reason for being?
- Whom does this company serve?
- Why should anyone invest their time, attention, or money in us?
- Where are we going? And how (e.g. what type of work) will we get there?
- How do we, on our own terms, define success?
- Who do we want to be when we grow up? Who do we *not* what to be?
- How will we constrain ourselves to keep our focus on what matters?
Do those questions sound important to you? Do you believe you'd have more confidence in your decision making if you knew those answers? Do you believe your key business relationships (with business partners, team members, and service partners) would improve if those relationships were able to leverage those statements for better alignment?
I hope so. Now is the opportune moment. If you share that conviction, then let's explore how to expertly craft a mission and vision statement for your small business in five steps.
5 Steps to Writing Your Mission and Vision Statements
1. Don't Confuse Mission with Vision
Mission and vision statements are not the same thing.
To excel at writing each, you need to understand and respect the distinctions between them and how they work together.
As I wrote in my business fundamentals guide, “mission is a declaration that ideally will waver very little (if at all) over time. It is elemental to your existence.
By contrast, vision is an expression of the mission in more concrete terms that *can* be realized over time. Vision statements are usually crafted to represent a two- to three-year pursuit.”
Together, a company's mission and vision statements forge its purpose. That purpose is owed first and foremost to anyone working with and for you—your team, your partners, your investors, anyone else on the “inside.”
The insiders are the target audience for your mission and vision statements because they are the people that you need to lead into action in pursuit of that vision. And if you're a company of one, then you need to lead yourself with the same vigor that you would lead anyone else.
2. Look Around For (Good) Examples
Yes, there are a lot of crummy mission and vision statements out there in the business world. There are also some outstanding ones. Find some good ones that really speak to you in terms of their structure, vocabulary, and tone. Leverage those insights into instincts for how best to craft your own.
When I led the charge on crafting our mission and vision statements at SPI Media, I too looked around. Specifically, I looked for mission statements—because in my mind, those come before vision statements—from companies that I admire for their marketplace respect. Here are the few that struck a strong chord with me:
- IKEA—To create a better everyday life for the many people.
- Life Is Good—To spread the power of optimism.
- Squarespace—To empower people with creative ideas to succeed.
- Starbucks—To inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time.
- TED—Spread ideas.
- Tesla—To accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.
What do you see when you study those examples? Here's what I see:
- No company mentions its products or services.
- Each one calls to a noble idea far bigger than itself.
- All but one are ten words or less.
- For many companies, a clear synergy exists between its name and its mission.
The core advice there is to look for patterns within the examples you find. I imagine you'll discover ones similar to mine. If you're struggling to find good examples, then involve others in the process.
3. Involve Others in the Process
Speaking of others, involve them in all facets of your development process—in the crafting of your mission statement and your vision statement. Here are some stakeholder groups you should consider involving:
- Business partner(s)
- Team/staff members
- Advisors and investors
- Fans and customers
- Friends and family
Each group can, and should, be involved differently. For instance, a close friend you've spoken with a lot about your business may be able to provide you insight about the spirit you're bringing into your business. Those insights may offer up some perspective and even vocabulary that you hadn't thought of using.
That stands apart, however, from involving a business partner, if you have one, because the business partner shouldn't only provide perspective for consideration but more so provide real substance and authority to the process.
Also, do not discount your fans and customers. If you have some traction already, then those folks who have already accepted you into their lives and are paying attention to you in some form will surely have valuable perspective to share on the work you've already put out into the world. Listen to them for all manner of things, including developing your guiding statements.
And absolutely involve your team if you have one. Remember: the primary audience for strong mission and vision statements is your inside stakeholders, notably your staff. You need their buy-in to be successful. And you need their judgment to ensure that the trajectory you're on together is true to your collective intentions.
I involved the entire in-house team (including Pat, of course) in the crafting of our mission and vision statements in the immediate aftermath of my creative agency formally merging with SPI.
At that time, SPI had never had guiding statements, so we were working with a clean slate. We spent most of a day together workshopping this material. In my business fundamentals guide, I offered the following remark about this moment for us: “It was a powerful and inspiring experience as we worked through ideas and feedback together. What emerged couldn’t have been achieved alone. It was a team effort, which is the point.”
4. Keep One Foot on the Ground
It's easy to get lost in the clouds when you write a mission and vision statement. It's important and necessary to look up at the stars when you do this work. Just keep one foot on the ground while you do so.
In other words: the most effective mission and vision statements are those that carefully balance aspiration with pragmatism.
If you shoot too high with your rhetoric, then you risk disappointing those that come to believe in your lofty promises. You also risk being seen as unrealistic or worse—not credible. If your credibility suffers, then your team, investors, and other backers are prone to walk away. That's not a risk worth taking.
Conversely, shooting too low presents its own risks. If your mission isn't compelling enough and if your vision isn't interesting enough, then you'll struggle to attract and retain top talent, secure funding (if that's your aim), and motivate others to work with or for you. (Again, remember that the primary audience is insiders.)
And to the extent that you deploy your mission and vision statements outwardly to those in your market, then you similarly risk underwhelming potential fans and customers. This presents a double-whammy risk when combined with demotivated insiders.
5. Embrace Editing and Rewriting
Accept this now: The best version of your vision and mission statements will not be written on the first try.
Crafting missions and visions that captivate attention and inspire focused action is a process of delicate refinement. Every word matters. Not a single word should survive in either statement if it does not directly contribute to the intended cause and effect of the statement. To edit and to rewrite is to refine the raw into the remarkable. Embrace that process because in doing so you commit to a more excellent outcome.
Not sure if you've exactly nailed the phrasing? Hung up on a particular word choice? Struggling with edits at large? Then, by golly, involve others! Look back at step #3. Those same groups of stakeholders can be engaged on the back end of the process (this refinement part) as well as on the front-end (the intake, idea part).
Mission and Vision at SPI Media
What are the mission and vision statements for SPI Media? Thanks for asking!
Our Mission: To elevate entrepreneurs to within reach of their dreams.
Our Vision: SPI is a trusted learning and development ecosystem that serves a worldwide community of online entrepreneurs. The community is alive with individuals and teams from all walks of life bonded by a common cause—to build purpose-driven and profitable businesses they can be proud of. SPI empowers its community members to take action toward achieving their goals by providing best-in-class educational content, community-building opportunities, and training experiences. SPI also partners with other industry experts to develop and champion useful resources that further enable its mission.
We crafted those statements two years ago—in January 2019. Thanks to the care we invested into their conception, I'm proud to say that they stand true to this day.
Moreover, our vision has slowly but surely been realized over these past two years. We continue to create and launch market-leading educational content with an emphasis on online courses.
Our worldwide audience continues to expand. And last year, we launched SPI Pro, our private membership-based community for earnest, growth-stage entrepreneurs. That's not the full measure of our vision, so don't worry! We have much more coming, true to form with our guiding statements. Stay tuned!
But enough about us.
You and your business stand to gain a lot if you commit to this process of crafting mission and vision statements. It's not an overstatement to say that your conviction of purpose, clarity of direction, and confidence in decision making and actions will all elevate, and notably so. As long as you don't rush the process and risk over (or under) inflating your statements, then you'll be well positioned to emerge with more momentum than ever.
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