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Every guide to starting and running a small business tells you to create a mission statement.
You’re told to put it in your business plan and in any company documents.
But if you’re only writing a mission statement to check a box off your to-do list, it likely won’t be useful and you might as well just skip it.
It’s not make-or-break for most businesses, but can be a valuable tool if done well.
A mission statement is a statement that can help motivate you and anyone working with you, but a poor statement won’t have any effect.
So if you’d like to understand how to write an actual useful mission statement, read through this short guide.
What Is a Mission Statement?
There are three types of statements that are recommended for most businesses: mission statements, vision statements, and a list of core values.
The mission statement in particular answers the question: “Why does our business exist?”
It’s a one or two sentence message that concisely states what your business does, why it matters, and who it matters to.
What Is the Purpose of a Mission Statement?
The purpose of a mission statement is to define what makes your company special to you, your employees, and its customers.
Statements can vary widely, but they usually at least touch on what your business does, and who it benefits.
Why Is a Mission Statement Important?
A good mission statement makes it easy to remember why you’re working on the business in the first place. It can also help customers identify with your company, and decide if they’d like to support it.
The importance of a mission statement varies based on the business.
Some businesses have obvious purposes and importance that make mission statements less critical. For example, SpaceX is currently a very innovative company trying to push the boundaries of space travel. All employees and fans of the brand easily remember what they do, and why they think it’s so interesting.
They happen to have an excellent mission statement, but could probably get away without one:
SpaceX designs, manufactures and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft. The company was founded in 2002 to revolutionize space technology, with the ultimate goal of enabling people to live on other planets.
It shows that even huge, successful companies recognize the importance of crafting a strong mission statement.
Compare that to a call center, which isn’t so glamorous. A good mission statement could be crucial in this situation if you want motivated employees that don’t think they’re stuck in an unimportant job.
Do I Need a Mission Statement?
The success or failure of your business likely won’t come down to your mission statement.
However, a good mission statement can help you be clear on what success looks like.
The key is that it has to be a “good” mission statement. Picking a bad mission statement is mostly a waste of time.
So do you absolutely need a mission statement? No. Is it worth spending a bit of time and effort creating a good one? Yes.
What Is The Difference Between a Mission Statement and a Vision Statement?
Vision statements are closely related to mission statements, and both focus on what a company is going to try and do.
A vision statement focuses on the future.
It’s a statement that describes what you’re hoping your business will become in the years to come. In general, it’s less important than a mission statement, but can be a useful tool to look at later.
Great Mission Statement Examples
It helps to look at some inspiring mission statements to get a sense of what a good one looks like before trying to write one.
1. Cradles to Crayons: Provides children from birth through age 12, living in homeless or low-income situations, with the essential items they need to thrive – at home, at school and at play.
This statement is incredibly specific. Anyone who reads knows they provide children up to the age of 12 in poverty with basic goods. If your business specifically serves a demographic, make it clear.
Short mission statements can still be effective, particularly if your business is appropriately named, and the cause is obvious.
In this case, the statement is more of a mantra that makes it clear that not only do they work to make the lives of animals better, but they also take action to prevent cruelty.
It’s not necessary to state “why” they do this because most people who are against animal cruelty understands why it’s a problem. This is a good example of why you shouldn’t follow an explicit plan, but do what works for your company or non-profit.
3. Boy Scouts of America: To prepare young people to make ethical and moral choices over their lifetimes by instilling in them the values of the Scout Oath and Law.
This statement clearly states who the Boy Scouts of America serves, what they do (instilling values), and why it’s important (being ethical and moral).
Read it again, and pay attention to your brain’s reaction. It likely creates an image of good kids who will grow up to be good people. This is highly desirable and motivating for parents and employees of the organization.
4. charity: water: Bringing clean, safe drinking water to people in developing countries.
This statement makes it clear that the organization actually delivers the safe water themselves in developing countries where the need is obvious. If the benefit of your work is obvious, you can often omit specifically mentioning it.
5. Warby Parker: To offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
Many businesses could claim a mission statement of offering designer eyewear, but not many could do it at a revolutionary price. Warby Parker is the only (and will always be the first) to focus on being a socially conscious eyewear business.
Key Takeaway: Include what makes your business special from others.
6. American Red Cross: Prevents and alleviates human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
This statement uses very concrete words and imagery. In particular, all people can connect to human suffering in emergencies.
This purpose is so clear and motivating that they are able to get volunteers and donors to support their work.
7. American Diabetes Association: To prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes.
Anyone with diabetes or who works in healthcare can identify with this statement.
It’s very clear that not only are they trying to cure it, but also do other work to prevent it and improve the lives of those that are not cured.
It can be good to mention multiple things your business does, if they are all important.
8. Patagonia: Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.
Patagonia is an American clothing company.
This statement could be more specific (i.e. “best product” and “solutions” are vague), but has a lot of good elements.
First, it includes important values that influence everything they do (cause no harm).
Second, the benefit of trying to improve the environment is very clear. This is a statement that environmentally-conscious customers can relate to. It appeals to something they strongly care about. If your business does the same, make it obvious.
Bad Mission Statement Examples
It’s also helpful to look at bad mission statements so you know what to avoid.
Jon Haworth created a “bad” mission statement generator. It’s intended as humor, but reveals some useful insights.
It spits out bad statements that are a combination of words frequently used by actual companies.
Let’s look at a few here:
- We coordinate catalysts for change.
- Our company exists to seamlessly coordinate content to meet our clients’ needs.
- Our vision is to negotiate deliverables.
- We reliably manage cost-effective information to reach new levels of customer service.
- It is our mission to enthusiastically manufacture timely catalysts for change in order to interactively leverage cutting-edge content.
You can likely tell that these are bad just by reading them.
The main reason is most of the words are vague buzzwords (e.g. “coordinate”, “new levels”, “catalysts for change”, “solutions”).
It’s impossible to connect to a statement that’s vague.
Additionally, while they all explain what the business does, few actually mention who benefits from the work. Making soup isn’t that exciting, but feeding the needy is a purpose that people can wake up everyday and be excited to go to work for.
How to Write a Mission Statement?
A simple way to start a mission statement is with the following structure:
Our mission is to ___
So what do you put in the blank?
The main questions you should attempt to answer in your statement are:
- What does your business do?
- What’s the benefit?
- Why would anyone care?
- What’s special about your business?
Answer the questions that you believe are most important for your specific business.
The most important thing is to use concrete language.
Your business can’t do everything or be inclusive of all. For example, if you want to make the “best creative pizzas possible”, don’t try to expand that by replacing it with “best Italian food possible.”
The vaguer your statement becomes, the less effective it is.
Steps to Creating a Business Mission Statment
- Look at inspiration and examples.
- Get staff input and suggestions.
- Create a few versions (by yourself or hire a freelancer).
- Tweak them if needed.
- Pick the winner (or vote on it).
While it’s not a necessity to get staff input, it makes sense to let them have input, as you want a mission statement that motivates them as well.
A Quick Mission Statement Checklist
In any case, you should come with at least a handful of mission statements to consider.
When evaluating them, here’s a quick checklist that will ensure that you choose an effective one:
- Is it original?
- Is it memorable?
- Is it short? (3 sentences max)
- Are there any vague words in it?
- Is it meaningful? (does your staff connect to it?)
- Is it specific to your company only? (It’s not good if others could use the same statement).
If you have a statement that checks all the boxes, you have your winner.
Conclusion and Next Steps
A mission statement can be a useful tool for small business owners.
It helps you stay focused on what really matters, and helps employees and customers get excited about what you do.
From here, follow the steps to write a mission statement that we looked at above.
If you have any questions or need a second opinion, please leave a comment below.