Last month we talked about the importance of having a mission statement: even for us freelancer / solopreneur / small biz types. I’m back with the promised discussion about value statements.
A mission statement communicates the purpose of the organization. A values statement goes beyond that to define and declare your core principles, a code of ethics. A mission statement defines where you’re going. Core values are about who you are.
Much of what you might read about values statements is for larger companies who, rightly so, define values employees can rally around, that clearly define behaviour. Defining a set of values, even if just for yourself, is also important for freelancers, solo-entrepreneurs and small biz types.
A values statement names the core principles that guide and direct all that you do. It’s your moral compass. It guides decision-making and establishes a standard against which actions can be assessed.
Who are you?
Your values define what you do, how you behave. More accurately, what you do reveals your values, so you can probably tell, it’s pretty important your behavior is in sync with the values you espouse. And that’s where a carefully considered values statement comes in.
If you’re a freelancer / small biz person, your goal in defining a values statement is to define the actions that will in turn define who you are as a business person: how you interact with others, how you choose between alternatives, what your business is optimized to achieve, etc. – and then live by them.
Tips for creating a good values statement
Think about what really matters to you and your business. It’s easy to make a list of all the ways to be good or all the things you think your clients, colleagues, and/or employees want to hear. Go ahead and make that list, but then make yourself choose only the core values that truly apply, the ones that will guide your actions. Try to keep your list to no more than five core values.
Values like “excellence”, “integrity”, and “ respect” are used too often, which dilutes their impact. Worse, they’re just too generic. Remember, your values statement should be guiding actions. Consider a value of “excellence”. You should first determine whether “excellence” is truly one of your core values and why (see “be brief” above). If “excellence” stays on your list, spell out exactly what that means for your business. Excellence at all cost? Excellence no matter how long it takes?
Like your mission statement, your values statement can be used as a marketing tool, but that is not it’s purpose. They are not pretty words. They are not aspirational, not what you’re aiming for. They are who you are and will be without exception. Make your value statement real, your personal code for your business, and live by them. Customers can smell a fake from a mile away. That said, it’s perfectly fine to not publish your values. They can be just for you.
Be prepared for some discomfort.
If you’ve done this right, odds are, there will come a time when you really want to do something but find that it’s contrary to your core values. Unless you honestly believe that value no longer applies, you must follow it. Here’s an example: Let’s say you defined a core value of “Personal Attention” and further defined its meaning as you will personally spend time every week each client. Atsome point, this will constrain how many clients you can take on. Are you prepared to limit your clients and, possibly, your income?
Try listing what you will not do.
This was a tip shared with us by a fellow coworking space owner, one we’ve found exceedingly useful. On our list of things Cowork Frederick will not do? We will never put profit ahead of community. That means we’ve turned down offers to, for example, rent portions of our space for making films because we learned that it’s highly disruptive to the people working here.
Consider values that balance or constrain others
Among Cowork Frederick’s values is openness, as in ideas, freely shared. All people and ideas are welcome (except, of course, any abuse, negativity, or offense). It’s not just about being open-minded. It’s about being open-hearted. Being committed to that value means we will never dismiss or shun someone for a different perspective. Another value is authenticity. That means we’re committed to never faking it just to get along. Another value is boldness (taking risks, working through fear). Yet another is kindness (considering others in all we do). Combine them all and you can see that we’re aiming for a culture that is real, truthful, and open – even if it’s a little scary to be so, and doing it in a way that is not hurtful, but that considers others thoughts and feelings.
As alluded to above, thinking about the culture you want to create may help you define your values. Picture you, your clients, your business partners, suppliers, and, if you have them, employees – everyone you interact with in your business – as one community. Imagine the behavior you want. What values define that behavior?
Now – go forth use them
You may find that your first attempt doesn’t fully define who you are or aren’t detailed enough to guide your actions. While values should be “core of your business” level and should not change much, it’s perfectly OK (even recommended) to perfect them over time. If you take time to carefully define them up front, that perfection should be minor tweaks, not complete overhauls.
Just like your mission statement, your value statement should not be stashed in a drawer. I highly recommend posting them where you will see them regularly or that you visit the website page or wherever it is you’ve posted them. After all, if they’re doing their job as they should, your values are guiding your actions daily. Pretty important stuff.
About the Author:
Julia Swanson Ferguson has over 30 years of business experience. After earning a B.B.A. in Accounting and an M.S. in Management Information Systems, she began a fast-growth career that included business process engineering, system design, program management, and ultimately running a global consultancy division for a Fortune 500 software company. Along the way, she launched several small businesses of her own. In 2012 she and her husband, Glen, opened a coworking space in Frederick, Maryland and in 2016 she left “corporate America” to focus on that business. She’s also a real estate investor and property manager. When not working, she loves to travel, hike, and write songs.
About Cowork Frederick
Cowork Frederick’s mission is to be a catalyst for the success of freelancers, teleworkers and entrepreneurs by creating ways for them to come together to work, share ideas, and support each other. Our diverse coworking community consists of people from a variety of backgrounds and professions, for-profits and not-for-profits. We provide a work-friendly environment, meeting rooms, high speed internet, and the usual office amenities at an affordable price. More important, members of our coworking community benefit from a support infrastructure, a chance to connect with and help others, and a place to belong. For many, it’s just a better way to work.