(and how to write a good one)
It’s easy to think a mission statement is only needed for big companies and non-profits. Both need to rally potentially large groups of people (employees, customers, vendors, investors, donors, etc.) around a common cause or goal.
Mission statements provide an action-oriented, clear, concise statement of purpose,
an organization’s reason for existence and its overall intention.
It’s the driving force and focus of what your business does.
Many freelancers or micro business owners haven’t taken the time to write a mission statement. There’s no poster on a wall, no page on a website, or even a document in the cloud. Why would there be? You know what you do, right?
But I’m here to tell you that you, yes, YOU: freelancer, solopreneur, independent contractor, micro biz owner, you also should craft a mission statement for your business. Here’s why:
Taking time to write a good mission statement will help you clarify important points about your business, like what you do, who you do it for, why you do it and the goal/intended result. You might think you know – and you probably do carry an idea around in your head, but you might be surprised how writing it down in a short, concise mission statement forces you to make choices you may not have previously considered.
What service or product do you provide? What is the benefit from your customer’s perspective? Do you do this for just any company or only certain sizes or industries? Who is your ideal client? Is what you provide different in any way from what others in your industry? If you do nothing more than write a mission statement as an exercise to clarify such points for yourself, it will be well worth it.
Looking at the flipside is a great way to better understand something. This is also a good time to think about what you don’t do. Do you avoid long-term projects because you are easily bored and want frequent change? Do you never take more than two clients at a time? Do you avoid working with certain industries? Are you willing to travel? This may not make it into a version of your mission statement that your clients see, but it can definitely inform what should.
Getting clarity allows you to better recognize when something is not what you want. Your mission statement is first and foremost for you; it should guide decisions you make about your business. Without one, it’s easy to get off track and find yourself taking on work that you regret.
Should you take that tempting high-dollar project?
I don’t know. In doing so, are you able to fulfill your mission?
Any time you find yourself debating whether you should step outside your comfort zone for a new client or project or considering change to your business, check it against your mission statement. As someone who generates endless ideas for my own business and takes pride in finding creative ways to help clients, I find this particularly useful. If what I’m considering doesn’t align with my business mission, it’s out, perhaps passed on to someone else in my network.
All that clarity also comes in handy at networking events. Your mission statement, or a version of it, is your “elevator pitch”. It’s also useful when talking to prospective employees, banks, or even your parents (who may still be struggling to tell their own friends what it is, exactly, that you do).
That said, while you may use your mission statement as part of your marketing, it is not your actual brand or marketing. Your marketing messages grow out of and expand upon your mission statement using customer-facing language. Mission statements are often buried on, or are absent from, websites. Brands (companies) express values in many ways, and while their mission statement clarifies and guides those values, clients care what the brand does for them, not necessarily its mission is.
And, that said, I think putting your mission statement “out there” is particularly important these days and even more so for us small biz types. Your potential clients are, essentially, evaluating you when they assess your tiny company. A mission statement shows a level of business maturity and thought about what you do. I like having a mission statement, as well as a values statement, on a website. The more you get your mission statement “out there” the better. Your clients can use it when they refer your services to others.
Create a shorter version (fewer than 10 words) to use as a tag line. It’s perfect for your business card, website, brochure, or even your invoices. The more you get your mission statement “out there” the better. Your clients can use it when they refer your services to others.
That mission statement of yours will be pretty powerful stuff.
Use your work on brand and marketing messages to tighten up your mission statement. How are you different from all the other bookkeepers, website designers, project managers, content writers or whatever it is you do. You don’t HAVE to be unique, but it sure is helpful. For example, I still mostly shop at Lowe’s for building materials, even though I consider Home Depot pretty much the exact same thing. That’s a matter of familiarity, not differentiation. But, knowing one had a goal of providing only sustainably sourced products would be a big deal to me.
Speaking of differentiation, be careful to differentiate your business mission statement from a personal one. A personal mission statement defines who you are as a person (or as a team member where you work) and identifies your purpose, whether that’s in the office or simply in life. It explains how you aim to pursue that purpose, and why it matters so much to you. It’s internally focused. Your business mission statement is (at least mostly) client focused.
Writing a good mission statement
A good mission statement uses clear, intentional language. It’s concise and to the point. It’s action-oriented. Avoid buzzwords or overused words that have become meaningless.
Start with answering the “who, what, why” questions. Don’t worry about being concise just yet. What do you do? Who do you do it for? Why do you do it? What does the client get out of it? Look back at the paragraphs above and use them to guide you.
Avoid buzzwords everyone is using. Avoid hype. Phrases such as “being the best,” “world-class,” and “great customer service” are overused and meaningless. Be specific about what you do and what your customer gets when you do it.
This is important: Make sure you actually believe what you’re writing. Don’t say what you think others want to hear. Be real. It won’t take long for your clients and, if you have them, employees to spot a lie.
Maybe some examples will help.
Think Tesla is a car company? Take a look at their mission statement, “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” They are also pushing boundaries on solar panels, battery storage, and more. When they made their first car, they didn’t make one they could sell a lot of. They made a car that would change people’s perceptions about what an electric car can do. They spent a ton of money on research and development and forced the industry to take notice. They “accelerated the world’s transition”. See how their mission statement guides them? Making cars is just one way they fulfill their mission and according to their mission statement, as soon making cars doesn’t serve that purpose, they should stop.
Personal friends and former Cowork Frederick members, Hersick + Webster Strategy + Brand Partners, have this mission statement: “Through strategic engagement and a time-tested branding framework, we help communities and the organizations that support them reach their goals and tell their stories.” Not surprisingly, as brand experts, their mission statement is packed with clues about their business. Notice “companies” aren’t their clients. Communities are. This was intentional. Working with them also means using a specific process they feel helps ensure success, their “time-tested branding framework”, so that’s also in their mission statement.
Cowork Frederick’s mission is to “be a catalyst for the success of local small businesses and solopreneurs by creating ways for them to come together to work, share ideas, and support each other”.
Still having trouble?
Pretend you just went out of business.
Maybe it was your choice. Regardless, your business is no more. What would happen? Who would be affected? Why? What problems were you solving that your clients will have to deal with again? Answering these questions can help you assess what you do / your business does.
Look into the future.
I would argue that vision statements are less important for this audience of freelancer / micro-biz types, but they can be a useful tool. A vision statement looks forward and creates a mental image of the ideal state that you want to achieve. It’s inspirational. It’s aspirational. After creating a clear picture of the future world you and your clients will live in, ask yourself, “What do I do now to get there?”
Lather, Rinse, Repeat
Your current mission statement isn’t going to be with you forever. Your business will evolve. Your mission statement should evolve with it. Draft your first mission statement, then show it to others. Ask their opinion and really listen. Don’t argue or explain, just listen. Then edit again.
And, for a long as you’re in business, review and revise your mission statement as needed. Your mission statement should never be seen as set in stone. It also should not be stashed in a drawer. Use it. Review and revise as necessary, because change is constant.
Your mission statement can act as a guidepost, pointing you in the right direction so you make the best decisions for your freelance goals. It tells you what you should and shouldn’t do. Post it somewhere you’ll see it and use it as much as you need as a visual reminder of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and where you’re going. When it no longer fits, try a new one on for size.