Every small business needs both a vision and a mission — it’s how you codify why you exist as a company. Understanding the differences between these two elements and knowing how to put them down into written statements is therefore a crucial aspect of achieving your small business’s long-term and short-term objectives. As Michael C. Bush, entrepreneur, CEO, and teacher of our Growth Strategies course points out, a strong vision and mission not only offer inspiration and organizational direction to your staff, they also attract potential customers and investors to your sustainable, value-driven goals.
Mission vs. Vision Statements
In order to identify mission and vision statements, it’s important to consider your organization’s values and the fundamental reasons for doing your work: Why does your company exist? Why do you align with your cause?
These answers will direct every level of your goals, and will manifest differently in your mission and vision statements. Your vision statement should express the broad and stable purpose behind your organization’s work — it’s the type of statement that should be as relevant now as it will be in 100 years. Meanwhile, your mission statement reflects the more specific actions that comprise your business goal, and should be adjusted once that goal is achieved (or as times and technologies change).
Writing Your Vision Statement
Your vision statement communicates the overarching intended effect of your small business’s work. It should reflect a core, unchanging purpose. You can strengthen your vision statement by keeping it short — try to capture your company’s most powerful and memorable guiding principle in one sentence. Don’t forget to consider how this statement of purpose can inspire your team as well as consumers.
For instance, Patagonia’s vision statement reads, “A love of wild and beautiful places demands participation in the fight to save them, and to help reverse the steep decline in the overall environmental health of our planet..” This statement conveys the central idea of the Patagonia brand, but does not dive into the details of how Patagonia will address that larger purpose. This statement concisely combines the company’s core values and production standards into one multifaceted ideal, which Patagonia can use as a metric and a source of direction.
Or take our Seed Fund company Red Bay Coffee's vision statement – " We envision a world in which coffee is a vehicle for inclusion, social and economic empowerment, entrepreneurship, innovation, and environmental sustainability" which puts the entire focus of their business goals to showcase coffee as a means of communal opportunity-building.
Now as any participant of our Growth Strategies course will know, the business model always comes first – you can only focus on communal giving and those around you, if you have a successful business. But, the vision statement allows all publicly showcase their values even as the continue to focus on their product or service.
Writing Your Mission Statement
Your mission statement will express a more tangible version of your purpose as a small business. While the mission statement can also be short and easy to remember, it should also better explain how you plan to undertake your goals. Mission statements often have shorter-term reach because they can and will evolve with your practices and adjust with each success. Attaching concrete numbers to your mission statement is another way to hold yourself accountable to your goal, allowing you to assess your progress as you go.
While Patagonia’s vision statement comes from values that have remained steady since its inception, you can imagine how its mission statement has evolved from its early days as a small climbing tool company. Now that Patagonia has the resources to make larger-scale impact, their business mission includes goals such as pledging to “Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” They further go into the mechanics of how on Patagonia.com, with details like donating their team’s time, services, and at least 1% of sales to hundreds of grassroots environmental groups around the world.
Why Having both a Vision and Mission Statement Matters
Understanding the differences between vision and mission statements is a key part of understanding how your small business goals build out from your foundational values. While it doesn’t matter whether you use the terms interchangeably on your website or in other external forums, internally it is important to differentiate between your larger purpose and the tangible goals that drive your daily work objectives. Defining these goals in separate statements serves to focus and clarify your small business strategy, and should both ground and inspire your work at every turn.
If you're interested in getting more hands-on practical education to grow you small business join us at Mills College this spring for Growth Strategies 2018.