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How important is it to have a mission statement?

Covey in the 7 Habits was one of the first self improvement gurus to include in his book the importance of writing a mission statement. He called it "begin with the end in mind". He quotes Alice in wonderland's encounter with the cat.

Viktor Frankl said, “Everyone has his own specific vocation in life. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated. Thus, everyone’s task is as unique as his specific opportunity to implement it.

We detect, rather than invent, our mission in life.”

“What is a mission?” you ask.

A mission is like a personal constitution. Based on the principles by which one decides to live, it is the basis for making day-to-day decisions amidst all the circumstances and emotions that affect our lives and making sure the decisions keep sight of our overall goals.

Organizations need mission statements. So do families, so that they do not simply lurch from emotional crisis to crisis, but instead know they have principles that will support them. In terms of business, a mission statement can be anything from, “Money money money,” to “Always put the customer first.” (A friend of mine started a financial-services company with a one-word mission statement: “Truth”. This, he feels, is what sets him apart from a lot of the financial-services firms out there.)

Many companies figure that they can just say something simple, like, “To offer the best service available.” But what makes the best service? Low prices? Excellent customer service? Full money-back guarantee? If you offer everything you can think of, you’ll put yourself right out of business.

How do you write a mission statement?

Answering the following 10 questions will help you to create a verbal picture of your company's mission:

1. Why are you in business (besides money)? What do you want for yourself, your employees and your customers? Think about the spark that ignited your decision to start a business. What will keep it burning beyond being just a passing fancy?

2. Who are your customers? What can you do for them that will enrich their lives and contribute to their success -- now and in the future?

3. What image of your business do you want to convey? Customers, suppliers, employees and the public will all have perceptions of your company. How will you create the desired picture?

4. What is the nature of your products and services? What factors determine pricing and quality? Consider how these relate to the reasons for your business's existence. For example, if the reason for your business’s existence is, “I can offer good prices,” how will all this change over time, when prices go up or competitors notice you and start undercutting you?

5. What level of service do you provide? E.g., sales, shipping, installation, assembly, customer service, consulting, tech support, money-back guarantee, etc.

6. Most companies believe they offer "the best service available," but do your customers agree? How do you differ from your competitors? What do you do better, cheaper or faster than they do? How can you use competitors' weaknesses to your advantage? If you want customers to boast about your goods and services, what should they say?

7. What roles do you and your employees play? Wise captains develop a leadership style that organizes, challenges and recognizes employees’ strengths.

8. What kind of relationships will you maintain with suppliers? Every business is in partnership with its suppliers. When you succeed, so do they. Alternatively, a supplier can get the feeling that you’re only with them for convenience, and that you’d drop them the moment something better came along, and they you.

9. How will you use technology, capital, processes, products and services to reach your goals? A description of your strategy will keep your energies focused on your mission.

10. What underlying philosophies or values guided your responses to the previous questions? Some businesses choose to list these separately. Writing them down clarifies the "why" behind your mission and helps you sum it all up in fewer words.

Putting It All Together

Like anything with lasting value, crafting a mission statement requires time, thought and planning. However, the effort is well worth it. In fact, most start-up companies discover that the process of crafting the mission statement is as beneficial as the final statement itself. Going through the process will help you solidify the reason for what you are doing and clarify and internalize the motivations behind your business.

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