How to Write a Mission Statement in 5 Easy Steps 49

I’ve had a 30-year love-hate relationship with mission statements. I’ve read thousands. I love it when a mission statement defines a business so well that it feels like strategy—and that does happen—and I hate it when a mission statement is generic, stale, and completely useless.

Your company’s mission statement is your opportunity to define the company’s goals, ethics, culture, and norms for decision-making. The best mission statements define a company’s goals in at least three dimensions: what the company does for its customers, what it does for its employees, and what it does for its owners. Some of the best mission statements also extend themselves to include fourth and fifth dimensions: what the company does for its community, and for the world.

The vast majority of the mission statements  are just meaningless hype that could be used to describe any business in the category. People write them because some checklist or expert said they had to. There are actually web apps that poke fun at how most mission statements use vague, high-sounding phrases to say nothing. The comic strip Dilbert has had a field day making fun of them:

Dilbert: Mission Statement

A well-developed mission statement is a great tool for understanding, developing, and communicating fundamental business objectives, and should be expressed in just a paragraph or two. If you read it out loud, it should take about 30 seconds. And it should answers questions people have about your business, like:

  • Who is your company?
  • What do you do? What do you stand for? And why do you do it?
  • Do you want to make a profit, or is it enough to just make a living?
  • What markets are you serving, and what benefits do you offer them?
  • Do you solve a problem for your customers?
  • What kind of internal work environment do you want for your employees?

Unfortunately few mission statements actually do that.

So how do you make sure yours isn’t one of the bad ones? Over the decades I’ve spent reading, writing, and evaluating business plans, I’ve come up with a process for developing a useful mission statement, and it boils down to five steps:

1. Start with a market-defining story

You don’t have to actually write the story—it’s definitely not included in the mission statement—but do think it through: Imagine a real person making the actual decision to buy what you sell. Use your imagination to see why she wants it, how she finds you, and what buying from you does for her. The more concrete the story, the better. (And keep that in mind for the actual mission statement wording: “The more concrete, the better.”)

A really good market-defining story explains the need, or the want, or—if you like jargon—the so-called “why to buy.” It defines the target customer, or “buyer persona.” And it defines how your business is different from most others, or even unique. It simplifies thinking about what a business isn’t, what it doesn’t do.

This isn’t literally part of the mission statement. Rather, it’s an important thing to have in your head while you write the mission statement. It’s in the background, between the words.

2. Define how your customer’s life is better because your business exists

Start your mission statement with the good you do. Use your market-defining story to suss out whatever it is that makes your business special for your target customer.

Don’t undervalue your business: You don’t have to cure cancer or stop global climate change to be doing good. Offering trustworthy auto repair, for example, narrowed down to your specialty in your neighborhood with your unique policies, is doing something good. So is offering excellent slow food in your neighborhood, with emphasis on organic and local, at a price premium.

This is a part of your mission statement, and a pretty crucial part at that—write it down.

If your business is good for the world, incorporate that here too. But claims about being good for the world need to be meaningful, and distinguishable from all the other businesses. Add the words “clean” or “green” if that’s really true and you keep to it rigorously. Don’t just say it, especially if it isn’t important or always true.

3. Consider what your business does for employees

These days, good businesses want to be good for their employees. If you’re “hard numbers”-oriented, keeping employees is better for the bottom line than turnover. And if you’re interested in culture and employee happiness, then defining what your business offers its employees is an obvious part of your strategy.

My recommendation is that you don’t assert how the business is good for employees—you define it here and then forever after make it true.

Qualities like fairness, diversity, respect for ideas and creativity, training, tools, empowerment, and the like, actually really matter. However, since every business in existence at least says that it prioritizes those things, strive for a differentiator and a way to make the general goals feel more concrete and specific. While I consulted for Apple Computer, for example, that business differentiated its goals of training and empowering employees by making a point of bringing in very high-quality educators and presenters to help employees’ business expertise grow. That’s the kind of specificity you should include in your mission statement.

With this part of the mission statement, there’s a built-in dilemma. On the one hand, it’s good for everybody involved to use the mission statement to establish what you want for employees in your business. On the other hand, it’s hard to do that without falling into the trap of saying what every other business says. Stating that you value fair compensation, room to grow, training, a healthy, creative work environment, and respect for diversity is probably a good idea, even if that part of your mission statement isn’t unique. That’s because the mission statement can serve as a reminder—for owners, supervisors, and workers—and as a lever for self-enforcement.

If you have a special view on your relationship with employees, write it into the mission statement. If your business is friendly to families, or to remote virtual workplaces, put that into your mission.

4. Add what the business does for its owners

In business school they taught us that the mission of management is to enhance the value of the stock. And shares of stock are ownership. Some would say that it goes without saying that a business exists to enhance the financial position of its owners, and maybe it does. However, only a small subset of all businesses are about the business buzzwords of “share value” and “return on investment.”

In the early years of my business I wanted peace of mind about cash flow more than I wanted growth, and I wanted growth more than I wanted profits. So I wrote that into my mission statement. And at one point I realized I was also building a business that was a place where I was happy to be working, with people I wanted to work with; so I wrote that into my mission statement, too.

5. Discuss, digest, cut, polish, review, revise 

Whatever you wrote for points 2-4 above, go back and cut down the wordiness.

Good mission statements serve multiple functions, define objectives, and live for a long time. So edit. This step is worth it.

I’ve been writing professionally all of my adult life. I was a foreign correspondent for a decade, and then I billed more than $2 million in business plan consulting, and then I wrote books published by Entrepreneur Press, McGraw-Hill, Dow Jones-Irwin and others, and thousands of blog posts for this site and a number of high-profile sites; I’ve never written anything that wasn’t better with editing. And most of what I’ve written was better after I cut it to half its original length.

As you edit, keep a sharp eye out for the buzzwords and hype that everybody claims. Cut as much as you can that isn’t unique to your business, except for those special elements that—unique or not—can serve as long-term rules and reminders.

Read other companies’ mission statements, but write a statement that is about you and not some other company. Make sure you actually believe in what you’re writing—your customers and your employees will soon spot a lie.

Then listen. Show drafts to others, ask their opinions, and really listen. Don’t argue, don’t convince them, just listen. And then edit again.

And, for the rest of your business’s life, review and revise it as needed. As with everything in a business plan, your mission statement should never get written in stone, and, much less, stashed in a drawer. Use it or lose it. Review and revise as necessary, because change is constant.

Final note: Should I apologize for putting the word “easy” into the title of this piece? Sometimes I confuse interesting, useful, and important with easy. I always underestimate tasks I like doing.

(Image: DILBERT © Scott Adams. Used by permission of UNIVERSAL UCLICK. All rights reserved.)

 

About the Author Tim Berry is the founder and chairman of Palo Alto Software and Bplans.com. Follow him on Twitter @Timberry. Follow Tim on Google+ Read more »

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  • Gary Hogan

    How important is a mission statement? Does anyone really care about it or is it the business plan version of an objective on a resume, where nobody reads it but it’s standard protocol to include?

    And where do you find existing companies mission statements?

    PS: the Dilbert mission statement generator is a great laugh and sounds a lot like most mission statements I have read

  • http://www.paloalto.com Nicole

    You can find many companies’ mission statements with a simple Google search. Just search for the company name followed by mission statement. For example, try Googling for “starbucks mission statement” and you should see theirs.

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  • Lorraine

    I belong to a non-profit chorale group. We are in need of a mission statement to reflect that we are a community choir. Our purpose is to promote and enhance public interest in, and appreciation of, choral music.
    Thank you

  • http://www.paloalto.com Sean Serrels

    Hello Lorraine,

    You can use the Google Search tool and other Internet Search tools to find what you need as well. Just go to http://www.google.com and type: Chorale Group “Mission Statement” into the search field and you’ll find a long list of results.

  • Evelyn Aguila

    I am starting a construction company have development skill and my part does construction. I need a business for construction.

  • http://www.newbabycomforts.com Christiana Oji

    I am starting an internet marketing business on baby merchandise, and I am finding it difficult to write a mission statement.
    Please can you help me?
    Thanking you in advance.
    Best Regards.

  • Malik Waheed

    Hi,
    i am a student of management sciences. i am intersted to know that why mission statements of any organization(corporation/business)differ from one to another and is there any criteria to write a mission statement? if anyone can help me itwould be great!
    thanks in advance for you reply.

  • Julie H.

    Hello,

    I am trying to get ideas for my mission statement.

    Our company makes blankets to donate to babies born with heart problems or defects.

    Thank you.

    ~J~

  • http://www.paloalto.com Casi Deatherage

    Hello Julie,

    Thanks for your comment!

    Our Bplans website is a free resource that allows you to search free sample plans to research and gather information for your mission statement.

    Goodluck!

    Casi Deatherage
    Palo Alto Software
    Customer Care

  • Linda A. A.

    hello,

    i am exicted about starting a business of my own.

    i will like someone to help write my business plan on fish farming.

    thank you.

  • Fleinwoods Fernandez

    I find it very helpful. Will you be able to help me what mission statement suitable for my business. I’m planning to start my TAVEL AND TOUR BUSINESS.

    Thank you!

    Flein

  • http://www.paloalto.com Casi Deatherage

    Hello Fleinwoods,

    Bplans has many helpful resources to help you search for information related to a Travel and Tour Business.

    Best regards,

    Casi Deatherage
    Palo Alto Software
    Customer Care

  • Vickie Bankston

    I would like very much if I could get some help on writing a mission statment for a non-profit organization. If you could send me some sample I would greatly appreaciate it.

    Thanks in advance

  • http://www.paloalto.com Casi Deatherage

    Hello Vickie,

    Our Bplans website is a free resource that allows you to search free sample plans to help gather information. I did a search under Nonrofit Mission Statements and found a few listings.

    I hope this will be of help to you.

    Best regards,

    Casi Deatherage
    Palo Alto Software
    Customer Care

  • Hamayoun

    Hi,
    for a new restaurant in Peshawar city, Pakistan, The Mission statement may be
    ” We are here to provide you the best services and traditional hosptality with not only our traditions but also with international standards.”

  • Arthur

    I’m a offering business management, and i want to know how business culture of an organization differs from other organization.

  • Arthur

    i am a student of management sciences. i am intersted to know that why mission statements of any organization(corporation/business)differ from one to another and is there any criteria to write a mission statement? if anyone can help me itwould be great!
    thanks in advance for you reply.

  • maria josephine

    Great contribution…
    I believe the creator of any business idea MUST know the purpose (Mission) of his or her business. In this way we will be able to survive the risks and challenges that will come along our way. And most importantly it must be SHARED to all not just to impress people but its a kind of mind setting to both concerned.
    All dbest!

  • stephanazs

    Interesting facts.I have bookmarked this site. stephanazs

  • http://drivenbyreason.livejournal.com/ DrivenByReason

    I did a recent blog on company mission statements. Its really fascinating to see how they are constructed and what keywords they are using to reinforce their company values – as your article above points out.

    I once worked for a company that refused to produce a mission statement. It eventually turned out they didn’t want one because they were going in a different direction than their employees!

  • Gamal A. Elbanna

    I am a Paralegal student who wish to start my own paralegal services and Business Consulting. Today, we have asked in class as part of the course to write a business paln. I looked hard at your site and I did not find a templates geared towards my future business. Can you help me before this coming Monday?

    Thanks,
    Gamal

  • http://www.reliantresearch-ng.com John Emmanuel

    Excellent business support site. Market research need to be emmphasized as it forms a very critical part of successful business take off and its sustainability especially in a country like Nigeria where the market is huge with enormous potentials.

  • http://jobmadapat@gmail.com Job madapat

    “We test what the trainees know”
    This is a proposed mission statement for an examining body. Can anybody improve upon it.

    Thanx
    Job

  • David Leiby

    I am trying to find out how to get a business startup capita I have absolutely no startup money. I want to start an automobile inspection place or business. Anybody with any valuable input I would appreciate it.

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  • Ratul

    we are looking for a sample of a business plan that will be used in our business plan… can i ask for a copy just for reference purpose…
    we are students of accounting in university of Dhaka. we are start new business of accounting service and accounting relative consultancy. However, we are benefit, I We need HELP with our Business Plan and Mission Statement.

    ———————-
    Ratul,

    It’s important to note that all our business plans are available, in full, for free, on our website. If you are looking for access to edit the plan, you will need to purchase our business plan software.

  • rabeel khan

    Hello,

    I am trying to get ideas for my mission statement.

    “To be the leading fast food restaurant in the region seeking to improve the quality of food for our customers. To maintain the position as the best quality and taste producer of delicious and remarkable food and drinks in the country and at the same time make a strategic transition to become an international fast food restaurant exploiting food and drinks beyond the borders of Pakistan, resulting in value addition to shareholder’s investment and to the nation as a whole.”

  • Bonnie

    I am working on a mission statement and have written three so far and I keep going over it deleting what is not really needed, as I am trying to get it down to at lease four sentance, You blog here has given me some good ideas thank you for putting this out there.

  • http://www.yahoomail.com Bill Cooper

    I thought writing a mission statement was a simple thing to do, but I’m finding it really hard and harder each time I condenm a statement or more. I have spent hours to come up with a precise mission statement about a vocation I am starting, but not getting the right wordings yet. Does it matter if I do not have one? O.k. if I must have one, can some help me to put words together that fit in my plan to help poorer people in communities heavily stricken by poverty in the world. My organizational title is “Vision Of Hope Itnl.” My aim is to restore hope for survival to those whose hopes and lives have been shattered by their societies and to expand Christian faith through the power of gifts which signify love and care for others.
    This mission is already in effect. I am taking quantities of new and old clothes of all types and books in English to Sierra Leone in west Africa out of my personal expenses, to offer to a minute population of about a little over hundred of the poorest people in that country and I want to do more to many poorer people in the whole world. But I need to make this known to others for support to be able to help the poor. Therefore I need a precise mission statement. Can you Help?

    ————

    This article is a couple years old, but I think it would be helpful in your struggles with the mission statement.

    Mantras vs Mission Statements

  • Rosa

    I am trying to start my own business as non profit organization for homeless women. I need some feed back on your throughts and concern about home women or homeless people in general.

    Your help would be greatly appreicated.

    God Bless!!

  • Andrew Johnson

    Don’t think about making your mission statement sound impressive just be honest and your thoughts will flow. Also, use words that are simple but compelling when writing your mission statement.

  • Darlington isiche

    hi, i am trying to write my business plan. can i get some one to help me write it.

  • Tan

    I will put fame and fortune at risk to breathe life into dreams.
    I will help people grow and test their edges of what they know they can achieve.
    I will develop as a human being and teach my children by good example.
    I will show that putting spirit into my work will unleash the artist within.

    Mate and I’m an Aussie builder… stretch yourself a little.(or a lot)

  • emerly itao

    hello!
    i just wanna need your help and advise in making the mission statement of our business plan..our proposed study is a souvenir product w/c symbolizes on the different tourist spots in the philippines. And our mission is like this: “to provide quality souvenirs focusing on the different tourist spots in the philippines that promote the cultural heritage of the country.

    • Stormy

      I really like that you put the importance of emphasizing the rich cultural heritage over tourist minutiae. Meaningful reminders will be cherished.

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  • thabo ndhlovana

    have been struggling to write a business plan but moving through your site
    one has been able to get the basics and your advices came in handy, and
    thank you.

    regards
    thabo ndhlovana

  • http://notapplicable cadrol bryan

    interesting plan and out line, i am inspired i would like to continued in this quest
    of business start up plans.

  • Tichaona Innocent Mhembere

    Always go for the business you have a passion for.
    be Blessed.

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  • Swalehe s. Byarugaba

    I am interested to start my new company that will be dwelling on educational training services. As i went through your website, I have gained a lot of benefits that will help me to frame out my company mission statement. Thank you for this service.

  • Rosa Vargas

    My sister and I are trying to start up a Child Care for low income women. We are trying to get ideas to start a Mission statement. We would appreciate it if you could give us some feedback.

    Thank you

  • vivian sally

    can you help me to come up with a mission statement for my business plan which is involved with having a place where one can have their pizza and still watch a movie??/

  • Emily STefanik

    What do you think of this mission statement?
    Grande Events is an event planning business serving those who need guidence through planning and implementing for their event with an one-on-one communication baseline.

  • nono

    mission statement says who you are and what you represent. we need them and never take such things lightly.

  • http://www.startuphomecare.com Sarah Portman

    It seems like it would be really hard to own a senior care business or a senior care franchise. I really want to learn how to start a home care business and hopefully make it work.

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  • Nick Schiralli

    You are a gifted communicator-thank you!

  • Solomon Bediako9

    the mission statement must focus on the market rather than the product

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Trina-Mccall/100000865309423 Trina Mccall

      Contact me , We are looking for 250 Startup ers. Who want to be part of a BIG PROJECT. “2012Green Spring” presents the “Hydrogen Car Fender 2012″ Replacement program, Reducing GAS visit’s to ONCE a Month , This Program put’s $31.2Billion back into the US Economy.

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    Contact me , We are looking for 250 Startup ers. Who want to be part of a BIG PROJECT. “2012Green Spring” presents the “Hydrogen Car Fender 2012″ Replacement program,

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    There are 254 million cars reg in the USA…. We need to put these Hydrogen Car Fender on 50% of those cars to reduce the GAS Monthly refill down to ONE TRIP to the PUMP a month. This will help put what you save BACK into the USA Economy (GAS Savings $280 a month X 125,000,000 cars) every 30 days. This will do TWO things and only Takes 90 Days to get there. 1,Reduce GAS drastically 2, Give the Economy a Boost that will last 20 Years. You can call it “The 20 Year Economy Boot N90Days” http://www.fatttrixx.com/HydrogenCarFender2012

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  • progress

    Get you assist me in coming up with the mission and vision of the project planning company in construction or infrustructure