A mission statement is a key tool that can be as important as your business plan. It captures, in a few succinct sentences, the essence of your business's goals and the philosophies underlying them. Equally important, the mission statement signals what your business is all about to your customers, employees, suppliers and the community.

The mission statement reflects every facet of your business: the range and nature of the products you offer, pricing, quality, service, marketplace position, growth potential, use of technology, and your relationships with your customers, employees, suppliers, competitors and the community.

"Mission statement help clarify what business you are in, your goals and your objectives," says Rhonda Abrams, author of The Successful Business Plan: Secrets and Strategies.

Your mission statement should reflect your business' special niche. However, studying other companies' statements can fuel your creativity. One sample mission statement Abrams developed:

"AAA Inc. is a spunky, imaginative food products and service company aimed at offering high-quality, moderately priced, occasionally unusual foods using only natural ingredients. We view ourselves as partners with our customers, our employees, our community and our environment. We aim to become a regionally recognized brand name, capitalizing on the sustained interest in Southwestern and Mexican food. Our goal is moderate growth, annual profitability and maintaining our sense of humor."

Or consider the statement one entrepreneur developed for her consulting business: "ABC Enterprises is a company devoted to developing human potential. Our mission is to help people create innovative solutions and make informed choices to improve their lives. We motivate and encourage others to achieve their own personal and professional fulfillment. Our motto is: Together, we believe that the best in each of us enriches all of us."

The Write Words
To come up with a statement that encompasses the major elements of your business, start with the right questions. Business plan consultant David Tucker says the most important question is, What business are you in? Since you have already gone through teh steps of creating your niche, answering this question should be easy for you.

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

  • Why are you in business? What do you want for yourself, your family and your customers? Think about the spark that ignited your decision to start a business. What will keep it burning?
  • 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?
  • 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?
  • 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. How will all this change over time?
  • What level of service do you provide? Most companies believe they offer "the best service available," but do your customers agree? Don't be vague; define what makes your service so extraordinary.
  • What roles do you and your employees play? Wise captains develop a leadership style that organizes, challenges and recognizes employees.
  • What kind of relationships will you maintain with suppliers? Every business is in partnership with its suppliers. When you succeed, so do they.
  • How do you differ from your competitors? Many entrepreneurs forget they are pursuing the same dollars as their competitors. What do you do better, cheaper or faster than other competitors? How can you use competitors' weaknesses to your advantage?
  • 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 goals.
  • 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.

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 entrepreneurs 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 the motivations behind your business.

Here are some tips to make your mission statement the best it can be:

  • Involve those connected to your business. Even if you are a sole proprietor, it helps to get at least one other person's ideas for your mission statement. Other people can help you see strengths, weaknesses and voids you might miss. if you have no partners or investors to include, consider knowledgeable family members and close friends, employees or accountants. Be sure, however, to pick only positive, supportive people who truly want to see you succeed.
  • Set aside several hours--a full day, if possible--to work on your statement. Mission statements are short--typically more than one sentence but rarely exceeding a page. Still, writing one is not a short process. It takes time to come up with language that simultaneously describes an organization's heart and soul and serves as an inspirational beacon to everyone involved in the business.
  • Plan a date. Set aside time to meet with the people who'll be helping you. Write a list of topics to discuss or think about. Find a quiet, comfortable place away from phones and interruptions.
  • Be prepared. If you have several people involved, be equipped with refreshments, extra lists of topics, paper and pencils. Because not everyone understand what a mission statement is about, explain its meaning and purpose before you begin.
  • Brainstorm. Consider every idea, no matter how silly it sounds. Stimulate ideas by looking at sample mission statements and thinking about or discussing the questions in teh previous section. If you're working with a group, use a flip chart to record responses so everyone can see them. Once you've finished brainstorming, ask everyone to write individual mission statements for your business. Read the statement, select the best bits and pieces, and fit them together.
  • Use "radiant words." Once you have the basic idea in writing, polish the language of your mission statement. "Every word counts," says Abrams. The statement should create dynamic, visual images and inspire action. Use offbeat, colorful verbs and adjectives to spice up your statements. Don't hesitate to drop in words like "kaleidoscope," "sizzle," "cheer," "outrageous" and "marvel" to add zest. If you want customers to boast about your goods and services, say so--along with the reasons why. Some businesses include a glossary that defines the terms used in the statement.

Once your mission statement is complete, start spreading the word! You need to convey your mission statement to others inside and outside the business to tell everyone you know where you are going and why. Post it in your office, where you, employees and visitors can see it every day. Print it on company materials, such as brochures and your business plan or even on the back of your business cards.