Small Business Mission: Managing As A Map, Not A GPS

A clear mission for a small business is like looking at a map rather than the tiny screen of the GPS on your mobile device.  On a GPS, we typically enter an address where we’d like to go, and it gives us turn by turn directions.  You know where you are, and you know your next turn, but you can’t quite see your ultimate destination.  With a map on the other hand, you get a bird’s eye view of where you are, your destination, and how you will get from one to the other.  You predict the turns along the way and you have a pretty good idea of an alternate route in the event of heavy traffic.  The GPS is a highly valuable device and personally I would never leave home without mine, yet how many times have you ended up at a destination other than the one you intended because you blindly followed your GPS without having a vision of the map in your head?

For a small business, or any business for that matter, having a clear picture of where you want to go is like having a view of the map in your mind before making that first turn with the GPS.  That clear strategy map begins with setting the company mission.

Here are 5 key reasons why your small business needs a mission statement:

  1.  It’s the North Star.  My husband was in the Navy so I always like to think of a company mission statement like the North Star used in navigation.  Polaris (the North Star) is located directly above the North Pole and is the one star in the sky that does not appear to move.  Like Polaris,  a mission statement is your strategic constant.  When faced with a variety of choices and decisions regarding services to add, partners to work with and directions to take, your small business mission statement becomes a reminder of what your company set out to do.  That doesn’t mean you can never change it, but change should be done carefully and with a full awareness of the potential ripple effect on your go-to-market message and company culture.
  2. It helps you to hire the right people.  Have you ever noticed how there seems to be a higher than usual number of cashiers at Whole Foods with piercings, tattoos and hair a bit on the wild side?  Could it be possible that their “Whole people, whole planet” mission to not only offer naturally sourced products but to give back to the community in an eco-friendly way attracts those free spirits who speak so passionately to customers and seem to take a genuine interest in the products you’re buying?  Your business may not want to attract that crowd because perhaps you set out to do something different.  How would I know?  I would find that information in your mission statement.  Millennials are especially interested in aligning with employers who share their values.  If you currently hire, or plan to hire this group, then get your mission statement in order and be prepared to talk about it.
  3. It supports change for growth.  As a growing small business you may find yourself in a state of organized chaos (or perhaps not so organized chaos!).  Your team may be asked to take on a number of different challenges and at some point, you will ask them to do things that may be different that the tasks for which they were originally hired.  Having a clear mission can be reassuring as it explains the rationale behind the changes you ask them to make.
  4. It helps your strategy to make sense.  Rather than get caught up in what your competitors are doing (see “Why ‘Me Too’ Marketing Typically Fails“), a clear mission can keep you on the straight and narrow.  Knowing the direction you’re headed makes it easier to quickly filter out strategic moves that would not be supportive of the end goal.  A best practice is to remind your leadership team of the firm’s mission prior to any meetings where strategic change is discussed.
  5. It is a tool to measure your success.  What have you done to achieve your mission this year?  this month? today?  In large corporate firms it is not uncommon to set performance goals up and down the organization in alignment with the company’s overall mission.  That way if each individual contributor meets their goals, the company as a whole will achieve its mission.  I have seen “mini mission statements” for departments and service delivery teams that break down the overall company mission into relevant slices to which each team member can relate.


Here are some inspiring mission statements from successful businesses that have grown from small roots:

  • Life Is Good To spread the power of optimism.  This is a great statement that aligns with not only the messages on their clothing, but their charitable foundation.
  • PatagoniaBuild the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.   They have set a lofty goal that inspires their customers, employees and partners alike.  It influences their quality standards, charitable direction and marketing messages.  When we think of Patagonia we think of great quality products being used outdoors in beautiful, unspoiled places.  They reinforce this message by donating 1% of profits to grassroots environmental groups.
  • TomsWith every product you purchase, Toms will help another person, One for One.  Originally Toms committed to giving a pair of shoes to a person in need for every pair of shoes sold, but their charitable impact has now gone beyond and includes investing in safe birth, stopping bullying and clean water.  People buy Toms because they are great products but it makes us feel good to be a small part of their mission.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, here is the ZenChange Mission Statement.

Your mission statement is a key part of your overall Small Business Marketing Plan.