Business Plan Essentials, Part II

The Mission Statment

A mission statement is a single sentence that defines what you do. It should be concise and direct, appeal to the imagination, and encompass all your activities. Ideally it should be direct and easy to memorize.

The mission statement of Guitar Center, for example, is: “We help people make music.” It captures the ultimate purpose of the retail company, and reflects the informal yet professional rapport with customers that is integral to its culture. The statement does not specify things like “where,” “how,” and “what kind of music.” While these things are important, they are not part of the mission statement, but rather the business definition. The business definition is a detailed paragraph that explains who you are, what customer needs you satisfy, how you satisfy them, and who and where your customers are. The mission statement, on the other hand, is a concise statement that you remember when you go to work every day. You should print your mission statement and display it for you and your team to see as a continual reminder.

The mission statement is not a marketing slogan, like “more grains, less you” from multi-grain Cheerios; or AT&T’s “rethink possible.” These slogans are meant to appeal to customers. The mission statement is meant to provide focus and direction to your company. Marketing slogans tend to be short phrases, but mission statements are complete sentences and emphasize verbs like “to help,” or “to serve,” “to provide.”

Creating a mission statement is an art, because it must capture everything you do in few words. The challenge is to be too broad or too specific. Ultimately, the statement defines the motivation behind all your activities.

The mission statement should not be about profit maximization. “To make the largest possible profit” says nothing about what the business actually does. Financial reward is obviously important, but focusing on it primarily is simply not as effective as focusing on the unique quality of what you actually do.

Finally, the mission statement should distinguish your company from the competition. If you offer a product or service that many other businesses offer, it may be tempting to state something general along the lines of “We’re in the plumbing business,” or “We sell good books.” These statements are too broad, and don’t define your motivation. Instead, when you write a mission statement, engage your imagination in capturing what makes your company different. Create an image in your mind, a phrase that no one else in your industry has thought of. This may be difficult, but it will help you establish a competitive image, and may ultimately mean the difference between achieving the success you envision or not.