Mission, vision and values statements. Big companies all have them. Some are staggering, like Google’s “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.“ Some are iconic, like Coca-Cola’s “to refresh the world.“ And some are generic sentences about exceeding customer expectations and creating long-term value, etc.
As an entrepreneur, how can you create a vision for your business that goes beyond platitudes? And how can you leverage that vision to inspire people to engage with your company?
SAY IT OUT LOUD: Dan Roselli, co-founder of Charlotte, N.C., entrepreneurship hub Packard Place, defines vision as a lighthouse. “Vision is a constant beacon and reminder of where you’re trying to go.“ So ask yourself: What’s your destination on this journey?
Simply saying your vision out loud for the first time can be an act of courage, whether it’s to the mirror in your dorm room, to your spouse over dinner, or to a professional coach who is charging by the hour. Many of the people that I work with hesitate on their first attempt, saying “I’m not sure,“ or “It depends on what happens.“
But a vision is not your prediction of the future. A vision is your heart’s desire. Assuming all goes well, what does your company do in this world? Maybe today you’re a mom-and-pop graphic design firm, but your vision is to define the very essence of Southern cool. Maybe today you’re selling custom baby blankets out of the spare bedroom, but your vision is to create an infant couture empire that reaches all the way to China. Or perhaps your vision is about less, instead of more.
WRITE, REVIEW, REVISE ... REPEAT: So where do you begin? Roselli advises starting with the key words and concepts that make your organization unique. What are the core ideas that define you? That’s your vision. And you can test your vision by substituting other companies or your competitors’ names in the vision statement. If it still makes sense, you don’t have a truly differentiated vision statement yet.“
Brainstorm, do a draft, sleep on it, do another draft, then show it to a select handful of stakeholders, such as your business partners, long-standing customers, or key employees. See what insights you get from their feedback. These conversations can produce rich information on how your business is viewed and valued. You may be surprised to learn what vision others have for your company and the future direction others would like to see you take.
Your stakeholders may all have different opinions, or you may notice certain common themes emerge. Take any consistent feedback that you receive seriously, but also with a grain of salt.
WHAT’S YOUR BIG PICTURE? My business vision for my new venture is “To connect people through their products.“ Right now, I’m focused on the nitty-gritty details of getting the company off the ground, but every once in a while, I need to look up and focus on the bigger picture. The business vision helps me prioritize an endless list of action items and recalibrate my focus.
The business vision is also a critical communication tool when explaining the concept to potential users, pitching the company to interested investors, and wooing prospective employees. By putting your current efforts into a bigger frame, your vision offers others the opportunity to be a part of something larger than themselves.
A business vision, at its best, is more than a list of values. When crafted correctly, a business vision expresses your dream as an entrepreneur and an inspiring picture that draws people in to take a closer look.
Jennie Wong is an executive coach, author of the e-book “Ask the Mompreneur“ and the founder of the social shopping website CartCentric.com. Email her at TheJennieWonggmail.com.