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Defining your mission is one of 7 Critical Priorities that an owner-operator must consider when thinking strategically. But how do you do it?

Not sure what should be a priority in your business? Review this post.

What’s the first answer that comes to your mind when I ask, “Why does your company exist?

For a lot of people, this can be a tricky question. The answer might be as simple as, “To make a living. To provide for my family, put food on the table.”

I’ll go out on a limb and say that’s true for nearly all of us. 

Another might say, “It was my father’s business. I took it on. It’s what we do.” That’s another very sensible answer.

But “sensible” answers are rarely inspiring or unique, and your mission needs to be just that. Without an inspiring and unique mission, it’s easy to get bogged down in the day-to-day grind of your business. It’s easy to “fall asleep at the wheel”. But that’s how knowing your mission can save you–it’s what keeps your business focused and on track.

But before I lose you in the clouds, let’s break down how you can define your mission with five simple questions. 

1. Why does your company exist?

You’ll find a million blog posts out there about Simon Sinek’s Start with Why TED Talk and book— for good reason. It asks you to go beyond profit, beyond the family business, and ask what your company’s purpose really is.

I look at it like this: What do you want your legacy to be?

  • What do you want to be known for?
  • When people look between you and your competition, what sets you apart?
  • What justifies your company’s existence?

This question takes us to the big picture. What we’re trying to do is get to the heart of what your company means to you, and what you want it to mean for your industry and market.

2. Who is your company for?

You need to know what you want to accomplish—what you want to be known for. But you also need to know who is benefiting from that.

If you struggled with the first question, this question can offer more clarity. After all, you’re not just in business solely for yourself. Hopefully, you also want to improve your customers’ lives.

So to put it another way: What would your customers’ lives be like if you didn’t exist?

If you’ve seen It’s A Wonderful Life, pretend your guardian angel has given you the gift to see an alternate world—a world where your company doesn’t exist. In this world, you get to see:

  • Who is effected by your absence?
  • What are your customers missing?
  • Where are they turning instead? 

That’s what you provide—and those people who would miss you, they are who your company is for.

3. How do you do it?

If you know what you want to accomplish with your business, and who you want to serve in doing so, you’ve got a great start on your mission. If you know where you want to go, it’s easier to get there.

But it’s not just about knowing you want to succeed. You have to know how.

Take a local pizza place, for instance. Can your mission just be to sell the most pizza? No, you have to have a reason people want to buy your pizza.

You have to know what you do best. A fancier way to put it is that you have to know your value proposition. For example:

  • Do you make the most authentic Italian pizza in town?
  • Does your shop have the most welcoming environment?
  • Is your delivery time the fastest?

There are different routes to achieve your goal, and in order to understand your mission, you need to know which route you’re taking.

4. Who are you?

If you can say why your company exists, who it’s for, and how you do what you do best, you can define who you really are—or want to be—as a company. That self-understanding is fundamental to creating a rock-solid mission. 

However, this can be another lofty question that’s tough to pin down.

So get specific, like this: What are your core values?

  • What values define your customer service? Honesty and transparency? Timeliness?
  • What about your production? Quality? Innovation?
  • How about your work environment? Collaborative? Supportive? 

You have to understand your identity in order to communicate that identity to others. If your investors, customers, and employees align with your core values, they’ll stick around because your missions match. After all, what makes you so special?

5. What’s next?

Knowing where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there is how you create a vision for your company’s future.

Be in-the-know about your industry or market. What’s next there? Changes in your market, new developments in your industry, and other variables will undoubtedly affect not only your present state of being but your mission and your view of yourself as a business. 

You need to be ready for these variables—you need to take time now to think about the future and ask “what’s next?” 

Ultimately, you ask yourself: What does “the end of the road” look like for you?

  • Where do you want to be in 3 years, 5 years, or after retirement?
  • What roadblocks might appear in your way? How will you overcome them?
  • How will your mission hold up against changes in your industry?

Keeping an Eye On Your Mission

The day-to-day work of owning a business is relentless, I know. It can be hard to take a step back and really look at the big picture—and even harder to keep looking at the big picture. So here’s what I want you to do.

Write these questions somewhere you can see them every day. Then, as you brainstorm your answers, jot them down on Post-It notes and stick them below the questions. Every day as you look at these notes, you’ll begin to hone in on your answers, adding or taking down the Post-Its as you need. Eventually, you’ll find the answers that stick (no pun intended).

A great small business (and you as its owner-operator) isn’t just here to clock in and grind it out: you’re here to put your stamp on the market in some distinct way.

Defining your mission will tell you what that stamp— what your legacy— is going to look like. And living up to that legacy, by staying true to your mission, tells you how to run your business.

What to Consider…

  1. Does your company have a central, guiding purpose? If not, what is the “why” that justifies your existence?
  2. Do you have a specific, articulated vision for success? Or is your mission just “achieve the most revenue possible”?
  3. Is your company identity clear to your employees and the people you do business with? Is it clear to you?

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