When you first started your company, your mission was crystal clear: You were going to get your business off the ground.

But since your business really got rolling, the real purpose behind your product or service may have gotten blurrier. You’ve probably gone beyond just providing a product or service your customers need. For instance, a coffee shop that set out to serve great coffee to commuters may have gone beyond that and become an evening gathering spot for the local arts community.

Committing your purpose to paper in a formal mission statement can be a valuable way to align your team and attract the right employees in the future. Fortunately, you don’t have to lock yourself away for eight hours at an offsite location or hire a pricey consultant to come up with a mission statement.  

Use these tips to create a mission statement on a small business budget.

Explore your options.

One of the best ways to get started on your mission statement is to look at the mission statements of companies you admire and aspire to emulate. What they have written (and the way they embody that statement) will give you an idea of what a good mission statement looks like.

One good source of inspiration is MissionStatements.com, a site that includes more than 1,000 mission statements. Go to the “company” section, and you’ll find mission statements of many Fortune 500 companies whose names you will recognize.

Here are some samples of well-known company mission statements:

Bristol-Myers Squibb Company: To discover, develop and deliver innovative medicines that help patients prevail over serious diseases.

Disney: The mission of The Walt Disney Company is to be one of the world’s leading producers and providers of entertainment and information. Using our portfolio of brands to differentiate our content, services and consumer products, we seek to develop the most creative, innovative and profitable entertainment experiences and related products in the world.

Harley-Davidson: We fulfill dreams through the experience of motorcycling, by providing to motorcyclists and to the general public an expanding line of motorcycles and branded products and services in select market segments.

It’s hard to distill what a business does into just a line or two, but if these giant and complex companies can summarize their mission so concisely, so can you.

Craft a rough draft.

Once you’ve studied mission statements and found a format you like, try writing your own.  As the owner of the company, you have a better sense than anyone of what you’ve set out to do and want to do in the future. Try to keep your mission statement as short as possible. It will be hard for your team to emulate (must less remember) your business’s purpose if it’s a 20 page manifesto.

Once you’re reasonably satisfied with your draft, run it past your team to see if it rings true to your team, your customers’ needs and your culture. Let them mark up your draft with suggested edits, then set aside an hour to meet and collaborate on a statement that most of you agree is accurate. You may not get 100% agreement, so as owner, you will need to be the final judge—if you’re trying to please everyone, the process could stall out.

Also ask your most engaged customers for ideas on what to emphasize in a mission statement. They might point to aspects of your product, team or customer experience that you haven’t considered.

Polish it to perfection.

Once you’ve refined your draft, set it aside for a week, then look at it with fresh eyes to see if it needs any editing. If writing isn’t your thing, ask someone on your team who is a skilled editor to polish it, or find a freelancer on a site like Upwork or Freelancer.com who can refine it for you. Your goal is clarity. If your mission statement isn’t clear, it will be hard for anyone on your team to follow or for your customers to really understand your value proposition.

Don’t let your efforts go to waste.

Don’t just go through the motions because you think it’s what you’re supposed to do. Many companies that take the time to write a mission statement don’t really know what to do with it. They may stick it on a poster on the conference room wall, but that’s about it. You should have check-ins with your team (at a frequency that makes sense for your business) to make sure that everyone is keeping the company mission top of mind in their day-to-day.

Publish your mission statement on visible platforms from your company website to your Facebook page to your team’s email signatures so that it’s clear to prospects and customers what your team and your brand is all about.

mission statement
Image Credit: David Berkowitz

Let it guide your product roadmap.

A mission statement can be a powerful guide when you have to make decisions, so weave it into your daily discussions. Let’s say a team member suggests introducing a new product. Consider as a group whether it fits into your mission. It’s easy to become distracted by bells and whistles, but if the product will steer you away from your main purpose, it’s most likely bad for business.

Look for ways to deepen your mission.

If your mission is to deliver the best tax advice in your state to small businesses, for instance, you might ask yourself every week how you can get better at doing that. Should you be attending more conferences? Do you need to create an email newsletter to alert your clients to changes in the tax code? Should you be getting more feedback from clients on how you can better address their questions?

Ultimately, your mission statement can be a powerful compass to help your business grow and excel. If it isn’t helping you to do that, take a step back and rethink it. The beauty of a mission statement is you can revise it as your company evolves.