You are your business’ author; your business, your story. And what do businesses and stories have in common? They’re both forms of movement. They both can instigate, compel, and enliven their listeners to take action, to change the way they think, to open their eyes to something new.
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At the foundation of your company is a story about why you began and what you see for the future. But how do you reveal that vision to others? Writing a captivating company story, vision statement, or mission — whichever you prefer to call it — is fundamental to compelling customers, investors, and perhaps most importantly, your employees to understand and engage with what your business stands for. By asking probing questions and examining the powerful statements other companies have stood behind, you’ll be able to weave your inner musings into a story that moves.
“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” — Jonathan Swift
Why craft your vision?
You need to be able to tell your company story to know where you’ve been, to recall the contexts that ground you, and open the pathways for new chapters to unfurl. Your story includes the characters (that’s you, your team, and your customers), the setting (that is, your place of business and your position in the marketplace), protagonists and antagonists (your investors and competitors, perhaps?), along with the catalyst — the cause, the essential problem — that stirred you enough to make something out of it.
You started your business for a reason, and now is your chance to put that passion into words. Use it to fortify your values and give them reason. Use it to guide your team. Use it also to earn the trust of customers — to show them how you can be their hero, the protagonist they root for. In many cases, your story even begins with your customers.
As you dive in, use your story to tell not only your company’s history, but also your own past experiences, frustrations, or insights that led you to where you are today.
Figure out these questions first.
- Who are you and what do you do? Not just at work — what are the routines, habits, and hobbies that have taken you to where you are now?
- Why do you do it? What have you seen that was invisible to others? Why are you an entrepreneur?
- What would move someone else to care, too? Are you doing something good for the world? Are you tackling a long-standing problem that takes away frustration and pain?
As you ruminate over these questions, let your mind wander into the past and far into the future. Rediscover your history. Look for themes that connect your values to your actions to your dreams for the future. Get introspective. You can be creative, and you can get metaphorical. Whether your story is grand and broad or humble and frank, it’s yours.
- Who are your customers? Psst… you don’t have to call them customers. Who are the people that care about your business? What else do they care about?
- Where do you fit in the marketplace? And not just in the marketplace, but in the world. Why do we need you? What space are you carving out?
- What makes you different? Not just from other companies in your space, but from the mainstream? From “the old way”? From the past?
First, do a brain dump.
Whichever way you write — on paper, your laptop, or speaking into a voice recorder and transcribing it later — allow yourself to bubble up any thoughts or ideas around the questions above. At this point, there’s no need to worry about editing yourself or even writing complete sentences. Don’t inhibit the ideas that rise to the surface. Write a lot and give yourself multiple pages to pull from — you can pare it down in the next step.
Step away, and when you come back, pull out the most evocative language.
Take a little break between the time of your brain dump and beginning to distill your idea into polished language. As you read through, what keywords or phrases evoke an emotion in you? What do they make you feel? Highlight or rewrite these ideas until you have 1-4 sentences that simply define what’s important to you, what you’re here for, and why it matters.
Try out your statement on others.
Do they react how you’d hoped they would — with excitement, enthusiastic agreement, or a pensive thoughtfulness? Often, when people offer you feedback, they’re really saying what they would do if they were in your situation. It might work for them, but not necessarily for you. Remember, it’s ultimately up to you and what you believe in. Always listen to others, but make your own decisions.
If you’re trying to write answers that will please everybody, our best advice is to abandon that hope as quickly as you can. Kasi Bruno, Executive Strategy Director at 180LA, puts it best: “The best brand stories repel more people than they attract. Simultaneously magnetic and uncomfortable, strong brand narratives act as a rallying cry for some, but as a snub for most. And it works like a charm. Brands that tell a good story do three things really well: they’re unapologetic about their point of view, they craft stories that are strong enough to repel people, and they immerse believers in the narrative.”
Below are five of our favorite vision or mission statements from companies whose stories are at the core of what they do.
“Patagonia grew out of a small company that made tools for climbers. Alpinism remains at the heart of a worldwide business that still makes clothes for climbing – as well as for skiing, snowboarding, surfing, fly fishing, paddling and trail running. These are all silent sports. None require a motor; none deliver the cheers of a crowd. In each sport, reward comes in the form of hard-won grace and moments of connection between us and nature.
Our values reflect those of a business started by a band of climbers and surfers, and the minimalist style they promoted. The approach we take towards product design demonstrates a bias for simplicity and utility.”
In one line?
“Build the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, use business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
“Our mission is to bring Soul to the people. Our one of a kind, rockstar instructors guide riders through an inspirational, meditative fitness experience that’s designed to benefit the body, mind and soul. Set in a dark candlelit room to high-energy music, our riders move in unison as a pack to the beat and follow the signature choreography of our instructors. The experience is tribal. It’s primal. It’s fun.
We call it a cardio party. Our riders say it’s changing their lives. With every pedal stroke, our minds clear and we connect with our true and best selves. Through this shared SOUL experience, our riders develop an unshakeable bond with one another. Friendships are made and relationships are built. In that dark room, our riders share a Soul experience. We laugh, we cry, we grow — and we do it together, as a community.”
In one line?
“Take your journey. Change your body. Find your Soul.”
Smitten Ice Cream
“We believe ICE CREAM = JOY.
Pure, wholehearted and untarnished so that you can totally and utterly melt into the moment.
We elevate the ice cream industry by thinking from the heart-side out, owning our impact on the world, pushing boundaries and inventing solutions to take quality, purity, positive impact and joy to the next level.
Hell no status quo. Ice cream can and should be better. Get Smitten.”
In one line?
“Warby Parker was founded with a rebellious spirit and a lofty objective: to offer designer eyewear at a revolutionary price, while leading the way for socially conscious businesses.
Every idea starts with a problem. Ours was simple: glasses are too expensive. We were students when one of us lost his glasses on a backpacking trip. The cost of replacing them was so high that he spent the first semester of grad school without them, squinting and complaining. (We don’t recommend this.) The rest of us had similar experiences, and we were amazed at how hard it was to find a pair of great frames that didn’t leave our wallets bare. Where were the options?”
In one line?
“Frame your world.”
And while we’re at it, we thought we’d share our own mission statement here at Gusto:
“Gusto’s mission is to create a world where work empowers a better life. By making the most complicated business tasks simple and personal, Gusto is reimagining payroll, benefits and HR for modern companies.”
Keep crafting your vision for the future, and seeing what’s invisible. And when you’re ready to get hands-on and dig in deep, download our complete guide to writing an employee handbook, where you can give your company story a home.