Distilling the essence of your company, including its people and its purpose, into a mission statement—a short blurb of no more than four sentences—brings a unique set of challenges. Your mission statement can’t be too long, too short, too vague, or too specific. It must be inspirational yet realistic; value-driven yet reflective of your company and its position in the world.
At their best, mission statements serve as the foundation of your business, and should become the reason you hire, grow, pivot, and make decisions in the years to come. Yet capturing this “mission” in a way that both inspires and prescribes calls for a wealth of considerations. Learning how to write a mission statement requires a deep understanding of purpose, language, and the crucial elements that make your mission whole.
What is a mission statement?
A mission statement describes in fewer than 100 words the reason your company exists and why it’s important. Ideally, a mission statement should be timeless, describing the motivation behind your company’s inception, as well as the work you’re doing now and the work you will do in the future. It should be inspirational for employees and customers alike, and clearly convey the factors that make your company unique.
Keep in mind that a mission statement is different from a vision statement; while a mission statement conveys why the company exists, a vision statement provides forward-thinking context around the future of the business and the direction in which the company is growing.
How to develop a mission statement
In writing a mission statement, it’s best to consider not only what your company does but also the who, why, and how behind its operation. The mission statement from sports and clothing store Patagonia, for example, digs deeper than “building the best product” by providing the “how” in “cause no unnecessary harm,” and the “why” in “to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.”
Below are the questions to ask yourself when considering what messages to include in your mission statement.
What does your company do?
At its most simplistic, a mission statement should describe your company’s operation, making clear the product you sell or the service you provide. This is especially important during the early stages of launching a business, as your mission will be integral in attracting investment and wooing new customers.
“A startup needs to be instantly graspable,” says Fiachra Ó Comhraí, founder of comparison website Renewal Diary, a member at WeWork Charlemont Exchange in Dublin. “It’s awfully alienating to people when there are layers of jargon involved.”
Who are you talking to?
In making such a powerful statement in just a handful of sentences, it’s important to know your audience. Typically, a mission statement addresses one or more of the following: your employees, your customers, or your shareholders.
To do this effectively, it’s important to consider the “human” element of your product or service. For example, how does your company make customers feel and behave? Or how does your mission translate to an energizing workday for employees?
Why do you do it?
Spotify exists to help artists make money off their music; Amazon hopes to help people find anything they want online. If your company exists to solve a problem or fulfill a need, this represents the “why” and is a great starting point for building your mission statement.
For startups, consider the elements—people, technology, customer service—that are at the heart of your work, differentiating you from your competition. For established companies, pare back every sales asset you have, including physical brochures, online copy, recorded phone conversations, and polished sales decks, to find the thread connecting your pitches.
Finally, thinking of your startup story—the moment the idea struck and what triggered that thought—is often helpful in rediscovering the “why” of your business and therefore the crux of your mission statement.
How do you do it?
The “how” can be a great point of difference if your company does things just a little differently. Often, tech startups do their best to convey the “how” in their mission statements, as it’s a good way to showcase innovation and leadership.
Fitness technology and product retailer Fitbit, for example, “designs products and experiences that fit seamlessly into your life.” The “how” in this instance is intriguing to potential customers, and the partnership of design and experience is likely a draw for top talent, too.
The language to use in drafting a mission statement
Once you have the elements of your mission statement, it comes down to the words themselves. Ideally, they should be simple, inspiring, value-driven, and realistic.
The purpose of your business should be clearly described in language that is uncomplicated and not too flowery. It’s essential readers understand not only what your company stands for, but also the products or services it provides.
A strong mission statement calls for a dose of optimism, especially since the aim is to encourage buy-in from employees, customers, or investors. Consider describing your “ideal world,” or how your product or service helps improve the lives of your customers.
The same way successful companies typically stand for more than just profitability, your mission statement should reflect the value your company offers beyond making money.
As large as your goals and dreams may be, it’s important that your mission is rooted in reality. The claim you’re making must be plausible, and the value you’re touting should be easily linked to your product or service.
Quick tips for writing a mission statement
Below are some simple best practices to keep in mind when writing a mission statement for your business.
Keep it short
A mission statement should be no more than 100 words.
Ensure language is simple
Describe clearly what your company does and why it’s important.
Consider who you’re targeting
A mission statement should speak to employees, customers, or shareholders.
Make it value-driven
What value does your company bring, beyond making money?
Consider the “why” and the “how”
What makes your company stand out? Are you using technology or methodology differently than your competitors?
Make it realistic
Certainly, your mission statement should be inspiring, but it should also be plausible.
Learn from the best
While your mission statement should be unique to your company and your product or service, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel entirely. Take inspiration from some of the best mission statement examples before you begin work on your own.
Mission statements might change over time, and that’s OK
Mission statements might change with time, as your company grows or the focus of your startup develops, and it’s not detrimental to change your mission statement to reflect these circumstances. While mission statements should be written to encompass the past, present, and future of your business, they can be changed at times to portray a more current, or relevant, standpoint in your business’s life cycle.
Writing your own mission statement
Whether you’re a startup still determining your purpose and potential, or an established company considering refreshing your mission statement or changing it entirely, WeWork provides workspace, support, and community to help you grow your impact and fulfill your mission in the years to come.
With the necessary elements for writing a mission statement in mind, encapsulating the reason your company exists, and why you do what you do, should feel a little less daunting. This is an opportunity to bring fresh employees, new customers, and excited shareholders on board—people who are invested in your company and its future.
For more tips on growing teams and building a business, check out all our articles on Ideas by We.
Caitlin Bishop is a writer for WeWork’s Ideas by We, based in New York City. Previously, she was a journalist and editor at Mamamia in Sydney, Australia, and a contributing reporter at Gotham Gazette.