How to create a vision statement for your small business
What is a vision statement, and how can it help your business? How does a vision differ from a mission statement? A well-written vision statement should describe what your business wants to achieve in the future. It should be ambitious. It should also motivate your team and your customers. In this guide, we’ll explain how to create a meaningful vision statement in five simple steps.
What does a vision statement do for your business?
A vision statement explains what your business would achieve if there were no barriers. It’s a description – for your investors, shareholders, partners, customers and employees – of where you could be five, ten, or even twenty years’ time, and the impact you’d like your small business to have had on the world.
Getting the language right and understanding the difference between a vision and a mission is important, even if many companies today combine the two. A great vision statement should appeal to investors and stimulate their interest in your long-term plans.
Why do you need a vision statement?
There must have been a reason for starting your particular business. You must have had an interest, or a skill, or reason to start trading. And you may feel that you can run a small business, day to day, without the ‘marketing fluff’ of a vision statement getting in the way. But a clear statement can help you to build that business in two ways:
- A good vision statement helps you to articulate your business’s driving force.
- A great vision statement motivates and inspires your workforce (and customers).
Instead of, for example, stating, “I want to make the highest quality, most popular, beautifully engineered boardroom tables in the UK”, you would say, “I want to build a company that helps people come together as partners in business.” It’s a sense of firm direction. It’s concrete even if it’s wildly ambitious, and it helps everyone understand where you’re going, so they can help you get there. For investors particularly, a clear vision statement is a sign of personal ethos and motivations for being in business.
What’s the difference between a vision and a mission?
Many people confuse the two terms.
- A vision statement is focused on the future. Its purpose is to define a perfect future by highlighting the values and hopes of the business – what you aim to achieve. It’s about inspiring and directing people’s energy, especially internally, which is why many vision statements are purely internal documents.
- A mission statement is based on what’s happening now. It’s a way of defining why your business exists and what it is doing today, especially for customers and investors. In short, a mission statement examines and answers the simple question, “Why does this business exist?” – in a way that distinguishes your business from all others.
- Vision also is not strategy. Vision is a where and a what for your business in the long-term. Strategy is an overall campaign plan that may involve complex decision-making to govern tactical execution (tactics are the detailed actions you’d take to realise a campaign objective).
As a written exercise – a discovery exercise, brainstorming with your team – follow these simple steps to reveal the phrases and sentiments that are specific to your business. They’ll help you to define your ambition and create a meaningful, inspiring vision statement for your small business.
1. Describe the future you want to see
Dream big. Imagine a world, 20 or 50 years from now, which is altogether better in some way. Now think about the ways in which your business might have contributed to that change. What does that world look like to you? How do people live differently? What would your business be producing or delivering as a service, and how does that differ from what you’re doing today?
2. Describe WHY you are in business
Answer these questions. Why does your business exist? How do you do things better than your competitors? What do you – physically – do, as a company?
3. Describe what success looks like for your business
This doesn’t mean thinking about your profit and loss, necessarily. It means thinking about how you might expand, develop new products, become the ‘number one’ in your market, or receive the highest number of accolades in a sector. Write down precisely what sets you apart from your competitors: your success as a small business owner depends on you, and your input to the company’s operations.
4. Describe your place in the order of things
What are your competitors doing? Is there an analogy that highlights the progress you could make? As a small business owner you may find it easier to describe your purpose in personal terms, as opposed to your business’s role in the commercial landscape. But both are valid, if you can articulate where you are today and where you would like to be tomorrow.
5. Describe a measurable goal
It doesn’t need to be an easily attainable goal, but it should be measurable in some way. Remember, this isn’t a strategic objective, it’s a piece of collateral that could help you to articulate your far-reaching ambition. Achieving ‘x’ over a period of years, for example impacting a specific target audience, or perhaps facilitating an achievement across a geographic area.
Now create your vision statement
Use your discovery session’s output to crystalise your long-term goals: your business’s vision. Don’t worry if it sounds ‘too big’ to begin with. And don’t worry about including a list of specific aims. This is supposed to be inspiring.
The specific words you choose are important because they create meaning and emotion. Use clear, concise, jargon-free language – but instil your sentences or phrases with passion and descriptive words too.
Work on variations of the vision until they reflect the specific nature of your small business and team. The hardest part is choosing wording that defines your values without sounding too vague.
- Tip: Run an internet search on your final wording. If you’ve captured a sentiment that’s unique, then you’ve achieved your goal.
How to use a vision statement for best effect
Road test your vision statement with colleagues, but get feedback at regular intervals from your team too. A vision statement on a boardroom wall is one thing, but a vision statement that motivates your business’s workforce to achieve great things is another.
- Include a reminder of your vision statement on internal communications
- Refer to your vision statement in strategic documents
- Use your vision statement to guide your strategy and inspire your team
Examples of inspiring vision statements
Inspiring vision statements can be short:
- Disney To make people happy.
- Alzheimer’s Association A world without Alzheimer’s.
- Oxfam A just world without poverty (5 words).
- Microsoft Empower every person and every organisation on the planet to achieve more.
- BBC To enrich people’s lives with programmes and services that inform, educate and entertain.
Inspiring vision statements can be wildly ambitious:
- Tesla To accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.
- Sony To be a company that inspires and fulfils your curiosity.
- Facebook To give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.
- ASOS To become the number 1 fashion destination for 20-somethings globally.
Inspiring vision statements can be more detailed:
- Amnesty International A world in which every person enjoys all of the human rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights instruments.
- Amazon.com Our vision is to be Earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online.
- Starbucks Coffee We want to inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup and one neighbourhood at a time.
- Heinz Our VISION, quite simply, is to be: “The World’s Premier Food Company, Offering Nutritious, Superior Tasting Foods To People Everywhere.” Being the premier food company does not mean being the biggest but it does mean being the best in terms of consumer value, customer service, employee talent, and consistent and predictable growth.
Please note that these guides are provided for information purposes only and not as advice or recommendations. Before deciding to undertake any course of action you may wish to seek independent professional advice.