How to Write a Mission Statement like Steve Jobs

Mission statement

What do you do? Or better yet, what does your company do? No, seriously. Try and say it out loud in 1 or 2 sentences without boring yourself to death.

Go on, try it. There’s no hurry. Just take a moment and say it out loud to yourself. Unless you’re in a public place – people might look at you weird if you start saying random things about what your company does. Although if you do this, please let me know how it went.

Unless you’ve got something prepared, it’s surprisingly difficult to do. The simple fact is, you should know exactly what to say when somebody asks you this question. Not only should you know what to say, but it’s actually the single most important part of your business.

What is a Mission Statement

Your elevator pitch, mission statement, goal, objective, reason for existence – call it what you want, it should lie at the heart of everything you do. It’s the glue that holds the whole thing together.

Simply put, your mission statement is one or two sentences that summarise your brand’s vision. It will be a light in the dark that’s guides you in everything you do.

Your product design depends on it, manufacturing depends on it, marketing definitely depends on it and if your sales team doesn’t depend on it then I’m amazed you can sell anything at all.

  • If you said something like, “We help people grow their businesses”, or “I run an online course that helps people make money on the side” – you’re literally losing money as we speak.
  • If you went to say something and found that you just spluttered for a moment and nothing came out, much like when your car runs out of fuel and it desperately tries to make things work but can’t – boy have we got some work to do.
  • Perhaps you said something that you genuinely feel proud of. If this is the case, congratulations! You’re half way there.

Fail to do it and you risk getting lost

Nailing your mission statement does two things:

  1. It helps you define yourself or your company to your customers, allowing them to identify that you are the right option for them.
  2. It helps you and everyone in your company stay focused on working towards the same goal (even a one person company needs to know what they’re working towards).

Having a weak mission statement is like saying, “I want to travel to France”, and use an atlas to get there. You’re going to go down the wrong road a gazillion times, you’ll get completely lost on multiple occasions and even if you do make it there, there’ll be no way of telling if you’re in the right place.

No! This isn’t the 20th century. Get your phone out, open Google Maps, tell it exactly where you want to go and it will take you straight there!

So there you go – it’s time to Google Mapify your company’s mission statement.

Big Brands Suck at Creating Effective Mission Statements

The funny thing is, most big brands fail to do this effectively. This is great news because it means that people with smaller companies like you and me have the opportunity to do something better than they do.

Check out some of these awful mission statements.

Here’s one from Nordstrom:

In store or online, wherever new opportunities arise, Nordstrom works relentlessly to give customers the most compelling shopping experience possible. The one constant? John W. Nordstrom’s founding philosophy: offer the customer the best possible service, selection, quality and value.

Seriously? Great customer service, selection, quality and value? Who gives a f*ck!

How about this one from Universal Healthcare Services Inc:

To provide superior quality healthcare services that:  PATIENTS recommend to family and friends, PHYSICIANS prefer for their patients, PURCHASERS select for their clients, EMPLOYEES are proud of, and INVESTORS seek for long-term returns.

Is it supposed to surprise us that they want people to refer their friends and investors to give them money? Clearly, if these weren’t your goals, you would have a seriously flawed business model.

Even Apple is losing their way in the dark. We all know that Steve Jobs was one of the greatest visionaries that ever lived. As a result he created one of the best mission statements I’ve ever seen:

To make a contribution to the world by making tools for the mind that advance humankind.


Now take a look at Apple’s new mission statement:

Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

What the hell happened?! One minute they were a brand who wanted to change the world for the better of mankind, the next they’re some pretentious brand that prides itself on what it’s already acheived and not what it plans to acheive in the future.

I’m a massive Apple fan, but reading their new mission statement bugs the hell out of me.

So, now you know what a mission statement is, let’s try making one.

In order to do that you need to answer these 3 questions:

  1. What’s the problem?
  2. Who has the problem?
  3. What’s the pay off?

1. What’s the Problem?

What problem does your company or brand want to solve?

Problems that require solutions fall into two main categories:

  • Something that businesses or people are already doing or buying, but you can offer a better/cheaper/more efficient alternative.
  • Something that causes friction for people or businesses and you can provide the solution.

In order to understand what problem you want to solve, you normally have to begin with a strong opinion about something. Try asking yourself what it is that you feel strongly about. Then work out how your brand can fix that problem.

Already in business? No problem. It’s best to build your brand around a strong opinion in the first place but you can always work it backwards.

Work out what problem you are currently solving and then turn that into into a strong opinion. For example, let’s say you have a company that sells car tyres that are made out of a long lasting rubber.

The problem you are solving – people replace their tyres too often, costing them money and causing unnecessary environmental damage.

Your strong belief – “By making car tyres more durable people can save money while reducing their impact on global warming.”

Note: Traditional retail companies can’t usually answer this question. This is because they don’t actually solve a problem and they rarely add much value at all. They rely heavily on traditional marketing techniques to sell something that people could buy from hundreds of other retailers.

Remember that ‘great customer service’ isn’t solving a problem anymore. It’s a given. You’re not special just because you look after your customers. You’re average.

What’s more, selling the same product at a discounted price may solve a problem for short period of time, but it’s only so long before other retails will do the same.

2. Who Has the Problem?

I see far too many companies that think their market is anyone and everyone.

Let’s make this very clear: It is no longer possible to target the world as your market and do it successfully.

So, that said, who has the problem you’re trying to solve? Or who are you trying to solve a problem for?

Try to be as specific as possible here. Pick a demographic and narrow it down. I want you to think about location, age, education, wealth, marital status, hair colour, height, breast cup and shoe size.

Okay, maybe their breast cup isn’t all that relevant (unless you’re selling bras) but the more specific you can be the better.

Going back to our car tyre example, perhaps the people who have the problem are:

  • Middle classed
  • Between 25 and 40
  • Who live in the UK
  • Have to take their kids to school by car
  • Travel over 45 minutes to get to work each day
  • Have enough money to spend more up front and save in the long run

Many people woory that by being so specific they will be alienating everyone else. This seems logical but it’s just not the case. More often than not it will actually draw other in because of their desire to be like your target audience.

This is a bit of a strange phenomenon.

Here’s an example:

A couple of years ago I was following a new brand called Minaal on their first Kickstater campaign. In case you haven’t yet heard of them, you should definitely check them out.

Minaal make back packs for travelers. It’s as simple as that.

They niched down super hard on the traveling market and ignored the rest of the world. I’m not joking, look how they talk to their customers on their About page:

"We know who you are." - Minaal

Am I a traveler? No. Did I buy one of their bags? Yes.

The reason this works so well is that naturally human beings love to fantasise. We sit at home on our computers in a virtual world where anything is possible and we can be anyone we want.

By clearly defining your perfect customer, most people will actually mold themselves to become that persona.

And if it’s really not them at all and they can’t even imagine themselves with your product then you want them to get off of your website as quickly as possible.

3. What’s the Pay Off?

What’s the pay off if you succeed? In other words, how do you win?

You should think about this from both points of view; the customer and you, the brand. The pay off has to be clear for both in order for it to make it worthwhile.

Define what benefit is the the customer. Often this isn’t just the problem that your product/service solves, but what the consequent effect will be for that person.

The same goes for you and your brand. Sure, another sale means you get more money, but why do you need more money? What are you trying to acheive?


Put It All Together


Now it’s time to put all of your answers together into a concise and inspiring mission statement.

This can be done in many ways but the easiest formula for a good mission statement can be found in the worksheet below:

Download this worksheet to generate your own mission statement now. Fill it out and share it with everyone in your company. Heck, share it with you customers too!

It’s Never Too Late to Define Your Business

When I do consultation work, I always begin here with my clients. More often than not it’s something they haven’t even thought about yet or something they think they’re already doing a great job with but aren’t.

This one simple exercise can turn into thousands of dollars if taken seriously and implemented as the foundation for all of your companies future processes.

It will make your employees or contract workers more focused, it will build loyalty amongst your clients and most importantly, it will make you more money.

If you’re just starting out with a new blog, ecommerce store or service based website, don’t do anything else until you’ve completed this exercise. It will make everything else you do easier and quicker, providing 10x better results.


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