What Do You Stand For?: A Guide to Defining Your Business Values & Mission


This article is one of many in the Before You Brand series. My goal with this series is to bring light to all of the work that my clients focus on before they come to me for a brand identity and website design. I know it can be overwhelming to grasp every aspect that goes into branding and especially difficult to do it all in the correct order (let me tell you, “get a great logo” is not the first step). If you need help making sense of branding in general and want to know where you should focus your energy while working on your business, then this series was tailor made just for you!  Essentially, this multi-part series is designed to break parts of the branding process down into actionable steps so you can finally get started, instead of endlessly Googling. 😉 And if there are any topics that you would like me to write about, please let me know in the comments below, I’d love to hear your feedback.

(Just give me the free download!)

So you’re starting on your journey to define (or re-define) the identity of your business and how it fits into the market space. You’ve done a bunch of market research, sized up your competition, and feel like you have a good handle on how you need to present your business.

(And if you haven’t done that, you need to do that first! Felicia Sullivan has created the BEST resource to get you started.)

So now what? Well now you need to figure out how you’re going to communicate your business’ purpose and position to people. You need to let people know what you stand for, so they can decide if your business is right for them and their needs.

Why Do I Need to Define My Business Values & Mission?

I’m gonna let an amazing person answer this question for me.

“If you don’t get out there and define yourself, you’ll be quickly and inaccurately defined by others.”

— Michelle Obama

If everything that’s done in your business doesn’t directly speak to what your business stands for, then people are just naturally going to come to their own conclusions. And everyone is going to have their own individual opinion and they’re probably all going to be very wrong and not an accurate representation of your business at all. That doesn’t sound like a good time, does it?

I’m guessing part of why you decided to start your own business was so that you could do your work on your own terms. Well here’s the catch, you need to define those terms in order to do that. And that’s just what your values & mission will help you do. They’ll also help people determine if your business is right for them. I know you already know that your small business cannot cater to everyone, but imagine having to tell a person why you can’t cater to them. Everyday. Multiple times a day. Sounds exhausting, right? And probably even makes you feel a bit defeated. Having your values & mission clearly defined gives you a solid framework to use to build your business in a way that speaks directly to your people. Your values & mission lay the foundation for your brand story, or what some people may call the why of your business.

  • Why are you in business?

  • Why do you do what you do in the way that you do it?

  • Why should people care about your business?

Asking yourself these whys? is a good way to start brainstorming in a way that aligns with your business. Keep asking yourself why? and write down the first answer that comes to mind. Then read your answer over and ask why? again. Write down that answer, re-read, ask why? again. Rinse and repeat.

This is the most straightforward way for you to come up with some good narrative for your brand story. It can also be a really great way to brainstorm ideas for other aspects of your business: taglines, product names, website content, etc.


How Do I Figure Out What My Business Values Are?

There are a few different methods for defining your business values out there, but my favorite way is to simply trust your gut, write down all of your ideas, then curate and refine from there. If you’ve done the brainstorm activity above, then chances are you’ll be able to pull a lot of inspiring, descriptive words from that. 

Step 1. Set yourself a 15 minute timer and start writing down all of the words you can think of that describe every aspect of your business. They can be related to anything, yourself, your employees, your workflows, your people, and they don’t have to be perfect. In fact, it’ll probably be helpful if you get a few of them wrong. Just write freely and honestly.

Step 2. When your timer is up and you feel like you’ve written down way to many random words, go through your list and circle the top 10 words that you feel best speak to what your business stands for. Don’t think you have 10 words that are truly the best fit? That’s fine, just make sure you have at least 3.

And if you want to outsmart your competition, check out this article for the most lackluster values that you can just leave out of your branding right from the start.

Step 3. From the words you circled, start looking them up in a thesaurus to eliminate any duplicates and see if there might be some more specific words or phrases that fit your business better. For example, you may have circled holistic and thorough, and while they are different words they’re also have a similar meaning. So let’s say that you think holistic is the better fit. But it still doesn’t feel like the perfect fit. A quick thesaurus check would suggest comprehensive, integrated, or all-inclusive as alternatives, and you can even use these suggestions as a jumping off point to keep digging further to get to the core what you’re looking to communicate to your people.

Step 4. There isn’t any strict rule about how many values your business should have, but because you want them to be clear and succinct I would aim for somewhere around 6, but no less than 3.

Getting stuck on the right words to use to capture your values? This is a great list to get inspired from.

Can My Business Values Be The Same As My Personal Values?

This truly depends on your business and how you operate within your business. If you’re a one-person shop and you’re the driving force behind everything that your business stands for, then your personal values can absolutely influence your business values. And if you think that maybe some values can overlap, but others should be different, that’s fine too! The key is to make sure your values are going to inspire and engage your people while also staying true to how your business operates.

How Can I Separate My Business Values from Myself?

If your business values aren’t your own personal values, that should mean only one thing: that your business values are in place to attract your people, or ideal audience, and your people are fundamentally different from you. So think about the values that your people seek out and work from there. And if you’re getting stuck, it may be easier to think about how you are different from your people and then use those differences to describe your people’s values. For example, you may love a good bargain and prefer to purchase from a point of quantity over quality, but your people don’t (or at least you don’t want them to), so what does that mean about their values? Maybe that means that your people value efficiency and prefer to outsource certain task to have more time in their life. Or perhaps they value craftsmanship and supporting local makers over getting a discount. 

What Should My Mission Statement Contain?

Ok, so now that you’ve done the work to get really clear on what your business values are, next up is crafting a standout brand mission for your business. Your mission statement should answer three questions:

  1. What Do You Do ?

  2. Who Do You Serve?

  3. What Value Do You Create?

And because of course nothing is ever that simple, you need to make sure that when you read your answers that they’re truly unique to your business. Think about your competitors and then honestly ask yourself “could these answers be for any other business out there?” If the answer is yes, it’s time to go back to those 3 questions and really think about what sets your business apart. And don’t sell yourself short! You might think that you’re just another accountant for freelancers, but what part of what you do makes you different in a sea of accountants? Maybe you’re more affordable, or maybe you put a strong emphasis on privacy & security. Whatever it is, it’s a unique part of your business that makes you stand out and should definitely be a focus in your mission statement.

Once you’ve gotten your answers to be “uniquely you” and you’re certain that they set your business apart from your competition, take your answers and craft them into a mission statement. Don’t worry if you’re not a wordsmith, I’m certainly not. A simple and straightforward sentence is still a very effective mission statement. Need an example? 

Now before you pat yourself on the back for creating an exceptional mission statement, you need to do one more test before you carve it in stone*; you want to make sure that your mission statement aligns with your values.

What do I mean by that? Well if your business’ values are about creating luxury, high-end experiences but your mission is to be affordable and reach everyone no matter of circumstances, there’s a big disconnect there. That’s not to say you can’t create a luxury experience at an affordable price, but you need to be more clear in defining your values. People seeking a luxury experience aren’t usually going to be looking for an affordable prices. However, people may be interested in something that’s more affordable and accessible if they’re interested in quality over quantity. So instead of having luxury as a value, you should focus more on quality over quantity to make sure that you’re targeting the right people.

*jk about the stone part, your mission statement can evolve as your business does!

Now What? What Am Supposed to Do With My Values & Mission?

This execution part is exactly why it’s SO important to have your values & mission clearly defined. Because you don’t necessarily need to put them in a pamphlet that you hand out to people or plaster them on billboards all over town.

You can think about your values & mission like the framing of a house. You know the framing is there, holding the house upright and together, but you don’t see it. It’s underneath all of the other pieces of the house, but those pieces are perfectly aligned with the framing.

Your values & mission are the bones of your brand story and they should be connected to every aspect of your business to ensure that you’re constantly sending the right messaging out into the world (and so that your house doesn’t fall down).

Ok. But HOW Do I Do That?

Well the most obvious example I can give is to work with a brand identity designer who understands how important your business’ values & mission are when creating brand design elements (oh hey, that’s me! 👋). The other way to weave your brand story into your business is to take a look at other businesses, both big and small, and look for the ways they’re integrating their values into various aspects of their business.

For instance, take a look at some of Apple’s core values:

  • We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.

  • We believe in the simple, not the complex.

  • We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

In short, their focus is to make great, simple, easy-to-use products that have a big impact in people’s lives. If you look at the products they’ve released over the past 10 years, it’s clear that their core values are a pivotal part of every decision they make at their company.

Can you do something similar within your business? I bet you can!

Whew! That Was A Lot, Huh?

I know we covered quite a bit in this article (I’m big on the details), but I’m proud of you for making all the way through to the end! If you worked through the tasks as you read this, A+ for you! If not, have no fear, you’re still amazing and I made a little something just for you! I put together some worksheets that distill what I covered in this article into actionable steps to help you brainstorm and gather all of your thoughts in one place, that's not quite as permanent as your fancy bullet journal. And yes, of course, it’s a free download!

So get to downloading and start getting serious about your business and what it stands for!