Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Developing your mission statement

At a workshop I conducted this morning for Enterprise Toronto, we spent some time working on introductory positioning statements (mission statements, value propositions, USPs, whatever you want to call them). The idea is to explain, briefly and memorably, what you do, who your target market is, and what benefits you offer your clients.
I believe introductions are the key to building business relationships. Great introductions identify motive and clarify intent. They create social equilibrium by establishing whether either side wants anything from the other, either enhancing the business relationship or enabling either party to disengage politely.

I asked whether any of the 30 entrepreneurs in the room had a positioning statement they cared to share with the class. Nobody did. So I went over my preferred template for these statements:

I do (this, or these things) so that (this market) can do (this).

In other words, you say what you do, and who you do it for. Then you offer a tantalizing clue why your product or service matters. Why you're better than the competition. Why you're special.

To show how simply this can work, I gave the class the positioning statement I often use: “I’m a writer, and I help entrepreneurs grow their businesses.”

Ten simple words. Yet they explain, in relaxed, conversational terms, what I do, who I do it for, and what benefit my clients can expect.

Easy, huh? Then I asked the class how long it took me to come up with that statement. “Two weeks?” ventured someone near the front of the room. “Six years,” I said.

I hope that makes my point that mission statements are complex beasts that take a lot of time to develop. Even if you come up with one in an afternoon, you should be constantly wrestling with it to find ways to make your introduction shorter, more conversational, more effective.

Then came the embarrassing part. I told the class that my previous statement had been, “I’m a consultant who helps entrepreneurs build their businesses.” Then I asked which descriptor the group liked better – “consultant” or “writer”? They voted two to one in favor of “consultant.”

So I told them why I dropped that from my mission statement. Yes, I do consulting. But so does everyone else. Consultants are a dime a dozen. And frankly, entrepreneurs’ first thought when they meet a consultant is usually, “What’s his hourly rate? Probably too much.”

When they meet a writer, however, the first question they usually ask is, “What do you write?” or “Who do you write for?” – questions more likely to create an interesting and productive conversation. Since writers are rarer than consultants, there’s also a novelty factor involved. Also, I know many entrepreneurs who have specifically gone looking for a writer, so (unlike “consultant”) it’s a term more likely to resonate favorably.

Consultants are commodities. Writers are specialists, with a bit of an aura.

We are all specialists. We all have auras. How can you cease being a commodity and enhance your positioning aura?

(Feel free to use my template to create your own positioning statement. And please let me know how it goes. You can email me or leave a comment.)

1 comment:

Jeremy Miller said...

Hi Rick,

Great post. I couldn't agree more. Finding Simple, Clarity is challenging. It requires "scratching" to find the right words, test them on your audience and refine them until they clearly convey who you are and what you do.

I like that you chose to describe yourself as a writer versus a consultant. Being a writer is descriptive. It conveys what you do. A consultant, on the other hand, lacks clarity. What does a consultant really do? It's a word like synergy or solution. It is a meaningless word that sounds good.

I think the ultimate test is to present your positioning statement to a 5 year old. If they get it, great. You are on to something. If they don't understand, more refinement is needed.


Jeremy Miller