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“Mission statement” is sort of a buzzword, isn’t it? Pithy sentences that convey what the CEO wants customers to believe, even if it’s not an accurate reflection of how they’re treated.
My favorite example of this is Planet Fitness. Their mission statement starts out with, “At Planet Fitness, we’re here to provide a unique environment in which anyone – and we mean anyone – can be comfortable. A diverse, Judgement Free Zone® where a lasting, active lifestyle can be built.” I don’t know about your Planet Fitness, but mine is run by the judge-iest people in town; they also serve bagels and pizza every week.
Then there are the brands that hit the nail right on the head, like the Walt Disney Company. And for anyone who feels that Disney is just a money-making machine, they’ve even included the idea of profitability right in their mission statement:
Now, you probably don’t ever read a brand’s mission statement. It’s usually buried in the website a little, on the About page or a subpage of the About section. Maybe it’s in the description part of a social media profile. Sometimes it’s referred to by the head of the company or the marketing manager. The point is that even if you have heard a brand’s mission statement, you can’t repeat it verbatim like you can their slogan. “America runs on Dunkin’” is Dunkin’ Donuts’ tagline, not their mission statement.
The fact that mission statements aren’t in your face isn’t an accident. Brands express their values in many ways, and while their mission statement clarifies and guides those values, brands know that consumers don’t care what they have to say – they care how they show it.
Mission statements are necessary, but they’re for you – they reflect what you stand for and inform the decisions you make; they’re a starting point that will guide everything else you do that is customer-facing. Without one, it’s easy to get off track and start making decisions that won’t lead you to your best freelance life.
Freelancers Should Have Mission Statements
Mission statements are what drive brands (in theory), but freelancers don’t always realize they can and should have their own, too. I wrote mine a few years ago, at a time when I was weeding out not-so-great clients and wondering who I should pull in to replace them:
I provide tailored ideas, polished articles and trustworthy editorial support for creative brands and professionals. Elevated writing endures, and I work to create the type of warm, unforgettable copy that’s always charmed me.
This helped me clarify who I wanted to work, who I wanted to be as a freelancer and what type of work to take on. It also guides me when I’m getting off track – when I’m about to say yes to that red flag of a client or I’m debating if I feel like changing my voice to suit their style.
This is Not a Vision Statement
A mission statement is not the same thing as a vision statement. A vision statement is a description of where you see yourself upon achieving what you laid out in the mission statement. The Alzheimer’s Association has both their vision statement and their mission statement on their website, and it’s an excellent illustration of the difference:
Your vision statement reaches for the stars; it’s already living its best life. Your mission statement is the actual work that’ll get you there.
Creating Your Freelance Mission Statement
Warning: This part is messy. Creating a mission statement, like creating anything, starts with a bunch of balled-up pieces of paper, red pen, maybe some tears, a good half hour questioning why the Hell you chose to be a freelancer, and then it magically turns into three perfect, glowing sentences.
My point is that there isn’t one way to do this, which is why this section will skip around a bit.
Elements of a Mission Statement
Your mission statement has to be actionable. It can’t laze around in the sun, sipping a mojito, celebrating accomplishments it hasn’t achieved yet. Here are a few things you want to convey in your mission statement:
- The actual products or services you deliver.
- Inspiration for you and the people on your team.
- The problem you’re solving for…
- …your audience.
No? Okay, try this.
Let’s break it down even more. Simplify it by answering the old standards: who, what, why and how. Some people will tell you to do this in a specific order, but I don’t think you have to make it complicated. Answer the questions in whatever order the answers come to you.
Who are you serving? Hopefully, you know who your audience is. If not, you’ll need to figure that out. Create a brand persona based on who your clients or customers are right now or who you ideally want to work with.
What are you giving your clients or customers? Which products or services are you delivering? Then, get into the value you’re giving your customers. What demands are you meeting, what problems are you solving? A gas station supplies gas through a gas pump, their most basic “what.” But what they’re giving you is fuel for your car…for that road trip…to win back the love of your life…
Why are you producing the work you’re producing? What pulled you into the freelancing world? Now, keep going – every time you answer one “why,” ask another “why.” Do this until you’re ready to punch yourself in the face. You’re getting down to the heart of your freelance life, finding the passion and maybe even remembering why you started in the first place.
This one’s a little tricky. You don’t want to lay out your business processes here. Instead, the “how” is about how your business incorporates your values. For example, maybe you provide a higher value service than your competitors; you only sell products that are beneficial for the environment; or you encourage innovation in everyone from your team to your customers.
Still drawing a blank, huh.
I know from my experience as a writing tutor that, for some people, as soon as you say, “What? Just tell me. Just tell me, in any words you want, what you’re thinking,” they instantly clam up. If that’s happening, I have another exercise for you.
Pretend that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, you’re out of business. Maybe you’ve chosen to be out of business or your computer dies and takes everything you’ve done along with it. Whatever. Your business is no more.
What would happen? Who would be affected? How much would they care and what would they care about specifically? What problems were you solving that your clients will now have to deal with again? How would other freelancers be impacted – would they get your clients now? Would the team you built have to scramble to find work?
By answering these questions, you’re discovering the ingredients that drive you and your business. You’re evaluating your worth as a freelancer and figuring out why you carved out this niche for yourself.
Finishing Up (and then Starting Over)
Your mission statement should be pretty short. A few sentences, tops. If you can’t blurt it out as an elevator pitch, if the sharks on Shark Tank would cut you off midway through, if you can’t memorize it, it’s too long.
Here’s a writing secret: 500 or 5000 words are easier to write than a compelling 50. Take time with this. Read and reread it, then don’t look at it for a week before you read it again. If something is nagging at you – a punctuation mark that looks out of place, a word that doesn’t quite flow – keep brainstorming and revising until it’s perfect. You’ll know when you get there.
Change Your Mission Statement as Your Business Changes
Your current mission statement isn’t going to be with you forever. With any luck, you’ll grow out of it as your business evolves. You could also realize that your mission statement no longer reflects who are you, who you serve and what you bring to your business and your clients. Maybe you can’t evolve until you get a better handle on your values. Updating your mission statement will help.
Your mission statement can act as a signpost when you’re starting to waver. It will point you in the right direction so you’re always making the best decisions for your freelance goals. It tells you what you should do and shouldn’t do, and it tells you all of that quickly. Use it as much as you need as a visual reminder of what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and where you’re going.
This isn’t simple stuff. If you’re having a hard time figuring out why you’re freelancing, check out our article about finding purpose in your work and life.