Many people who want to start a new business are soon advised to get busy writing a business plan, and an early part of that effort is to write a mission statement.
We have all seen mission statements. You can hardly walk into any dry cleaner, delicatessen or fast-food restaurant without seeing a neatly framed statement that reads something like this: “Our mission is to provide our customers with a satisfying and valued experience every time they visit our establishment.”
That’s great, but all I wanted was a cheeseburger and fries.
I’d be a lot more impressed if their fancy, framed statement said something like: “Our mission is to make as much money as possible in the shortest amount of time with the least amount of effort so we can sell the business and retire to Palm Springs and play golf all day.”
That would be honest, and I could certainly respect that.
I read this great definition of business by R.H. Cabell the other day: “I like business because it is competitive, because it rewards deeds rather than words. I like business because it compels earnestness and does not permit me to neglect today’s task while thinking about tomorrow. I like business because it undertakes to please, not reform; because it is honestly selfish, thereby avoiding hypocrisy and sentimentality. I like business because it promptly penalizes mistakes, shiftlessness and inefficiency, while rewarding well those who give it the best they have in them. Lastly, I like business because each day is a fresh adventure.”
I have emphasized the words “because it is honestly selfish” because it makes an honest statement about the purpose of any business — to make money for its owners and investors. Why else would anyone want to risk their time and money to start their own business? Why don’t more mission statements say just that?
My advice to people who are starting a new business? Don’t waste your time — and mine — writing a mission statement. I won’t believe it anyway and neither will most other people.
— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.