Remember startup? Filled with boundless optimism and endless energy, startup entrepreneurs lay out a vision for their companies and what they hope to accomplish. And then, too often, they file it away, never to look at it again.
With all the tumult going on, now is a good time to reexamine your mission statement and your unique selling proposition (USP) to see if you’re delivering on your promises. If not, can you get back on track?
If you’ve outgrown your original mission statement and USP, create new ones that reflect your new goals. Once you’re done, review these documents annually to make sure they continue to reflect your operating philosophy and that your actions still support your mission.
Purpose of a mission statement
Your mission statement encapsulates your goals, philosophies, objectives, and how you intend to serve your customers and employees, all in about three or four paragraphs. While your mission statement was initially created by and for you, it’s vitally important your employees understand your company’s mission and the part they play in it.
When you originally created your mission statement, you should have asked yourself these questions:
Why did you start/buy this business?
Who are your customers?
What do you stand for?
What perception do you want others to have of your company?
What are you selling?
What kind of work environment have you created?
What sets you apart from your competition?
What value do we bring to our customers, community and employees?
Now that you’ve been in business a while, does the reality match up? Get input from your staff to make sure your mission statement is honest, relevant, and real to them. Also get input from your trusted advisors, like your accountant. This is important because many business owners are so close to their ideas they truly “can’t see the forest for the trees,” and it’s so easy to overlook the obvious.
You will better be able to see if you’re on track with your mission statement if you have people challenge you on it—and try to defend your assertions. Once you’re done, make sure your employees understand your company’s mission.
Then promote your mission statement to the public, so your customers, both existing and prospective, can see it. Put it on your company website, and in your store or office. Occasionally share it with your social followers.
To help keep you on track, it’s important to hire to your mission. Bring it up in job interviews. Ask candidates how your mission statement resonates with them. One part of the hiring criteria should be what can this person bring to your company that will help you achieve your mission?
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Evaluating your unique selling proposition
Much like your mission statement, don’t make the mistake of thinking you only need to worry about your USP at startup. As your business, your target market, your industry, and the economy evolve, you need to reassess your USP to make sure it still reflects your reality.
To review what a USP does—it is exactly what it sounds like. Your unique selling proposition is what makes your business different in general and specifically, what makes it stand out among your competitors.
Every small business needs to define, understand and live its USP. In challenging times, you might need to review your USP more than once a year, particularly if you’ve had to pivot to survive.
How can you best determine your USP?
USPs are about benefits, not features. How does your business help your customers and clients? What’s the benefit to them of doing business with you?
Think about the four Ps of marketing: product, price, placement (distribution channels), and promotional methods, and how they can help you define what’s special about your small business. Do you sell hard-to-find products? Are your products organic? Is your service green? Do you donate a portion of profits to charity?
Do you know why your customers do business with you? Understanding this will help you craft an effective USP. To find out—ask them. Conduct a survey or poll (this is easy and cheap to do online) or ask them in person. When things return to normal, you can have an informal focus group, or just take some of your loyal customers out to lunch to get their insights. Monitor social media and ratings and review sites to see what people are saying about your business online. Are your clients and customers looking to reaffirm their values, to get a good deal, to protect their loved ones, etc.?
Once you discover why your customers buy from you, use that information. Add some emotion to your USP—it’s more authentic and helps your audience connect to you and forge customer loyalty.
What are your competitors’ USPs? If you’re trying to stand out from the crowd, you need to know how competitors define themselves. You should always monitor your prime competition. Check their physical locations, websites, social platforms, and marketing messages to help you determine what they stand for and how you can differentiate your business.
Specificity counts. Obviously, a USP that is “shared” by others is not unique. For instance, think about Domino’s Pizza. Its original USP, the factor that got them noticed and helped them become a multi-billion dollar company, was not that they delivered pizza. Pizza delivery was neither new nor unique when Domino’s was created. It was the guarantee to consumers that they’d get their pizza in 30 minutes or less or get their money back. That USP was truly unique at the time.
Once you create your USP, you need to make sure you and your staff live it. Think of your USP as a promise you’re making to your customers—and nothing will drive business away faster than broken promises.
Again, think of both your mission statement and your USP as living, breathing documents. Don’t file them away. Reviewing them will help keep your small business focused and on the path for success.
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