What is your vision statement? Do you even have one? As a small business owner, you may be one of those who think that vision statements are applicable only for big businesses. When we hear the word “vision” what usually comes to mind is a self-aggrandizing statement hung on some corporate office wall. Stephen Krausse believes that should not be the case; in fact, small businesses need to have a practical vision in order to succeed. In this episode, he explains the true definition of vision, what a vision statement should look like, why small businesses should have it, and when and how they can use it.
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Practical Vision In Small Business | Up And To The Right | Episode 042
Let’s talk about vision. In the last episode, I set out the principles that I think guide businesses in the concepts that I think we can call principles. The first of those was vision. Give me a few minutes to explain why I think vision is not only applicable for big businesses, but it’s also something that we can use in a practical and easy way to guide the decisions that we make every day.
We’re talking about vision. For small business owners, it’s very easy for us to look at vision statements in a different perspective of mission statements in these things we put on a placard in the lobby that apply more to big businesses who are trying to have a self-aggrandizing statement, rather than something that helps manage and operate a business successfully. That’s what I want to talk about because I think there is an opportunity to use vision to operate and run our businesses better with more structure and more integrity than if we don’t have a clarity around our vision.
Is vision just for big business? I don’t think so. Being clear about our vision is more than a wall hanging, more than a Twitter post, more than an infographic and even more about more than customer relationships and product development. If you do a search on vision, you’re going to get a lot of stuff. You’re going to get a mountain of books, articles. While I’ve read my share, honestly, they don’t do a lot for me when it comes to how you use vision in a small business setting, in a small business environment in a way that isn’t something you put in the office behind your head or in the lobby when customers come in to see it. It becomes a decoration more than a guiding principle or a guiding piece of structure for your business.
I want to talk about how we can get that value out of it. What we want to do is have a short, practical, actionable concept of vision. I want to talk a little bit about the definition of vision because I think that’s the first thing that we come up with that we stumble on is, “What is a vision for a company?” In episode 41, I said it’s the understanding of your place in a social and economic environment and into the future even beyond what you can reliably see. I’m going to take a bit of artistic license here, and I’m going to shift it up with one-word change. Instead of understanding your place in the social and economic environment, it is understanding your impact on the social and economic environment.
Vision speaks to companies that are mission-driven or impact-driven that have something beyond simply making money as their goal. The framework that I’m going to be speaking from is that you started your business to make an impact on the world somehow with some group of people. You don’t have to solve global warming as a small business to have a valid mission or vision. You can make someone’s big day better. One hour at a time, one customer at a time makes someone’s day better. That’s a legitimate vision. Especially now, we all need things that make our lives a little better. That’s the point. It’s all about the impact that you’re going to have in the economic and social environment that you find yourself in.
Let’s face it as entrepreneurs, we don’t get out of bed in the morning just to go make money. It’s not worth it. You can get a job where you’ll make more money and work less hours doing a job for somebody else. We do this because we want to have an impact in an industry on a specific customer demographic on the planet in a technology area. It’s always about impact. For Beyond 50 Percent, when I created the vision statement which I modified as a result of episode 41, and I thought through this.
[bctt tweet=”Your vision should be a guiding principle, not just something you hang on a lobby wall. ” via=”no”]
Our vision is successful small business ownership is the rule, not the exception. We know that’s not true. Over 87% of businesses won’t make it past fifteen years, but that’s the point. I believe that number is way too high. I want to live in a world that’s different than that, where small business ownership and entrepreneurship has a better chance of success. It’s a short statement that shares the change that I would like to see in the world and it shows the target market, small business owners.
Vision As Impact
I want entrepreneurship to be more accessible, more successful, and the people that are our customers and the people I want to impact are small business owners. This very short statement provides the vision for Beyond 50 Percent and obviously for the name as well. If you do a search on the internet or in the library or wherever for business vision, you’re going to get a lot of books and a lot of articles. There are two things that I think a lot of them bring into play that I don’t like in principle and I think are not helpful for small businesses.
One is the idea that your vision is how you see your company in the future. That’s his strategic planning element and it’s important. I’m not going to discount that. The company’s future is not the vision. The vision is the impact that you’re using the structure of your company and organization to have on your customers and their lives. The first thing is the vision is not about your company. It’s about your impact. That matters quite a bit as we get further along. The next thing is this whole idea of a goal. It’s going to be very easy if you start to look into this to think that the vision has something to do with a goal. I don’t want to try and split hairs here, but I do think it’s important. Words matter and the idea of a goal is something that can be achieved. Once you’ve done it, what is your company around for? You have nothing.
The concept is that your vision should absolutely be about having an impact that is for evergreen. There will always be a way to have that impact, at least in the world that we can foresee. Jim Collins talks about a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. To me, that’s not a vision. That’s a strategic planning tool and certainly could be a helpful motivational tool. Going to the moon was a Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal in the ‘60s. You’ll notice when it was done, we quit going. There was no more reason. A goal is not the vision. It is something that we use to achieve a specific strategic part of our business. That is not what we’re going to talk about.
When we wrap up this idea of what is the definition of a vision, for me, it’s a very simple thing. It’s the impact you want to have on the group of people you want to have it on. I’m hopeful that’s a positive impact that you want to have on a group of people doing good work. It actually does us a disservice to overcomplicate the idea of mission or vision. I keep using that word and it doesn’t mean what I think it means. Mission and vision are not the same thing, but we intermingle those two words a lot in a business culture. I feel strongly that they’re not the same. The idea is vision is the impact you want to have on the group of people that you call your customers. It’s that easy. It does us no good to make it more complicated than that because then we don’t do it. We don’t worry about our mission because we can’t think of something super clever to say. That does a disservice to us as entrepreneurs.
Creating A Vision
Let’s talk a little bit about articulating and creating a vision. You can hone a vision throughout the lifetime of your company. What’s important here is to make sure that you’re not letting perfect be the enemy of good. You don’t need a perfect statement of your vision. It doesn’t have to be on every brochure you send out the day you start using it. It can be, and that’s okay. That’s a marketing choice. From a strategic management choice, from an understanding why you get out of bed and go to work in the morning, your vision can be clunky or rusty, or it can look like the phrase, “Like a dog’s breakfast.” It’s okay if that’s what your vision looks like when you first articulate it so that you can use it. Then you can hone it and make it more presentable if that’s important to your marketing strategy.
[bctt tweet=”The vision is not about you or your company. It’s about your impact.” via=”no”]
There are only three considerations when it comes to a vision. We already talked about two of them. One is impact, second is the beneficiary and the third is timelessness. We touched on this too. That is this concept of vision needs to be evergreen. It needs to have no endpoint. An impact that is good now should be an impact that is good 10 or 50 years from now. There’s no point in the future where, “In my world, entrepreneurship should be even harder.” That’s not a world I want to exist. Those three things are the foundations that you have to worry about and that’s all. You don’t have to worry about how you put it together or how you articulate it specifically at first. Those components are the ones we need to care about once we’ve decided that we have a timeless vision that the impact we want to have is timeless. We need to say, “What is different about the world as a result of our organization’s existence?” If Beyond 50 Percent makes one person’s entrepreneurial journey better, that’s the vision.
The impact statement is that easy, “I want to help one person have an easier time on their entrepreneurial journey.” The beneficiary is, “Who is your direct customer?” In the case of Beyond 50 Percent, it’s small business owners like you. In the case of other businesses, they’re going to have different customers. There’s a temptation or an expectation that we’re going to come up with something profound or clever or a great play on words, or using alliteration or some other tool, and let the marketing people deal with that. Maybe there is a better way to say what your impact is and who you want to have it on. Let the marketing people deal with that, hone it, but first own it, write it down. What is the impact you want to have? It doesn’t have to be, “I want to change the whole world.” Just change one person’s world. We have this expectation that we’re going to say something clever or profound, and it becomes a barrier to taking any action at all. Let that go.
The most important thing about your vision is that you have to share it with your audience and marketing team and put it on your website. Then you’re talking about a marketing slogan and tagline, you’re not talking about the vision for the company. A vision can be used in marketing. That’s okay, but that’s not the first thing we do with it. The first thing we do is use it here for ourselves. We want our vision to describe the impact we want to have, for the customers we want to serve. It’s primarily for our use internally at first, at least. When you go to articulating and documenting it, all that matters is that you wrote down what impact you want to have, who you’re going to impact and make sure that impact is going to be as valid a hundred years from now as far as we can tell as it is. That’s a vision statement. It’s powerful and valuable. That’s what we’re going to talk about next.
Vision And Decision
You’ve written down your vision statement and you’re like, “What was the point of that exercise? I care about paying rent or making payroll or serving this customer.” I hear you, I totally get it. What we want to do is run our businesses as well as possible. The way that we can use this tool to do that is the key. When we talk about using the vision of our company to serve our strategic planning, to serve our decision making, what does that look like? What does it mean? Generally, speaking in day-to-day operations, you’re not going to need to ask a vision question, unless you’ve been running your business for six years and things have gotten spread out and complicated. You might want to take some time to readjust everything carefully to better fit your vision.
Largely in operation, you don’t have to say on a day-to-day basis, “Do I need to order these replacement parts as they fulfill my vision?” No, because that product or whatever that process has already been identified as something that supports the vision. Problem solved. When something new comes up, if you want to do a new product or you want to rebrand your company, or there’s a business opportunity that you’ve become aware of, or there’s a product development cycle that is going to start and you’re like, “Maybe I should do this product or maybe I should carry this product line in my store.” The question then becomes, does that product support the vision of your company or not? It matters because every time you do and make an investment in the future of your business, it costs time, energy, these all resources and real money costs. These are things that entrepreneurs and small business owners have in short supply. We don’t have a ton of time and a ton of cash.
We have to make sure that we’re chasing the thing we value most in our business. If you follow that thought, you may go, “What about diversification of our product line?” Let’s say you’ve made the same widget for five years, and it’s come up in discussions that maybe you could make widget 2.0, the question needs to be asked because there’s a trap with diversification. There are a couple of questions that are important. One is, “Do you have the resources to pursue a new direction that will be valuable to the customers you want to serve, support the impact you want to have without doing damage to your existing efforts?” That matters.
[bctt tweet=”Your vision needs to be evergreen.” via=”no”]
The other question is, “Have you exhausted all the reasonable efforts that support your vision as your organization is run today?” If those things are true, then it might be time to bring something else in. What happens if you bring a product line or something into your business that doesn’t support your original vision is it can become a distraction. You can end up serving both concepts poorly because you failed to choose the one you wanted to serve originally. It is important that we use the concept of our vision to help us guide the future of our company. That doesn’t mean that we don’t make changes to a business or that we don’t pursue business opportunities that are new. What it means is we have to make sure that they’re the right thing for the right business.
For example, I’ve been running Directed Energy, which is an electronics company for a while. I purchased it from a publicly-traded company in December of 2018, but it’s a family business. We started it in 1987. We do high voltage pulse power equipment. We don’t do business consulting. When I wanted to start serving a new group, I wanted to have a business that served a different vision. We didn’t add a consulting arm to direct energy. We could have, but I made a specific choice to create a new entity to pursue that one single vision. Entrepreneurship and small business ownership, being successful as a rule rather than an exception. That’s one way of handling it to say, “This entity has got to be different. It’s got to have its own purpose.” You can also say no.
There have been many times, especially over the course of the years with Directed Energy, where we had a company in New York that was interested in being acquired that did a somewhat related product line, and we declined that opportunity because it didn’t fulfill the vision of the company. We didn’t articulate it all quite that way at the time, but that’s what it came down to it. It wasn’t part of the way that we were going to have an impact and support of the customers that we wanted to help. It wasn’t a good fit at that level. We use the concept of the vision statement to help us make decisions when those decisions get gray. In the case of Directed Energy and Beyond 50 Percent, it’s pretty easy to say, “Those two are completely unrelated businesses, and you would start a new business and move on.” There might be other reasons why you would do that. You want to have the two separate entities for some for legal reasons or whatever, that’s fine.
You might have a situation where you’re looking at there’s a great opportunity. Lidar is this huge thing in the electronics industry. Do we want to dig into the Lidar market as a business? Do we build high voltage pulsars for mass spectroscopy? That market has changed a lot in years. Do we want to create new products for that specific industry? How does that meet the vision of the company? We can use it for product development and say, “It might be great, high margin and have a lot of revenue potential, but if it doesn’t fit our vision, then we need to think about whether or not it’s appropriate for that product line to be a part of this company.” It’s very easy as a small business owner to get in the trap of that next dollar because we are always cash strapped. If you dig in and put your energy into things that fulfill the mission, you’re going to have two advantages. You’re going to stay focused as a company.
You’re also going to be able to dig deeper into that specific area that you want to make a difference in, and you make choices. My choice on Beyond 50 Percent is, “What are the things that I can do to help small business owners succeed so that their chances of success are better?” For example, years ago, it was hard to find small business CRM, Customer Relationship Management. One could make the argument that might be hopeful to business owners to succeed. To me, that particular product is very specific to sales channels and customer relationship management, and not to helping business owners make better broad decisions about business ownership. For me, that thing wouldn’t fit in products.
Every couple of years, there’s some new person or new company who has a new planner, whether it’s paper-based or electronic. There’s another one that you could see the temptation and there’s a product that might help business owners, but that’s where I would take my vision and that doesn’t help business owners cultivate their business knowledge. It gives them a tool to do something. For Beyond 50 Percent, that’s the difference. I want to help you cultivate your business knowledge. Those things don’t match. You could go even further afield and say, “We don’t want to do financial analysis. It doesn’t fit within my vision of the company.”
[bctt tweet=”Whenever you need to make a business decision, that’s when you need your vision statement.” via=”no”]
We can use it very practically to help us say, “This doesn’t fit within what I believe that this company needs to do.” You can also use it to keep yourself on track because there’s going to be those times where there’s attempting product line or attempting business idea. If you don’t understand your vision and you don’t stay on top of it, one fund business idea turns into 2, into 3, into 4 and pretty soon your company is going in a whole bunch of different directions and not focused on a single vision. In my experience, that doesn’t end well because if you’re not focused on running one business, you have all the work to do for a whole bunch of different product lines. It’s hard enough to do that work when you have one product line, or at least one direction that you need to market to and serve.
Keeping your vision handy and simple helps us make those decisions. It may take days or weeks to even come up with, “Does this particular business opportunity makes sense for us?” There’s a famous example, it was the CEO of Southwest Airlines. Someone had suggested that in order to improve some metric, they were going to start offering meals. The CEO looked at their vision, which is to be the lowest cost airline and he said, “How does serving meals meet that need or vision?” Obviously, they didn’t start serving meals because it doesn’t help them fulfill that vision of being the low-cost airline. That’s the thing where you can look at a tactic that you might be trying to implement and say, “Does this help us fulfill our vision, or does it not?” It can help keep you on task.
We’ve talked about some reasons of what a vision is for small business and reasons to use them. One of the examples I wrote down is going on a retreat with your staff and having a genius moment because of the change of scenery. If you have the time and money to do that, and you think it would be valuable, great. I’m sure there are a lot of locations that would love to have your business, but you can do this in your conference room, your office or on your porch. You don’t need to be far away, clearing your head to make a working vision statement. That’s not to say that clearing your head isn’t a good idea, but it isn’t mandatory for this particular process. What you need to do is write down the impact you want to have, look at the people who are going to benefit from that impact and write them down. That’s it. You don’t have to overcomplicate it. There’s no retreat involved if you don’t want it.
You don’t need a management consultant to come in. You don’t need to bring me in to help you create a vision statement. I’m happy to help if you’re roadblocked, but that’s not the focus here. The idea here is what impact do you want to have as a business owner and who do you want to serve? Write it down. It’s just a few words. It may take you a few minutes to sort out what that impact looks like. It may take a few minutes to figure out exactly who benefits, but then you’re done at least to the first order and you can hone it. If you need to hone it for years, that’s fine. Understand it, that’s what’s important. Combine those two things into a statement. Somehow, it doesn’t have to be pretty. At this point, it’s for your use. We’re not talking about trying to get on the cover of Forbes. We’re just trying to get value out of this concept of vision.
The second thing is to put it somewhere where you’ll look at it when you need to make a real decision. If you put it in a document and in a Google Drive folder and you don’t refer to it, that’s not going to be helpful. If you put it on the wall of your lobby and you don’t look at it, it’s still not going to be helpful. What do we have to do? You have to put it in a place where you do your work. Maybe you tape it above your desk, maybe you put it in your conference room, maybe you use a Sharpie or a Marks-A-Lot to put it on your whiteboard permanently.
I tried that once with something else and it turns out none of those things are permanent on whiteboards anyway. They’re a little harder to erase than dry erase, but they’re not very permanent. You can find some way to make it visible where you make decisions. That’s the important thing. Then you’ve got to practice referring to it. Every now and then you’re going to forget. That happens. You’re going to be making a decision, especially if it’s early on and you haven’t gotten into, “How does my vision impact this particular decision?” You’re going to forget. That’s okay, but you’re going to have to let that go and keep going back.
Where are you going to do your work and how will you see it? Taping it on your computer or putting it on the whiteboard, maybe that helps. If you’re a craftsman, have it with your paints, with your clay, with your glass bowling supplies. Whatever it is that you do, where you make decisions about that, that’s where you need to have your vision statement. It needs to be in a form that you will identify when it’s time to make those decisions. Do you need it as a banner, a Post-it note or a wood-burned sign? Whatever works for you, that’s what matters. Eventually maybe we’ll put it in the lobby, but that’s not what we’re going to do now.
You put it somewhere where are you going to work. When you have a decision to make, you ask, “Does this support or enhance our ability to fulfill our vision?” That’s a yes or no question. If it doesn’t, you need to think about it long and hard before you start doing something that doesn’t fulfill that vision, because you will spread out resources in your company. If you’re a small business owner, you know as well as I do that resources are thin anyway. The bottom line is small business owners and teams can get a lot of value and benefit from creating, having, articulating and using a company vision.
I’d like to invite you to drop a comment. What is your vision for your company? What tools have you used to create a vision? What are your concepts of vision? Do you disagree with what I’m saying? I’d be more than happy to read your comments on future episodes. If you have other business concerns where you need help, that’s what we’re here for. Our vision is that a world where entrepreneurial or small business success is the rule, not the exception. We want to help you get there. In the meantime, I’d like to thank you for reading. Stay safe. Get back to work.
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