Running a business that can be successful on an ongoing basis is harder than it might seem. We’re living in times where unprecedented change seems to be something that happens more or less daily if that isn’t too much of a paradox. At the turn of the century, we had the dotcom boom, which seemed set to be the model for the foreseeable future - but within a few years, many of the companies at the heart of that boom were going out of business, having gone too hard, too soon with their new investment, and not having a core business philosophy. Then consider the “pivot to video” that was set to define content creation for decades - and which left numerous media companies broke and hollowed out.
It’s hard for a business to move with the times if moving with the times is all it’s trying to do. Surfing the latest wave is not an easy thing to do when the wave changes so often, and so if a business wants to survive in the long term, it has to think on a more permanent front. The most successful businesses in the world are successful in large part because they don’t change much about what they do, but are prepared to change how they do it if the situation so demands. So in business, it isn’t about trying to go all-in on the latest trend - it’s about defining a core business philosophy that you stick to, and then working out how you can metabolize those trends to remain current and relevant.
How do you define the philosophy by which your business lives? Well, it doesn’t need to be too tricky - in many ways, it’s going to be defined by what you are good at, and what you do well. If you can figure out what that is, then you’re on your way. And then, you need to find as many ways as possible to reinforce that core business philosophy by what you do, what you say, and what you stand for.
Every business, every brand has its own set of values, even if they don’t think of them that way. They don’t have to be high-falutin “change the world” values, but they’ll be there, whatever they are. And they should form the basis of your mission statement - which is the verbalized, distilled form of your business’s core philosophy.
Maybe you want to deliver food to as many homes as possible in the area where your business is located. Maybe you want to see to it that local people are fairly compensated when they are given an unfair shake by someone with more money and power. Maybe you want to convert as many people as possible to using green energy sources. Whatever your values are, they’ll stick with you the entire time your business is in operation - and while you may change the way you deliver on them, the motivation behind them is not going to change.
It’s important to get those values down on paper in the form of a mission statement and to reinforce them time and again in any literature, the business produces - from training manuals to business plans. These values will be the lodestar from which the business takes its lead, and will inform every decision you make with regard to the future success of your company. If at any stage you have to consider how you will approach something new - like fitting out new premises - just ask yourself how you would do it while keeping your values at the forefront, and it will guide your hand in each decision you make. This is central to a core business philosophy.
How you disseminate your values depends to some extent on who you are disseminating them to. For any new recruits, they should form an early part of the training program. Essentially, on the first day, there should be a section dedicated to setting out your mission statement and explaining it. It should be one of the first things that any new hire learns because everything that they learn afterward should be tinged with the knowledge of what the mission statement says.
Your values defined in your core business philosophy should also form a part of your offer to your customers and potential customers. It’s a powerful statement to make in an advertisement - whether in print, on video, or in audio - if your mission statement is reinforced verbally. It doesn’t necessarily need to form part of the tagline, although it’s not a bad idea if it does. Statements such as “We’ll never…” or “You can always rely on us to…” are capable of sticking in people’s minds.
Really, when it comes to putting your values in the minds of your potential customers, nothing beats visual media. If you are working with a video production company you know you can trust, then it’s a good idea to just leave the values statement with them and hear their ideas on how to put it across. Although this may seem to go against the idea of controlling your own message, the truth is that expert video creatives are experienced in putting across a statement in a memorable way, and sometimes the best way of getting a message across is trusting the best people to do it.
As we’ve covered, a core business philosophy can be as large and as meaningful as you want or can be really very basic at heart. It should always, however, be possible to communicate it simply. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally considered a good idea to keep the number of specific points in a philosophy to no more than three. Indeed, the “rule of three” is a good one to live by. You can separately have your “Ten Business Commandments” which you want people to stick by, but the core mission statement should do its best to condense everything into three points.
In truth, if you do have ten business commandments, you may well find that they can be rolled down into a few categories. For example, if you have separately stated values for keeping the company “zero-waste” and also promoting low-emission commuting options, then they can both be covered by a single point of “we will prioritize green decision-making in all areas of the company”. If you have a priority to solve every customer complaint on the first call, and another to contact all customers within 30 days of their purchase to check on whether they are happy with their item, those can both fall under “we will take a committed approach to customer services”.
The core business philosophy should also be memorable. While mission statements can easily end up being fifty words or more and aren’t always going to be easy to reel off from memory, it should be possible to remember keywords and phrases. You will want to make sure that staff members can acknowledge that your business has a “commitment to constant improvement” and a “readiness to listen to customer perspectives”, even if they can’t recite the business mission statement from start to finish.
There is a tricky balance to strike when it comes to putting together a mission statement that is meaningful, memorable and simple, and there is little doubt that - if you work in enough places for long enough - you’ll begin to feel that a lot of businesses have more or less the same philosophies. Indeed, it can sometimes feel like some businesses make statements of the blindingly obvious and call it a philosophy. Is it important to set a unique core business philosophy?
The answer to that is “not really”. At least, a business philosophy shouldn’t be unique for the sake of being so. All businesses want to constantly improve. All businesses want to retain customers. It shouldn’t be a surprise when mission statements - which are the businesses’ most fundamental values distilled into a few sentences - replicate one another to some extent. So if you’re looking to sum up your business philosophy, be aware that it might sound samey at times. This is why you should have other lists and examples that augment the central statement. In those lists and the case studies you choose for ads and website content, you can expand and broaden the theme.
Your core business philosophy does not need to be unique; it simply needs to define your business in a meaningful way. When the time comes to make a decision that will affect the future, you need to consider the decision in line with the business philosophy, if for no other reason than that a break with your guiding principles may be a risk it’s not worth taking.
A core business philosophy is more than a few lines on a screen or a piece of paper. It’s something that can define how a business works from top to bottom and can be a guiding light for a business in times good and bad. Take the time to define your own philosophy before you launch your business because it’s something solid that you can always hark back to when you feel the need.