How do I write a vision statement?
A vision statement is a desired future state of the company (and often times the world) that would be achieved if the company is able to complete its mission. Vision statements are a declaration of the company’s “why” and serve as a North Star for the company to strive for. An inspiring vision statement encapsulates the company's aspirations and describes the positive impact on people's lives if the company achieves its full potential.
Vision statements are an important part of a startup's strategic plan because they align key stakeholders, especially employees, with the company’s values and goals. We do this to ensure we have the right attitude, attitude that goes beyond profit and loss and stresses both the opportunity and responsibility to actions.
Step 1: Decide who will shape the vision
The first step towards creating a high-quality vision statement is deciding who should be in the conversation. Vision statements are usually crafted early in the startup lifecycle, and founders and early employees are usually the people who set the direction of the company.
Ideally, this group would consist of 2-5 stakeholders. This range of folks will engage multiple perspectives when brainstorming ideas and making important decisions, while not pulling the company in too many directions.
Step 2: Brainstorm why your company exists
Vision statements are a declaration of the company’s “why” — the reason your company exists in the first place. This “why” serves as a core part of the company’s brand identity and will influence the company's strategic planning.
A compelling vision statement will attract the “right” prospective employees and investors who align with the company’s long-term goals and give them a reason to pick you over your competitors. As such, vision statements should be aspirational and big-picture. One way to start your brainstorming is to identify your company's core values and the emotions you want to evoke when someone reads your company vision statement.
Tips for Brainstorming
If you are having trouble coming up with your company’s “why,” consider the following questions.
- Why did your founder(s) start this company instead of working somewhere else?
- What would need to change about the world in order to put your company out of business?
- What gap(s), pain point(s), and unmet need(s) is your company trying to solve?
Note: your company’s vision statement should never include anything along the lines of “driving profit” or “making money.” This comes across as greedy and insincere, which is a big red flag for any stakeholder or entity that would think of associating with you. Although money is important, it should never be the end goal.
Step 3: Write the First Draft
After your initial brainstorm, your team should discuss the ideas they came up with, then categorize the ideas into what you like and don’t like. From there, write your first draft of your vision statement. Try to capture your dream in less than 2 sentences, using clear, jargon-free language. Also, be sure that it aligns with your mission statement and company goals and values.
Need some structure?
It might be helpful to use the template that Onstrategy presents in the graphic below as a jumping-off point. This 4 part structure of Opening + Verb + Future + Impact is a great way to connect and communicate the important elements of the company’s vision statement.
Step 4: Consider Product Positioning
It is also important to take a look around and see what other companies are doing. Consider how successful brands word their vision statements. It is okay to emulate the vision statements of other companies and adopt aspects you like because it is an important process of continuous improvement.
We recommend that you write your first draft before looking at other companies in order to anchor yourself to who you are as a company and center your company’s brand voice.
Step 5: Collect Feedback and Iterate
After you have the next draft, show it to other people and collect their feedback. At this point, the content should be solid and you should get feedback on things like fluency, grammar, and whether the message is getting conveyed as intended. A great vision statement should be able to last a long time, but due to the fast-paced nature of startups, you might want to reassess it after a couple of years. As you learn more about your company and industry, you might be able to achieve a level of clarity that makes you notice something you wouldn't have even thought about a couple of years ago. Especially as you and the core team are learning about yourselves, the vision statement should be a living document that doesn't need to be 100% perfect the first go around. However, as you start seeing success and start to think about hiring new folks, it is extremely important to have a clear vision and communicate it effectively.
Step 6: Embody Your Vision
All of this work is meaningless if the company doesn't do anything with it on a day-to-day basis. At the end of the day, the purpose of a vision statement is to make sure that key stakeholders are aligned with the company's values and goals and it always starts at the top.
If the CEO or the Board of Directors doesn't embody the vision through their words or actions, it won't be as compelling. Employees further down the chain of command might think that it isn’t super important to the company and start to drift.
It's one thing to know how to , but that is worthless if you don't know when you should do it. Let's break down the relevance of this question based on two high level categories. We'll walk through an explanation as well as provide a score, 1-10, that shows you how relevant this question is whether you do or don’t have a product.
In our opinion, creating a vision statement pre-product is crucial because it serves as a backbone for the brand’s identity and informs current and prospective stakeholders about your company. After all, vision statements can serve as powerful motivators for employees who align with the vision.
Pre-Product Score: 7/10
The first scenario we will walk through will be if you do not have a product yet. Whether it is a website or a mobile app, you are still in the ideation or planning phase and have not yet built anything. Maybe you have started development but just aren’t finished with your first version. Whichever it is, we'll get into why this question is or isn’t relevant and why you should or shouldn't care about it if you do not have a product.
It is super relevant as you are building your company as it will help guide direction. As mentioned earlier, creating a vision statement pre-product is important because it serves as a backbone for the brand’s identity and informs current and prospective stakeholders about your company.
However, we know that startup founders usually have the strongest passion for their vision so some might not feel the need to articulate the vision statement quite yet. Although it wouldn’t be the end of the world if you don’t have one as you are starting out, remember that it becomes more and more important as you bring on more people.
Live Product Score: 10/10
The second category is if you do have a live product. Maybe you just launched your business or maybe it's been live for years and you're continuing to improve its quality and release new features. Regardless of the scenario, if your product is live, this question carries a different weight of relevance.
It becomes more relevant once your product is live because it guides the company's direction and culture as a whole. As your company approaches the point of having a Live-Product, you will probably start looking for new employees or investors to get the systems up and running. However, as you add more and more people to your team and network, these new stakeholders are at a higher risk of becoming misaligned to the company’s values if you don’t have a strong vision statement in place.
For example, new employees might not understand the underlying motivation of why they are doing what you are asking them to do. Similarly, investors are less likely to be convinced to invest if they don’t know what the company is about.
Creating a compelling vision statement can be difficult to do alone. It is something that can require a lot of time and even more critical thinking. Thankfully, there are tools and services out there that can help you through this journey. Keep reading below to find out more! Here are some helpful frameworks and best practices that you can use to create your vision statement.
1. Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle
The Golden Circle framework or the Why, How, What framework is a great way to distill and communicate the value of your company. This framework will also help you craft your mission statement, another guiding aspect of your business strategy. Click here to watch his TedTalk where he goes into more detail.
According to Sinek, you want to start in the middle of the circle, and reflect on the why. It is the core of your company. Communicating your company’s why effectively (via a vision statement) is crucial for stakeholders to connect with your brand and buy-in.
According to Sinek, the second layer asks how you are going to accomplish this goal. This is where you talk about how your product or service is different from what’s already out there — your value add.
According to Sinek, the outermost layer asks what you do. This is the most superficial and general piece, but it is still useful as it will clearly define your industry.
2. The Twelve Brand Archetypes
If you haven’t already considered your brand voice and brand identity, it might be helpful to choose your brand archetype. Brand archetypes will help you decide how you want to communicate your brand’s personality to prospective customers, employees and investors. For vision statements specifically, identifying the right archetype will help you develop your brand voice if you haven’t already.
There are many free worksheets that are available online that ask similar prompts to the brainstorming tips listed in Step 2. We really like this Onstrategy blog because it provides a concise structure and has a list of vision statements from different industry leaders.
- Vision statements are a declaration of the company’s “why” and serve as a common goal for the company to strive for.
- Creating a vision statement pre-product is crucial because it serves as a backbone for the brand’s identity and informs current and prospective stakeholders on what your company is about.
- Having a vision statement by the time you have a Live-Product is critical because as the company grows, new stakeholders are at a higher risk of becoming misaligned.
- The Golden Circle framework or the Why, How, What framework is a great way to distill and communicate the value of your company.
- These 12 archetypes will help you decide how you want to communicate your brand’s personality to prospective customers, employees and investors.
- There are many free worksheets that are available online that ask similar prompts to the brainstorming tips listed in Step 2.