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Start-up Advice

Create a Winning Mission Statement

A good mission statement is a powerful marketing and management tool.

Bertie du Plessis




Don’t underestimate the power of words in making your business work! Your mission statement can be one of the most powerful tools to market your business and keep your employees (and yourself) focused and motivated.

This is what David J Collis and Michael Rukstad said about mission statements in the Harvard Business Review of April 2008:  “The value of rhetoric should not be underestimated. A 35 word statement can have a substantial impact on a company’s success. Words do lead to action. Spending time to develop the few words that truly capture your strategy and that will energize and empower your people will raise the long-term financial performance of your organization.”

Unfortunately there are mission statements and then there are mission statements. The majority of them are appallingly bad.  We’ve all heard the smug declarations that “This company’s mission is maximising shareholder value.”  Uggghhh!

Of course companies must maximise shareholder value, but it is meaningless as a mission statement, unless of course you are an investment company!  It’s about as informative as saying “good morning” when you meet someone.

Surely what we as clients and your employees are interested in is “how?” And the “how” shouldn’t sound like a legal document, covering all bases. Coming to think of it, the expression “maximising shareholder value” is pompous. Why not simply: “We want to make money for our shareholders?”

Short, sweet, effective

Here is a (thankfully!) short version of the ‘maximising stakeholder variety of mission statements’: “The Company’s primary objective is to maximize long-term stockholder value, while adhering to the laws of the jurisdictions in which it operates and at all times observing the highest ethical standards.” Would you have guessed that ‘they’, Dean Foods Corporation, were a food and beverage company?

Compare those statements with Fortune 500 Company ADM whose business is agricultural products: “To unlock the potential of nature to improve the quality of life.”  Short, sweet, effective! Please, remember, you needn’t say it all in your mission statement.

There are other elements of your corporate profile, such as your slogan or strapline, your values and your vision statement that will tell the whole story. Keep every single element of your profile, such as the mission statement, focused and crisp.

The problem with all these “maximising shareholder value” mission statements is that they don’t sit well with clients. To the client it sounds too much like “we will fleece you to the last Rand.” Or: “Look at our smiling shareholders, how happy they are after we have squeezed the last drop of blood from you!”

The mission statement is your opportunity to explain to clients why your business exists at all. And no matter how important it is to make money for your shareholders, that is not the reason why your enterprise exists. Your enterprise exists because it addresses a need in the world out there.

Meeting clients halfway

Real people of flesh and blood need groceries. That’s why SPAR, Checkers and Pick n Pay exist. An enterprise’s reason for being is in the needs of their clients. Only by fulfilling clients’ needs efficiently and to their satisfaction can you make money for yourself and your shareholders. See?

So this is where you begin to craft your mission statement, by asking: “What needs do my enterprise fulfil?” What is our reason for being?  If I had to close my doors tomorrow, who else in the wide world out there would miss us and why?

Would anyone except employees and shareholders burst into tears if we had to cease to exist tomorrow? Your mission statement must tell your clients how you are going to help them.

The beauty of it is that your employees will also know what they are supposed to be doing and why they are doing it!

The perfect mission statement

In my consultancy I always use Winston Churchill’s statement to the British people after a disastrous start to World War II, as the ultimate mission statement:

“You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea and land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny never surpassed in the long and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy.”

Well, no doubt hey? No room for misunderstanding, everybody knows what’s to be done. You are in for a helluva fight; don’t even think of raising the white flag.

Now, not all of us live in such exciting times and with such a historical mission to accomplish. Most of our businesses won’t be defined by fighting for a cause. Don’t expect your corporate cleaning services business to have such an exciting, heroic tone to it. But you can be just as explicit, clear and convincing.

The following is a thankfully short, but inappropriate mission statement: Our goal is to be the leader in every market we serve, to the benefit of our customers and our shareholders.” The Dover Corporation is an equipment manufacturer.

What they have here is not a mission statement, but a strategic goal, to be the leader in every market. As a company you have more than enough room for telling all and sundry what your strategy is, but in the mission statement you must tell everybody what need in the real world out there you are addressing.

Let’s compare it to the mission statement I have helped to create for corporate cleanings services company, Libera: Our mission is to create hygienic, aesthetic, productive environments that comply with all regulations.”

This tells us that our premises will be both germ free and pleasing to the eye so that we can get your work done with a smile. Also, you won’t be surprised by the health inspectors, because all the paperwork will be in order.

You can imagine the presentation to a prospective client ticking these boxes one by one. You can imagine when walking the CEO through the premises pointing out why this spot is hygienically clean, not only appearing to be clean; pointing the finger to how esthetically pleasing that corner over there is, once a horrible eyesore.

Then indicating how productivity is enhanced in this clean and pleasing environment. Then, finally quickly running through the list of regulatory requirements and putting the CEO at ease that all has been taken care of. You can also imagine the supervisor doing inspection with the cleaners and asking:

“Here are the results of the tests, this is not hygienic. Look there, do you think the people who work here will want to face that every day? How are they going to work here, if we leave it like that?”

The mission statement must keep you and your employees focused on the reason why you are being paid by your clients. Good to remind shareholders too, where and how the money comes from. The mission statement must focus the clients’ attention on the reason why their cares have been relieved and why they can sit back, happy and content.

So, what’s my mission for my consulting business? “I help you to differentiate yourself from the opposition.” This is the main purpose of strategy and branding. Need I say more? Follow my advice, get a mission statement that reminds your clients how lucky they are to have you help them and you will be different from the herd in both in marketing and management!

Bertie du Plessis founded his successful consultancy firm, MindPilot, 17 years ago. He names several of South Africa’s blue chip corporations among his client list and has taught as a lecturer and guest lecturer in six different disciplines at tertiary institutions. His blog is the most read business blog on the domain. Visit Bertie Du Plessis's website for more information.

Start-up Advice

Put On Your Wellies: It’s Time To Wade Into Risk

Entrepreneurs aren’t all leaping into the unknown like lemmings off a cliff, but they do need to consider it…

Chris Ogden




You’ve had a great idea. You’ve looked into its development. You’ve recognised that it has potential beyond just what Auntie Mabel and Mike From The Grocer think. And you’ve clearly nailed a pain point that can make money. Now it is time to take the risk of running with it.

Every big idea comes with risk. You can’t step out into the world of entrepreneurial thinking and business development without it. Your idea may fail. It will also be time consuming, demanding, hungry for money, and hard work. It is unrealistic to expect that your project will leap out into the world and be an unmitigated success.

It is also unrealistic to assume that it isn’t worth taking this risk.

There are steps that you can follow to ensure that your risk is managed so you aren’t blindly leaping off that cliff…

Step 01: Do your research

No, canvassing your neighbours, friends and family is not doing research. You need to know that your idea will appeal to a broad market and that it will have significant legs. This may sound like daft advice, but you would be surprised how many people think an idea will take off just because Susan in Accounting said so.

Step 02: Understand the costs

Projects are hungry for money and investment. Realistically work out your budgets and how much it will cost to take your project off the ground and then stick to it.

A calculated risk is a far better bet than one that shoots from the hip and hopes for the best. You can also use this as an opportunity to draw a clear line under where you will stop investing and end the project. If it keeps eating money and isn’t getting anywhere with results you need to be able to walk away.

Step 03: Know when to walk away

As mentioned before, this can be defined by a line you’ve drawn in the proverbial sand (and budget) but no matter where you draw this line, you have to stick to it. Often, when time, money and energy have been poured into a project it can be incredibly hard to walk away.

You think ‘but I have put so much into this, just one more’ and then it gets to a point where the ‘just one more’ has taken you so far down the line that walking away feels impossible. Leave. Learn the lessons. Apply them to your next project.

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Start-up Advice

Mind The Gap

The entrepreneur’s guide to finding the gaps and building the right solutions.

Chris Ogden




Innovation may very well be the key to business success but finding the gap into which your innovative thinking can fit is often a lot harder than people realise. Some may be struck by inspiration in the shower, others by that moment of blinding insight in a meeting, however, for most people finding that big idea isn’t that simple. They want to be an entrepreneur and start their own high-growth business, but they need some ideas on how to find that big idea.

Here are five…

1. Network

It sounds trite but networking is actually an excellent way of picking up on patterns and trends in conversation and business problems. The trick is to note them down and pay attention. Soon, you will find patterns emerging and ideas forming.

2. Look for pain

Just as networking can reveal trends in the market, so can spending time reading. The latter will also help you find common business pain points. These are the touchpoints that frustrate people, annoy business owners, affect productivity, or impact employee engagement.

Be the Panado that fixes these pains.

3. Luck


This is probably the most annoying of the ideas, but it is unfortunately (or fortunately) very true. Luck does play a role in helping you capture that big idea. However, luck isn’t just standing around and random people offering you opportunities. Luck is found at networking events, it is found in research and it is found in conversations with other entrepreneurs.

4. Luck needs courage

You may have found the big idea through your network, a pain point or pure blind luck, but if you don’t have the courage to take it and run with it, you will lose it to someone else.

Being bold in business is highly underrated because most people assume that everyone is bold and prepared to take big leaps into the unknown. However, not all brilliant entrepreneurs were ready to throw their family funds to the wind and leap into an idea – they were courageous enough to figure out a way of harnessing their ideas realistically.

5. Pay attention

This is probably one of the most vital ways of finding a gap in the market. Often, people are so busy that they don’t really pay attention to that niggling issue that always bothers them on a commute, or in a mall, or at a meeting. This niggling issue could very well be the next big business opportunity. Pay attention to it and find out if that issue can be solved with your innovative thinking.

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Start-up Advice

5 Things To Know About Your “Toddler” Business

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind.

Catherine Black




Ah, toddlers. Those irresistible bundles of joy bring a huge amount of energy, curiosity and fun to any family – but there’s also frustration and worry that comes with their unpredictability, as they grow and start to become more independent. If you own a business and it’s successfully past its “infancy” of the first year or so, it’s likely it will also go through a toddler stage of its lifecycle.

Pete Hammond, founder of luxury safari company SafariScapes, agrees with this. “Our business is now three and a half years old, and we’ve found that we’re not yet big enough to justify employing a large team of people to handle the day-to-day admin tasks, yet we still need to grow the business as well,” he says. “As a result, our main challenge is finding the time to step back and see the bigger picture. Kind of like when you are raising a busy toddler and you spend most of your time running after them!”

As you navigate this new toddler phase of your business, here are five things to bear in mind:

1. This too shall pass

Everything in life is temporary – and that goes for both the good and the bad. It’s as helpful to remember this when you’re facing the might of a toddler temper tantrum, as it is when you’re facing throws of uncertainty in your business. If your new(ish) venture is going through a rough patch in its first few years, it can be easy to think about giving up – but don’t. As long as you have an overall big idea that you believe can add value to your customers, keep pushing through the rough parts until you come out the other side.

2. Appreciate what this phase brings

The toddler years mean that the initial newborn joy is officially behind you. But these small humans also bring their own kinds of joy, as you watch them learn new skills, say funny things, and give affection back to you. While your two-year-old business may not hold the same exhilaration for you as it did during those first few months, there are now different things to appreciate about it: Maybe you’re expanding your product range, or employing new people who can take the workload off you.

3. Establish boundaries

Toddlers thrive on boundary and routine – and your toddler business will too. As it grows into a new phase, try and establish limits in terms of the type of clients you want to work with and the type of work you’ll do. It’s also a good idea to make a decision about the hours you’ll work and when you’ll switch off, which will help you establish a good work-life balance.

4. Take a break

Every parent with a toddler needs a break every now and then, even if that means a walk around the block (on your own!), a dinner out with friends, or even a few days away. The same is true for a demanding small business: every so often, remember to take time out to rest properly, where you switch off your laptop and completely unplug. You’ll return much more inspired and resilient to deal with the everyday uncertainty that it brings.

5. Give it space to make mistakes

While the unpredictability of a young business can be stressful and tiring, it’s also a time for trying new things without the risk of huge consequences if they don’t quite work. After all, it’s much simpler to change your USP if you’re a small business employing a few people, rather than a big company where 50 people are relying on you for their salary, or where you’ve received a huge amount of investment capital. While you may fail in some of the things you try with your business (in fact, this is almost guaranteed), see it as a toddler that’s resilient enough to pick itself up, dust its knees and keep moving forward.

During this phase of business growth it’s also essential to have the right type of medical aid cover. There are medical schemes such as Fedhealth which has a number of medical aid options and value-added benefits to ensure that your health and wellness is taken care of too. After all, the healthier you and your staff are, the more productive your business will be – during the toddler (business) stage and beyond.

While this phase can be frustrating, it’s a sign that your business is growing and adapting, rather than remaining in its infancy, and that can only be a good thing! So embrace the difficulties, learn from them, and watch as your business strides forward confidently into the next exciting phase.

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