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Does your business need a compass?

Does your business need a compass?

Sometimes when we are running a micro business we don’t realise that creating a strong strategy is just as important for us as it is for big business.  Businesses grow and develop in many different ways.  Some business owners are super organised and spend 3 months planning their business, producing a 25 page business plan plus executive summary, 15 page marketing plan and 10 pages of financial documents; others launch their business without really thinking about where the money is going to come from or how they are going to get new clients… or you might find that you are somewhere in between.

But no matter how you started, it’s always worth revisiting your strategy and figuring out whether you are on the right track and whether the assumptions you made still hold true.

When you approach your business strategy there are a number of key elements that you need to bring together and I will be covering these over the coming weeks.  The first thing though that I think you must have, is actually one that many people don’t even think about and that is defining your values.

Your business values need to inspire you

The values that you focus on are the foundation of your business.  They are the place that you come from when you are making decisions around branding, products/services, suppliers, partnerships and focus.  For me they are a point of reference against which I can measure what we are doing,  what we put out in the world and how we do it.  However, they are not static.

These values make my heart sink...

These values make my heart sink…

The values that you had when you started out, may not necessarily be the values that are most relevant to you today and it is always worth revisiting them at least once a year.

When big business choose values they might go for words like these ones on the right.  DON’T DO THIS! Your values need to inspire you every day to build a business that is going to set the world alight – at least a little bit.  They should  reflect your uniqueness and will be your guide for your business strategy, your recruitment strategy and your product strategy.  It can be difficult to know where to start with something like this, so I have put together a simple exercise to help you work through it.

Exercise: How to figure out what your values are

There are two parts to this exercise.  The first you do alone and the second part you do with someone else such as a team members, trusted friend or business mentor.   There are no right or wrong answers to selecting your business values as they going to be very personal to you.

What you’ll need.

A notepad.  It is worth finding a notepad that you love.  I use the moleskin plain paper cahier journals because I love the simplicity and size of them and can doodle and draw pictures as well as words.  Because they are plain paper rather than lined I feel like they allow me more freedom to be creative.  This keeps everything in one place and makes it easy to review.  Note: You can use a computer / ipad but I have found that writing it down makes me feel more connected to what I am writing.

Pen / Pencil.  Find a writing tool that you love writing with.  I use a mechanical pencil that I bought in Canada that writes really smoothly and looks great. I know it’s weird, but I’ve found it makes a difference.

Quiet place where you won’t be interrupted.  If possible, find a place that inspires you or makes you feel great as this will help the ideas flow.

Step 1: Which companies do you admire?

Write down a list of at least 5 companies that you really admire.  They don’t need to be in your industry or related to what you do at all but they should be companies that you feel are really getting it right.  After each company, write down at least 3 values that they embody for you.

When I did this exercise the companies that I chose were:

Disney: Customer at the heart of what they do, Experience, Wonder

John Lewis:  Trust, Fresh, Aspirational, Customer Focus

Apple: Beautiful design, Quality, Excellence, Aspirational

Cirque du Soleil: Wow, Creativity, Excellence

Cath Kidston: Stylish, Fresh, Feminine, Excellence

Danbury Motorcaravans: Fun, Excellence, Creative, Smart

Obviously these are not the values that they would describe, but they are the things that I take away from them.  There are definitely some themes that are common across the brands that I felt that I wanted within the Women Unlimited brand values.

Step 2: Start writing your list

Your still on your own for this one.  Write down a long list of words that you would like to reflect your brand and your business.  Quite often you’ll find that you are writing down words that are personal to you – that’s ok. Don’t filter at this point.  Just write down everything that comes to mind.  Use your companies that you admire as inspiration.  What do they have that you’d like to incorporate into your business?  What are some of the values that you have picked up along the way in your pre-business days?  What do you want others to take away when they think about your brand, your product or service?  What personal values are important to you?

These questions all help to make up your priorities but if you are anything like me, you’ll find that your list is enormous.   It’s worth at this point looking through your list and seeing if there are words in there, that you don’t consider to be ‘core’ to your business. The word ‘core’ here means integral, central and essential.

Step 3: Share and discuss

Now I’d like you to share your values with a trusted business friend, mentor or team member. The act of discussing them helps you to really define what the words mean to you and will give you the opportunity to explore them in more detail.

Step 4: Consolidate

Consolidate your business values into the ones that are fundamental… I suggest that you be quite strict with yourself and select only 5.  This will really help you to figure out what is really important to you versus what is nice to have.  Usually this also requires combining words into a single value.

Step 5: Definition

Explain to your trusted business friend what each of your values means to you.  Explain it in detail and why it’s important.  And write your definition down.   Does it make sense?  Does it feel right?  Are you inspired by what you have written?  If the answer to any of these is no, then revisit your words until the answer is yes across the board. Now do a quick sense check – is anything missing? You’ll know you’ve got it right when you feel excited by what the words say to you about your business, your brand and the way that you work.  Odds are there will be one or two words that are not where you are now, but more where you want to be.  That’s ok.  Your values should feel like a bit of a stretch and should be aspirational.  They are a starting point from where you can move your business forward in a really positive direction.

Examples of business values

I love Zappos … they are an American brand launched by Tony Hsieh (read the book Delivering Happiness if you’d like to find out more about this phenomenal brand) and they have created their own take on their values.  They really live by these values and they have helped to grow Zappos into the company that it is today. 

Here are Zappos’ 10 Core Values

  1. Deliver WOW Through Service
  2. Embrace and Drive Change
  3. Create Fun and A Little Weirdness
  4. Be Adventurous, Creative, and Open-Minded
  5. Pursue Growth and Learning
  6. Build Open and Honest Relationships With Communication
  7. Build a Positive Team and Family Spirit
  8. Do More With Less
  9. Be Passionate and Determined
  10. Be Humble

SEO Moz are a website that writes about all things SEO.  They kindly share their core values here, which they call their guiding principles. I love this!

  • Transparency & Generosity
    • We share what we know and what we do publicly and honestly
    • We weigh transparency against respect for privacy in cases where it may harm individuals or organizations (internally or externally)
    • We encourage and reward sharing in other individuals and organizations
    • We democratize knowledge of how search engines work and how to optimize Internet marketing campaigns of all kinds
  • Empathy & Respect
    • Identifying with the feelings, desires, ideas, and actions of everyone we work with – employees, partners, customers and community members – and using that knowledge to improve the ways in which we work with them
    • Treating everyone we encounter with respect for their personal and professional lives
  • Quality
    • We create tools, content, and services that provide the greatest value to SEO Moz
    • We build superb usefulness and user experience into everything we produce
    • Our products make our members & readers better search marketers
  • Authenticity
    • Incorporating our personal & company values in all our business dealings
    • Represent those values honestly with
      • rational, realistic behavior
      • intuitive, creative, independent thinking
      • flexibility and the ability to manage change
      • accountability – willingness to accept responsibility and correct our mistakes

Hopefully that gives you a good sense of where to go in creating your core values.  We’d love to hear how you get on and feel free to share any of your values below (or share companies that you think are doing an amazing job on this front!)

Photo credit:  ecatoncheires

Share this article if you found it useful! And leave a comment in the box below. We hope to connect with you soon.

About Julie Hall

Hi, I'm Julie Hall, the founder of Women Unlimited. I have been running my own businesses since January 2000. For the last 9 years I have owned and run a new media agency, called Springmedia, in south west London, creating customer focused websites for small and medium sized businesses. I hope you find the articles and stories on this website useful, and feel free to get in touch, I'd love to hear from you.

7 comments

  1. Great article! I admit I used to think values were a little woo-woo and corporate’s way of convincing people they really were committed to thinking bigger and being mindful of the human element. Looking back, it was because not all companies live by them, or at least encourage their team members to! For your values to be of any – well, value – the business and people within it need to embody them. My business values closely mirror my personal ones and provide great guidance – and a valuable filtering tool – when I’m planning, acting and reacting.
    Thanks for sharing Julie ;)

  2. It’s very interesting. I started my business with a passionate set of values and incorporated this as the acronym in my company name; ICL which stands for Integrity-Competence-Loyalty. This may sound simplistic but my values represent all of these as one and not individually. I think my struggle is to express this clearly; that you cannot aspire to one of these traits by comprising the other; symbiotic? It is something that I see lacking in my industry, Construction Project Management and I feel that my company brings these traits to the table. This was true 5 years ago and remains true today. How to clearly relay this message is my challenge.

    • Thanks Teresa! I’ve been surprised by what a difference getting clarity on our values has made. It’s really helped me to identify what we should be doing next and where we go from here.

    • I can understand that Frances and I too was tempted by the acronym idea (ours was going to spell out shape :D) . I think the most important step that most people miss out is really defining what each of those words mean to you, your business and your clients. Where the difference between what others might say. If these things are critical to your business and brand then choose descriptive words that make you feel excited again.

  3. I couldn’t agree more; having tangible values grounds both you as a person and as business. Whether an individual or a business it is important to literally ‘live and breathe’ core values in everything that you do or get involved with. I believe that it is this that builds reputation, respect and trust.
    Trisha Proud
    Partners in Solutions Ltd

  4. I definitely will have to include a little weirdness in mine too ;)
    Weird is the threshold to innovative, isn’t it?

  5. I know I am not a woman but I came to this article through one of my friends and gosh its wonderful. Every business should follow this because I think its basic for every growing business.

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