By Genie van Paassen
I hate this time of year. August, September – it's cold, wet, and all the public holidays are way back in the rear-view mirror, or else far atop a hazy hill in the distance. Viruses linger, and cabin fever abounds.
For me at least, it's also a time of creative paralysis. I've felt stranded in a deep-bush level panic of possibilities, opportunities, and competing priorities. What's more, it's like I've got the worst caricature of a 3-year-old for company. Every turn and decision hampered by a whiny chorus of "whys?" and other needling defiance of purpose.
In sharing this with members of The Orchard community (we meet fortnightly to discuss what we're working on, problems we're having, and to share ideas), I realised the crux of my issue was a lack of perspective. My usual means of ordering myself and my thoughts – a cycling commute – had been thrown off by wet weather and, more recently, a misadventure on the unforgiving Onerahi hill.
The value, then, of a clear and established big picture has been at the forefront of my thinking. Starting or running a small business, it's all too easy to get embroiled in "doing" - working "in" what you're doing, rather than "on" it. With so many competing priorities, and a walk-in-wardrobe's worth of hats to wear, it feels like time spent outside performing core business functions – admin, marketing, product or service design, manufacture, and delivery – is time wasted. After all, isn't that how the money's made?
Increasingly, no. Or rather, not in and of itself, more and more, the value of what you do depends on the context you give it. It's about vision, story, purpose. It's about articulating that which is already fuelling you up the windy road of entrepreneurship, with the view to making the marathon a relay – and one with a long line of supporters. It's about giving yourself a compass for the August/September-esque times. One that will get you out of an endless tangle of trees into a full, glorious forest.
Too often, big picture questions are dismissed as "important", but not necessarily "urgent" for business. But gaining a clear vision is the key to propelling your business forward and to keeping all players (yourself, your staff, investors, clients, customers), aligned and empowered to deliver on your "why" – on what you've set out to do.
So, given the right framework, your inner 3-year-old can in fact be quite a useful little soldier. Why do you do what you do?
One way to nut this out is to create a mission statement – the "actioned" version of your vision. At its best, a mission statement is:
1. Useful. It's easy to get caught up in flowery ideals and rhetoric – but, remember, you want this to be your North Star. Think purpose, not decoration. One way to do this is to bring in your whole team (or support network) to develop something that's meaningful across the board of your business activity.
2. Brief. A mission statement is more motto than speech. Write your Moon Shot speech, sure – but then cut it to 140 characters.
3. Customer centric. Sometimes, it's hard to remember that your business is not about you. It exists to make a difference in the lives of your customers. How does your vision translate to making their life better?
4. Authentic. High-minded, vacuous messaging has a tendency to abound when vision and mission start being bandied about. Dropbox, for instance, says its purpose is "to unleash the world's creative energy by designing a more enlightened way of working". Sure, it makes sharing files and stuff pretty easy – but an "enlightened way of working?" Yeesh. Think big picture, yes, but make sure to keep in some heart.
5. Inspirational. Thinking big with heart – that equals inspirational. That's hard. This part – deciding what change you want to see, and "becoming" it with your business is, done right, the trickiest bit of the whole exercise. Of course, that's what makes it the most valuable. I'd encourage you to sit with this thought for a while, to beat out the asinine.
As a guide, a good counterweight to Dropbox is Airbnb's "Belong Anywhere". It goes straight to the heart of the hard part of travel – alienation – aspires to global inclusivity, and builds community around the product. As a multifaceted concept, it also allows a wide scope for future innovation and value-add, while staying true to its central vision. Finally, it's functional – instinctively, we tie "belonging" to a place and "anywhere" to travel, and the little spark of romance sets it apart from referral platforms such as Trivago or Expedia.
As for The Orchard, we're all about supporting entrepreneurship to thrive in Northland. What that means is we're here to help you get a hold of your big picture (and your small picture, and everything in-between). Come on in and see us – let's create a tapestry of success, together.
• Genie van Paassen is business growth coordinator at The Orchard.