Words like Purpose, Mission and Vision are regularly bandied around in business. They are these “things” you are supposed to have as a part of your business plan. You’re told that your business can’t succeed without them, that they’re critical for both employee and customer engagement, and so on.

Do a Google search on any one of them and you are likely to come up with a heap of confusion over which is which, with some people defining a mission statement in the same way as others define a vision statement.

As a result one of two things typically happens… in all the confusion you decide to ignore them completely; or you end up in a paralysis of analysis, constantly worrying about whether or not your purpose, mission and vision statements are “right”.

So do they matter?

The short answer is YES.  Your purpose, mission and vision all help provide your business with clarity and direction. Once you are truly clear on what they are, they assist with decision making, help prevent chasing bright shiny objects and help you see opportunities. They also help to attract the right team members and the right customers and clients.

However it is also important not to get stuck trying to find the right words.  Although the words are important as a means of communication, what really matters is the meaning and intent behind the words. Don’t get hung up on “word-smithing”.

As Jim Collins, author of Good to Great  points out “ …some words inspire more than others, but the point is to discover the core purpose you are truly committed to. Just as the Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, and the I Have a Dream speech all express the same ideals in different words, your task is to identify ideals that can be expressed a multitude of ways.”

I remember numerous occasions as a corporate facilitator suggesting to leadership teams that perhaps there were more important things to spend an entire day on than debating the wording of a corporate mission statement.


Read this post if you would like to:

  • Understand the difference between a purpose, mission and vision and how they can add value to your life and your business.
  • Have formulated an idea (if you didn’t already have one) of what really matters to you, your purpose in life, and written it down in a way that makes sense to you and communicates it to those who matter.

PLUS Download the complete help file here to:

  • Create a mission statement for your business which is clearly aligned with your values and purpose, which makes it clear to you, your team and your clients/customers why you are in business, who you are in business for and what value that you provide.
  • Develop a clear vision statement for your business(s) that determines where you want your business to be and what it will look like at some time in the future in order to realise your business mission and personal higher purpose.
  • Create an action plan to ensure that your purpose, mission and vision are integrated into your business so that you get the benefit from having taken the time to think them through and write them down in the first place.


I mentioned earlier that doing a Google search on purpose, mission and vision statements can reveal a load of different definitions about what each one means and what makes a good example of each.

I’m sure that some experts reading this will disagree with the definitions I have provided. However as Juliet said to Romeo….”What’s in a name?  A rose by any other name would smell a sweet.”

Names are only labels which enable us to communicate more effectively with each other. When I say “cat” you get a picture of a small four legged, hairy animal, with a tail.

I have chosen the specific names and definitions below for two reasons:

  1. Because they are the ones we use in our business planning in SMART.
  2. Because I think these words most clearly reflect their intent.


Purpose is the reason why you get out of bed in the morning.. It’s the big idea behind why you do what you do.  It’s what makes you feel happy, excited and fulfilled.  Your purpose transcends your business, it’s the thing that drives you.  It’s what will attract people who share your purpose (both staff and clients) to want to work with you.  Once you are clear on your purpose it will apply no matter what business you are in.  


A mission statement is how your purpose translates into one particular business. It’s how your business enables you to realise your purpose in one particular industry or sector.

Think of the Virgin Group of companies, they all share the common purpose of “Making a Difference” but each one has its own unique mission in line with that common purpose.


Your vision is your stake in the ground for your business. It’s your grand destination, your vision gives us a picture of an unrealized future. It may be five years out, ten years out, or maybe even 50 years away. Your Vision is your ultimate dream for your business.

Understanding the difference

Your purpose, like your values, is internal to you. It won’t change no matter what business you run or how many businesses you run.

You need to be clear about both your purpose and your values because they will enable you to build a business or businesses that provide specific products or services in ways that matter and are important to you. They will enable you to build a company you can be proud of.

You need to be able to communicate them effectively in order to attract and retain the kinds of clients and customers and the kinds of staff, partners, investors and stakeholders who value the same things you do and have the same world view as you. These are the people you want to do business with and who want to do business with you.

Unlike purpose and values a mission and vision relate to each individual business. They should reflect the purpose and values of the founder but they are not the same thing. A mission statement describes the business purpose and the vision statement describes its aspirations for the future.

There are two key differences between a mission statement and a vision statement.

  1. Your mission statement is externally focussed. It tells your customers and clients what you do, how you do it, who you do it for and the value that you bring. Whereas your vision statement is internally focussed. It tells you and your team if you have one what you aspire to achieve.
  2. Your mission statement is in the present. It tells your customers and clients what you aspire to do now. Your vision statement is future-based, it tells you and your team what you will achieve in the future.

Part 1: Finding your Purpose

Purpose is the reason why you get out of bed in the morning.. It’s the big idea behind why you do what you do.  It’s what makes you feel happy, excited and fulfilled.  Your purpose transcends your business, it’s the thing that drives you.  It’s what will attract people who share your purpose (both staff and clients) to want to work with you.  Once you are clear on your purpose it will apply no matter what business you are in.

You won’t find many examples of purpose statements for large organisations as generally speaking large organisations have long since lost touch with the original purpose of their founder. Virgin and Richard Branson and Zappos and Tony Hsieh are notable exceptions.


Virgin: Making a difference

Zappos: Delivering Happiness

SMART-Connect: Connect, Collaborate, Contribute.


As a small business owner, finding and communicating your purpose provides a shining beacon to attract others for whom it is important.

The problem for most people is figuring out what the heck it is and for some of us that can be a lifetime journey.  Most of us have absolutely no clue what we want to do with our lives. It’s a struggle almost every adult goes through. “What do I want to do with my life?”,  “What am I passionate about?”,  “Why am I here?”

Part of the problem is the concept of “life purpose” itself. The idea that we were each born for some higher purpose and it’s now our cosmic mission to find it. Believing that is like believing in crystal balls and tarot cards.  If you do that’s fine, but you and I are probably not on the same page and you’re probably about to close this book and walk away.

If struggling to find your purpose or write a purpose statement you’re happy with is stopping you getting on with what you need to do, then move on and come back to it later.  Lots of great organisations have started without a purpose statement, as long as you are clear on your values, the purpose statement can come later.

Here’s the truth the way I see it.

We exist on this earth for some undetermined period of time. During the first 25 years or so of that life we develop our world view, our values, our beliefs and how we see ourselves and our relationship to the world.

Throughout our life we do things. We can choose to make the most of our time and do things that are important to us and make us feel happy and fulfilled or we can do things that just fill time.  The things which are important to us will be determined by our values, our beliefs and our world view and for most of us at some time in our lives, working out what the heck those things are can cause a lot of introspection and even pain.

When people say, “What should I do with my life?” or “What is my life purpose?” what they’re actually asking is: “What can I do with my time that is important to me and will make me feel happy and fulfilled?”

In this Help File you’ll find three different approaches to finding your purpose plus some hints and tips for writing down what you come up with in a meaningful way.

KEY ACTIVITY 1.1: Determining your purpose – a Motivation Theory Approach

If coming to grips with your purpose is doing your head in, perhaps a look at motivational theory will help.

One well recognised theory of motivation suggests that once our initial needs for survival, security and belonging have been met, humans are driven by four prime motivators. All of us have a primary motivator and for many of us it is a combination of two, a primary and a secondary.

It seems likely that our primary motivation factors, along with our values, form part of our world view, our theory or mental model of reality, the world, life and ourselves and that these are pretty well formed by the time we are around 25 or so.

  • Need for achievement is the drive to excel in one area or another, it might be physical for sportspeople, right brain for artists and writers, left brain for scientists, engineers and mathematicians.  The need for achievement for some people can mean a desire for learning. The desire to constantly expand your knowledge, learn new things, stretch boundaries, increase your own and the collective wisdom. Great scholars and scientists are often driven by the need for learning.  For other people the need for achievement shows itself in the desire to push oneself beyond limits, break a record, achieve a personal best, climb a mountain just because it’s there.
  • Need for power is the desire to cause others to behave in a way that they would not have behaved otherwise. Great (and not so great) leaders may be motivated by the need for power. On the other hand some people take on leadership and positions of power in order to realise their need for significance.
  • Need for significance is the desire to make a difference, to leave a legacy.  Great philanthropists are motivated by the need for significance, however so might be great scientists and explorers.
  • Need for affiliation is the desire for friendly, close interpersonal relationships.  Not everyone is driven by the need for greatness. For many of us doing things which matters to those close to us, family, friends, community is what is truly important to us. People whose primary need is for affiliation are not stuck at the belonging level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Rather they are self actualised by their role in their community. They are often the crucial service provider to their community, the elders, the rocks, the glue that holds a community together.

Unfortunately for most of us the waters can get muddied by the fact that sometimes we find ourselves caught up in a situation where our basic needs for survival, security and belonging aren’t being met;  there isn’t enough money to pay the mortgage or perhaps even to put food on the table, we’re working so many hours a week we no longer have time for friendships and our relationships are suffering.  While we are struggling to meet these basic needs the things which really matter to us as humans, whether it is climbing Everest, controlling a multi-national company, being a stay at home mum, or ending world hunger tend to pale into insignificance leaving us frustrated, unfulfilled and unhappy.

Also we often let what is important to us be dictated by societal rules and norms. Sometimes getting in touch with what really matters to us can help us let go of things which are not so important.  Is keeping up with the Jones in a big house or a posh suburb, wearing the right clothes, driving the right car, getting in the way of enabling you to do what really matters to you?

Here’s a simple activity.

Just as you did in the last chapter when you were determining your core values ask yourself:  If you could only do one of these things in the rest of your life which would it be:

  • Accomplish something no-one else had done
  • Learn or discover something no-one else knows
  • Head up a multi-national organisation
  • Be seen as the central pillar or rock of your family or community
  • Make a lasting difference to the world.

Which one would you choose?

If you were looking down on your funeral and listening to your eulogy… how would you most want to be remembered?

  • For your achievements and accomplishments or your wealth of knowledge and learning?
  • For your power and influence?
  • For your relationships, your wisdom, for your contribution to your family/community and what you meant to the people who were close to you?
  • For the difference you made in the world?

Identifying our primary motivating force is a useful tool to help you to determine your purpose.

KEY ACTIVITY 1.2: Determining your purpose – a Retrospective Approach

This next approach is really only helpful for those of us with a lot of life experience as it requires the benefit of hindsight.

It’s taken me many years to be able to understand or express my purpose in words. In fact I don’t think I ever even realised it was “my purpose” until quite recently. Up until the last couple of years I’ve only ever thought of it as “those times when I felt truly happy and fulfilled at work – when I would happily have gone to work even if I wasn’t being paid”.  It’s included when I was head of workforce planning and career development and later a Human Resources Advisor for the tax office; when I was researching reading disabilities and developing reading support programs for children with dyslexia; and now when I am developing business support communities for small business owners.

What enabled me to find my purpose was looking back and analysing what each of those roles and work environments had in common. I had been making a real difference in the quality of peoples’ lives. And in every case the way I have done that has been through empowering them – giving them knowledge, skills and support to achieve their goals.  And I can see that in the future there are still more things that I want to achieve, more areas where I want to take action to realise my purpose.

As you may have realised by now my primary motivation factor is significance, followed closely by affiliation. Achievement has absolutely no importance to me whatever.  I find it completely impossible to relate to a need to win a race, break a record or “climb it because it’s there”.  It’s probably why I have a consistent record for not finishing things I start.

Similarly I have no great desire for power or influence or for learning and knowledge other than for the ability it gives me to make a difference.   (Hence an uncompleted PhD)

If you have a lot of life experience to look back on then ask yourself when did I feel most happy and fulfilled?  What have I done that mattered, what was important? If I could do it all again, which are the things which I wouldn’t change and what are the things I would do differently? What do they have in common?

KEY ACTIVITY 1.3: Determining your purpose – a Values Driven Approach

If you are still struggling to identify your purpose then looking at your core values is also often helpful.

A final check

Now do a cross check across the three different approaches (leave out Retrospective if you haven’t had a lot of life experience).

  1. What are your one or two primary motivation factor(s)?
  2. Are they consistent with your core values?
  3. What are the things you have done in the past which have been most important to you,  that made you feel happy and fulfilled? How do they align with your primary motivators and your core values?

Key Activity 1.5: Writing your Purpose Statement

Now you are clear on your purpose it’s time to write your purpose statement… once again – don’t get hung up on words. You can always come back and edit it later.

Keep it short and meaningful. Richard Branson suggest trying for something closer to a heraldic motto than a speech. They were often simple because they had to fit across the bottom of a coat of arms, and they were long-lasting because they reflected a group’s deeper values.

Remember this is YOUR personal purpose statement.  Do NOT try to encapsulate your business into your purpose statement.  If you are like Richard Branson and have multiple businesses your purpose will apply across all of them.

You are reflecting your motivation, your values and your world view.

It has one primary purpose…  To tell the world what you stand for and your reason for being.

The benefit of doing that is that you will then attract team members, sponsors, financiers, partners and potential clients/customers for whom this resonates.

Those examples again:

Virgin: Making a difference

Zappos: Delivering Happiness

SMART-Connect: Connect, Collaborate, Contribute.


Brenda Thomson: Business Connections & Relationship Specialist
Helping Small Business Owners Create Powerful Networks & Communities

SMART Connect and SMART Small Business Alliance
LIN: Brenda Thomson
F: SMART-Connect Alliance - SSBA