This is the fourth post in a series called “Behind the Startup.” First, we talked about choosing a name. Then, I shared the struggle of building a brand. Third, I wrote about building a team. In this post, we’ll talk about the difference between mission and vision and I’ll share what I hope we accomplish.
Before becoming the secretary of the Smithsonian, Samuel Pierpont Langley was an assistant at the Harvard College Observatory. Two good jobs at two prestigious organizations.
Langley was also well-connected. He was friends with Andrew Carnegie and Alexander Graham Bell. Two good people to know.
And when he set out to be the first person to achieve manned flight, the War Department gave him funding. He assembled the best and brightest minds to work on this project. Reporters from The New York times followed his progress. Everything was stacked in his favor.
He dreamed of being rich and famous. And he wanted to be first person to fly in an airplane.
A few hundred miles away in Dayton Ohio, Orville and Wilber Wright were also building a flying machine. They had no funding and received no grants. They had no connections and little education. All they had was a dream. On December 17, 1903, they flew 120 feet in the air.
This isn’t a David vs. Goliath story, it’s a story about what drives you. Langley had everything going for him, but his desire to be first was ultimately a shallow reason to work hard. His why was weak. The Wright Brothers were driven by something much, much deeper. It was more than being first or being famous. Their heart drove their hustle.
There comes a time (and the sooner the better) that every organization comes face to face with why they exist. Whether you’re a 100 year old company, a non-profit organization, or a startup, you must find your purpose.
Finding Our Why
Start With Why, by Simon Sinek is one of the best leadership books I’ve read. It’s a compelling argument for working hard to define a strong purpose and a sense of mission. Your mission is why you exist. Your purpose is the reason you do what you do.
In a way, your mission is never accomplished. You’re not going to wake up one day and say, “Great, we did that, now what?.” It’s something you strive for – a goal you’re always reaching to reach. It’s supposed to be this way because your mission has got to be deep.
When I was pastoring a local church, our mission was to lead people from where they are to where God wanted them to be. That was our purpose and reason to exist. There was never going to come a day when we would say, “We’re done with that.” Our vision, on the other hand, was much more tangible and short term. It had a number and a date in it.
Your competition can copy your strategy, but they can’t copy your why, says Sinek. When you’ve got a clearly stated Why, anyone in the organization an make a decision as clearly and accurate as the founder, he says.
So what’s the mission of Church Fuel? We provide insanely practical resources to move the church forward. We’re all about the local church, and we’re about providing practical resources to pastors. There will always be churches and they will always need real help. That’s what drives us.
Interestingly enough, getting clarity about our why is one thing. The discipline to stay true to that purpose is something else entirely.
The Difference Between Mission and Vision
I use the terms purpose and mission interchangeably. Both describe the why factor for any organization and both are never really accomplished.
But vision is different. While your mission will never be accomplished, you should be able to accomplish your vision in a set amount of time. You should be able to check it off a list. You should reach it and say to yourself, “What’s next?” Your mission needs a deep sense of why but your vision needs a calendar and a timeline. If your mission is the direction you’re going, your vision is the next exit on the road trip.
Every organization needs a clear mission – you’ll wander from idea to idea without one. But you also need a compelling vision – a picture of the future. When you cast vision, you’re telling people, “Here’s what it looks like in the next couple of years as we work on our mission.”
Learning to Cast Vision from a Software Company
We use a software tool called Infusionsoft to power the backend of our business. We use it for email communication, database management and shopping cart stuff. It’s a great all-in-one tool for us.
But what I really love about InfusionSoft is the company. The software is great but the company is even better. Every time I’ve gone out there, whether it’s for a coaching session, a conference, or a seminar, I’ve been inspired to focus on casting a big vision.
InfusionSoft says their purpose is to help small businesses succeed. That’s a powerful why! Their mission (they use the word mission like I’m using the word mission) is to create and dominate the market of all-in-one sales and marketing software for small business. But they break it down even further with the mountain metaphor, boldly printed in their main office area on these two big doors.
By 2016, they want to have 100,000 customers, employ 1,000 people and do $200 Million in revenue. That’s a big vision. But it’s also clear and specific. And unlike the mission, it’s got numbers and dates.
For Church Fuel, our mission is to provide insanely practical resources that move the church forward. And our vision for the next few years is to serve 5,000 senior pastors on a regular basis. One day, we’re going to check that off and ask ourselves, “What’s next?”
Niches Lead to Riches
I only know a couple of things about Cleveland.
It’s the home of Lebron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. I’m glad they got LeBron because I remember feeling so sorry for them during the Mark Price, Craig Ehlo days. They always seemed to lose to Jordan’s Bulls. Then again, everybody seemed to lose to Jordan and the Bulls.
A few years back, I started learning about content marketing and it’s become a huge part of my business philosophy. And Cleveland is home to Content Marketing World, a great conference.
I attended a session led by Andrew Davis, and it was a highlight of the conference. Andrew talked about niching your marketing and communication down to a super-specific audience. He used examples like the Tractor Supply Store going after hobby farmers who keep chickens in their backyard. Not all farmers, backyard chicken homestead farmers. He challenged all of us to make a fractal tree, thinking about your audience and then adding branches that got more and more specific.
That’s the power of a niche.
This is a tough one for me because I want everybody to be a potential customer. But over and over again, I’m reminded if you aim for everyone you will reach no one. Maybe you’re going to broad in your business? Maybe focusing on one segment would actually lead to greater growth?
I saw it the other day when I drove past a mom and pop pet store in a strip mall. This pet shop was less than a block away from a nationally-known chain store. And it was 1/4 a mile away from a second one.
How in the world could this pet store compete? What could they possibly offer that the two big box stores couldn’t?
The pet store was all about reptiles. Not pets, but snakes and lizzards. They carved out a niche, and it turns out, this pet store has been there for a while.
In an article every business leader should read, Kevin Kelly writes about 1,000 true fans. He says everyone can create a product, service or company to reach 1,000 true fans.
You don’t need a hit to survive. You don’t need to aim for the short head of best-sellerdom to escape the long tail. There is a place in the middle, that is not very far away from the tail, where you can at least make a living. That mid-way haven is called 1,000 True Fans. It is an alternate destination for an artist to aim for.
Ironically, when you go after a niche, you will have more success honing your voice and finding your customers. Turns out, there are more than enough backyard chicken farmers or reptile lovers to sustain a market. The small niche might be larger than you think.
This brings me to the idea of the target customer. What niche are we going to target with Church Fuel? Senior pastors, lead pastors and campus pastors of evangelical churches who want to grow.
We’re going to create insanely practical resources for senior leaders in the church. Not for the church itself, but for the leader of the church. Not for all the various staff members or volunteers in the church, but for the leaders in the church. We want to be THE place senior leaders go for practical help.
The goal of business isn’t to do business with anyone who wants what you have. It’s to find and resource people who believe what you believe. Senior Pastors are part of a tribe of people who think a certain way. They occupy unique leaderships positions and have unique struggles. Heck, I’ve been one.
So as we build this company, we’re building it with a strong mission, a clear vision and a focused audience.
Now, let’s see if it works.