We are in a highly emotionally charged time in the US. This is not the time to be standing on the sidelines. But there’s a tricky situation to navigate — as a business owner, how authentic should you be with your personal values? Should you be censoring yourself on social media, to appear impartial? Or take a stand to use your platform for good? Are you going to turn people off who may have wanted to work with you? There’s an ongoing dialogue throughout online entrepreneurship groups and even locally about this.
There’s a power in being an entrepreneur, whether it’s product or service, local or online. Your brand stands for something, whether you intend to or not. It evokes emotion, and in this day and age, people want to support businesses that share their values. This is not conjecture, there are several articles about this (link here). And we know this instinctually: do you still eat Chic-Fil-A? Papa John’s? Do you boycott Amazon? Maybe you stopped going to Hobby Lobby. You changed your choices because of a stance they took or how they treat their employees.
This works on the inverse too — maybe you like going to Costco because they offer their employees a living wage and benefits. Maybe you support REI or Patagonia because of how they support conservation and the environment. And the obvious examples are Tom’s, Warby Parker, and other “1 for 1” models.
Our values attract others. Now, most people separate the core values of their business and their own personal values. I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is wrong, but I prefer not to do that. As a solo entrepreneur, I got into business for myself so I could be my authentic self across the board. I was sick of making who I am palatable for general consumption. Having several different personas is pretty damn exhausting.
This doesn’t mean that I’m posting on a biz page endorsing specific candidates or sharing every op-ed I see. This doesn’t mean that you need to pick fights or Twitter arguments with people who disagree with you. Even though I’m the same person, and I hold the same values, I still don’t want to associate my business or brand with things that are unrelated or that will potentially date themselves, like candidates (and their myriad of scandals and position changes).
Devising Your Value Statement
Instead, I invite you to take a look at why you entered your industry or started a business in the first place. Not necessarily in the philosophical ‘Why’ that Simon Sinek might use, but in a practical ‘this is who I help and the way I do it kind of way.’ Is your work empowering? Do you help people realize their own power? Do you write to give others’ a voice? Do you guide people through healing with encouragement and empathy? Do you champion self care and mindfulness in a world that’s starved of connection?
Usually, something personally happened to us in the past, something that resulted in us seeing the need for the work that we are now doing. Explore that, and the social issues that you’re attracted to personally as well.
Questions to Ask:
- Are there social or cultural stories that shaped your worldview?
- Are there events in your family that resonate with you, that drove you to pursue your current work?
- What organizations do you personally support?
- What issues do you read up on?
- What stories in media move you, not just emotionally, but toward action?
This is a process of discovery, of figuring out, not just who you already are, but how you want to come across and what you want to be known for. If you work with women in chronic pain, maybe for you that is addressing gender disparity and bias in healthcare. If you are a business coach, that could be empowering women and people of color to own businesses or to champion more diversity in your chosen industry.
For me, I realized that I wanted to work in content strategy and storytelling because I was passionate about lifting up others’ stories. Leveraging those stories not just for empowerment’s sake but to help them serve the overall mission of their business and organization. In a personal sense, this translates into advocating for more marginalized folks at the table to make decisions and be heard.
Most businesses have a mission statement, but let’s face it — it’s dry, and there’s no “mission” behind it.
“Provide excellent customer service” is not a freaking mission statement. “Being the best in the industry” is useless filler. In fact, I do away with mission statements altogether. I prefer thinking of it as a “value statement” or a “statement of intent/passion.” Your passion, values, and intent are something that cannot and should not be separated into a ‘personal’ or ‘professional’ box.
When we can recognize that as small business owners, content becomes easier. Distilling that passion and your values into a single statement is powerful. When you recognize how your personal values inform your business, there’s a driving narrative there that makes your content clear and cohesive; you know how you want to purposefully and intentionally show up in the world. There’s a common thread through all of the forms of content: email, social media, speaking, etc. You will instantly know if a post is “on brand” — and I don’t mean colors or fonts. With a value statement, you can know if what the core of what your image, blog, or video is coming across feels aligned and authentic to not only what your business represents, but who you are as a person.