As a small business owner, you may find yourself facing the same question over and over when you're networking: "What exactly do you do?"
You could give the long answer that you have ready for investors or loan officers, but that may overwhelm anyone else, which won't help you make a connection. Instead, prepare yourself by drilling down to the core of your business until you can identify four or five descriptive words.
In theory, your five words could change based on who is asking for answers. For example, if the person you are talking to wants to know why you do what you do, you need to have your brand values or your visionary words ready to go. If the person you are talking to fits the profile of your ideal customer, you should have your customer benefits or unique value proposition at the ready.
While it may seem like a lot of work to come up with five words that encapsulate your entire business, keep in mind that this is just a jumping-off point. When you have these quick, clear, and easily digestible words ready to go, you will never find yourself fumbling through a lengthy explanation again. Instead, you will prove that you know how to position yourself and your business no matter the circumstances, and you will likely find the interested party prompting you to tell them even more.
Every person has a core set of values, even if they have never articulated them. They build their life around these values and center their actions around remaining true to them. These values could have been shaped by the person's religion, political affiliation, college, hometown or career.
In much the same way, think of your business as being a living, breathing entity of its own. Having these values for your business can make it easier to decide how to proceed in a certain situation, what products or services to offer, which marketing strategies to use, or who to partner with.
Create your business's core values by identifying which ones are most important. Is it being professional, eco-friendly, fiscally conservative, philanthropic or cutting-edge?
Choosing the five words that describe the customer benefits your business offers can transform a casual question into an opportunity to cultivate a loyal new customer.
For example, if you create wedding stationery, your five words might be "stunning," "magical," "memorable," "romantic" and "timeless." You create stunning paper products to help make a magical, romantic event that will be both memorable and timeless.
If you are a mechanic, your customer benefits might be phrases such as "friendly customer care," "comfortable waiting area," "low prices," "environmentally friendly" and "fast service."
Knowing the core benefits you provide to customers makes it easy to describe what you have to offer and why they will be better off for choosing you.
Vision for the business
It is important to define where you are going, not just where you are. What is your vision for your business? Do you want to reach a certain level of profitability so you can better support a favorite charity? Do you want to expand globally to reach a larger audience and have a more substantial impact? Think about where you want your business to be or how you want it to operate over the next several decades, and find the words that bring that image to life.
Perhaps you are the sole proprietor of a small business, but you want to help women in remote areas of the world earn a living one day. One of your words could be "empowerment." Or maybe you are a small business owner who hopes to build something that will positively impact your community for generations to come. One of your words might be "community." Your five words are limited only by your own imagination and ability to dream of a brighter future.
When choosing your words for these categories, remember that there is no right or wrong answer, only what is right or wrong for you and your business. Also, keep in mind that these words do not have to define your business forever. Just as your personality, experience and knowledge evolve with age, so can the five words you choose to describe your business.
Why a business statement is important
While describing your business in five words or less is important, it is also essential to have a more formal business or mission statement that gives others a clear picture of what you do and why.
A clear and compelling business statement is crucial to the success of every type of enterprise. In addition to communicating who you are, what you provide to clients and prospects, and what sets you apart from your competition, a cohesive statement also reminds staff of the ethos behind what they do every day. Your business statement is the launching point for how your brand is marketed to its target audience.
First and foremost, business statements help define your mission and your overall workplace culture. They help inspire company goals by driving the “why” behind your existence. These statements provide clarity on how organizations should be run and help guide the decision-making process, especially during transition periods.
There are several situations in which a clearly delineated business statement may be necessary:
- In a business's digital footprint, including on a company website's About Us page, in search engine listings, or on social media pages.
- When participating in trade shows or conferences. They help inform attendees and encourage engagement. They may also be used to help outside agencies and service providers better understand your company and its unique needs.
- In employee onboarding materials and training guides. Having them here can help new hires better understand their new positions.
Examples of business descriptions
Here are a few examples of business descriptions that have been successful for established companies. The following descriptions are creative and engaging, explaining precisely what the companies do as well as their core values.
"At Shutterfly, Inc., our vision is to make the world a better place by helping people share life's joy. Through our portfolio of premium lifestyle brands – Shutterfly, Tiny Prints, Wedding Paper Divas, BorrowLenses, MyPublisher, and Groovebook – our mission is to deepen your personal connections with the people who matter most with unique, personalized photo products. We enrich the lives of millions by inspiring you to be creative in how you preserve your memories and share your stories. Our brands share a common vision that allows us to help you make memorable moments last a lifetime. Together, we are Shutterfly, Inc."
"USAA provides insurance, banking, investments, retirement products, and advice to more than 11 million members. We're known for our legendary commitment to our members, and are consistently recognized for outstanding service, financial strength, and employee well-being."
"Our story began in 1971. Back then, we were a roaster and retailer of whole bean and ground coffee, tea, and spices with a single store in Seattle's Pike Place Market. Today, we are privileged to connect with millions of customers every day with exceptional products and more than 30,000 retail stores in 80 markets."