Make a 3-year plan: Step 1 - define your vision & mission


When I quit my job and started my own business, I did it because I wanted to pursue my dream of being a pattern designer. That was my big goal and what I had in mind when sitting at home drawing and making patterns for the first 3 months. But after that first rosy period I started to understand that I had to be more structured and specific when it came to that big goal in order to make things happen, in this article I share a way to create a strategy for your business by applying a big corporate business method.


When a big company set their big business goals, they start by defining the company vision and then the mission - hopefully. Because a lot of businesses only define a vision and skip the mission, or doesn't make it a part of the business statement - and miss an important part of the strategy. So what’s the difference between a vision and a mission, you might think? They seem to be the same thing. Yes and no. They are part of the same big business goal, but they are two different things:

A vision describes where or what you want to be or have in the future

- your big goal 

The mission describes what you are going to do or make

- your contribution to the world

Defining both of these is going to make it much more clear what you and your business/project is all about and finding the direction you are going to take so you can make it happen.

What defines a great vision and mission statement?

  1. They are qualitative - not quantitive.
  2. They are ambitious in a wide sense - not limited.
  3. They are inspirational on many levels - not just one or two.

Qualitative vs quantitative

Here are two examples from the world of cars to illustrate a vision and mission that doesn’t consider the 3 points above and one that does:

Example 1

Vision: To be the no 1 car brand in [pick your country].

Mission: To sell x thousand cars in one year.

Example 2

Vision: To be the most preferred brand among new car buyers in [pick your country].

Mission: To offer the best customer experience.

So which of the two examples is the more qualitative & descriptive one, wide in it’s ambition and inspiring on more levels?

Example 2, right? Example 2 could actually mean being the no 1 brand too, but the perspective is much more inclusive and wider than in example 1 - the aim is higher and inspires actions on many more levels . It also describes where the focus is. In example 2 the focus is on the customer experience - a qualitative measure. Example 1 focuses on volume, a quantitive measure.

And here’s how:
We know that not everyone can buy the car they want, it’s either not fitting their needs or they can’t afford it. But they can dream about it. If they could get it they would. It’s the most preferred. And this means they will most likely talk warmly about this brand/car model with others (who might be looking for a new car and are eager for recommendations) and sometime in the future, when the stars are aligned right, they will go and buy it. And the reason why they will be the most preferred brand is stated in the mission, which means that they will take actions to make their customers so satisfied that they will come back again and again when buying a new car - and they will share their positive experience with others and praise the brand. 

While the first vision and mission example is very concrete and specific, it says nothing of what this business is about and how the goal is going to be accomplished. It could be because they have the lowest prices so more people can afford them, or it could be because they will spend the most money on campaigns and marketing. Either way, it’s more of a yearly sales goal, not a beacon for the whole company to be inspired by.

The great thing about a qualitative vision and mission statement

Because that’s exactly what the vision and mission is all about. To make it possible for the whole organization, across functions, to define what they should do and focus on — so that they too can support that vision and eventually make it happen. It gives every single employee a direction to work towards.

Why this method is perfect for a small business

Now in a big company it can be difficult to make sure that everyone are actually aware and a part of this movement, because it’s easy to feel alienated in a big company. An employee that doesn’t feel like a part of the vision might focus on their own agendas instead, like getting a promotion, a raise or just get acknowledged for whatever and then their actions are supporting that goal instead of the business goals. But in a small one-woman business it’s a lot easier to be a part of the vision - heck, we are our own vision. It’s like it’s made for a solopreneur.

How to define a vision and mission for your business, project or life goal

1. Start with the most obvious goal; what it is that you want to become / where you want to be / what you want to achieve in 3 years from now? Is it to be a pattern designer, photographer, blogger? Or is it to move to a [better/bigger] house or to be able to work from home, your own office? Write it down on a piece of paper, in a document or note on your phone. And don't bother about that qualitative, descriptive angle yet if that feels difficult. Just jot down your raw big goal.

2. Then let's see if you can niche it a bit, describe what kind of [enter your goal here] you want to be/have etc and be sure to make it qualitative instead of quantitative. So instead of saying that your vision is to be a pattern designer you could say that it is

"To be an established and hired pattern designer”. 

And the mission? Could be something like:

"To offer patterns that are an antipole to the mainstream designs flooding the market." 

What would this tell you? Well first of all the vision let’s you know that you are more than just someone sitting at home drawing. It means you are about business, someone that is going to sell stuff and earn money, someone who has an income, and also be a name that product companies out there will come accross, know about and want to check out and work with. And the mission tells you how you are going to do it - with unique, fresh and different designs with a specific customer in mind.

Another thin to consider is the reasons. Why do you want to become a hired pattern designer and not just a pattern designer? Well, you want to live off it right? That's that income part.

Now if you're goal would be "to become a famous and celebrated pattern designer" instead. What are your reasons for that? Or "to have my own design studio / fabric company". Then besides being able to live off of it it could also be to be a leader, to provide job opportunities. So be clear on the reasons why you want to be where/what you want to be. It's will be an important clue for finding your great vision and then mission.

What you put in your vision and mission will be the beacon in the dark that will show you what road you need to take. If you'd exchange the mission to be ”to create on trend designs” instead, then there would be another approach to it, another route to take, another customer in mind. Do you see it?


Life goal example

So to another example to illustrate this; if your big dream is to live in a [bigger/better] house you should define more specifically what it is that you want, in a big ambitious sense.  And it could be something like this:

”To live in the house of my [family’s] dreams.” 

It’s qualitative and wide (opens upp to more possibilities) instead of quantitative and closed (a house of x million/x rooms/x square meters/by the beach). The qualitative approach aims high and inspires ideas and actions - for example to make a list of what that dream house looks like. The quantitative approach only suggests that you need to go and find a house with X rooms, or by the coast.

And the reasons? Could be a lot of things - from a fluffy one of "being happy"  to "having a place where my family and me can feel truly at home" or "having a flexible home that will suit our family needs for many years". (I could make a million reasons for living in your dream home :-).

Being clear on the reasons also helps pinning down the mission, which l could be:

”To have multiple/smart sources of income to create the funds for building our dream house.”

Now isn’t that a contribution to the world!? 

This mission supports the vision and not only does it imply how you are going to achieve you goal but also that you are going to be truly creative about it. Both in finding/creating different sources of income, but also to design a unique house, just for you and your family.

Some prompts to get you started

Defining the vision and mission is the most difficult part of this process. It can feel like your ideas are unoriginal, stereotype, to general etc, but try not to think about what other people have done, only what is qualitative for you. And an inspiring vision and mission that is right for you will make the next step a lot easier.

Create choices

I suggest that you try to create at least 3-5 different versions of the vision to choose between. That way you are forcing yourself to go outside of the most obvious, what you already know, be creative and aim high! With a list of alternatives you can pick the right vision for you and your business and then define the mission that will support it.

If you get stuck, just pick one vision you’ve come up with, it doesn’t matter if it’s not 100%, because you can redefine it during the process. Actually, there is a big chance that when you are going deeper into the planning you will come up with a lot of new and better ideas for your vision and mission. And that’s perfect, it’s a process.

Answer these questions

Here are some questions that can give you some clues to your vision and mission:

  1. Where do you want to be/do in 3 years from now - if you knew with 100% that you would be successful at it?
  2. Why do you want to be that/there or have that? What are your reasons?
  3. On what level would you be successful - think qualitative, not quantitative (most preferred=customer level, established=society level, famous=public level, of your dreams=family level etc).
  4. When you are looking at this achievement in 3 years, what was the key, the approach that made it successful?

Next step: Slicing up your business

So this was setting up the big qualitative goal, but we also need to have some quantitative ones that will help us understand what it takes to reach it. The next step of the 3-year plan is to define the areas where we need to be active in order to reach our big goal.

And for that we’re going to slice up your business into pieces. Sounds brutal? No, more like schizophrenic, but so much fun and can generate a lot of laughs, I tell you.

Read article nr 2: Identify your business functions & set measurable objectives + Get your free worksheet for step 1 & 2 to download and print!

Any questions? Just post a comment, I'd be delighted!