Write down values that you would like your company to live by. Keep them short, simple, and actionable. Post these values somewhere visible (your workspace, your bedroom, a sticky note on your laptop) as a daily reminder to yourself of the values you would like your company to live by.
In business (remember, your idea IS your business – start repeating that over and over to yourself and to others!), you'll likely encounter inflection points along the way that will challenge your values.
Partners entering the business after you've already established things your own way may challenge your methods. Incoming investors may want to see fast, global growth when, really, you just want to own a small business. You may be tempted to promote other companies for profit – for example, generating revenue from affiliate links on the blog portion of your website – but end up not promoting companies that you believe in yourself.
Whatever the challenges may be, they will be easier to adapt to if you establish your values from the beginning. You will be able to tell incoming partners, investors, and employees what you value so that they understand what they are getting into, and you can surround yourself with likeminded people.
Of course, these values will very likely overlap with the vision for your company, which you've already thought about.
If you value community and giving back locally, you may envision owning a small, local business and keeping it that way. (These aren't necessarily tied; you can, of course, envision that one day your business will be global but still give back to the local community where you started, or to local communities involved in your local business.)
If you value environmental sustainability, you can plan from the beginning to budget more for environmentally friendly packaging.
Establishing these values will also help you build your brand, and, in turn, strong values tend to produce a more enthusiastic customer base (superfans!). Personally, a few of our favorite brands are the ones that have the strongest values.
The purpose of this post isn't for me (Casey) to provide free advertising for my favorite brands, but I'll provide some examples to get the point across:
I am more inclined to save up my money and buy a slightly more expensive fleece from Patagonia than I am to buy a cheaply made fleece from a budget outdoor clothing store because Patagonia values the environment (they donated 100% of their proceeds – $10 MILLION – to environmental organizations this past Black Friday).
If you have the time, I'd suggest reading this article about Patagonia's founder and how he's constantly managing his internal battle between his value of the environment and the anti-environmental principles of adding goods to a consumer-based world (http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/19/patagonias-philosopher-king).
We also suggest that, if you have a website, you create a values page on it. The more personality your business has (i.e., sharing what you care about with your customers), the more unique it will be. As an example, we think the values page on Nisolo (a shoe/bag/wallet company) is presented very well – https://nisolo.com/pages/ethically-made.
So, sit down, and get thinking and writing.
Our additional advice for your first crack at creating these values:
Keep them simple and actionable. You don't need to shoot for the moon with these values and save the planet. Simple values like " local community outreach" mean that you can plan activities like volunteering in your neighborhood one day per quarter or collaborating with other local artists through meet-ups.
Ensure that you'll be able to walk the talk. Don't create values that will be hard to live by. So many companies spout "Company Values" but don't actually live by them, which leaves employees (if you have them) out of touch with management (you) and could lose customers because your inaction will be transparent to them.
Choose values you care about, not ones you think “sound good.” Don't list "environmentally focused" if it's not something that you are passionate about. If you are true to yourself when you establish your values, you're going in the right direction.
Be flexible. Of course incoming partnerships, investors, or employees may have ideas about additional values for your company. If you're open-minded about expanding your values along the way, this can only help your business.