Business owners and startup entrepreneurs often spend a great deal of time defining their vision, values, goals and strategy. And that’s good since it’s critical to understand these things.

But these well-known concepts are commonly confused. For example, entrepreneurs often talk about their vision in the same context as mission and values. Or they define “strategies” that are actually goals, and vice versa.

These are all separate and distinct things that – if improperly mixed – can sabotage the very goals they seek to articulate. Think of them as powerful prescription medicines that keep the business healthy but can be deadly if combined the wrong way.

Here are some steps that can help.

Values: The first thing to remember about values is that they don’t generally change.  Values are part of your business DNA.  Ask yourself: Why does my business exist?  And don’t say “to serve our customers.”  That’s not a value. A company’s values define what it stands for, not merely what it does. 

And although many smaller businesses don’t consider themselves to have a “culture” in the sense that larger companies use the term, every business has a culture of some kind, knowingly or not.

Values define your business and how you want the people who work there to interact with others.  Well-articulated value statements use words such as integrity, innovation, accuracy, loyalty, accountability and teamwork.  A business should define its values so everyone has a clear view of what they are and can adhere to them as they make decisions and set priorities. Values also guide your hiring decisions and are a constant that keeps your business on track though the many challenges it will face.

Vision is different.  Your vision is future-focused, and while values are a contributor, vision is about developing clarity and purpose around the most lofty, world- or market-changing goals you have. This is your great aspiration for the business. It’s where you want to get to in, say 10 or 20 years. 

But it’s not about growth rates or revenue. It’s more about what you want to create or achieve over time. Your vision won’t be easy to realize and may require constant course changes, hard work and many accumulated successes over time. As you define your vision, shoot for clarity and focus. It’s tempting to talk in fuzzy terms that are difficult for others to interpret, much less follow.  Employees, partners, investors, vendors, customers and others must be able to grasp your vision for it to work. They don’t have to agree with it, just understand it.

Only now you can talk about goals and strategy.  The most important thing to know about strategy is that it changes all the time – in small steps or radical revisions. That’s critical because business conditions, markets, competition, consumer preferences and a wide range of other factors are constantly in flux. If your strategy remains fixed, you are probably doomed. Strategy is the roadmap you use to achieve your vision and reach your goals, guided by the GPS of your values.

Always remember that goals are not strategy. This might sound simple, but some of the best and brightest in business fail to recognize this every day. You might, for example, have specific revenue goals for your business, or a desire to be “biggest” or “best” at whatever you do in your area. But how will you make that happen?  You need to know the pivot points on which to focus your efforts.

Strategy also means choosing what not to do. You can’t do it all, so pick what’s important. Some business owners find it easier to start by first deciding what types of activities their business will avoid, either because those activities just don’t fit, or because others already use them.

Don’t expect strategy to come easily. If it’s obvious, others have probably done it already. Your differences need not be radical. Even subtle, yet distinctive differences can magnify your actions and lead to success.

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About the Author(s)

Daniel Kehrer

Daniel Kehrer, Founder & Managing Director of BizBest Media Corp., is a nationally-known, award-winning expert on small and local business, start-ups, content marketing, entrepreneurship and social media, with an MBA from UCLA/Anderson. 

Founder & Managing Director, BizBest
Chalk illustration of man walking up steps labeled "vision" "Goal" "Strategize" "Action" and "Success"