Define Your Business: What Are Your Core Values?
Most of you are aware that I stumbled into my business.
I was the technician. My primary function was to build websites for local business owners of the Ohio Valley. I would team with advertising agencies and media companies. They would deliver a client and I would make their dreams come true with a new website.
Referrals kept coming. I would hammer out a website and find myself talking more and more about digital strategies. Some of the clients didn’t want a one-and-done partnership. They wanted me to stay on and manage their digital properties.
My business was growing well beyond just making websites. My daily workload was monitoring website traffic, doing keyword research, and even helping with social media. In fact, I actually found these tasks enjoyable.
I was turning into a Digital Marketer – not just a web designer.
Defining My Business in Reverse
Web design jobs ebb and flow. Sometimes you are so busy you can’t take a breath and other times you can binge watch Disney+ all day. I noticed that my shows were getting backed up in my queue and soon realized that I wasn’t just a freelancer anymore. I had clients paying me a retainer and I could actually budget out how much money I would make each month.
My wife and I sat with our family accountant, ready to file our normal income tax and he started asking questions. His prompts had me realizing that this was not a side-gig or hobby: I was a business. My business didn’t have a name (some might argue I still haven’t fixed that yet) or a tax ID, but my business had value.
I had a successful web design company and didn’t even know it.
Imagine if I did the work to make it legit?!
Branding Doesn’t Make You a Business
I’ve told the accountant story many times. After that meeting, I filed to become a real business with a real LLC and Tax ID. I scrambled to get a business name and slowly developed my brand. My business was all set.
- Tax ID (check)
- Business Name (check)
- Logo and Branding Guide (check)
- Website (check)
What else do you need?
Oh, I forgot. You need business cards.
- Business Cards (check)
My day-to-day operations didn’t change much. I still made websites, worked on SEO strategies, helped with content marketing, and met with new clients. My invoices now had my official logo – so that was new.
I soon realized that just because the government knows I’m a business and my accountant knows I’m a business, my business didn’t know it was a business.
Old Business Plans
As much of an accident as it was, I’ve had dreams of being a digital agency for a while. When I first started my stay-at-home-dad journey, I did some research and started making a business binder. I did research on what digital agencies, web design companies, and social media marketing firms were doing (and making). This might be a cool 10-year plan.
I did research on how to create a business plan. If you were a business, you needed to have a business plan, right? You should be creating a mission statement, vision statement, defining your core values, etc… How crazy is it that most businesses never create this?
From my experience with many small and medium businesses, they are like me. You slowly transition from a technician to a business owner. We are moving so fast that you can’t just hit the brakes and say “No, I can’t move further until I have a business plan!” You keep moving and you get further and further away from doing a basic, necessary step.
You need to define your business.
Finding My Core Values Through a Book
I’m very thankful that I surround myself with smart, good people. My wife introduced me to BNI (a business networking group). This allowed me to develop great friendships with local Wheeling business owners. One local business owner runs an HR firm and was critical in my growth as a business.
After several sit-down conversations, he recommended a book called Traction by Gino Wickman. He said this book had tools and plans that would really help me get a grip on my next steps. He was right.
Although there is narrative, the book is best used as a workbook. With practical steps and examples, you find yourself asking questions and uncovering problems/solutions you weren’t even aware of. Large corporations or small businesses like myself can benefit from going through the exercises.
Core Values – Draft
Even before reading the book, I went through an abbreviated exercise. I had my first 10-minute presentation for BNI and wanted to introduce my story and my business. This is when I started to realize I was missing something.
Sure, my slogan was Right Brain. Left Brain. Total Mind Control – but that wasn’t my business. Yes, I’m good with analytics and also creative but I’m more than that. My business is not just about making pretty websites with cool functionality.
What was my mission? Do I have a vision? What are my values?
Thankfully there were some basic courses on Lynda.com that helped me get through my presentation and come up with a great foundation for my vision, mission, and what I stood for.
Traction helped me with an actual process.
What are Core Values?
After reading a few chapters, the book goes right into finding your business’s core values. Why is this important?
Core Values are a small set of vital and timeless guiding principles for your company.Traction by Gino Wickman
When you develop your companies core values, life becomes a lot easier.
You can make decisions easier.
If you create a list of standard or items that everyone on your team should abide by, interviewing and hiring employees becomes a bit easier.
Ask questions that uncover the interviewee’s character. If you come across a few answers that don’t align with your core values – goodbye!
If you are part of a large organization, playing telephone can be difficult. You tell your direct subordinates your goals. They tell their direct employees your goals. They then communicate and take actions based on those goals. Each time you pass down information is left off and direction becomes murky. By defining core values at the top, everyone understands the essentials and can work in the same direction.
Most companies have core values. They have just been hidden, lost, or never put into writing. You won’t be creating from scratch. You will be digging into your brain to put these on paper.
Defining My Core Values
I’ve heard of several exercises to help trigger my core values.
- Think about 5 people you would send from your company to an alien planet. These individuals would represent you and your business.
- List 3 people from your business that you would clone over and over to work for your business.
Both exercises are similar. The next step was uncovering the why. Why did we pick these individuals and why is it important to your business. Once you figure this out, take those core traits and list them. Somewhere in that list is your core values.
This task was a bit different for me.
I’m working alone. I have several freelancers but they don’t necessarily represent my business. They (almost never) communicate with clients and are often hired to do a task and move on. Yes, I could take their characteristics but I thought of a different approach.
Listing My Favorite People
Over the years, I’ve developed some real strong fondness for many individuals that I’ve never met. I’ve become a follower, supporter, advocate, and patron of many of these people/brands. In some cases I’ve read books about them, wrote blogs, and even directly messaged. Why did I like these people? Why do others follow these individuals? Could I steal a little bit of their characteristics and integrate into my business?
I determined that there are strong correlations and these would be the people I would send to an alien planet that represent me and my brand.
Here is my list, in no particular order:
- Tom Hanks
- Conan O’Brien
- Trey Parker
- Conrad Thompson
- “Weird” Al Yankovic
- Paul Rudd
- Len Testa
- Doc Gallows
- Rolly Crump
- The Rock
I understand this list is lacking diversity. I promise this was not by choice, but more so by influence. Research actually indicates that most role models or people of influence are of the same gender/ethnicity. I just so happen to be a middle-aged white guy. Go figure, I’m influenced by other middle-aged (aging) white guys.
My guess is most people won’t be able to name the occupation of all 10 of these gentlemen. Some of these individuals are uber-famous (The Rock and Tom Hanks) and others are relatively unknown (sorry Len and Conrad). But they are all known in their respective communities for having some astounding traits.
- Self deprecating
- Hustle and Work Ethic
- Discovery and try new things
- Down to Earth
- Appreciates History
- Dedicated to craft
- No limitations
- Overcomes adversity
- Can do attitude
- Understands and listens to all views
- Do what they love regardless of money
Not everyone exemplifies all characteristics, but I know for a fact I can grab my core values from this list.
How Many Core Values Should I Have?
It is recommended to select anywhere from three to seven core values. These should be easily identifiable and should be engrained in your (and your teams) brain. If you can trim off the fat and make it easy, the better you will be at keeping that vision.
Eric Hersey Web Design and Development’s Core Values
I wrote down my core values and waited a few weeks. Although they sounded good from the start, I wanted to makes sure they were timeless.
Were my core values going to:
- Help me make a living and earn profit?
- Let others know what I stand for?
- Create a company culture that I want to work in?
If they didn’t meet this criteria, they weren’t going to work.
Thankfully, they stuck.
ABL – Always Be Learning
You’ve probably heard of Always Be Closing (ABC) if you are in sales. Well, if you are in the digital world you need to Always Be Learning (ABL). I’m better today than I was the day before. I’ve listened to at least five more podcasts about digital marketing since yesterday. I might not have mastered a new technique or trait, but I’ve learned of something new.
Learning and being open to new things help grow my offerings and my efficiency.
I’ve worked with a few peacock owners and a few peacock businesses. If you aren’t aware, I call egotistical, know-it-alls “peacocks”. They make decisions based on what makes this the flashiest in the room. They don’t listen to others and their sole motivation is to flash their feathers. We might find valuable traits in peacocks, but they are always going to get stuck looking at themselves in the mirror (or lake like Narcissus) and get passed up by others.
I value teamwork and I value giving credit where credit is due. Yes, there will be individual wins and we should celebrate. There is always someone helping you and a team behind you.
Be Yourself (100%)
I’ve tried to be the prototype salesman and hated it. I knew what to say, how to say it, and what people wanted to hear. This formula to success made me money but wasn’t authentic. Once I was able to use my real voice, answer real questions, and provide real answers, sales actually went up. I was also happier.
This double meaning also talks about efficiency. Don’t just be your true self, but work at 100%. Efficiency is key in being successful and competing against the giants in the industry. Being organized, calculated, and strategic helps move the needle in the right direction.
Communication has been key in my success. Ever since I had to show the older generation how to use iPhones (while working in mobile phone sales), I realized the importance of breaking things down and speaking the customer’s language. Every customer is different and I try to adapt accordingly.
Some clients want to know every little detail and why. Others just want to be kept up to date with progress. It is up to me to make sure the customer trusts what I am doing and my ability. This often requires transparency and communication.
I might not give out every little trade secret, but I will 100% explain what I am doing and what you can expect. My clients usually understand there are cheaper options and bigger teams. They go with me because we have mutually decided that this is a win-win proposition. My transparency allows customers to know exactly what they are getting.
How Can You Develop Your Core Values?
The process is a bit easy when you stop for a second, sit down, and start brainstorming.
- Gather some of your trusted employees and ask them to help you create a list of ideal employees.
- Go over your list of model employees and start listing out characteristics.
- Select the characteristics that are most important in making your company successful.
- Finalize the list by selecting three to seven.
Take some time to look over these and clean them up. Can you phrase these values in a way that your employees will remember? Add personality or simplify if they are too complex.
Now that you have your core values stated, communicate with your team. Have a team meeting announcing what you stand for. Add these to your website. Make sure you make it known the company and culture you want to create.
If you are like me, you want to see what other companies are listing. I found it easier to start making cuts from my master characteristic list by looking at some of the examples in Traction. I also wanted to see what some of my favorite brands listed.
Walt Disney Company
The Walt Disney Company declares that their values; innovation, quality, community, storytelling, optimism and decency, are present in everything they do and help create the unified vision for their workforce (Disney Careers)
- One person, one computer.
- Going for it and we will set aggressive goals.
- On the adventure together.
- Build products we believe in.
- We are here to make a positive difference in society, as well as make a profit.
- Each person is important; each has the opportunity and the obligation to make a difference.
- Creative; we set the pace.
- Everyone to enjoy the adventure we are on together.
- Care about what we do.
- Create an environment in which Apple values flourish.
This list breaks the three to seven rule, but leave it to Steve Jobs in 1981 to go in his own direction. (Cult of Mac)
Coca Cola’s core values include “leadership, collaboration, integrity, accountability, passion, diversity, and quality.” (Mission-Statement.com)
What Are Your Core Values?
To summarize, your core values bring everyone in your company together to create a culture and a goal. They help you make decisions easier.
- Does this new hire represent our core values?
- Should we partner with this team (do they value what we value)?
- What should we post on Facebook today?
By creating a list of your core values, you can work together as a team to create future success.
Since these values will help shape your company and vision, I thought I would supply you with some bonus material.
Podcast Recommendations: Core Values and Traction
Podcast one is a book overview of Traction by Gino Wickman. This is a nice primer to decide if you think this book would be valuable to read (and it likely will be).
Podcast #2 does a deep dive into core values for your business. This comes from the archives of The Productivity Show and was released in January 2017. They don’t have the podcast available on Spotify, but you can still download and listen from their website.