If you’re interested in earning a living as a creator— if you are, as Seth Godin puts it, interested in developing a ‘Practice’, not just a hobby — then, like any other business, it pays to define a mission.
We often skip this step as independent creators. We feel that because it’s our thing, we must intuitively know what the mission is — and so sitting down to consider our ‘mission statement’ seems an unnecessary formality.
But ask yourself, now — do you have a clear, compelling, tightly phrased response to the question: ‘Why do you make what you make?’
If the answer is yes — excellent, carry on.
If, on the other hand, you feel yours could do with some tightening up, here are the questions I use to help creators hone in on their most robust sense of mission:
Every mission has a context. A story it belongs to. A setting, a background, a scope.
SpaceX belongs to a story with a specific feel — a history with a particular character, flavor, and repeating elements. Some amalgamation of the space race; rockets; advanced tech; NASA; Russia; USA; the Cold War; spacesuits and jet flames.
This is a very different feel to, say, Freddie Mercury’s story.
Both stories impact many of the same people , all around the world — so it isn’t simply a business school exercise of ‘Who is our target audience?’ and ‘Which geographies are we active in?’.
Defining the story is a matter of feel and context.
It may sound a little Freudian, but one of the most helpful places to start is often an unfiltered session of free association.
Begin by thinking about the services you currently (or would like to) offer. Then spend 5 minutes writing down the strongest associations that spring into consciousness, without judgement — you can filter it down later.
If I’m a content creator in the pet care space, certain topics, images and ideas will come to mind. Certain populations, stakeholders, locations (and animals, I imagine).
If I’m a cello YouTuber, interested in educating and entertaining, different networks of association will be activated.
At the end of this associative process, all we’re after is a longlist of relevant elements that at least belong to our story. From there, we’re ready to start filtering.
What matters in this story? Which factors have influence? Who are the good guys? Who are the bad guys?
From our free associative list, we’ll now start to consider what’s driving the story in specific directions.
Are there forces on the list that drive our story in a negative direction? For our pet care content creator, a negative force in the story might be:
“An abundance of low-quality or downright harmful misinformation.”
On the other hand, what are the positive forces driving the story forward? Local online pet communities, perhaps. A manufacturer that’s dedicated to the highest quality ingredients, maybe. A technology or product that makes things easier for modern pet carers— you get the idea.
Within our larger story, we want to understand which are the main activators of change, currently, and to identify them clearly.
A helpful exercise is to fill out the following:
While wrapping up these lists, we then pose ourselves a follow-up question — ‘If things continue with these current forces in play, where is the story heading?’
There’s no reason to be a creator unless you’d like to contribute something to the story you’ve chosen.
That is — you strive to influence some kind of change. After all, if the story were already perfect as is, what would it need you for?
The question now is: What is it in this story you feel isn’t up to scratch? What’s the issue you feel could be addressed, improved, or solved?
In our pet care example, perhaps we see that people are inadvertently mistreating their pets by following outdated practices — and you’d like to help change that.
Once we’ve identified the crux of the problem, we can begin to consider what we’d like the story to look like, instead.
The first stab at a solution will typically miss the mark. That’s to be expected.
The process we follow at this stage is iterative. Beginning at the high level, we can hone in on the more concrete and achievable change we feel we’re in a position to influence.
Starts with: I’d like everyone who ever thought about getting a pet to feel they can be a capable, well-informed and generous pet carer;
→ I’d like all existing pet owners to have access to the high quality information about pet care they need to improve their pets’ quality of living;
→ I’d like to help 1000 pet owners in my local area take better care of their pets through accessible, but up-to-date, knowledge and advice on pet care.
You can see we’re starting to hone in on something closer to an actionable mission.
But before we can really drill down on a final formulation, we need to step back slightly.
Time to introspect.
This story won’t change itself. Presumably, that’s where you come in.
If you are already a creator, you likely have an approach. A tone. A style. An audience. A go-to channel.
In this stage, however, we need to take a bold step and side-line what you’re already doing for the moment. We need to let it go, temporarily, and open ourselves up to the possibility that new methods are available that will better serve our newfound focus.
We need to ask — ‘If I truly wanted this change to occur, who would be the best person to do it?’
What kind of character would be best suited to reaching and influencing 1,000 pet carers?
What is it about this character that makes them uniquely suited to the challenge?
Perhaps it’s a unique perspective brought to the table. Maybe it’s a personality that’s easy to connect with. Or a communication style that’s just as ‘sticky’ as the outdated myths you’re competing with, only better informed.
Whatever it is that will put this character in a unique position to succeed — we want to identify it clearly. And, of course, it must be something we can also see or find in ourselves.
We now have our story’s setting.
We have the main forces driving its development, along with a key problem identified.
We’ve sketched out our desired solution, and considered the type of character needed to influence the story in that direction.
Now, pulling it all together, we can formulate a mission statement which draws directly from what we’ve discovered:
“In [this story’s scope], I help [influence the desired change] by [doing what the ideal character would do].”
For our familiar pet example, it might look something like this:
Developing your mission statement is rather like chipping away at marble to reveal the sculpture within. It’s rarely an ‘additive’ process — far more to do with refinement and stripping things back.
Unlike the sculpture, however, our mission is something we must revisit time and time again. Each time as fresh and curious as the first, open to the possibility of pivoting in light of new or better information.
And each time we do, we sharpen our efforts as effective creators — bold enough to influence some change in the story we care about.
For those that go out and try these questions for yourself — I’d love to read in the comments how it goes and what you might learn in the process.