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October 8, 2018

Honing in on Your Why: How to Write Core Values for Your Business in 5 Steps

Reading time: 5 min.

All the words to describe your “why” that can’t just live tucked on a shelf somewhere in your brain—they need to go on paper, as part of the “mood board” for your words, as I call it: your brand positioning and a big part of that is your core values.

Let’s better articulate your why into words by defining core values, sound good?

How to Write Core Values for your Business - copywriting tips from Ashlyn Carter of Ashlyn Writes creative entrepreneur business tips

So, I have a question. You focus a lot on your “branding” when it comes to your logo, your color palette, your mood board … but do you have a mood board for the words you’re using to market your business?

I work with a TON of creative small businesses, and I see that most of us haven’t defined this on paper—usually because we’re a team of one and feel like we don’t need to … or because we started bringing on team members and got so busy doing that.

NO JUDGEMENT—give me a “that’s me!” in the comments below if you’ve never focused on that before,

Today, we’ll be unpacking this part of the brand message you need to have in place before you write a website that converts.

You’ll learn:

  • What exactly the whole “brand positioning” thing IS
  • 6 examples of core values from other businesses
  • 5 steps to writing your own core values
  • 7 things to make sure your core values are *not*

 

As you inch closer to writing your own website words, you may need today’s freebie to help you out a bit. Click below to grab your Google Docs Website Copywriting mini-template!

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VIDEO


What are core values?

Your core values are part of a bigger piece of messaging—your brand positioning.

Core values may be my very favorite part of the branding process!

These are a small set of timeless guiding principles you’ll use to be the north star as you grow, make decisions, build a culture (even if you’re just a solopreneur) and even hire.

BUT.

You cannot just conjure your core values—you can only discover the ones that are already there.

In Traction, Gino Wickman says “core values already exist within your organization—they’ve just been lost in the day to day chaos.”

“Core Values already exist within your organization-they've just been lost in the day to day chaos.” -Gino Wickman Click To Tweet

To pull another quote, Jim Collins says “Executives often ask me, ‘How do we get people to share our core values?’ You don’t. Instead, the task is to find people who are already predisposed to sharing your core values. You must attract and then retain these people and let those who aren’t predisposed to sharing your core values go elsewhere.”

So that’s a relief, yeah? You already have them floating around! It’s just our job to catch them.


Examples of Core Values

I pulled a round-up from some other businesses to give you a start of how your core values may look:

Atlanta Tech Village’s core values:

 Atlanta Tech Village

Jackson Spalding’s core values (note: this is the full-service communications firm I worked for and adored—we each had a framed copy of the values on our desk, which I LOVED!)

Jackson Spalding

Barnes & Noble Booksellers core values:

Customer Service
Quality
Empathy
Respect
Integrity
Responsibility
Teamwork

American Express’s core values:

Basecamp’s core values:

Whole Food’s core values:

Selling the highest quality natural and organic products available
Satisfying and delighting our customers
Supporting team member excellence and happiness
Creating wealth through profits and growth
Caring about our communities and our environment
Creating ongoing win-win partnerships with our suppliers
Promoting the health of our stakeholders through healthy eating education


4 Secrets to Writing Your Own Core Values

Secret 1: Start with “why,” as they say.

First, be dedicated to the concept of starting with “why.” “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

Watch Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why” TEDTalk. I know it’s in the creativepreneur starter kit, but watch it once again.

Seth Godin stories and magic

Just like we said at the beginning, the important thing to realize is that YOUR CORE VALUES ARE ALREADY THERE, we just have to name them.


Secret 2: Have a “values storm” session.

Another secret to help you draft your core values is to have a “values storm” brainstorm session so to speak. Set a timer for 5 minutes, and pull out a piece of paper. Until the timer dings, WRITE.

What values do you personally cling to? What do you hold dear, and believe firmly? Why did you decide to go into business? What is it about what you believe that is the WHY to what you do? What’s ONE value you want every team hire to share? What’s something your business would NEVER do?

When you start to think about how to write core values for your business, it may be helpful to first think about what comes out MOST boldly during dire straights or sticky client situations: “The brand’s values should be so strong and so clear … that behavior on social media that does not reflect the brand would be completely out of character,” one of my favorite digital media experts Kevin Sandlin says.

So, what are the guns you stick to?


Secret 3: Have a “values storm” session.

Another secret to finding your core values is to flesh out your own ideas with supporting evidence you’ve liked. Look through your Pinterest feed. Are there quotes that hit ya hard stuck on a Pinterest board of quotes? Jot those down.

AshlynWrites_PinterestGIF

Gino Wickman recommends naming 3 people—preferrably inside your organization—and jotting down characteristics they embody. I love that exercise, but I know first hand it can be tough to do if you’re a team of one. What leadership traits do your mentors or coaches have? They’re kind of extended team members.

Traction_Giphy

Is there a personality test, like Enneagram, Strengths Finder (my favorite!), or Myers-Briggs that’s been particularly helpful for your personal development? Grab your results and see what some of your leadership traits are.


Secret 4: Only have as many as you can memorize.

The fourth and final secret? Trim your ideas down to a list you can memorize. There’s no set number … but I tell my clients around 4-6 is a good place to park. Your core values are somewhere in that long list. When my team and I are doing this for clients, we start to piece bits and pieces together. String phrases into words. Combine things that are alike. Strike through stuff that’s good, but not great. Start to trim the list down.

Are they clear, bite-size, and easily understood? Memorable? Can you memorize them (if not, rework them)? Sleep on this initial draft for a week or so, tweak, and put them on a sticky note near your laptop. Something may come up you’ve forgotten, or a certain work situation will remind you of a value so deep down in your being you forgot to list it.

Taking a page from Einstein’s “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” quote, mine are fairly close to how I operate with personal core values—that may be helpful too, if you’re a creative entrepreneur.


Finally, remember this: if your values only live on paper, it’s just an out-of-touch wish list.

“Executives spend too much time drafting, wordsmithing, and redrafting vision statements, mission statements, values statements, purpose statements, aspiration statements, and so on.

They spend nowhere near enough time trying to align their organizations with the values and visions already in place.”

– Jim Collins

What is one core value YOU would have in your creative small business? Tell me in the comments below!

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Hey, y'all! I'm Ashlyn.

Freshly sharpened pencil bouquet ready, I'm here to make sure you stand out as a copywriter and calligraphy. I help women like you steward your story well, so you can work from a place of rest—not hustle.

free mentoring? yes, pls.

4

comments

  1. Faith

    October 9th, 2018 at 9:14 am

    This was really helpful to me! I knew – pretty much – what mine were in my head, but I’ve never properly written them down. Authenticity is definitely up there. I know it’s a word that gets thrown around a lot, but genuinely, I have no time at all for surface-level, performance-driven talk or behaviour. After that, I’m playing with the words Innovation, warmth/hospitality, and contagious enthusiasm (a phrase I gleaned from my ENFP personality type description). 😉

  2. Ashlyn Carter

    October 9th, 2018 at 9:14 pm

    Hey Faith! Thanks for your sweet comment. We love all these values you shared — and personality type descriptions are a GREAT place to source values language. We’re so glad you found the post helpful! xo. Team AW

  3. Bärbel Dressler

    October 9th, 2018 at 8:55 pm

    Ha, this wasn’t as easy as I first thought when reading this inspiring post. When I started to put my WHY’s on paper it was something else… But if I have to pick just one thing, just one core value for my small pattern design business, it could be something about REBELLION; against the impossibilities of “you can’t do this”, “the competition is too hard”. It could also be “rebelling” against conformity, boring and dull. And I think it is a read thread in my story, my patterns and how I act. I really hope so, and that it’s not just an out-of-touch wish 😀
    /xo Bärbel Dressler

  4. Ashlyn Carter

    October 9th, 2018 at 9:15 pm

    Hey Bärbel! Wow, this is such an incredibly unique approach, we LOVE it! Thanks for sharing with us! Go get ’em. xo. Team AW

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