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.
^^ That’s your brand positioning messaging, and a big part of that? Your core values.
Let’s better articulate ~your why~ into words by defining core values, sound good?
You focus a lot on your “branding” on the visuals—logo, color palette, mood board …
… all important, as visuals are the medium that relay up to 90% of messages to our brain.
BUT, do you have a mood board for the WORDS you’re using to market your business?
I work with thousands of creative small business owners. And out of the gate, I notice that most of us haven’t defined this on paper, for many different reasons … but chiefly because we start out as a team of one and it feel like we don’t need to … by the time hiring a VA, a this-and-that manager, a this-and-that strategist starts … we’re too busy doing the work of the freak show (I say that with so much love) that entrepreneurship is, that writing brand messaging & core values is—meh—at the bottom of the lsit.
In this post, I’m unpacking this part of the brand message you need to have in place before you write conversion copy for your website.
- 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!
What are core values?
Like I said above, core values are part of a bigger piece of messaging—your brand positioning.
And when you have core values that align and drive your business (whether it’s just you or a tiny team), things are CLEAR.
But when you don’t?
Well … that’ll become clear, too. 😜
Your core values 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 hire/choose which contractors to outsource to.
You cannot just Harry Potter-wand ~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.”
Another way to say it?
Core values are simply “the way we do things around here.”
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 now your job to catch them … and put them on paper.
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.
For the record, I like memorizeable things. Thus, 5 core values is what *my* opinion is should be your max. <<< Maybe I just suck at memorization (TBH, I kinda do), but if you’re not able to spout them out quickly, woof. That’s the point.
Don’t have more core values than you can memorize.
Atlanta Tech Village’s core values:
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!)
Barnes & Noble Booksellers core values:
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 Steps to Writing Your Own Core Values
Step 01: Start with “why,” as they say.
First, be dedicated to the concept of starting with ~why~ … it’s concept I mentioned early: “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.
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.
Step 02: Have a “values storm” session.
Next, pull out a blank sheet of paper and 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 & answer these questions (psst—if you have a team, make everyone do this separately. You’ll have different answers, but that’s the point):
- What values do you personally cling to? Believe in firmly?
- Why did you decide to go into business—what did you want to change?
- What’s ONE value you want every team hire (or contractor you look to for outsourcing) to share?
- What’s something your business would NEVER do?
- What ticks you the heck off?
- ^^^ And related to that, what’s the deeper meaning behind why that makes you angry?
Didya fill up that blank page?
Side note: If you’ve already served clients and customers for a while, 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. i.e. When you hit bumpy waters serving clients and customers, WHY did that get bumpy? What values were at stake??
“The brand’s values should be so strong and so clear … that behavior on social media that doesn’t 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?
Step 03: Vet other sources.
Ok, we ransacked your brain for values nuggets.
And your team, if you have one.
Now, let’s flesh out your own ideas with supporting evidence that rings true for you.
Here’s how you can do that:
First, look through your Pinterest feed. Are there quotes that hit ya hard stuck on a Pinterest board of quotes? Jot those down.
Next, what about your saved Instagram posts? Your screenshot folder in your iPhone (or wherever you corral memorable quips)?
Third, Gino Wickman recommends naming 3 people you admire & jotting down characteristics they embody.
I freaking love this.
If you have a team, think about 3 members of your team. But if you’re riding solo, think about those you emulate: What leadership traits do your mentors or coaches have? They’re psuedo extended team members, paid or not, and you can use them as a reference point.
Finally, let’s look at personality tests. Beyond Buzzfeed, have you ever had one you were like, FRICK YES, THAT IS SO ME? I definitely have. 😉 So, let’s vet those for ideas: Be it Strengths Finder (my favorite!), Myers-Briggs, or even the Ashlyn Writes “What’s Your Selling Style” quiz (was that shameless enough for you?), if there’s a test that’s been particularly helpful for your personal development, grab your results and see what some of your leadership traits are. Phrases there can make great core values.
Step 04: Sore into buckets, and trim down to as many as you can memorize.
When we’re working with students inside Copywriting for Creatives, the next step I recommend is we sort into buckets. Your core values are SOMEWHERE in this long list you created in steps 1-3.
So, 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.
Which values are similar-ish enough that you can group them together?
Pull the BEST way to say that out as the bucket name (which will likely become the core value).
Then, trim your ideas down to a list you can memorize. There’s no set number … but like I said above, 5 is a good place to park.
Gut check this final list you have: are they clear, bite-size, and easily understood? Memorable? Like, literally, 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
Now you can use your core values to
- Attract the right customers/clients, contractors, & teammates
- Train anyone you’re outsourcing to or hiring
- Review (and or hire/let go) anyone on your team
What is one core value YOU would have in your creative small business? Tell me in the comments below!
Reading Time: 7 Minutes
Core values may be my very favorite part of the branding process! They’re the canvas for all the brand painting you’ll do. But how do you pull them together, and what do they look like? Taking a page from Einstein’s “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough” quote, mine are easy-peasy, and I’d love to teach you five steps to write your own.