If you’ve ever been an employee, you know how company culture can affect everything from how quickly things get done to how happy you are to go into work each morning.
It also affects the customer experience. Companies with an appealing culture tend to do better over time than those with cultural problems.
So, what does this have to do with you as an individual freelancer?
It might surprise you, but the answer is: Everything.
Just because you run your own business and have no employees… you still have a company culture, whether you realize it or not. And, it’s directly impacting many aspects of your business, from how focused you are during the day… to how you feel about your clients… to how they feel about you. In other words, it’s affecting everything.
Which means you don’t want to leave your company culture to chance.
The culture of your business stems from your beliefs and your values… and how you put those things into action.
Beliefs, Values, and Culture
The beliefs you hold about your business influence how satisfied you are with what you’re doing. They also have a major impact on how your customers feel about their experience with you.
So, what do I mean by beliefs? Well, beliefs can be big or small. You might believe prompt follow-up is essential to running a healthy business. Another possible belief is that the work you do is important and helps make your clients’ customers happier and more fulfilled. You might believe it’s good to have minimal environmental impact or to donate 10 percent of your profits to charity.
Those are all potentially positive beliefs. But, beliefs can be negative, too.
You might believe your work will never deliver the results you’re hoping for… or that you’re not impressive enough to land the clients you really want.
Beliefs are things you hold true without even thinking about them. Maybe without even realizing it.
Your values are the things you aspire to and are willing to make sacrifices for. You may value honesty and direct communication. You may value a sense of fun in the workplace. You may value ingenuity or hard work or flexibility.
Both your beliefs and values establish your company culture. And that culture — even in your company of one — influences your interactions with your clients. It influences your attitude about the work you do. It influences your focus, your commitment, your level of fun, the kinds of clients you accept, how you treat your clients, how you allow them to treat you… and on and on.
Obviously, it’s worthwhile to take an active role in creating the culture you want your business to have.
So, how do you do that?
Nurturing a Culture That Let’s Your Business Thrive
There’s been a lot of research put into learning about company culture and how to establish a cohesive, positive environment that brings out the best in employees (in this case, yourself) and that gives clients or customers the best possible experience.
A number of critical components affect your company culture. Knowing the most important ones gives you a way to start directing and shaping your culture into what you want it to be — something that excites and motivates you and delights your clients.
To start taking control of your company culture, begin with the four most important elements.
Develop a Powerful Mission Statement
Craft a mission statement that expresses what you want to be to customers and the change you want to help bring in the world… or at least for your clients.
The best mission statements are inspiring, succinct, and even a little lofty.
Your mission statement will provide guidance in all the decisions you make:
“Will this marketing strategy help to achieve my mission?”
“Will working with this client help fulfill my mission?”
“Is this blog post in alignment with my mission?”
If the answer is yes, proceed. If it’s no, then you should rethink.
Here are a few examples of great mission statements to get your thoughts flowing:
JetBlue: “To inspire humanity — both in the air and on the ground.”
Life is Good: “To spread the power of optimism.”
Kickstarter: “To help bring creative projects to life.”
Part of the aim of your mission statement is to get you inspired about your business, to help you fall in love with what you do. Hubspot’s Simon Sinek says it better: “Customers will never love a company until the employees love it first.”
As your company’s sole employee, you need to be passionately in love with your business, if you want to build something lasting. And, if you want your clients to love working with you, you have to love what you do. Your mission statement can help you keep sight of that.
Define What Your Beliefs and Values Look Like in Action
Having a strong set of values to guide your decisions is important. But, even more important is defining what those values look like in action.
If you value doing your best work for every client, how do you make sure that comes about?
If you value responsive follow-up, what does that actually mean in practice?
If you value owning your mistakes, how do you apply that value in your business?
After you write out your mission statement, write out your top 10 beliefs and values. For beliefs, focus on being positive be willing to embrace new ones.
Next, consider what you’ve written and how you would put each one into action.
If you believe community service is important for a business to participate in, for example, then you would next define how many hours of community service you plan to do a month and which organizations you want to work with.
If you value quick response times, then your next step is to determine how you’ll ensure you’re responding quickly to client communications. You might set a goal of responding to all email messages within a certain timeframe, for example.
Put Your Story Into Words
Every business has defining moments.
Your writing business certainly does. Moments when you realize exactly what you want to be doing… or how you can make a difference… or what sets you apart… or when you need to change direction and why.
Write out your defining moments and then build them into a story that will keep you aligned to your beliefs and values and give you a deeper connection with your clients.
This story will help inform your company culture by laying out how you’ve come to be where you are and how you intend to get where you want to go.
Be Selective About Your Colleagues
This is the hardest one. Cultures are influenced by all their participants. That means if you take on clients who don’t share your values, who have an attitude that runs counter to your own, or who will negatively impact the culture you’re actively nurturing, it will be a setback.
You have to be choosy about who you work with. Not only will that make the individual projects you work on more enjoyable and fulfilling… it will also influence how you feel about your business. And that will spill over — in a good way — and lead to more referrals from your happy clients and more success for you over time.
If you haven’t considered the question of culture for your web-writing business, I urge you to give it some thought. Putting a conscious and careful effort into creating a culture you love will lead to a business that’s satisfying and rewarding financially… and in so many other ways, as well.