One of the two most important things in any organization – small business or otherwise – is a Vision. The more technically minded among us will deride this as the classic "mission statement fluff" which we've all grown to know, mock, and hate, but that's not what I mean at all. I mean something much more tangible, visceral, and powerful.
According to Wikipedia, a Vision Statement is quite similar to a Mission Statement but instead focused on the future:
A Vision statement: outlines what a company wants to be. It concentrates on future; it is a source of inspiration; it provides clear decision-making criteria.
But I would describe it as something more and definitely beyond just a company. A product, a charity, a country and even a baseball team should have a Vision.
The inspirational part is what strikes me the most. It's easy to be happy and motivated when the cash is rolling in, when you're meeting your goals, and when people applaud your effort and successes. When things are down, it's completely different. A Vision serves as a driving force to bind everyone together and point them towards the same goal. It is the thing that keeps you going when the bank account approaches zero, when you're down on sleep, when you're out of coffee, and you've been handed a stunning loss. More importantly, it's the thing that brings others to you and motivates them as well. It's the little something that will cause someone to make the best decision they can, to try a little harder… and in some cases, give their lives in the line of duty.
Some people will say they've started their company "to make money" or "to be my own boss". Both of which are great goals and benefits of the process but you'll quickly find out that both are irrelevant and kind of silly once you stop to think about it. If you have customers – or contributors- you aren't always your own boss. If you're making money, you need to figure out how you'll make money tomorrow or the next day. If you don't have customers and money, you don't have a business… so you still need something more…
There will always be people around you who either a) disagree with your Vision or b) don't have Vision. The first group of people can serve the purpose of keeping you grounded, providing feedback and refinement, and generally helping you get better. Value these people and hold them close. They are and will be some of the most important and special people you will ever meet. The second group should be avoided at all costs. The most dangerous aspect is that many in the second group will initially appear to be of the first. They'll seem to ask the hard questions out of concern or "helpfulness" but they will never see the value in or understand your Vision.
If you are just starting your organization or transforming an existing organization, surround yourself with people who share your Vision or can help make your Vision better. Those who don't have a Vision will slow you down, pull you down, and generally kill your odds of success. They're not worth your time… you have things to do.