Write a manifesto that excites you about your big business goals—and helps you achieve them

By Brittany Taylor

Write a manifesto that excites you about your big career goals (and helps you achieve them)

Dec. 31, 2015 

I’m so tired of resolutions and goal planning. For me, all that means is writing down what I want and then doing nothing about getting it done. Who has time to waste on that? Not me—and not you, I’m willing to bet. That’s why I’m climbing up on my soapbox, er, kitchen table, and proclaiming that what we really need isn’t another “12 things I want to do this year” list. What we need is a manifesto.

Now isn’t that an exciting idea?


Part One: What is a manifesto?

Part Two: How manifestos add value to small business brands

Part Three: Write your manifesto in 4 steps

Part Four: 3 legitimately easy ways to trick yourself into using your manifesto (and achieving your goals)


What is a manifesto?

It’s an old word, manifesto, with Latin roots meaning both “obvious” and “make public.” In the mid-17th century, it was adopted by the English language, and since then, the intent of the word has hardly changed. Per Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, a manifesto is “a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate.”

Well, we’re neither a political party nor a candidate. What does it have to do with us and our small-but-mighty businesses?

I’ve always thought of it as a document. Why? Because of Avi’s middle grade novel The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. The titular Charlotte was noted on the passenger manifest, a ship log detailing the passengers on board.

Perhaps your first encounter was in a U.S. history class. Does “manifest destiny” ring a bell? The term was coined by a newspaper editor in 1845 to describe the American doctrine of westward expansion, which was justified as being an obvious, intended result of America’s growing global presence. Or maybe your mind jumps right to the most famous manifesto of all, the Communist Manifesto, written in 1848 by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

When we boil each usage down to its most essential pieces, we understand that a manifesto is a public document that explains our beliefs, our goals, and the actions we intend to take to achieve them. A manifesto is one part ideals, one part process.


How manifestos add value to brands

Now that you can recite the definition of “manifesto” ala Oxford and offer an overview of the word’s use in modern history, let’s talk about why we’re really here. The big question: What does a manifesto have to do with your small business?

Many principles, from scientific to woo-woo, theorize, in basic terms, that you get back what you put into the world. Research executed by Michael Scheier in 1985 found that positive thinking can, in fact, cause positive mental and physical changes. Karma, a tenet of Buddhism, is an idea of growth, seeded by actions into recognizable results. Abraham-Hicks, the source of the Law of Attraction movement, instructs that you only get what you ask for, and that like begets like. All of these ideas require you to manifest your beliefs, your goals, and your actions.

But there’s more to the power of the manifesto than philosophy. Here are three ways writing your own manifesto adds value to your small business:

#1. Provides motivation

To-do lists are turn-offs for business owners in the same way that reading lists are turn-offs for bookworms. When you put a hold on a library book, you’re practically knocking down the library door to get at it. But when the librarian sets it in your hands and says you’ve gotta come back and tell her what you think of it, that book is suddenly the very last one you want to read before you go to bed. The same holds true for to-do lists. You might love designing graphics, but when it’s time to craft social media collateral, it feels like a chore, one that ranks somewhere between scrubbing the shower and excavating your closet floor.

Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the passion we once held for an idea or an activity so that we can jump back on the “I can’t wait to execute this!” bandwagon. Manifestos do that. They’re full of rallying words and encouraging cries, and since you’re writing this one, you know just the phrases you’ll need on down days to get yourself perked up and ready to get back to work.

#2. Adds clarity

The internet is awesome. But it also makes everything a little too easy, which in turn makes it a little too easy to stick your fingers into all the things, all at once. You can reach everyone! You can use every social media platform! You can create all the graphics! You can write about every single topic that pops into your brain! It’s so exciting and big and full of big, exciting possibilities!

Except all of those big, exciting possibilities are exhausting. I know, I’ve tried them—and I bet you have, too. As they say, you live and learn. But when you slip back into magpie mode, it helps to have a reference that can tell you what’s relevant for your business and what’s not.

#3. Guides decision making

The snowball effect isn’t just for white lies and piles of laundry. I’ve found that once I get going in a certain direction, successful or not, I keep speeding ahead without checking to see if I’m still on the track I set for myself at the beginning of the year. Months later, I pop my head up out of my work load and realize that I’m not anywhere close to where I wanted to be. Sometimes, that’s OK, and sometimes, it’s not.

Manifestos are tools that can help you gauge your progress and point you back to your intended path. Try including temperature-check questions in yours that you can use to quickly ascertain if a client, project, partnership, or strategy is in line with your interests.


Write your manifesto in 4 steps

If you’re still reading, chances are you’re digging this concept. And you should be, because the whole idea of writing your manifesto A. sounds pretty badass (I mean, do your friends have their own manifestos? I didn’t think so.) and B. is all about the passions that drive you and your business. Before we get down to The Business Of It All, though, I want you to keep one thing in mind: A manifesto is a living document. What that means is that it’s open to change. It’s not etched in stone on the side of a monument to your constancy. So, give yourself permission to write what’s inside you and your business today, and to revise it when that changes in the future.

Step 1. Brain dump

Your mission right now is this: Scribble down all the bits floating around your brain right now that have anything to do with the professional you, your philosophies, and your business. Doodle. Mindmap. Record a monologue. Just get it all out in the most productive way possible.

Questions to ask:

  • Who do I want to help?
  • What problems do I help people or businesses solve?
  • What sort of people or businesses do I not want to interact with?
  • What are my values?
  • What words do I want my business to be associated with?
  • What sorts of people or businesses do I want to be compared to 5 years from now?

Step 2. Highlight the biggies

Next, grab a highlighter, a magic marker, a crayon—anything different from what you used in Step 1, above—and circle the items that are most important to you and most essential to your business.

Questions to ask:

  • If nothing else mattered, would this be my first priority?
  • Would this embarrass me if I told X (e.g. grandma, mentor, industry leader) about it in the future?
  • Would I put this in my portfolio?
  • What kind of work do I always dread doing?
  • What kind of work excites me when I get the chance to do it?
  • What areas, subjects, people, or industries do I want to learn more about and possibly expand into?

Step 3. Outline your thoughts

Now that you’ve highlighted your biggest ideas, it’s time to formalize them into a more coherent document. Feel free to skip this step and write it all down free-form, but if structure suits your thought process, channel your best middle school English teacher and think A., B., C., 1., 2., 3.

Topics to consider:

  • Ethics. How do you conduct business?
  • Customer service. What qualities do you want your customers to associate with your business experience?
  • Clients. What sorts of people and businesses do you serve?
  • Projects. What makes a project your kind of project?
  • Quality. What sets you apart from the crowd?
  • Pricing. Where does the value in your product or service come from?

Step 4. Fill in the missing pieces

Let’s put it all together! Don’t feel pressured to make this a tedious, formal document. Keep it short! Buffer’s manifesto is only 500 words. To maximize the inspiration factor, write the way you speak.

Do your best to:

  • Replace jargon with meaning. Simple words, big ideas.
  • Clarify. Don’t choose vague words because they’re the first ones that come to mind.
  • Note sources of inspiration. Consider your favorite brands and the principles that make them stand out as models of good business.
  • Write concisely. A long document is one you won’t read through again.


Ensure that you actually use your manifesto with these five-minute systems

Resolutions are made with good intentions. Still, 92 percent of them fail every year. Manifestos are no different—they’re something we have to intentionally create, and then check in with routinely to maintain. Don’t rely on your brain (or those good intentions) for follow-through. Try these instead:

For motivation, blow it up. Condense a long manifesto into a few phrases or bullet points, then write them out on a poster board and tack to the wall. Dress it up in a frame, scribble it on Post-It notes, embroider it on a pillow—whatever works to keep it in sight in a space you work in regularly or see before you start your work day.

For clarity, make your phone do the work. Add a five-minute standing appointment with you, yourself, and your manifesto every single week. Set it to recur and forget those niggling “I need to do that tomorrow” notes-to-self.

For guidance, go with the flow. The process flow, that is. Create a check-list within your preexisting lead qualification or project evaluation work flow that will take you through the backbone principles of your manifesto. If the prospect meets your standards, full steam ahead! 

Ready to build a soapbox of your own? Go to it!