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Small Business Tips

How to create your company culture manifesto

Pamela Slim
portrait of smiling surf shop owner and customer holding his surf board

Every day you experience mediocre service. The distracted and lukewarm greeting when you order coffee from a bored barista. The four days you spend waiting for a call back when you leave a message for a pool repair company to fix your broken water pump.  

Poor service is so common that when the opposite happens, you immediately take notice and tell all your friends.

As small business owners, we want to create an outstanding culture that will not only delight customers but also attract employees who can’t wait to come to work.

Why your company culture is important

Your company culture is driven not just by your tagline, but also by:

  • How clearly you define and speak to your ideal customers: Who will feel like your business was made just for them?
  • How you operate your business: What do you want your customers to feel after spending time with you? What is your commitment to them?
  • Your purpose for being in business: Why does your work matter?
  • Your leadership with your employees: How are you continually inspiring them to feel meaning and connection to your business, and their role in it?

What’s a manifesto? Why does your company need one?

A great way to activate this culture is to write a manifesto. A manifesto summarizes, in clear and direct language, the promise of your brand.

One of the most famous examples is the Holstee Manifesto, which inspired a whole line of inspirational posters and articles.

Another example comes from Debbie Reber, of Tilt Parenting, who produces a podcast for parents of differently wired children. Her son is neurologically atypical, and she was tired of the way that most people saw that as a flaw, instead of an asset.  

After taking a class with marketing positioning expert Jonathan Fields, she crafted the Tilt Parenting Manifesto that became the foundation for her successful podcast and ended up landing a book deal for her 2018 book, Differently Wired.

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Different manifestos for different companies

Manifestos can be detailed and multiple pages, like the Tilt Manifesto. Or they can be extremely clear, short, and to the point like home page copy of Pat’s Garage, a San Francisco-based auto repair shop that has won “best auto mechanic” in their local paper for 12 out of the last 13 years. Pat summarizes their approach to auto repair in these few words:

“Located in San Francisco’s burgeoning Dogpatch neighborhood, Pat Cadam and the crew at Pat’s Garage are dedicated to providing the best service and advice you can get for your vehicle. We specialize in Japanese vehicles, including but not limited to Honda, Acura, Toyota, Scion, Lexus, Subaru, Nissan, Infiniti, Mazda, Hyundai, Kia, Fisker Karma, and all Japanese Hybrids and EV’s. We’ve been in business since the invention of the car, and besides cultivating an obsession for the technical aspects of our work, we believe in the power of community, education, and strong coffee.”

The culture of Pat’s Garage is filled with humor, which you can see on their About Us page.

Crafting your own manifesto can be a very powerful exercise to define and communicate your company culture. It’s important if you’re just getting started or have been in business for many years.  

How to create your own manifesto:

1. Zero in on a core problem your business solves. For example, repairing transmissions or helping overworked business owners get simple administrative tasks done quickly.

2. Brainstorm why your approach to solving this problem is different and better than your competitors. What do you do that no one else does? What is your point of view?  

3. Define the characteristics of your ideal client. What do they think, do, and believe?

4. Name the critical elements of how you do business What is your approach to service? How do your operations support that?

5. Craft these elements into a manifesto in a length that works for you and your business. You might want to start with a one-page summary, and then expand your ideas into a lengthier document.

Great service comes from a culture that is created deliberately, articulated clearly, and widely shared. Proudly display your manifesto in your office, on your website, and in your marketing materials. Your customers will thank you!

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