How to write a meaningful manifesto for your business

Sharon Tanton

A manifesto is shorthand for ‘good business and content marketing practice.’ It says ‘this is a business with meaning; these people get it.’ Here’s how to write a meaningful manifesto that sets your business apart.

holstee manifesto

What does your business stand for? Would a manifesto help you tell your story? Here’s how to write a meaningful manifesto for your business.

What do we mean by ‘manifesto’?

Firstly, a manifesto documents what your business believes. Because it shines a light on your perspective, a manifesto can be a crucial differentiator for your business. It’s also the basis for some great content for your customers.

The dictionary defines a manifesto as ‘a public declaration of intent, policy, aims, etc.’ At Valuable Content we use the term to describe the beliefs a business holds, and an articulation of how these beliefs shape your approach.

These days we look for manifestos on websites we’re reviewing, and we create them for our clients. For us, a good manifesto is shorthand for ‘good business and content marketing practice.’ A good one makes us think ‘this is a business with meaning; these people get it.’

The best manifestos are written with customers in mind. But they’re more than just a promise to your customers, or a description of what you do for them.

Great manifestos think big. They document the change you want to bring to the world.

Here’s the manifesto Tim Cook created for Apple to show you what we mean.

Apple manifesto

“Great manifestos think big. They document the change you want to bring to the world.”

Why creating a manifesto helps you

The process of creating your manifesto is a very worthwhile exercise in itself; clarifying your thinking, and giving you confidence.  It will help you reconnect with the story of why you do what you do, throwing up heaps of useful content ideas along the way. The finished manifesto is a high value piece of marketing collateral, and, if you feel like investing in design, a lovely poster for your wall that frames your mission. And you don’t have to be Apple to create one.

Starting points for your manifesto

So, if you’d like to write your manifesto, here are a couple of exercises from our Pub School to help you get started and some pointers to keep you on the right track.

Manifesto writing exercise 1: The Rant

Firstly and most importantly, you have to have a clear perspective to write a manifesto. One way to help pinpoint that perspective is to rant. Let everything you don’t like about your world pour out onto a page. Use what you uncover to highlight what you do believe, and what your business is trying to change.

We promise you it’s cathartic, and fun, and will inspire content that helps shape your perspective. So, clear the decks, take a deep breath, and answer these 5 questions:

  1. When it comes to your industry what really winds you up?
  2. What do you rile against?
  3. What does everyone else get wrong?
  4. What could be so much better if people only DID SOMETHING about it?
  5. If you were King or Queen of your industry what would STOP happening RIGHT NOW!!!

Make a list. Write it all down. And relax.

Flip the rant

Turn the negatives into positives. For example, a business coach who specialises in helping small businesses might rant,

“I hate the way small businesses are treated like second class citizens in the business world. There’s just not enough of the right support out there, and their contribution to the UK economy is seriously underplayed.”

To flip that into a positive you could write:

“Small business is the lifeblood of the UK economy, and it deserves the very best support.”

NB: Outward not inward-looking

The points on a manifesto are broad, outward looking statements that paint a picture of the change you’re working to make. So ‘I treat small businesses better than anyone else,’ is too inward looking for a manifesto. (It might be accurate, but it’s all about you, not your customers.)

Manifesto writing exercise 2: Customer Research

Another point to bear in mind is that like so much good content creation, manifestos work best when they’re grounded in real customer research.

  • What matters to your customers?
  • How does your approach make things better for them?

This can help you get the tone of voice right for your manifesto, as well as giving you an indication of the strongest points to include. Name and embrace their challenges, and paint a picture of a world where you’ve slayed the dragon for them.

A small business manifesto that works

See Andrea Howe’s wonderful manifesto for The Get Real Project, which is deeply rooted in her customers’ world. People come to her to learn how to develop stronger client relationships, and her manifesto is a summary of the approach she teaches. She believes great relationships are rooted in listening, honesty and vulnerability. Her manifesto paints a picture of a world where you can be yourself, stop pushing to sell, make mistakes, and thrive. How refreshing is that?

Get Real Manifesto

How long should my manifesto be?

There are no hard and fast rules here. Long enough to have weight. Short enough to fit on one sheet of A4 paper with room to breathe. Short enough make a really good looking poster or page on your website.

How many points does a manifesto need?

Again, no tight rules, it’s up to you. Probably between 6 and 10 points, but you’ll find great examples of shorter and longer ones so don’t feel constrained.

Desynit Manifesto

Desynit’s business manifesto

What format should I write it in?

We favour writing manifestos like this:

  1. Key point. Supporting sentence. (Supporting sentence 2 if you need it.)
  2. Key point. Supporting sentence. (Supporting sentence 2 if you need it.)

Mouldable glue firm Sugru’s fantastic Fixer’s Manifesto follows this format:

Fixer's Manifesto from Sugru

But we sometimes break our own rules. Desynit has a supporting paragraph for each of their 7 points. And we just have the headlines on the Valuable Content manifesto.

Valuable content manifesto

If you’ve written a manifesto and want to check whether it’s on the right lines, try these tests.

The ‘is there a blog in it?’ test

Whether you write no supporting statements, or lengthy paragraphs to accompany each point, they should feel meaty enough to fuel at least one good blog post, and probably more. Since the points on your manifesto outline your fundamental beliefs, you should have a lot to say about them. Consequently, if you don’t feel that strongly about a point, don’t include it. Only the strongest, richest points make it onto a manifesto!

The ‘we believe’ test

Manifestos are about belief. Another good test of whether a statement fits on a manifesto is if you can put ‘I/we believe’ at the start of it, and it still feels right. So ‘we believe small business is the lifeblood of the UK economy, and it deserves the very best support’ works. In contrast, ‘I believe I treat small businesses better than anyone else’ sounds wrong.

And of course one of the best tests of all is to ask your customers if it speaks to them. Because if it feels irrelevant or selly to them, then it’s time to go back to the drawing board.

Finally, your manifesto should inspire you to do your very best work. If your customers like it, and you love it enough to want it to see it above your desk every day, you’re almost certainly onto a winner.

Manifesto posts you might enjoy:

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