How to set your core business values

How to set your core business values

Core values define what you believe in, the actions and behavior you expect from yourself, your vision for the future, the promises you make to yourself, and the promises you make to your clients.

It is important for every successful business, big or small, to establish a set of core values. Those core values will then act as the guiding principles for all the decisions and actions they make throughout their business existence.

As freelancers, we are business owners, we run our own business. And as such – we as well need to establish the leading principles that will act as our guidelines for the actions we take and decisions we make.

Your values will define your identity.

For the long term, your core values will define the identity and soul of your business, and they will act as a threshold for deciding whether to perform certain actions or make certain decisions.

For example, if your core values define creating products that are easy to use – any product that doesn't meet that standard should be either dismissed or simplified before launch.

If your core values state “saying no to thousands of projects so that you can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to you” (apple) – that means you will be very selective in the projects you choose to work on.

Why do clients work with you?

Thousands of freelancer can do the same work you do, and many of them can even do a better job than you can.

But yet, the clients you work for chose you to work on their project. Why is that? Why did they choose you?

On the most basic level, people do business with you because they believe you are the best fit for their job, and that you will be able to perform their task in the best possible way.

But if we take things a step further and think about the psychological and emotional aspect behind why a client chooses to work with you, we might conclude that a client chooses you because of the values you portray.

How come?

Well, even though our values might not be visible during our very first interaction with the client, after working together on a couple of projects, the values we believe in will be shown by our actions, personality, and interactions.

Here are two examples:

I have clients who repeatedly hire me for their video projects.

Why is that?

  1. Because our first experience of working together was positive, and they were happy with the end product.

  2. Because we got to know each other, and they trust that I stand behind my word and values.

To be more specific, if a past client of mine has a time sensitive project, and he’s searching for a freelancer to work on the job, there’s a high chance that he’ll get in touch with me for the job.

Why? Because based on our previous interactions, he knows that I believe in never missing a deadline, and never making a promise I can't keep. (Which happen to be two of my core values.)

So if I say I can complete his task by X date, he trusts me.

Get it?

People hire you because of the value you provide, and the values you portray throughout your work.

People buy Tesla cars not only because they think Tesla cars look great (which is true), but also because they believe in the same values Tesla stands for – creating a better environment by accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.


Definition of Core Values

Core values are the fundamental beliefs of a person or organization.

The core values are the guiding principles that dictate behavior and action. Core values can help people to know what is right from wrong; they can help companies to determine if they are on the right path and fulfilling their business goals; and they create an unwavering and unchanging guide.” –YourDictionary

In this post I hope to help you understand the importance of establishing your core values, and I’ll share examples so you get a better sense of how to define yours.

Establishing core values [exercise]

Before I share my own business values, here’s an exercise for you (do this before reading the next paragraph):

  1. Grab a pen and paper.

  2. List a few tech giants you admire (in this post we’ll focus on Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, and Dropbox, so choose at least two of those).

  3. Write down what you think their core values are.

Name a few tech giants. Write down what you think their core values are.

Done? Great.

Now, compare what you wrote with the actual values below.

Core values of 5 tech giants

When we think about the tech giants that made an undeniable impact on society, we tend to forget that they too started out as small startups.

And just like any other successful business, they as well developed a set of core values over the course of their existence – usually near to the beginning.

The businesses I mention below are a few of the most notable and successful companies in the world, and as such there's a lot we can learn from the way they defined their core values.

1. Google Core Values

Side note – if you don’t know this already, I’m a huge Google enthusiast. As I mention on my home page, Google is my #1 source of inspiration when it comes to product design, attitude, and innovation. Be sure to check out my extensive series of 21 Google tips & tricks.

  1. Focus on the user and all else will follow.

  2. It’s best to do one thing really, really well.

  3. Fast is better than slow.

  4. Democracy on the web works.

  5. You don’t need to be at your desk to need an answer.

  6. You can make money without doing evil.

  7. There’s always more information out there.

  8. The need for information crosses all borders.

  9. You can be serious without a suit.

  10. Great just isn’t good enough.

Google Core Values

Read more about Google’s core values here.

2. Apple Core Values

According to my research, Apple hasn’t officially published their core values on the web. But I did find quotes from Steve Jobs and their current CEO, Tim Cooks, that talk about their mission statement and business principles.

  1. We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.

  2. We believe in the simple, not the complex.

  3. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.

  4. We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.

  5. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.

  6. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot.

  7. We don’t settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we're wrong and the courage to change.

Apple Core Values by Tim Cook (1)

Read more about Apple’s core values here.

And here’s an inspiring video by Steve jobs on his core values (watch from second 0:55 to the end):

YouTube player

3. Amazon Core Values

Some of Amazon’s core values are a bit hard to understand by the titles alone so I added a short summary to each statement.

  1. Customer Obsession – Start with the customer and work backwards, work vigorously to earn and keep customer trust.

  2. Invent and Simplify – Require innovation and invention from your teams and always find ways to simplify.

  3. Are Right, A Lot – Leaders are right a lot. They have strong judgment and good instincts.

  4. Learn and Be Curious – Never stop learning and always seek to improve yourself. Be curious about new possibilities and act to explore them.

  5. Insist on the Highest Standards – Continually raise the bar and drive your teams to deliver high quality products, services, and processes.

  6. Think Big – Create and communicate a bold direction that inspires results. Think differently and look around corners for ways to serve customers.

  7. Bias for Action – Speed matters in business.

  8. Frugality – Accomplish more with less.

  9. Deliver Results – Focus on the key inputs for your business and deliver them with the right quality and in a timely fashion.

About Amazon Core principals

Read more about Amazon’s core values here.

4. Microsoft Core Values

I gathered these principles from various pages, as I couldn’t find one central location with core values.

  1. Innovation

  2. Diversity and inclusion

  3. Corporate social responsibility

  4. Growth mindset

  5. One Microsoft

  6. Philanthropies

  7. Customer obsessed

  8. Environment

  9. Making a difference

  10. Innovative accessibility solutions

  11. Trustworthy computing

Microsoft Core Values

Read more about a few of Microsoft’s core values here.

5. Dropbox Core Values

While I don’t think we can fully consider Dropbox as a tech giant (yet), millions of people rely on their services every day, so I was interested in seeing how they defined their core values.

  1. We create products that are easy to use and are built on trust.

  2. When people put their files in Dropbox, they can trust they’re secure and their data is their own.

  3. Our users’ privacy has always been our first priority, and it always will be.

Dropbox Core Values

Read more about Dropbox core values here.

My Freelance Core Values

Even though I’ve had a clear sense of what my values are ever since starting my freelance business back in 2009, it wasn’t until I transitioned to full-time freelancing in 2012 when I took things more seriously and established an actual list of my core values.

I attribute a major part of my business success to the values I believe in, and the fact that I always try to do my best to portray those values in my work and client interactions.

Here are my core values:

  1. Work hard.

  2. Smile, be positive.

  3. Always do my best.

  4. Keep things organized.

  5. Never make a promise I can't keep.

  6. Go above and beyond for my clients.

  7. Always be on time. Never miss a deadline.

  8. Don't take on a project that isn’t a good fit.

  9. I’m successful when my client is successful.

  10. I don't know it all. I'm at school every day. Keep learning.

I have this list up on my wall.

What Are Your Core Values?

I hope that this post helped you understand the importance of having core values.

If you haven’t yet established your own values, realize that it’s a process that requires time and self-examination.

Your core values aren’t just a random list of things that sound good, but rather a list of things that you truly believe in and portray in your business.

Establishing your core values is a process that takes time. But if you’ve been freelancing for a while, or even just getting started, I encourage you to dedicate a few hours of your time to define your core business values.

Establishing core values is an essential part in the process of building the strong foundation that will help grow your business the right way.

Questions that can help you define your freelancing core values:

  • What do you stand for?

  • What do you promise yourself?

  • What are your fundamental beliefs?

  • What guarantees do you give your clients?

  • What actions and behaviors do you expect from yourself?

Often, the values that define your business will correlate directly with your core values in life. I know that’s true for me.

Key takeaways:

  1. Core values define your fundamental business beliefs and have a direct impact on the actions and decisions you make in your business.

  2. Clients will hire you because of the value you provide and the values you portray.

  3. Every business has core values, and since freelancers are businesses owners, it's important that we also define our core values.

  4. Dedicate time to examine what your own core values are. It is an essential part of setting the foundation for growing your business the right way.


Weekly Google tip:

There are at least 8 hidden features in Google translate that you probably don't know about.

For example, did you know you can translate entire documents with Google translate?

Translate a document with Google Translate

Check out the full list of hidden Google translate features.