Tag: small business management

What’s the Big Idea – Part 1

the three stooges

Whatsthe big idea? The question is both a challenge and one that demands an answer.

Want to know the fastest way from zero to awesome in your business? The journey begins, not with reading every new management book, not with passion and devotion to your work, and not with hiring all the right people, though those things are all great in themselves. Awesome begins with the power of an idea. Ideas have the power to connect people, and change the world.

So whats the big idea in your company? Your Big Idea tells the story of how you will make the world a better place. If your company does not have a strong, guiding-light idea such as this, where could you find one?

Brainstorming your Big Idea requires piercing insight into your customer’s world. It requires deep empathy for the problems they face on a daily basis. It requires a deep understanding of the things they need and want most. The better you can identify and understand these needs and wants, the better you will serve them, and the more your customer will see you as the hero rushing in to bop, wham, and otherwise smash the problem into oblivion, while they stand there and watch, mouth agape. 

Successful businesses know that every effort the company makes must serve The Big Idea.

Once a small business is on a roll, it is all too easy, even for the most successful businesses, to get distracted and focus on anything but The Big Idea. That is where marketing comes in:

Too many ideas plague the true entrepreneur. Sometimes these extraneous ideas have good potential. Even if closely related to The Big Idea, they are rabbit trails nonetheless.  It can become a big shiny distraction, making it hard to get back to work on The Big Idea. It is marketing’s job to cage the rabbit, and hold that extraneous idea till later, when you have time to let it out to hop around a bit. 

Investors get distracted with getting the product to market and meeting the ROI within the defined time frame. It always takes longer and costs more. They must get the cash flowing, and sooner is more acceptable than later. So they push everyone along, sometimes at the expense of The Big Idea. We are not talking about achieving perfection here. We are talking about creating a product with the Occam’s razor principle, as simple as possible, yet no simpler, to meet the customer’s needs and give them something to talk about. It is marketing’s job to ensure the product meets the objectives of The Big Idea.

R&D loves to solve problems. They can get distracted solving problems. They may not stop to ask if solving the problem serves the Big Idea or not. Solving the problem may become the disease of perfectionism. After production spins into high gear, there are more problems still, and management jumps in, distracted by putting out fires. While everyone is so busy zigging, no one notices that the customer has zagged. It is marketing’s job to harness all efforts in service of The Big Idea, and keep their eye on solving the customer’s problems.

It is Marketing’s job to redeem all the distractions. That is just one reason I believe marketing is your most important system. Marketing ensures the product is optimally created for its intended purpose: to serve The Big Idea. When all the efforts serve The Big Idea, all departments work together for good. The Big Idea connects people, both inside and outside the company.

Do you need more of this connection? It may not seem that you are doing important work when you are just sitting there, staring out the window, and brainstorming about how you might insert your product into your customer’s daydream. But it is your most important work. The Big Idea will help you bring your product into context with your customer’s world.

You will connect with your customer to the degree that you understand them. You will connect with your customer to the degree that you empathize with their experience. You will connect with your customer to the degree that you have entered into their world. The Big Idea should rock their world, and it will turn yours to awesome.

Join us all this month for What’s The Big Idea? We will challenge you to pull your entire company into orbit around your own Big Idea.

PS- Take a minute to enjoy the visual of this week’s post. Guaranteed to make you smile.


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

The Hidden Key to Creativity

unlocking abundance

The fourth and final part in the series on finding abundance in every corner of your business:

Creativity is an ethereal thing. Though business magazines laud it, and CEO’s magnify its glory, it will not be contained. We all want more of it, but whenever we have it, we cannot seem to keep it in the box, even if we sit on the lid. Even as we believe we have achieved the perfect recipe to attract it and keep it, it vaporizes like a spirit into the dark night. Grasp it by force, and it will elude you.

If I could only order it from Amazon, with that two-hour delivery thing. I would have it delivered just when I needed it most. (“I’ll take an extra large case. And please, set me up with a Dash Button.”) Upon receipt, I would carefully inspect the contents. No, I lied. That is not how it would go. I would watch for the truck, and as soon as the driver put his big toe onto my driveway, I would yank the box from his hands, and wildly thrash open the box like a kid at Christmas to peer inside. What would I see? What exactly is it? Bear with me. With my intellect, you may not be able to understand this highly scientific definition:

Creativity is the ability to look at a bunch of existing stuff and imagine new stuff. It is not in the box. It is in me. I have to find it within my own soul. Creativity remixes, refines, reworks, reforms, and reconnects old dots to create new pictures.

So what are the souls of highly creativity people like? Creative people go boldly where no man has gone before. They travel fearlessly to alien places for opportunities to explore new mental landscapes. They have the right stuff.  But what is this right stuff? Must you be artistic? Brave? Highly educated? Do they have a large financial reserve? No, no, no, and no. The answer may surprise you.

Highly creative people are thankful people.Their hearts are filled with gratitude. Here is how Gratitude opens the door to Creativity:

Gratitude gets you outside your own head. Grateful people are not self-absorbed. They pay attention to others and find inspiration in other people. When their creative commodity is running low, they move into an environment of makers and creative people. Creativity begets creativity. It fuels and inspires their work.

Gratitude makes you more observant. Grateful people retain their sense of wonder. Have you ever had a day when you got to work and somehow did not remember getting there? Routine can and digress into boredom–unless we work to retain a spirit of wonder. Unless we shake things up, we can lose our sense of awe and wonder. Do yourself a favor. Break your routine today. Take a different route to work tomorrow. No one can be creative when they are bored. Gratitude causes you to look at things as if for the first time. The little things are the big things. The simple things that we often overlook are the profound things.

Gratitude gives you a sense of well-being. One of the biggest barriers to creativity is a lack of confidence and fear of taking risks. Creativity requires energy. No one can be creative if you are in a state of worry. When we are just surviving the business jungle day by day, we will have little reserve left for artistic endeavors, or to expand our intellect. We will not be able to play. Play is a catalyst of creativity. Gratitude helps us to lighten up and to celebrate the serendipity right under our noses. Grateful people are focused on what they have, rather than what they do not have. Because of this, they do not miss opportunity. Because they are focused on the positive, their ability to see and connect new dots is enhanced. Gratitude also helps you sleep better. A rested brain is a creative brain. 

Gratitude is the key element in the primordial soup from which all good ideas emerge. By focusing on all that is true, and good, and beautiful, we can expand our own horizons.

Want to unlock the door to an abundance of creativity in your life? This Holiday Season, try some common gratitude. It is available to anyone: rich, poor, educated, brave, or not. It is medicine for your head, your heart, your soul, and the eternal kid inside.

We take this opportunity to wish everyone a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving and Holiday Season, filled with awe and childlike wonder. We are thankful for every person who reads our blog.

When we count our blessings this year, we will be counting you.


This is the fourth and final part of the Unlocking Abundance series. If you liked this article, you may enjoy Parts 1, 2, and 3 here:

Part 1: Unlocking Abundance

Part 2: The Most Underrated, Unexploited, & Unexplored Advantage in Small Business

Part 3: How to Fuel Your Entrepreneurial Fire

Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 


The Most Underrated, Unexploited, & Unexplored Advantage in Small Business

unlocking abundance

Unlocking Abundance- Part II

It would be strange for an entrepreneur to start the small business journey with anything less than Great Expectations. The entrepreneur-to-be salivates upon the very mention of their escape from the land of cubicles. When they leave the daily soap opera behind, they are giddy with excitement. They have just received a golden ticket to create the life they have always wanted.

The excitement, however, is dubious. Some entrepreneurs experience an increased sense of purpose and satisfaction in their business as time goes on, while others go on to find increased frustration. How do these great expectations fizzle? Do those who are satisfied in business have something that the others do not? I believe the answer is yes.

I’d like to tell you about the most underrated, most unexploited, and most unexplored competitive edge in small business. Perhaps in life itself. You most likely have some of this commodity. But chances are you have yet to understand its magical power to transform common into uncommon, routine into extraordinary, and the prosaic into poetry.

What is the magical potion? It is Gratitude.

Here are just five ways Gratitude can increase happiness in our business:

Gratitude enables us to enjoy what we already have. Small business owners spend much time waiting for things to happen so they can do other things. Remember to enjoy what you have right where you are. Happiness does not increase with accumulation. It comes from our ability to enjoy what we have. A bowl of oatmeal tastes better to a hungry man than a steak to a man who has a steak every day. Common things become a commodity. Every economic guru knows that if something becomes a commodity, the value goes down.  Scarcity causes value–and enjoyment–to increase. 

Gratitude transforms obstacles into opportunities. Those great expectations. They get us every time. Our disappointments come not from our circumstances, but from our very expectations themselves. Few businesses do business in the end in the same way they planned from the beginning. Detours are part of the journey. Detours may just take us down the path of destiny. Gratitude keeps us open to opportunity. True entrepreneurs do not wait around for good things to happen. Gratitude creates opportunity for business because it acknowledges the materials and unique circumstances at hand. It helps us connect the dots.

Gratitude helps us to use what we have to become all we can be. New entrepreneurs enjoy the freedom from restrictions of the corporate world. But that is only one side of the coin. Freedom does not end there. Our freedom is incomplete without knowing what our freedom is for. Gratitude does not focus on all the skills and talents we do not possess, but with those we already have. Gratitude will help us use these skills to find our highest calling: that sweet spot where our gifts and talents are best suited to meet the specific needs of those clients we most desire to serve.

Gratitude helps us focus on others. Our first mistake in creating our own business is associating happiness with having everything our own way. Satisfaction comes from being other-centered. The work of organizational psychologist Adam Grant has found that those who experience deep levels of satisfaction in their work perceive their work as service–not in serving their own ends, but the desires of others. Entrepreneurs who value their customers will spend time getting to know them so that they will learn how to serve them better. Greater satisfaction results when business is not “all about me”.

Gratitude helps us to live happier. It is common to think that “if I just had a little bit more, I would be happier”. In truth, the more we can live without the happier we will be. Examine your list of necessities for life and see how many you can nix. If you have to have a latte to start the day, and something happens and you do not get your latte, your day begins with a bomb. You have given the latte the power to rule your day. Grateful people require very little to be happy because their happiness does not come from things. Grateful people are flexible, and make the most of what they have, and do not have.

“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” William Arthur Ward

Imagine losing everything you have today, and then all of a sudden–miraculously–getting it back. Imagine you just lost your eyesight from an accidental blast, and a week later, the doctor takes off the bandages and you can still see. How do you feel? Gratitude does not wait for the loss of blessings to be aware of blessings. It acknowledges them daily. Imagine how rich you might feel if you did.

How many blessings have you counted today?

Can you think of more ways that Gratitude helps us to become better business persons? Share them with us in the comments below!


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.

The Secret Life of Entrepreneurs- Part 5

the secret life of entrepreneurs

Part V- When All is Said and Done

“Oh teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to Wisdom.” Psalm 90:12

If you have heard it said once, you have heard it one thousand times. At the end of life, no one ever wishes they had spent more time at the office. On that day, everyone wants to cram more life in life.

A life filled with meaning does not happen by default. If we want to have more life in life, we must define living. Then we must live our definition, day by day, moment by moment. We cannot cram for it, or reclaim it later. Time is now. Time is the stuff of life. Time is all we have.

Sure every entrepreneur sacrifices periods of time to achieve a goal. But if your business is consuming all your moments like a ravenous wolf, do not be fooled. Success is living a whole life, or it is nothing at all. Do not allow your business to suck the marrow from your bones.

Your business is on a trajectory. Project it out another five years. If things stay the just as they are today, where will you be? We work hard to create a vision that clarifies the final goals of our enterprise.

Have you ever created a vision statement for your life?

What does success look like to you? Forget about what your Mom thinks it should be. Forget about the standard definitions of business gurus blabbing about sales projections. What does it mean to you? Wealth is not money. Health is not limited to the human frame. Happiness is not having everything you want. It goes much deeper than all that. Having everything means nothing if you have no time to enjoy it.

All entrepreneurs, especially successful ones, have a tendency to get sucked into the same black hole of work, work, and more work. It is hard to climb back out. Your life is more than work.

Here are some ways to reverse the vortex and put more life back in your life: 

Don’t become numb to the stress levels. Stress and small business go together. Not all stress is bad, and some is indeed good. If you cannot make payroll, the stress is valid. Stress can also mean you are stretching and growing and becoming. But when the Geiger-counter of life is constantly going off, indicating toxic levels of stress every day of the week? That means your schedule is not aligned with your values. Time to stop and re-calibrate. When your schedule reflects your values, your Geiger-counter shuts up.

Don’t get in the habit of working so hard that you forget to ask if you should be doing the work at all. Entrepreneurs are ready and willing to work hard. Robert Terson’s blog recently featured The Story of an Ant. The author watches an ant struggle to get a large feather across the paving, maneuvering over the cracks and obstacles only to find out that his prize did not fit down the hole of the anthill. He had spent much time and effort, only to abandon the prize. We can be like that ant–forgetting to make sure our efforts are worth doing in the first place. 

Don’t become a prisoner of habit. Some entrepreneurs get so entrenched swabbing the deck that they miss the port. It is so easy for an entrepreneur just to work, and work, and miss opportunities to grow and expand their life. Sure, you have a lot invested. Sure, you might make a mistake. You also might miss your true calling. Try something new. You will never keep your creative streak by missing out on life, and ideas will not wait around for you. Shake up your schedule, get off your boat, and go looking for them.

Don’t get so focused on problem-solving that you miss the solution.  Never forget that problems can overshadow the goal. Say for example your car breaks down. If you are focused on the problem, you focus on getting it fixed. If you focus instead on the goal–of getting to that important meeting–you might call a cab or a friend instead, and keep your appointment. Keep your eyes on the goal and you will always find another way. Focus on the problems, and you will miss the solution standing right in front of you.

Don’t take your life for granted. Create a vision statement for life. Work backward from the end of your life, just as you do when setting a business goal. Imagine you could trade places for a moment with a person who has just learned that they have six months left to live. Not a pleasant thought, I know. And yet, I almost envy that person, if only for a brief moment. Why? Because I have always struggled with getting my ducks in a row. My ducks are always running around in circles. It is hard to discern which duck should come first when they all seem equally important. People who have just learned they have a terminal illness have immediate clarity about their own ducks. A life sentence is the fastest way to know what is truly important in life. Immediately the cream of life rises to the top, and all else sinks to the bottom. People who know their time is limited do not waste time. Now, imagine if we could gain that kind of insight without having a terminal illness. What are the important things in your life? If they are not part of your life now, they may never be. Because guess what? We all have a limited amount of time on earth.

When all is said and done, what do you want people to be able to say about your life? If we want to live a life that matters, we have to define what matters.

Don’t get to the end of your life and find out that you allowed your business to keep you from fully living it.


This is the fifth and final part of The Secret Lives of Entrepreneurs Series. Did you like it? You can read the rest here:

Part I- And Then You Take Yourself to Work

Part II- The Care and Feeding of the Entrepreneur

Part III- Working Well With Others

Part IV- Taking the Bull by the Horns

Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about the way you manage your business?  Because your graphics will always reflect your internal management. The clearer your vision, the more lucid your marketing, and the better your visual graphics. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.

The Secret Life of Entrepreneurs- Part 4

the secret life of entrepreneurs

Part IV- Taking the Bull by the Horns

We are never quite prepared for all it takes to manage a small business, even if we think we are ready. Most entrepreneurs start with good measure of confidence anyway, and this is good. We will need it later. Starting a small business is like the time when the neighbor kid talked you into climbing to the top of that huge tree in your back yard. Getting up there was fine. It was the getting down part that was the problem. We did not stop to think it through prior to starting the ascent.

But if you are good at what you do, if you do what you say you will do, and if you are a reasonably congenial person, you will have plenty of work to do. If you are great at what you do, great at delivering the goods, and your customers end up becoming your friends? Your business machine may not be able to keep up with demand. Believe me, that is the best problem you can have as far as problems go. But few of us imagine a day when we are pressed beyond our ability. It is when you are looking at a to-do list so long that you will never die that many of us become workaholics. Willing, yes. Others turn to better management practices and delegation. Time management is one of those practices–an entrepreneurial skill that is more basic than basic. It is essential for success.

In the early years of our business, we were cranking at full speed. I was arm wrestling each day into submission. We hired the right people and had a team with real synergy. It was exciting and scary to see three months of work on the schedule. In my industry, that is a ton of work. There was not enough of me to go around. I had just signed up for my third time management class, thinking this one was surely the magic bullet. I was furiously taking notes as the professor told us the only reason we experience chaos is because we do not take each day by the horns. I was determined to face that bull. 

That was when Todd, our right-hand man, did not show up for work. It was not like him to do that, and he did not even call. Later, we tried calling him. No one seemed to know where he was. No one had seen him since the day before. Shortly after, we found out Todd had rolled his car down a deep embankment during the night. He had broken nearly every bone in his face, broken his back along with several other bones, and had lain in the ditch all night unattended because he was out of sight. Fortunately, someone saw him that next morning and he was rushed to the hospital. By the time he got there, his situation was perilous. Doctors were unsure he would make it. I am thankful to say he did. He recovered beyond what anyone could have imagined. Though he no longer works for us, today he is a productive and talented artist and has been featured on several TV shows for his skill.

No one prepares for things like this. We had difficulty fulfilling orders while Todd was lying in a hospital bed. We sobbed. We were grieving and preoccupied while Todd was fighting for his life.

Here are some lessons we learned during this difficult course in The School of Hard Knocks. Truly they are lessons that we will never forget:

Have you ever questioned whether you had more time than money? Or more money than time? Let me settle it for you right now. You have more money than time, even if you have very little money. Time is the most valuable asset you will ever have. No other asset can come close. You can get more money. You cannot get more time.

Next, no matter how much I try to do, nor how efficient I get, I cannot live 48 hours in 24. Frankly, do we want to live our lives double speed? Are we not here on earth to experience each day to the fullest? Life is like a gym bag. It is small. You cannot fit everything in it. You have to carefully decide what goes into the bag, and consciously choose what you will leave out. You cannot fit more in just because you want to. You must choose. 

Lastly, the words from my  time management professor were ringing in my ears. Grabbing the chaos by the horns? Seriously, after Todd’s accident, I saw this as a joke. I faced the professor’s bull but this time recognized it as bull. We are not in charge. We are not super human. We cannot always grab the day by the horns. Not all of life can be controlled. The serenity prayer is in order:

  “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can, and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

Please do not misunderstand my message. Self-discipline and time management are extremely important. But rather than filling your day to the brim, make sure you are filling your day with the right stuff. This is your life. Do not allow your business to rob it from you. Make sure you are living each day and fully present in it. When we realize all of our days are limited, all that is truly important becomes crystal clear.

Join us next week for the final installment of The Secret Life of Entrepreneurs.


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about the way you manage your business?  Because your graphics will always reflect your internal management. The clearer your vision, the more lucid your marketing, and the better your visual graphics. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.

You can read the first three articles in this series right here at Thincblog.

The Secret Life of Entrepreneurs- Part 2

the secret life of entrepreneurs

“God has entrusted me with myself.” – Epictetus

Part II- The Care and Feeding of the Entrepreneur

What determines success in business? Are there any measurable factors? What are the common denominators?

Last time I checked, all entrepreneurs have at least one common characteristic. They are all people. They come from all walks of life. Some are rich. Some are poor. Each has a unique blend of life experiences and skill sets, and all have baggage. No super heroes in the bunch. However, some climb from homeless to head honcho. Others, with every conceivable advantage, fall from the pinnacle of success with the silver spoon still in their mouth. Neither privilege nor degrees nor circumstance seem to distinguish those who will ultimately succeed from those who fail. Rather, the difference is made in the space between the two ears and determined by the distance between head and heart. This is good news indeed for those who feel disadvantaged.

All entrepreneurs come with flaws. Then we take ourselves to work. Thus, we find one defining factor. If you cannot manage yourself, you will never manage a business. Managing yourself is one of the most difficult tasks you will ever do in business. Last week, we discussed how being a well-rounded entrepreneur is not much different from being a well-rounded adult. Adults take full responsibility for their entire life: spirit, soul, and body.

Successful entrepreneurs work hard at becoming what they need to be in order to do what they need to do. Be always comes before do. The nice thing about entrepreneurship? If we are honest with ourselves, we can become what we need to be along the way. In the journey itself.

Your business will never be better than you are as an individual.

Becoming is harder than it seems. But it indeed begins with you:

You are what you believe about yourself, and about the world. Successful entrepreneurs are always aware of their humanity. They know we can at times be blind, and at other times brilliant. They are brutally honest with themselves. No one goes through life with a completely accurate picture of their own person. Some have inflated views of themselves, imagining themselves capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. (You know them when you see them! These are the ones that wear those NO FEAR T-shirts). Other entrepreneurs fear every decision they ever make. (How will you know if it is the right decision if you never make it?) Both extremes are scary. (Every entrepreneur needs a SOME FEAR T-shirt.)

Be honest now. When you get up in the morning, what are your first thoughts about the day? Do you greet each new day with gratitude, or with dread? Do you feel confident and capable? Or fearful and frazzled? Whatever your attitude is, you cannot but help but live it out in your business. “Whether you think you can or think you can’t–you’re right”. Henry Ford

What you believe about the world filters into everything you do. Healthy entrepreneurs are always growing, learning, and applying. Successful entrepreneurs seek feedback, and use that feedback to take calculated risks. This habitual behavior translates into confidence that can express itself in action. Action is worth ten times as much as any idea.   

You are your expectations. Every new business is like an untried engine. Get it spinning fast enough, and all systems will be strained. Every growing business will eventually experience a few nuts and bolts flying off the machine. If you expect everything will go as planned, you will be easily disillusioned. On the other hand, if you are an Eeyore and expect only problems, you will miss everything that is going right. You will become obsessed with solving the specific issue in front of you, and miss an easier route of reaching the goal right next to you. In all reality, monkey wrenches are part and parcel of the entrepreneurial experience. Disappointments come not from the circumstances but from our expectations. You get what you are looking for. Successful entrepreneurs adapt to change as a way of life, but stay focused on the goal.

You are your motivations. Did you become an entrepreneur simply to escape your old boss and the Land of Cubicles? Sure, you are free to do what you like. But freedom in business is not freedom from, but freedom for. What exactly have you been freed up to do? When our only reason to start business is to escape our current lot, we find more problems than we left behind. If being a successful entrepreneur means taking ownership, then rats! All these problems now belong to me! I just traded one grumpy boss for one hundred grumpy customers. You will find yourself lacking motivation to continue. To sustain business, you must have a vision of something bigger–something to make the world a better place.

“Where there is no vision, the people perish”. Proverbs 29:18.

You are your habits. You will manage your business in the same way you manage your personal life. Think about your bedroom closet for a moment. (Painful, I know. Bear with me.) Your closet is a Rorschach test of how you will handle your business. Scary? Perhaps. Whether cluttered or clean, stuffed or sparse, your personal habits will become your business habits. What is my level of self-discipline? Do I make myself do the things I know I must do? Do I set up systems and structures to create a framework for success? Am I able to structure my time and focus and eliminate my own distractions?  Self-discipline is not just nice. It is a necessity. If the boss does not have it, no one will.

You are what you learn. Learning for the small business owner is as a way of life. What skills do you need to possess to do the things you want to do? The learning curve is no longer a curve. It goes straight up. If you want to be successful in business, you must commit to the state of perpetual student. Learn as much as you can whenever you can from whomever you can. Plan for it. Make space in your schedule for it.

You are your health. It is also amazing to me how many entrepreneurs start business and ignore their physical health. Physical wholeness is as much of a necessity for business survival as your sales figures. You may hold to your busy schedule and claim no time for the gym. But without your health, you have no business. Successful entrepreneurs do not put their health on the back burner in pursuit of the almighty dollar. They feed their brains good food. They exercise. They play. A healthy body is a healthy mind. And a healthy business.

How can I say these things with such confidence? Because I have experienced a lapse of them all. Small business has taxed all of my brain power, affected my self-esteem, challenged my level of self-discipline, and questioned my motivations. Several years ago, I even lost a measure of health for about a year from the false glory of martrydom–from not paying attention to my body.

You have heard it said that you are what you think. I will go so far as to say that your business success is a result of the success of your entire person–spirit, soul, and body. It is not my intent to discourage, but rather to shine a light on a common entrepreneurial problem: we often neglect our own person as entrepreneurs, and it results in business malaise.

It is possible to improve upon all of these things if you bring them into focus. It is crucial to your success to work harder on yourself than you do your business. Make baby steps toward becoming the best you that you can be. Take heart. And take care of yourself, spirit, soul and body. It is not selfish, because others depend on you.

Your whole entrepreneurial world depends on it.

Stay tuned next week for Part III, all about our relationships.


Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about the way you manage your business?  Because your graphics will always give away your internal management. The more clear your vision, the more lucid your marketing, and the better your visual graphics. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.

The Secret Life of Entrepreneurs- Part 1

the secret life of entrepreneurs

Part 1

September marks the beginning of another exciting school year for students of all ages from kindergarten to graduate school. Parents work hard to reign their free-wheeling summer children back into the patterns of structure and study and focus of fall children. Teachers are pumped to prepare well-rounded students for service to the world, dishing up the just the right portions of reading, writing, and arithmetic, all in the hopes of being the one teacher who inspires them to greatness. These basic skills are essential, under-girding all the others to provide the framework for success.

The entrepreneurial journey is not much different from the student’s journey. (No summers off being the exception of course!) It also requires structure and discipline and focus and a framework of basic skills. There is such a thing as a well-rounded entrepreneur–one prepared for the future and prepared for greatness–after having spent the time mastering the basic requirements. I spent a few moments searching online to see what had already been written on the subject. “Essential qualities of a successful entrepreneur” yielded 399,000 posts–mostly lists. Some listed only 6 essential characteristics, some had 8, others 9, some 12, and others with 25 and more. Obviously we do not agree on what is essential.  

Yet there are essential basic skills required for the entrepreneurial journey. And despite the industry, there are also common entrepreneurial paths. All of these paths require at least some skills that are more basic than basic. In comparing the actual qualities in the lists, I found most were simply characteristics of being a well-rounded adult. From small business survival statistics, it is apparent that many of us have yet to become one.

Yet maturity happens in the journey. Few entrepreneurs start with everything they need, even with an MBA in hand. I, myself, am one who learned on the fly, and not sure if I have grown up yet. But this is what I love about small business. It grows ordinary people. It provides opportunity to become more than they ever dreamed they could be. In the start-up phase, we are all full of hope and imagine ourselves capable of anything. We are determined not to be derailed. Hope is good. But we don’t know what we don’t know. (I have been there. I was unaware that my tenaciousness was just one step away from stubborness.)

In the beginning, we are blissfully ignorant of what lies ahead, unaware that our baby business will eventually expose every flaw in our character. We are never prepared. We will be the last to know the source of the problems–until the same problems continue to repeat themselves. If we are observant, we will recognize a pattern. More observant still, and we will recognize that we are the common denominator. After that, if we are brave and fearless, we will face it square, and improve our own character. Or not, as the case may be. We might also choose to play the blame game, and pass the buck to some unsuspecting employee. But if we are willing to learn, small business will open our minds and our hearts, and mold us into a bigger person, with an enlarged heart. Not the bad kind of enlarged heart, but the good kind. One with deep humility and patience for other homo sapiens who have the same flaw. It is like therapy for the unsuspecting. And seriously good therapy at that. And we will laugh about it. As C.S. Lewis says, “Humility, after the first shock, is a cheerful virtue.”

So all this month, we will be talking about the basic traits of successful entrepreneurship–not accounting, and not HR per se, but those that seem more basic than basic. In 26 years of business, we have learned most of them in the school of hard knocks. And in all honesty, we are still working on some of them. I will tell you about them as we go along. We have watched other businesses struggle to obtain them too. We are happy to share what we have learned with you, in hopes that you can avoid some of the pitfalls in your own journey.

Join us all this month, for The Secret Life of Entrepreneurs. We hope to be the one who inspires you to greatness.

Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about the way you manage your business?  Because your graphics will always give away your internal management. The more clear your vision, the more lucid your marketing, and the better your visual graphics. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.

Upgrading Your Own Personal Operating System

the shopping cart before the horse

Upgrading Your Own Personal Operating System

The Shopping Cart Before the Horse – Part III

Despite the odds against small business survival, I remain CEO of our company: Chief Entrepreneurial Optimist. Small business is one of the greatest catalysts I know for growing and transforming people into all that they were intended to be.

Your business is a reflection of you. Whatever we are as entrepreneurs, the sum-total of our person, our health, our personal habits–good or bad, along with everything we believe about the world will eventually manifest itself in our businesses. One of the biggest problems for any us is the fact that we take ourselves to work. How do I know this? I also am an entrepreneur. I know that if I am the source of any problem, I am usually the last employee to know.

David Rose, CEO of the New York Angels, says:

“The number one thing I look at when making a startup investment is the quality of the entrepreneur. In this, I–and a majority of professional angel investors—follow the old adage: ‘bet on the jockey, not the horse,’ . . . . If I have to choose between a great business idea and a great entrepreneur, I’ll take the entrepreneur every time.”

If the entrepreneur affects business valuation, you would think that becoming the best person that we can be would be a top priority. But we are so busy wearing all the hats, that we forget to put on our own ball cap. Putting yourself on your priority list does seem a bit selfish. Let me assure you, it is not. (Stay tuned for more on this in next week’s post!) When we consider ourselves in our business role, we often think only of our academic skill set. But if our business is to survive, we must be a whole person– physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

What kind of person do you need to be so that you can do what you need to do? Here are some daily investments every entrepreneur needs to make:

Invest in your health. Though it is not on the balance sheet, your health is your most important asset. Small business is a marathon. How can you go the long haul if your health is deteriorating daily by a lack of exercise, poor nutrition, and normal to high levels of stress? If you will not care for yourself, plan for health concerns to rock your business world.

Invest in your head. What skills do you need to bring your plans to fruition? Whatever you need to learn, remember there is no learning curve left these days–it goes straight up. If you are not investing some time every week to stay on top of your industry, you are getting left behind.

Invest in your heart. Simply put, we are what we believe. What do you believe about yourself and your abilities? Any unfinished business before starting this one? Do you approach opportunities as an optimist or a pessimist? Do you find time to refuel so that you can stay refreshed? What do you need to do to change your perspective so you can approach the world with more dignity and grace?

Every entrepreneur will eventually experience some event or circumstance that brings them up short. Consider each experience a chance to upgrade your personal operating system. You will grow and stretch and develop skills right along with our plans.

Before you can lead others, you have to lead yourself. Before we can behave differently, we must think differently. Most importantly, we must be before we can do, and until we invest in our own personal growth, we have the shopping cart before the horse.

What is one way you can nourish your own growth this week?

Why do we, a graphic design company, care about the way you run your company? Because no matter how beautiful, your external graphics will always reflect the strength of your internal management. Entrepreneurs are famous for getting the cart before the horse, and all this month, we are discussing five of the most common ways that entrepreneurs are hitching their horses incorrectly. Since this is the new millennia, we will at least update the idiom. The vehicle of commerce is now a shopping cart. Either way, wooden or metal, horses still do not know what to do when the cart is in front. Stay tuned for Part IV next week!

Imagine Your Business- Aged to Perfection

your small business: aged to perfection

They don’t call it a launch for nothing! On opening day of any Startup, there is usually enough palpable energy inside any small business to blow the doors wide open. No need to unlock them. With the soft open, the ribbon cutting, the hearty congrats and warm wishes all around, the anticipation alone can energize several months.

Starting a business is very much like starting a vineyard–so fresh and full of hope. Every ray of sun beams for you. Every idea holds the promise of ultimate destiny.

Prepared business owners do their utmost to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’. You have your dynamic business idea. Check. You have done your homework, made your plan, and have prepared the soil for success. Check, check, and check.

Now what? Do you just sit back and just watch your business grow?

It is always a surprise to small business owners that this becoming is harder than it seems. Most new entrepreneurs imagine that they will eventually get to the point where they can stop working so hard and coast a while. Not on your life.The creative work of growing is never really over. The day in and day out management of the vineyard of your business is very hard work. Not only do you need to produce fruit, (which is hard enough), but you need to produce it differently. The last thing the world needs is another cheap bottle of wine. You must create a product that makes people sit up and take notice.

What is the catalyst that helps a business to age to perfection? I have got a secret for you. It is not what you are expecting. Get ready.

Dung. Yes, there is nothing like a pile of crap to produce the largest fruit.


Yes, stuff happens.The day to day operation of our business is the ultimate litmus test to reveal the strength of our preparation. Stuff never happens like the textbooks say it will happen. If we have done our planning well, we will have already avoided a few potential mistakes. It is a great advantage for any Startup to ace these preliminary tests, because that reserves our energy to battle issues that no one could ever anticipate. And there are always issues that no one could ever anticipate. Ready or not, and like it or not, here they come.

Problems are the soil improvements in the vineyard of your business. As individuals, every problem provides a choice to become bitter or better. As a business, every problem is an opportunity to gripe or grow. Sure too much dung and the fruit is burned. (That is why you need to avoid as many problems as you can!) But too little dung results in weak growth, and loss of potential.How we view the can ‘o worms makes all the difference. Stop looking at your problems as if Capitalism is out to get you. When life hands you dung, make fertilizer.

The shift can happen! Not only can problems strengthen and prepare you for new opportunities, but dung has already proven its potential to produce a bumper crop.

Here’s to enjoying the fruit of your labors. Clink.