Business as Unusual

Help! It’s the crucible of massive, evolutionary upheaval! While the axiom over small business has always been, “Things Change”,  we were not prepared for this one. The rug is pulled out from under us, and we are on our butts––frightened, paralyzed, and with a look of total discombobulation.

You know what total discombobulation looks like, don’t you? It could not look less professional. 

Is there anything we CAN do while we are down here on the floor? The pressure of this moment is the stuff that diamonds are made of. God forbid we should waste it binging on Netflix night after night.

Yes, there are things we still can do. Hang with me, and I’ll explain. 

The surprising thing about all of this is that we were all surprised. Pandemic has been predicted for years. We chose to ignore it. Since the dawn of time, we have known that the mortality rate for homo sapiens is 100%. We might not know precisely how long we get to hang out, but we understood it was not forever. Our level of fragility has not changed. It is our awareness of it. Our vulnerability has just smacked us upside the head. How fragile we are.

So now we know. We are not in charge. We are not our best-laid plans. We are not in control. We never have been. Welcome to reality. 

It’s not about life expectancy. It’s about what life is expecting from you.  This is a rude awakening for us all. But there has never been a better time to gain clarity for life and business.

I do not want to minimize anyone’s suffering. I do not want to be a Pollyanna. I’m not even feeling optimistic. But I do find a unique interval of possibility upon us. It is a pressure that is creating space for growth, unlike any other time we have ever seen before. It gives me reasons for hope. I want to share these reasons with you, with the hope that my hope will be contagious. 

 

We have been given:

Space for Creativity

Evolution of business is occurring right now, not over a span of time, but in a matter of minutes, hours, and days. It is a weirdly creative time. Creativity and innovation have never been born of abundance. Innovation and creativity are born of necessity, pressure, restriction, loss, and hardship. Necessity IS the mother of invention. If we have our eyes open, we may be enabled to see things in a new way, to make new connections, and new discoveries. Insanely successful companies were birthed from hardship.

Space for community

We might be in the ditch, but we are not alone. (Even so, skooch over. We must sit at least 6′ apart for the good of the masses.) The very thought that we are all suffering together should engender more empathy between neighbors. We are, for once, fighting the same enemy. Maybe we will finally realize that we are all fellow travelers on this big blue marble. What affects one of us affects us all. We are learning the value of community.

Space for conversation

How many of us, in the past few weeks, have had conversations with significant others, children, parents, bosses, and friends about really important things? How many of us have had conversations that would not have come up if it were not for the crisis? When was the last time you had this much time to invest in conversation with your children and your family? We are talking about what matters––and like never before.

Space for Gratitude

Why must humans lose things before we value them? Gratitude is the matrix of happiness. Before this crisis, we were less aware of the value of community, neighbors, co-workers, and simple words with friends. There is much we have taken for granted. Express your gratitude for those people, those things, and those privileges that add value to your life. You will discover you haven’t lost everything. When gratitude happens, joy will return.

Space for growth

Most of us are comfortable with our daily schedules just like they are, and are very resistant to upheavals of the status quo. In other words, most of us would rather sleepwalk through life. For some of us, it takes an earthquake for us to think about our lives in a different light. Something that does not change is DEAD. To grow, we must be alive, and we must change. “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Socrates

Space for learning

Under any other circumstance, if we had been given time to be at home to read, study, learn, we would have labeled it “luxury.” Under these circumstances, we are distracted not only by the crisis but from the opportunity of a lifetime. We have just been given space to think. We have just been given time to prepare for the future. We have just been given time to plan. We have just been given time to become. Because of technology, Mentors are available everywhere. A person can access more books online than you can read in a lifetime. You could read every book from your favorite mentor. You can read all the articles published by him or her online. You may even be able to connect with them via Zoom. When have we ever had time to read like this? When have you had the time to invest in your skillset, your health, your mind, and your soul?

Space for experimentation

One of the things we learned early on in small business: If you don’t have much, then you don’t have much to lose. Now is the time to prepare for what comes next, and to prepare for the months AFTER the crisis. No, it’s not a time for master planning, because no one knows what the next few months will hold. But it’s a great time to experiment with ‘what if’ scenarios. What do you have to lose?

This situation will not last forever, though we will be talking about it for years to come. What will you do with this time? Where some see crisis, others see opportunity. It is about far more than just surviving. There has never been a better time in history to work on becoming the best you you can possibly be. There has never been a better time in history to work on your business, instead of in it, to ask yourself what you want, to pursue your interests, and to position yourself and your business for new opportunities. What adds value to your customers lives? What can you do NOW to provide it? What needs to be done? How can you use this time to prepare your business for the recovery? How can you align your business with purpose? 

It has only been a few weeks, but already some of us are much older and wiser than we were a month ago. The world will never look the same. After this is over, many of us may not want to go back to business as usual. Some of us will decide that life is too short to keep doing things that don’t matter to us anymore. When our plans are upended, we learn what we are made of. Many of us may never want to return to the world as we once knew it.

Imagine this: if someone were to give a toast to you in 25 years for what you had accomplished in your life, what would it be? Now is the time to follow that. Those are your interests. Your interests can help you find your passion, and your passion can help you find your Purpose. Now is the time to hone in on your Purpose for being on earth in the first place.

You can endure anything when your heart is filled with Purpose. Use this time to prepare yourself and your business for what comes next. 

Despite the Covid19 crisis, the sky is still brilliant blue. Oh, it may be hiding behind the impermanence of the weather, the clouds, and the time. But it is still blue. Spring is not cancelled. Love is not cancelled. Hope is not cancelled.

Whatever we are going through now, we will not always be here. This too, shall pass. Press on, dear friend.

“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

Ten Reasons We Love Small Business

It’s the month of love, and we will forever love Small Business! Let Me Count the Ways!

For the past 31 years, we have had the privilege of serving the small business community. According to the SBA, only 1 out of 10 startups ever reach their 10th Anniversary. This terrible statistic is the main reason we have made it our mission to help our customers overcome at least a few of the small business obstacles.

The struggle is real, but it is a good fight. Despite the daily battle scars, we remain dyed-in-the-wool capitalists.

We will forever love entrepreneurship. Here are ten reasons why:

1. I have rarely seen a better catalyst for personal growth than small business. It is a personal growth eureka! The better we entrepreneurs know ourselves, the better we can lead a small enterprise. But even though entrepreneurs are more or less self-aware, we seldom know ourselves as well as we think we do!  Until you run a small business, you may never know how genuinely courageous you are. You may think you are a risk-taker, and find out you are risk-averse after all. You may never know what you really can and cannot do until your small business throws you the ball. Oh, the revelations and the skill sets that lie dormant! Want to know your strengths and weaknesses like no other? Start a small business.

2. Small business is truly an equal opportunity employer.  Given the right chutzpah, any person, any age (be they 8 to 80), any gender of any race can start a small business. Capitalism could not care less if you are black, brown, white, or pink with purple polka-dots.

3. Small business teaches you many skills you could not learn any other way. Entrepreneurship will show you the finer points of money management, time management, people skills, and communication skills, to name a few.  You may think you already possess these skills. (Granted, it would be best if you had these skills before you start business, but in all reality, none of us is a genius at them all.) Small business will bring them to finesse.

4. Instant gratification. Nothing like it. In a large corporation, an employee might work in the third row of cubicles on a minute part of the overall workflow. They may never get to see the delight of the end-user. One of the most rewarding things about small business is instant feedback for a job well done. The entrepreneur may do some or all of the work. But then, they get to see the customers smile as a reward for work well done.

5. There is nothing more important than knowing the customer––what they want, what they like, and what they hate. If the most significant system of any business is marketing, the biggest blessing in small business is a direct line to your customers. The big data of big business is often misinterpreted and misunderstood, creating a correlation where no causation exists, and ends up garbled and mistranslated on the receiving end. No such disconnect occurs with small business. You don’t have to wait for the higher-ups in the big office to translate the data to tell you what the customer likes and doesn’t like. The customer is standing right in front of you. You can ask them. And no better place to ask them than the front line, because that is where relationships and trust are built.

6. You aren’t guaranteed a thing. I know you are thinking, “How can that be a good thing?”  To which I answer, “How many times has a cubicle inspired anything?” The consistent bi-weekly paycheck has killed more ideas than stupidity. The entrepreneur lies awake at night, thinking about how to continually improve, innovate, and make their product better than ever before. The unsecured and unpredictable paycheck of the Small Business Owner means we must bring our best selves to our work every day. We have to stay on our toes to stay viable. How many other jobs have you had where this was true?

7. Without small business, there would be no US Economy.I’m not telling you anything you didn’t already know when I tell you that small business anywhere boosts the US Economy everywhere.  JP Morgan Chase says that 88% of US firms have less than 20 employees. Small business in your community is the anchor of your community. Supporting your local small business in your home town is a front line defense for a strong economy.

8. Small business is one of the best ways to help your fellow humankind. The new definition of a Corporation (as defined by The Business roundtable last year), has shifted from one of profit-seeking to “conscious capitalism”. Many small businesses realize that Profit means more than the bottom line, and work to expand their horizons. Many successful entrepreneurs understand their job is to make the world a better place for everyone ––not just for themselves. To serve the customer, care for your employees, to take care of the environment, and give back to the communities you serve ––hey, that sounds like a lot of love to me!

9. Yes, capitalism has always had its problems. But it also has great potential and spawns great innovation. Small business, done well, is one of the best ways to love your neighbor. This is especially true when the customers you serve ARE your neighbors, and essential to your success. Fortunately, loving your fellow humans, and making a profit are not opposites, but are inextricably bound together in a successful business.

10. If you want to know what you are really made of, want to know what you really can do? Do you want to test your real potential? I can think of nothing better than starting your own small business!

 

 

 

Imagining the Unimaginable

Buckle up! Because here we go, spinning at 24,000 mph, over the event horizon into a shiny, brand new decade! How do you feel? Like an adventurer? Or spinning out-of-control on an amusement park ride? If only we could predict what is ahead! And that is what humans have tried to do for hundreds of years, because we have both anticipation and trepidation.

We try our best to predict the future. As I type this, many entrepreneurs are creating folders on their desktops with names such as Plans, Projections, and Predictions For the Next Decade. But, if you have been an entrepreneur for any length of time, you know how incredibly hard it is to guess the future. Small Business projections are about as accurate as weather predictions. In other words, enter the Butterfly Effect, better known as Chaos Theory. So why should we even do it?

Despite the risks and hazards, planning in small business still comes highly recommended–even the dreaded financial projections. Despite the high margin of error, here are five reasons why you should do your best at predicting as far out as you can see:

Planning helps set your dreams, and dreams, at least sometimes, really do come true! William Blake said, “Everything that exists was first imagined.” Without imagination, innovation would cease to exist. In your wildest dreams, what can you imagine in your future? I feel a lot smarter when I peruse predictions made in the 1800s about the here and now. They got a lot of things wrong. Still, some predictions were amazingly accurate. In 1865, Jules Verne imagined a trip to the moon in a lunar module named Columbia. Piloted by three astronauts, his aluminum vessel was approximately the same weight as the real Mercury Capsule. His imaginary mission launched in Florida, with a splashdown in the ocean–all eerily close to the actual events that happened over 100 years later. Go figure! The 2001 Space Odyssey predicted the ‘flat screen news pad” in 1968. Beyond the novel, Nikola Tesla predicted wireless communication, and Marshall McCluhan predicted the internet. I could go on and on. How far can you see into your future? Go ahead and dream! How do you know that it will not, someday, come true?

Planning helps set the trajectory you want to take. Even if it is a general trajectory, at least you are headed toward the right galaxy. What is important to you? Where do you want to go? How will you get there? In the years that I have been helping small business owners with their advertising, I cannot tell you how many entrepreneurs took for granted their partner was on the same page. It was painfully evident that they were not. All business decisions become easier when a plan is in place.

Planning helps you avoid at least some of the pitfalls of small business. Small Business is a perilous venture, with many unknowns. Around every corner, you will encounter meteors in your flight path. Planning helps you to recognize trends, and trends help us to identify things that are outside the norm– things that may indicate a threat. If you have already prepared for the known pitfalls, you will be in a much better position to handle those pitfalls you cannot yet see.

Planning helps you connect the dots. Many opportunities will not appear until you have mapped out the path. We travel forward with the light we have, but only when you get to the end of your headlights will the next part of your journey be illuminated. Sure, a single prediction is highly unstable. Creating different if/then scenarios will help you to pivot to a new dot when necessary.

Planning holds you accountable. To get where you want to go, you must begin where you are. Creating measurable benchmarks and goal posts along the way helps you to know you are making progress. Even if no one else is holding your feet to the fire, the plan creates the gentle reminder to note the difference between what you said you would do, and where you are.

Entrepreneurs will forever seek to discover and predict the rest of the story. We must continue to dream! We need to plan to control whatever we can control because there is so much in our environment that we cannot. Evolution theory would concur with this. The survival of the fittest favors those with at least Some Fear.

That is, at least, how my T-shirt reads: Some Fear. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is moving forward, even in the face of fear. This is our wish for you. We wish you courage to move forward with your dreams, and #2020Vision for 2020!

Happy New Year! 

2020 in 2020

Becoming an Artpreneur

What would 2020 look like if everyone in your organization were able to look into the future and see possibilities? Do you think it would change the outcome of your year? I do.

Remember those Magic Eye books? Do you remember how willing we were to look completely ridiculous? We brought the book to our nose, and sloooooowly pulled it away, hoping to see itWe didn’t know what the it was we were looking for. We only knew the elusive it was promised to us if we followed the directions. Some of us repeated this procedure countless times without ever seeing anything. (Ok, true confessions, it was me). I saw nothing for days. Even weeks. Nothing.

 

I can fail to see something right before my eyes.

Curiosity drove me to keep trying. Everyone else was seeing itWhy couldn’t I? At last, the Aha Moment that changed everything. Gaw! I was working too hard all along. If I had just chilled and relaxed my eyes, I would have seen the 3D images pop a long time ago. I turned the page. I began to see them all, as if I never struggled in the first place.

The experience was proof, as John Lubbock says, “What we see depends on what we are looking for.” Sometimes we are trying too hard. Other times we are so obsessed with finding a specific something, that we miss the rather obvious. (I’m sure you have seen this selective attention test.)

The universe is hidden in plain sight. We are distracted, and our attention is elsewhere. We miss the unexpected.

But what if we EXPECTED the unexpected?

Just because light hits your retina doesn’t mean you are seeing. Seeing is perception. It goes well beyond looking. Looking is casual observance. Seeing is looking at something intentionally. The difference between the two is the difference between seeing dots and connecting the dots. Seeing attaches meaning to something, and this meaning moves the seer. To look is to search. To see is to find. Looking is observation. Seeing is a conclusion. I can see a thing formally. And I can see a thing contextually. Seeing is understanding.

It is not what we see. It is how we see.

Curiosity is key here. Nothing interesting begins with knowing–it begins with precisely the opposite–with not knowing. Sure, uncertainty is avoided if you stay in the safe place, but uncertainty is the only place creativity begins.

Each person has a unique window into the world that no one else is looking through. Your knowledge and your experiences and your background are different from everyone else’s. Therefore, you see and perceive things differently than every other person. This unique perception means everyone has the capacity for an epiphany, and for seeing the extraordinary. Isn’t that encouraging? Every single person has the capacity to see new possibilities.

The difference between looking and seeing is the fundamental difference between an Entrepreneur and an Artpreneur. If we could give you anything for 2020, we would give you a 2020 vision of the future. 2020 Vision is not seeing the world exactly as it is. It is seeing the world as it could be. It employs creativity, intuition, and imagination.

We don’t always know what we are looking for. That’s ok. May you have the courage to look absolutely ridiculous while you are searching for it.

May 2020 be the year that you see new possibilities! May 2020 be the year that you see everything in a different light. May 2020 be the year you expect the unexpected. May 2020 be the year that you, yourself, become an Artpreneur. May your 2020 be bright and filled with light.

We wish you 2020 in 2020!

Rethinking Attention to Detail

It’s back to school, and almost every teacher across the country will go to great lengths to develop keen observational superpowers in every student. Attention to detail can turn anyone into a superhero.

We can hardly imagine a scenario or a job description where attention to detail is not required. I’d like to believe that I possess a good deal of this coveted stuff as a designer.

But the ability to be observant alone is not enough.

Our ancient ancestors knew that their very survival depended on their ability to remain queued into their environment. But beyond keenly observant, they needed to be keenly observant about the right things. They developed an acute ability to filter out the things that were important from things that were not.

Today, we are not so inclined. We are so addicted to distraction that we are losing our ability to even discern the difference between important and unimportant. We rarely take the time to take a good hard look at anything, let alone differentiate between the two. Because of this, we miss the big picture.

#Squirrel!

I am not as observant as I want to be, but I am comforted by knowing I am not alone. It only takes something like this draw the bicycle test , or the selective attention test to show us that we could be more observant.

Or, take this exemplary description of a simple square by Mr. @John McWade for example:

 

“A square has four straight sides of equal length, four angles of 90 degrees, four angles of 270 degrees (the outsides), and four corners. Its center is equidistant from every corner, and from the center of every side. A square is bisected by vertical, horizontal, and crisscrossing 45-degree axes. Because your eye follows lines, the sides of a square move your eye side to side and up and down. Its corners–outward-pointing arrows–carry your eye away from its center equally in all directions. A square has straight sides, so it lines up with other straight objects, (like the page it’s on), and forms rectangles in the spaces between them. Its corners point at things. A square rotated 45 degrees is still a square, but no longer a square; it’s now a diamond, and relative to the horizon; it’s triangular.” John McWade

 

I have been looking at squares since my earliest days on the planet. But it takes a definition like this one to show me that I have yet to really see one.

Entrepreneurs are no different from a normal human being in ability to focus. But the more our economic environment shifts, and the more fractured our focus and attention become, the more critical it is to be observant about the right things. We must guard against any distraction that will pull us further away from our Ultimate Purpose.

And there you have it. Purpose. Purpose informs everything. Focus on anything else, and you are bound to miss your goal.

•  You can focus on stats. But the information cannot tell you if it is worth collecting in the first place.

•  Focus on the fancy tool, and you will choose the wrong one for the job every time.

•  Focus on trends, and you’ll connect the wrong dots to the future. (“Everyone else is doing it” is the worst reason to do anything.)

•  Focus on the numbers, and they will deliver correlation, but not causation.

•  Focus on industry standards, and you’ll fail to innovate.

•  Focus on the step by step instructions to success, and you’ll focus on your own goals rather than the goals of your customer. It’s about their success, not yours.

•  Focus on what you want to see, and you will fail to see the unexpected, or worse yet–fail to see what is really there.

•  Focus on the AI, and you will miss the relationship. It is impossible that something devoid of humanity will ever help us connect with humanity.

•  Focus only on the destination, and you’ll miss the joy in the journey.

Without Purpose, you will spend most of your time chasing rabbits down some rabbit hole.

Focus on your Purpose, and Purpose will help you find the way, make the way, and achieve your goals.

 

The Secret to Unstoppable Growth

I am always surprised by the number of small startups without a real marketing plan. For the new entrepreneur, all of this marketing mumbo jumbo seems like a lot of unnecessary work. “I have so many other things to do to get this business off and running! Surely I don’t need to do all that!”

Yes. You do.

Starting a business without a marketing plan is like planting a garden with no intention to water it. Good luck with that.

Ideas are very much like seeds, and marketing is very much like gardening. You can’t plant any old seed, any time you want, anywhere you want, and expect it to bloom. Seeds, by themselves, can do nothing. Just because you plant it, does not mean it will grow. Growth doesn’t happen without knowledge.

The power of a single seed continues to amaze me. I pour it out of the packet into my hand. The seed appears dead. Yet, it is a miracle in disguise. This tiny seed is preloaded with all the necessary information to transform into something wildly beyond itself. It is a sleeping power pack of potential. With vision. Big vision. It is just waiting.

Waiting for what?

The right environment, the right nurture, the right time, and the perfect spot. Given the right conditions, the growth will be unstoppable. That little seed can split a rock in two.

This right environment, my friend, is marketing.

Without the right environment, your business idea will die, literally, on the vine. This environment is why a marketing plan is so essential for growth. Marketing answers the questions: Where are you going to plant your idea? When will you do it? How will you do it? Who will be there to see the fruit? And who cares about the fruit? Any gardener knows it requires effort, patience, and knowledge to grow a prize-winning anything.

Just a few weeks ago, I was reading about a native wildflower I intend to plant in my yard. Much to my surprise, I learned the little seed would only grow in poor and barren soil. The delicate flower on the front of the packet prefers drought and neglect. Had I not done my homework, I would have planted these seeds in my garden boxes filled with fertile Iowa soil, and then watered the daylights out of them. And they would have died.

This kind of trouble is always the trouble with all things growing, because it matters a great deal how you plant things. It is the same with your business. Growth requires knowledge and nurture.

Every entrepreneur I have ever met has more ideas than could ever be used in a lifetime–as many ideas as gardeners have seed catalogs. This abundance of ideas is always a good thing because you never know when you might need a backup plan. But, the idea itself will forever be the easy part. If you don’t want your expectations to wilt, you have to figure out what the seed requires.

Sure, you may argue, some things do grow all by themselves, (a proven claim in Iowa). But there are a few problems with voluntary growth. For one, voluntary growth is usually accidental. Two, this kind of growth is not easy to replicate, because the environment, like the weather, is chance and ephemeral. And third, rapid growth most frequently occurs when what you have is weeds, and not what you wanted at all.

The middle of a crisis is never the time to discover all the reasons you should have a marketing plan. This is especially true if you have invested every penny you once had to start your business.

Ideas are a terrible thing to waste. If you are going to go to all the effort to start a small business, know that you will be wasting your effort without a marketing plan. If you are thinking of winging it without one, think again.

If you started business because you want to improve people’s lives, you need a marketing plan to do it.

If you started your business because you plan to change the world, every effort you make to write a marketing plan will align to assist your success.

Please, I beg you, don’t waste your efforts starting a new business without nurturing your fabulous idea with knowledge and serving your customers with love. Develop a marketing plan and a marketing strategy.

And then, you can prepare for unstoppable growth.

How Much Creativity Will That Cost?

With daylight hours reduced to fit on a postage stamp, January is obsessed with time. We not only concern ourselves with resolutions, but we seek to cram more and more life into each passing moment, as if this were even possible.

As one who is always running short on this priceless commodity, nothing troubles me more than wasting one minute of it. I’ve done just about everything a person can do to keep from wasting it, too. From reading books to college-level classes, to seminars, and webinars, I’ve used more cheap tricks than a circus. Still, few things slip through my fingers more than this thing that we cannot even define in the first place.

Time. It’s the stuff life is made of.

Yet, throughout 30 years in business, I  have learned a few things about time. Granted, most of these things were acquired in the School of Hard Knocks. This is still the best school on the planet, albeit the most expensive and the least respected.

1. We are not in control of our time

 Many years ago, Todd, one of our most talented colleagues, did not show up for work. The previous evening, he had gone off the road and down a steep embankment, and no one saw it happen. He laid there all night, having suffered multiple fractures, including his back and every bone in his face. But we found him. He was lying in the hospital, his life hanging in the balance. Even though our small business was overloaded with work, it was utterly impossible to complete it. We were beside ourselves with grief. I am happy to say he survived, but not without a long and grueling recovery. It was a God thing that at that very time, I was taking yet another class on time management. Our instructor was hammering down take control of your time every five minutes. But my mind kept going back to that hospital room, and these words could not have sounded more shallow. No matter how hard a person may try, we do not control time. We are granted time. And we are given only one day at a time. We cannot cram two days of life into one, or live life in fast-forward. Be present in your life today. Today is all you have.

2. We are in charge of our time

Yes, I know I just said something that sounds like the complete opposite. I am both antagonist and protagonist here. While there are many things outside our control, (see above), there is yet much that we can control. We refer to time management as spending time. All spending is not equal. Time is like compounding interest on debt. This interest can snowball in either direction, toward deeper debt, or toward gain. You can buy time today by doing tasks that will make tomorrow easier, or you can steal time from tomorrow by doing the reverse. It is critically important to be mindful of the difference. We waste much time trying to control things that we cannot change, while our biggest obstacle remains unchecked: me, myself, and I. We may not be able to control our time, but we remain entirely in charge of ourselves.

3. Change does not always equate progress

Making small changes in our lives can take us to some fantastic places. We get excited about resolutions for this very reason. A one-degree change in trajectory can send you to a completely different planet. We get ourselves in a pickle, and our pickles demand us change. But lest we invent our own master narrative of rising from the ashes too soon, we must address how we got there in the first place, or the small tweaks will avail nothing. If you do not understand the why behind your behavior, sheer gravity will suck you back down to earth. Progress is change, but change does not always imply better.

4. You need bookends

Bookends were missing from my time budget for many years. You would think I would have known that, because in the early years of my marriage, our most successful money budget ever was the envelope method. (Yes, archaic, I know. Don’t judge me!) When the envelope was empty, that category was nixed until more money came in the following month. The tech-free envelope provided an obvious, self-imposed stop-gap measure. Without this limit, we would have spent it all, and would have never had enough money left for important things. Common cents. Without self-imposed time limits, projects will also expand. What should only take two-hours will expand to take four. But, if you give yourself a deadline to get that task done in a half-hour? You will get it done in a half-hour. We all know how fast you can clean house when unexpected company is coming over. Set a timer if you must, but use book-ends around your project.

5. You need a TO-DONT List

The TO-DON’T list was also missing from my time budget for many years. The just say no muscle must be developed and strengthened. It takes sheer intestinal fortitude to ignore the cries and moans from friends and acquaintances who compel you to come to their party. But you get to decide if the party is important. Damn the torpedoes and full steam ahead, but make it a conscious decision. In order to say yes, you have to say no. What is it that you will no longer do? There will never be enough time to do it all. Say no to the things that rob you of your goals by creating your very own TO-DON’T LIST. We have created an example TO-DON’T LIST for you, and have attached it below. Just say no today!

Time is the raw material of creation. If you want to do great things, you need every minute you can get. You have less time than you think. You need more time than you know. Creative people learn to say NO, so that they have time to make great things.

Don’t ask how much time something takes. Ask, “How much creativity will that cost?”

Seeing Is Not Always Believing

Seeing is not always believing? You are probably thinking, “That is a weird thing for a graphic designer to say!” Yet, every person reading this post has had the experience of opening a beautifully wrapped package, only to be disappointed with what was inside. Looks can be deceiving.

How is your business wrapped? In the season of ribbons and packaging, boxes, bows, and tags, we want to focus on the wrapping of your entire company. It is called Brand. You have a Brand, whether you know it or not, and whether it is planned or not. The entire experience with your company, from front to back, gives expression to it. Your Brand was either created intentionally, or on accident.

Take a moment and step back from your business so you can take in the big picture view. Imagine experiencing your space for the first time, just as a new customer would experience it. What is your first impression? What does it mean to become a customer of your company? Is there build up of anticipation, excitement, expectation, and a bit of magic too?

The way your business is wrapped at this very moment, expresses your Brand. Branding goes far, far beyond your business logo. To design a brand is to design an entire experience. It begins with purpose, it infuses the work with meaning, and fuels the Mission with passion–passion for serving each and every customer to the best of your ability. Brand is not only the visual. It is the whole show. Branding designs the product, the service, the visual design, and the solutions, and serves it up in a way that no other company can match. The Intentional Brand leaves an essence which lingers long after the customer has walked out the door.

If Branding is so important, why do the vast majority of small businesses put brand development as an afterthought? If branding is serving, and serving is love, then who exactly are we serving if we neglect the development of our brand? It certainly is not the Customer!

It is common for a small business owner to ask the question, “How can I get more sales?” But it is the wrong question, and it may be the very question that causes the demise of so many small businesses. This question implies a company is willing to take any sale–even those sales that undermine a company’s true purpose. The real question to ask is this: “How can I serve my customers better?” That is an entirely different question. And the answer creates an Intentional Brand.

Here are just a handful of reasons to build the Intentional Brand:

•  The Intentional Brand makes every decision you make in your business a whole lot easier. When you build a Brand, you set standards for your business in advance. You choose the personality of your business, and how you want it to act and behave and perform in any given situation. Whenever a decision needs to be made, you simply ask, “What would our Brand do?”. The answer will create a consistent customer experience, in keeping with the character of the brand.

•  The deeper you dive into the development of your brand, the less time you will spend trying to find new customers. You will know who your package is for. And no, it is not for just anyone. The Intentional Brand attracts the person you can best serve.

•  A beautifully wrapped Intentional Brand provides an invitation. It recreates that feeling of anticipation you had as a child to open that special present waiting there, just for you.

•  The Intentional Brand is intuitive. It gives an idea of the kind of product your customer can expect. It provides clues for why your product is different. The customer might even guess the price point. It increases curiosity and the willingness to find out more, all the while reducing      perceived risk.

•  The Intentional Brand is memorable because it is consistent. Repetition builds recollection.

•  The Intentional Brand reinforces the company’s story. Stories are better than a sales pitch any day.

•  An Intentional Brand will help your company appear well-managed, credible, confident, and believable. In a day where trust is in short supply, why wouldn’t you want that?

 

An Intentional Brand, does not make you trustworthy. But it does tell the customer you have gone to the effort to think through their experience. Great entrepreneurs create the best possible product for a specific person, tell the truth about it, and then do their best to meet or beat the customer’s expectations. They know an elated customer is the only way to sustain in business.

The way you wrap your business is essential to sustaining business. It is essential for first impressions–much in the same way good grooming is necessary for a sales call. Without a great first impression, a start-up may never have an opportunity to showcase their product.

But if you spend the time to dig deep and build an Intentional Brand, you will provide yourself with countless opportunities to connect with more of the right customers. Then you can prove that seeing really is believing.

 

 

 

 

#30YrsIn30Days

A Collection of Axioms Gleaned Over 30 Years in Business

Day 1: Small is the new Big. Small Business can run circles around Big Biz. It is flexible & resilient. Its voice is unmistakably human. It is closer to the customer, and can provide the currency of attention. It starts faster, stops faster, turns faster. There is always room for one more in the sea of free enterprise. You never know what you can do, until your small business challenges you to do it. It grows people into the best they can be. #SmallBizRocks

Day 2: Biggest problem in Small Business is that you don’t know what you don’t know. Ignorance is bliss, but only for a very short while. Fortunately, Small Business is also self-calibrating, if you are willing to learn. Better to ask a dumb question than hang on to your ego.

Day 3: We started our business 30 years ago with virtually nothing. Let us tell you the blessings of bootstrapping: 1) when you start with nothing you have nothing to lose, 2) the sky is the limit–you have everything to gain, 3) rock bottom is a pretty firm foundation on which to start building, 4) you are highly motivated to make it work, so you begin business with good habits.

Day 4:  Your Small Business is not about you. It’s not about how or what you want to sell. It’s not about your programs, or your information, or your unique skills. It’s all about what the customer wants, and how and why they want to buy it. It’s not about solving your cash flow problems. It’s about helping the customer solve their problems.

Day 5: What is your company’s raison d’etre? Passion is good. Purpose is better. In face, it is everything. Small Business requires massive amounts of energy. Without a Purpose bigger than ourselves, we will eventually run out of gas, and slide into a crisis of identity, context, and meaning.

Day 6: Customers are not data points. They are not transactions. Your customer is not a means to and end. They are the end.

Day 7: Small business will bring out the best in you, if you let it. It will ask more of you than what you think you’ve got, challenging you on every level. But you have no idea what you are capable of. Your biz will show you what you really can do.

Day 8: Your small business will also bring out the worst in you, if you let it. It will expose every flaw you’ve ever had. Your Biz will also give you the chance to see these flaws, make changes, and become a better person. Only the humble will survive. “Humility, after the first shock, is a cheerful virtue.” C.S. Lewis

Day 9: KEY: Keep. Educating. Yourself. Keep reaching. Keep practicing. Keep honing your skills. You will never be done learning. The minute you think you are done learning, you are in decline.

Day 10: The very best way to keep customers is so so simple. Show up, do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it. Just do this, and you will always have customers.

Day 11: If you are not having fun in your business, you’re doing something wrong. Groucho Marx

Day 12: You have to make money to stay in business. But if making money is your 1st goal, your customer will eventually figure out your goal is to get the money from their pocket to yours. Profit will remain elusive. Your 1st goal: Improve your product.

Day 13: Entrepreneurs will always have more things to do than will fit in the schedule. Your best use of time is to use your time to buy more time. Whatever will save you time tomorrow and the next day? Move that item up towards the top of your list.

Day 14: Testing and measuring your marketing efforts is critical to determine what is working and what isn’t working. You don’t need to measure every recommended KPI. You don’t have to measure everything everywhere. You can waste a lot of time doing that. Every business is different. Learn what metrics are critical to your organization. Start with those things. Add other measurements as you have time and staff to use them. In a nutshell, you need only measure the things you can affect.

Day 15: If you have to be certain to make a decision, you will never do anything. You will never have absolute certainty. Most of  small business is improvisation. Give it your best shot and jump.

Day 16: Your business is the product. You have a brand. It is by default or on purpose. Everything you do is Brand. Everything in your business communicates, from the front door to the back. You are always communicating. “One cannot NOT communicate.” Watzlawick

Day 17: Surround yourself with people who know things you don’t. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.

Day 18: Bad stuff can be the best stuff. Opportunity often comes wrapped in a strange disguise.

Day 19: It is important for an entrepreneur to know and understand the difference between marketing & advertising. Marketing is a lot like fishing: Know what kind of fish you are after. Know why you want that fish. Know where these fish are. Know when they are there. Know what they like. Know what kind of boat & pole are needed. Advertising is only the bait. Advertising is actually very easy if marketing has done its job.

Day 20: Always seek improvement. Make your product so good that you blow your own mind. If you are not blown away by your product, how can you expect anyone else to be?

Day 21: Don’t forget the why. Don’t let systems dissolve into mindless routine. It is at that point, you’ll know all the answers & forget the question. You’ll miss the forest for the trees. You’ll be missing the most important ingredient in any Small Business: Purpose.

Day 22: Practice THANKS GIVING. You did not get where you are on your own. Gratitude puts a spring in your step, hope in your heart, creativity in your soul, ideas in your mind, opportunity in your path, and a smile on your face.

Day 23: Competition is not evil. It means there is a robust market for your product. That’s a really good thing. Very few problems in Small Business are due to robust competition. Competition makes you and your product better.

Day 24: Imperfection is beautiful. It means the thing was made by a person. People are fascinating. Machines are boring. Perfection can be sterile, and boring. And Perfectionism can run you out of business.

Day 25: If the same problem seems to keep happening over and over no matter what you do, (and oh eeh gads I hate to tell you this): the problem is most likely you.

Day 26: The minute you hire one person, you are a leader, whether you have ever thought of yourself as a leader or not. Take the time to learn how to be the best leader you can be, because It’s much harder than it looks. Many entrepreneurs look forward to doing things ‘their way’ instead of the boss’s way. Yes, you get to call all the shots when you own the place. But, the flip side of that privilege is that you are also responsible for how everything turns out. Learning how to lead is one of your most important jobs ever as an entrepreneur. Study to make yourself worth following.

Day 27: Has anyone ever heard your idea and said, “You’ve got to be kidding me?”, or “You can’t do that”? STOP! Don’t throw that idea away!!!! Some of the best ideas on the planet began with those same exact words. The journey from impossible to possible begins in the imagination.

Day 28: Do you follow your own advice? Knowing and doing are two different things. Knowing and not doing is the same as not knowing. Maybe you don’t need another business coach. Maybe you just need to do what you know you should do.

Day 29: Small Business is all about relationships. Employee relationships must come first, and after that, they help you to make your customers happy. If you aren’t a people person, and you don’t know how to make or maintain or sustain relationships, it will be impossible to grow your business.

Day 30: Last Day of #30YrsIn30Days!!! It’s Day 30 of 30! Your heart health is essential for your Small Business health. We’re not talking primarily about physical heart health, though that is very important too. We are talking about what you believe about yourself and what you believe about your worth and abilities. Entrepreneurs need to guard our self talk. All. The. Time. The world will beat us down. You are the most influential person in your life. What do you tell yourself? Are you a friend to yourself? Or a foe? It is super important to calibrate your heart with truth, because what you are comes from what you believe about yourself, and what you believe about yourself comes out in everything you do. You will achieve only what you believe you can achieve. What steps can you take that would help you to feel more confident? Take care of that first. You have something to share with the world, and without it? The world will be missing out. You are worthy of success.

The Unconventional Secret to Motivation

Vanitas: Still Life with Bouquet and Skull by Adriaen van Utrecht, 1642

Memento Mori.  Got one?

The ghouls and goblins are just beginning to emerge, so I thought I might ask if you have one? Memento Mori. Latin. Yes, it’s a thing. The google definition reads: “an object serving as a warning or reminder of death.”  Just a little something that acts as a reminder that you are going to die. Oh, how pleasant.

I’ve got one! Aren’t you jealous? This little black box is a vintage camera. It belonged to my husband’s grandmother, and it has been sitting on my shelf since she passed away some time ago. I left the little round tag hanging off the handle, written in her own hand, bearing the date: 1920.  I have been looking at it for years. I am dumbfounded by my sloth because it was only recently that I even bothered to ask, “I wonder if this thing still works?”. It does. Elated, I have begun to experiment with it.

The history of this camera will explain to you how this strange object became my Memento Mori.

Before the invention of this revolutionary gadget, you had to go to a professional to get your family photos taken–a privilege reserved only for the wealthy. Before this camera, the only time an average family would have a picture taken was after someone had died. We may cringe at the thought now, but it was a very rational purchase then. Think about it. They had no other way to remember what the face of their loved one looked like. This kind of photo was called a Memento Mori.  For these photos, elaborate staging was required. They would dress the deceased in finery, prop them up, and comb their hair. Other members of the family would often pose with them as if everything was awesome. And unless someone told you, you might never know it wasn’t. (But, if you want to sleep tonight, I do not recommend that you perform a google search for Memento Mori photos. Because some of them are completely obvious.)

This camera revolutionized photography. It was the iPhone of the day. With the arrival of this affordable box camera came the ability for the average person to take candid photos of their loved ones while they were still alive. How pleasant.

The history of Memento Mori does not stop there. Down through the ages, the Memento Mori was thought to build character, and was not always considered a morbid thing.  In ancient Rome, it was popular to celebrate victorious military generals with elaborate parades. But Roman culture demanded that victory be accompanied with humility. So, a servant was hired to follow along behind the general to rain on his parade, reminding him, “Remember! You are only a man. You are going to die.” (What a wet blanket!)

Memento Mori is found across cultures, philosophies, and religions including Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity.  “Oh teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.” Psalm 90:12. Perhaps you have seen Victorian portraits of people adorned in feathered hats and elaborate costumes, holding a skull. That skull is Memento Mori.  And it’s not just an ancient thing.  Even in today’s culture, you can get an app called WeCroak for your smartphone that will send you messages up to 5X per day: “You’re going to die!” It’s funny. It’s cruel. And it is a reminder to get going.

Carpe Diem may be a more positive reminder, but it doesn’t look past today. It is the deadline that really gets us in gear. Think about it. If you have just been given six months to live, you have just been granted instant clarity. You know who you need to talk to, the things you need to do, and the things you need to fix. And often, when I need to make a difficult decision complete with risks and ramifications, I will ask myself, “If I died tomorrow, would I be glad I did this?” Most often, the question enables instant clarity. Sometimes, the best way to know what you were born to do, is to think about how you want that little obit to read–that little boiled down summary of your entire life fitting on one sheet of paper–when you die.

This, then, is the story of how this object, this camera, has become my Memento Mori. I have christened it so. This thing does mirror real life because there are precious few features you can control. But using what features it does have, believe it or not, you can get some decent shots. I screwed up the first roll of film. Even in that, it reminds me I can put in a new roll and try that shot again.

This camera, as my Memento Mori, is unconventional motivation to focus on what matters, and take care of what matters, while I am still quite alive.

What is your Memento Mori? We may never pass this way again. We aren’t here forever. Find something that will remind you to get going. All those Bucket List things you have been wanting to do? Give yourself a deadline. You still have time to do it. How do I know?

Simple. If you are reading this, you are not dead yet.


1 2 3 16