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.

You Won’t Believe What It Takes to. . . Part 1- Get the Lifestyle You Deserve

you won't believe what it takes to

>And thus I begin my August theme, a bit tongue in cheek.If I had a nickel for every time I heard a consultant mouth these words, I would no longer need my day job. The lure of making a lot of money and making it very fast is just so incredibly seductive.  We can imagine ourselves in that lifestyle, soaking up the glamor and luxury. But, while  “getting the lifestyle you deserve” may throw much fuel on the fire of capitalism and enterprise, it rarely produces a sustainable, game-changing business. Hang on, and I will tell you why.

Glamor surrounds the successful entrepreneur. Their stories are the stuff that TV shows are made of. We cannot get enough tales of ordinary people rising from Mr. Nobody to Ms. Somebody in a matter of months, weeks, or even days. Countless blogs filled with perils and bravery and chutzpah are heartwarming and fun to read. And I agree. The birth of a new business is completely magical.

So when someone we know has the guts to cut their own umbilical cord that connects them to a predictable income, we cannot help but sit back in admiration. We put our heads into our hands and watch as they make their way into a brave new world. It is all bliss for the baby entrepreneur. That is, until someone slaps their behind, turns on the bright lights right in their eyes, they feel the cold, and find out they are quite naked. Yes, the real world can be a rude awakening. The magic disappears like a poof in a Looney Tunes cartoon.

It is never as easy as it looks.

Many people start a business for the lure of running their own show. They are tired of working for “The Man”. “The Man” is an old idiom representing everything in the workaday world that oppresses, suppresses, and otherwise sucks the life from the very core of your soul. It is “The Man” that wrenches those mind-numbing, repetitious tasks from your day, and compensates you with a measly pittance at the end of what seems an an ungodly period time, (and reminds you just how thankful you should be). I sometimes wonder just how many new businesses “The Man” has inspired. Doubtless, it is countless. With any brain at all, anyone can calculate that these same hours could be used to great personal advantage. If given half a chance, you could escape to freedom, make twice the salary, keep all the profit, andkeep your four-week annual vacation. (Maybe.)

Ahhhh, the smell of freedom. It is intoxicating. But wait a minute. Aren’t you just escaping? Escaping “The Man” is one of the worse reasons everto start a business. And we must be honest. Many entrepreneurs will work 80 hours to avoid working 40. Some small business owners will end up enslaved again. Sure, you would never begin a business that does not fuel your fire. But many consultants will encourage you to build your business on whatyou want–upon the lifestyle that you desire to have. The strange thing about this advice is that it is not about you.

A successful business never begins with you. It begins with your customer–and what they want. It is all about them.

Every time I hear “get the lifestyle you deserve,” I notice the message has some glaring omissions. These consultants conveniently leave out the part where you need to deliver a value equivalent to said lifestyle. In other words, you have to earn it. They never talk about that. And then they leave out the part that the world must want what you have to sell. Oh, yeah. That means that someone has to like it enough to buy it. And buy a lot of it. That takes planning. And then there is this detail that the product must be better than what the competition has to offer. Oh, yeah. They leave that out too. To make a product better than the alternatives takes some planning too. Beyond all this, it also needs to be offered at a fair price.  

All these consultants want to talk about is how to get more leads. They forget that you need to give more in order to get more. It is not about getting likes and clicks and leads. And by the way, these leads? They are people. 

In the end, your income is a direct reflection of the value you offer the world. If I want to be paid more, I need to provide more. It is as simple as that.

When you begin to orbit your business around the customer instead of yourself, you find you will no longer have to struggle to get the customers you need. If you serve them well, you will deserve the income you make–and the associated lifestyle.

The purpose of life is to give, not get. What do you have that the world is waiting for?

“And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.”

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Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful your graphics, they will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your vision, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will make with your target customer. We want to help you find the gold in your business. 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.

Getting in the Groove, Part 4: The Fascinating Rhythms of Business

getting in the groove

I cannot imagine a world without music. A good driving rhythm can alter my whole day. It gets me out of bed, gets me pumped about my day, makes me try harder at anything, and raises my energy levels. It enhances my creativity. Why, I am listening to Bill Withers Lovely Day at this very moment. It cannot help but put me in a good mood. I am sure music affects many of you hep cats in similar ways. 

But did you know that rhythm can do the same for your business? 

Rhythm creates structure. Rhythm is management minimalism. A time signature tells a musician what notes to count, and how many of these notes to count in any given period. It may seem quite simplistic, but upon this minimal structure, anything and everything can be built. Rhythm in business sets the pace, and takes you somewhere. Do you know what things you should count in your business? It took me years to learn that you do not need to spend time counting everything. One only needs to count things that you can affect and the things that measure success for your business. And that success depends on which song you are trying to play. 

Rhythm creates predictability. Predictability builds expectations. Fulfilling expectations builds trust. Trust is the hardest thing to win and the easiest thing to lose in business. Trust is much easier to gain if you consistently do what you say you will do. Rhythm helps your whole team to understand what part they play, and exactly where they are to come in to help you keep those promises.

Rhythm builds credibility. Imagine treating your customers with utmost respect each time you interact with them. This is just the kind of invitation your customer needs to come back. And consistent honor is just kind of rhythm that will inspire your team to bend over backward to help you. 

Rhythm builds momentum. We all know what happens after a drum roll, yes? After that crash of the cymbals comes the announcement that something big and exciting is about to happen. Entrepreneurs can speed things up, and use this kind of rhythm as a strategy to build expectation and anticipation. 

Rhythm creates patterns. Humans can recognize patterns from their first moments on earth. Whether you like it or not, people judge your business by its appearance. Patterns and consistency in visual marketing help to create a clear, recognizable brand. Consumer confidence grows when every visual message expresses the same character and personality, without ever saying a word.

Rhythm keeps the pace. Rhythm provides the structure to keep your day on a roll. Applied to operations? It provides the cyclical salvation of systems. Applied to marketing? It sends out three emails a day or calls ten customers per week. Applied to management? It applies the same reliable schedule each week to all complete all necessary tasks. Applied to my daily schedule? It is called discipline. Discipline will create the jive to keep you going strong.

Oh, what a little rhythm can do for you.Rhythm and momentum can create a driving force in your business.  It can get you out of bed, get you pumped about your daily routine, make you try harder at anything, and raise your energy levels. It can enhance your creativity. Hey, it can even put you in a good mood.

Where does your business need more consistency? Where do you need more rhythm? You will know it when you are getting in the groove, because all of a sudden, your customers will get off their feet, and want to sing and dance along. So whenever you feel you are feeling the beat, remember to crank it up.  

We are all waiting to rock out with you. Fist pump. Bring the house down.

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Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful your graphics, they will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your vision, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will make with your target customer. We want to help you find the gold in your business. 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.

 

Getting in the Groove, Part 3: Becoming a Master

getting in the groove

Skip. Skip. Skip. No thanks. Don’t need it. Nope. I don’t want it. No, I don’t want more like this. No. No. And no. Close pop up. Unsubscribe.

So follows the average consumer’s experience. Ads are an obstacle, an irritation, and an interruption. At the same time the entrepreneur is doing their best to be seen and heard, the consumer is doing her utmost to avoid it.

When marketers are from Mars, and consumers are from Venus, what is an entrepreneur to do?

For starters, if you are a small business owner and you are marketing the way you have always marketed, you are committing marketing suicide. Consumers now control the marketplace. It isn’t about you.

And guess what? If it looks like an ad, sounds like an ad, smells like an ad, and acts even remotely like an ad? They don’t want it. No matter what you are selling.

You have heard it said from many a marketing expert, that you have to break through the noise.  And so most entrepreneurs, like the Who’s down in Whoville, just try to yell louder. The funny thing about this advice is that it ignores one of the most important parts of marketing: You need to say something that is worth listening to.

Becoming a brand is very much like becoming a good musician. It is about grueling daily practice, over and over and over, to prepare your song to be heard. It is about singing with a certain style, for a certain audience, in a specific venue, to create a specific experience. It is about belting out your song with clarity and confidence, knowing full well it is good. It is about singing your heart out, with the express purpose of blessing those that hear you.

Branding is everything you are, and everything you do. It is your promises, your culture, and everything you have set out to accomplish. It may come as a surprise, but like any street musician, no one has to listen to you.

We must earn the right to be heard. Our song is either remarkable or nothing at all.  So how do you hone your chops? How do you spend time in the woodshed?

I think you know intuitively:

Master your “instrument”. No matter what your industry, learn, and keep learning from the best. No entrepreneur earns a right to be heard by playing like a novice. You must become a master. This may require frequent jam sessions. Mastery requires daily practice until you exude confidence and are prepared for every opportunity. Practice until you see your audience tapping their toes, and play so crazy beautiful that they beg for more.

Create your own voice. Branding is about singing your own song. Sing in your own style, your own key, and your own genre. Don’t be afraid to show your personality. Don’t try to be someone else, and don’t copy what someone else is doing. This does not mean you can’t sing the same tune. Just make it uniquely your own.

Choose your audience. Like any pro musician, not everyone will love what you do. But those who do will form a tribe and become your fan club. If you try to please everyone, you will please no one. Branding is choosing. Branding is planned neglect. Think of it this way. If you were promoting an outdoor live music event that featured folk, jazz, classical, and country music, how many tickets do you think you’d sell? It is more about what you don’t do than what you do.

Become a show stopper. Learn to connect with your audience. Does your business have stage presence? Do the work to prepare an experience that your audience will never forget, and you will create raving fans. Understand what it is like to be in their shoes. Know what they like. Sing their experience too, and your song will resonate in their hearts. Practice your song until it becomes an experience in itself, and takes them on a journey.

Make it personal. Big brands are losing appeal. Why? They are not human. Today’s Brands connect with real people. Make your audience feel as if you are singing right to them. Let your song become their song. If it sounds too perfect, it sounds digital and inhuman. 

“If it sounds clean and slick, I’ve been doing it too long.”     Miles Davis

Real musicians and real brands are flexible, responsive, spontaneous, and generous. They are secure in their own identity and know where they shine. Because they are secure in their position, they can constantly innovate and explore new ideas within their genre. They cover enough new material that variation on a theme is easy.

That kind of confidence is impact. That kind of confidence attracts. That kind of confidence connects with the audience.

It is not about making more noise. It is about making the right noise.

If you strengthen your voice and your brand, you will not have to get louder. If you need to attract more customers, hone your offerings, and work on your Brand. Practice your song. Work to connect with your fans. Because no matter your industry, no matter the medium, and no matter how many ads you put out there, unless you hone your chops, your song will never be heard.

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Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful your graphics, they will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your vision, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will make with your target customer. We want to help you find the gold in your business. 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.

Getting in the Groove, Part 2: The Surprising Composition of Creativity

getting in the groove part 2

When I was a kid, I would come home from school and play my piano for hours on end. There were evenings when with great irony, I took for granted the very time signatures at my disposal. In these moments, whether I knew it or not, I would enter the elusive state of creative flow. The rest of the world would fade away as I disappeared into the haunting melodies of Schumann and Chopin. While my mother slaved away, I annoyed my siblings with repetitious exercises that promised dexterity to the diligent student. Or not. As the case may be. 

Ah, those were the good old days! Entrepreneurs rarely have the luxury of endless hours for brainstorming and creativity, yet I still think it is possible for us to enter into the sublime state where creative juices can flow. The problem for entrepreneurs is that such opportunities come wrapped in a package that looks very much like it was run over by a truck. It looks so bad that we frequently mistake it for something completely other than a gift. You may have been fooled by some of these gifts yourself.

Here are ten unusual sources of creative flow that are usually disguised in a frumpy, dumpy package:

Restrictions-  Anyone can be creative with endless resources. It is under restrictions that the real genius comes out. Real innovation is born when we are forced to do more with less. 

Mistakes-  Yes, we blow it. We waste materials. But it is the ones who get out there and make the most mistakes who accomplish the most. We go back to the drawing board. Remember, in the wake of seemingly hopeless mistakes, entire new industries have been born.

Frustrations-  While too much anxiety is always dangerous, there is a productive kind of anxiety called Eustress. Eustress is positive stress that promotes growth, much like the struggle of a butterfly emerging from a cocoon. Problems and frustrations are often our greatest sources of new ideas. They just look like piles of crap. Which leads to our next ingredient:

Fertilizer-  What causes the most beautiful blooms in your garden? The application of generous amount of––well I’m too polite to say. Got a load of crap? So get a shovel and work it in. Plant Dahlias or something. In sheer audacity of hope, and before anything grows, sign up for the Biggest Blooms contest at your local State Fair. Sure, shxt happens to the best of entrepreneurs. This is shxt redeemed.

Distractions-  Diversions can be the catalyst for oblique strategies. How can you think outside the box if you cannot find at least one hole to peer out? Don’t be afraid to take a walk, or purposely find something different to do for a few minutes.

Necessities-  Those old wives were not as dumb as they look. Blatant need has been the primary point of discovery for many an invention for centuries.

Messes-  Until we are comfortable with making messes, we will never dare to try something new. Messes cause innovation to happen much faster than tweaking and testing for marginal improvements. (Where’s the kaboom? There was suppose to be an earth shattering kaboom?)

Insecurities-  Adults famously try to avoid situations where we do not know what to do, and where we have the potential to look stupid. The reality is, the very moment we feel most insecure is the moment when we are closer to a solution than ever before. Comfort is the enemy of creativity.

Obstacles-  Obstacles do not get in the way. They jog our thinking. Obstacles make us stretch to get over them. Stretching always improves our performance.

Monkey wrenches-  It is also human nature to take the easiest path. We get complacent when things are always the same. Monkey wrenches force us to take a new look at old things, and see them as we have never seen them before.

So the composition of creativity is not the romantic things we might expect. The next time you receive a generous package of Insecurity or Monkey Wrenches? Look up and do your best to be grateful. There may be a priceless gift inside. God uses these unwelcome packages to help us to discover our capacities. They help us to learn that we can survive and come out the other side a more resilient, more creative person. We are more capable than we think we are, we learn that we can make it work, and that we do not have to do it alone–that other people want to help.

Thus the symphony of creativity begins with dark, low notes. It develops with peaks and valleys, high notes and low notes, and finally recapitulates in joyous tubular bells. 

That builds our confidence. 

And that, my friend, will get you in the groove.

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Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful your graphics, they will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your vision, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will make with your target customer. We want to help you find the gold in your business. 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. 

 

Getting in the Groove, Part 1: How to Orchestrate Success

getting in the marketing groove

Answer this:  What does my business provide that no other company can provide? What can my business say about its products or services that no other company can say?

It may seem too difficult to define. Yet, any company that we have served in our professional history that was able to articulate this difference has become a thriving enterprise. It is called a unique selling proposition, or USP. While a USP is not easy to define, it is a tool well within the reach of the smallest of entities.  It requires little or no capital to create. Whatever time it takes, it is well worth it to improve the function of every other tool in your marketing toolbox.

I do not pretend to understand macroeconomics. I do understand the law of supply and demand, (as do most people who can balance a checkbook). Simply stated, this law states that the value of a product is the direct inverse of its availability. But even if your product is available everywhere it is still possible to create a unique way of doing business.

If you can articulate the difference, you are no longer a commodity. 

We can learn much from the music industry on creating your own signature style. Take the Billy Strayhorn Jazz Standard “Take the A Train,” made famous by the Duke Ellington Orchestra for an example.  It would be impossible to count the number of times this tune has been covered by other artists, whether recorded or performed at a live outdoor music event. Why did the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Dave Brubeck, Charles Mingus, Maynard Ferguson, or Wynton Marsalis record this song, when it had already been recorded countless times before? While they played the same song,  each artist brought their own particular style and creativity and made it their very own. It has never been recorded the same way twice.

Perhaps you work in an industry with cut-throat competition. Finding a unique way of doing business seems virtually impossible. Re-framing your thinking is in order. Too much competition in your market is a very good sign indeed. It indicates an abundance of demand, and demand is always the first marketing hurdle.

Next, what resources do you have at your disposal? And what disadvantages do you have? Disadvantages?Yes, disadvantages! You can turn them into assets too! Dizzy Gillespie’s horn was bent on accident, right before he was to go onstage to play. A comedy dance team stepped on it while fooling around backstage. Dizzy went on with the show and played it as is. His trumpet not only became his trademark, the horn’s unique sound made Dizzy a jazz sensation. Billie Holiday burned her hair while preparing to sing in a nightclub. She put a gardenia in her hair to cover the damage. The flower became a trademark to her fantastic set of pipes, and the rest, as they say, is history. Woody Guthrie’s songs were so unique that he decided to use a copyright that allowed everyone to copy him. He knew that wherever his songs were sung, it would only add credence to his work as a folk singer and songwriter.

So everyone else is singing your song! Practice till you can sing it better. There are plenty of covers that people love more than the original. Elvis’s famous Hound Dog was originally sung by Big Mama Thorton. Over the Rainbow, originally made famous by Judy Garland, was resurrected to contemporary fame by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole. Oh What a Beautiful Morning, from the Rogers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma, could not be more beautiful as sung by Ray Charles. You probably have a few favorite covers of your own.

The more a business focuses on playing their own unique song to the best of their ability, the less they have to look for fans. Sing your own song. Sing it the best way you know how.

Become the best you can be and the fans will come looking for you.

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Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful your graphics, they will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your vision, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will make with your target customer. We want to help you find the gold in your business. 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 Small Business Experiment- Part 5, Defying the Law of Inertia

the small business experiment part 5

We are living in an age of unprecedented opportunity for entrepreneurs everywhere. Hyper-connectivity is reversing the Tower of Babel. In the midst of swirling conversations, the economies of the world are folding and bending and snapping together in new ways, much like Transformers in some giant, world-sized toy box.

Success is equal opportunity–with an equal opportunity to crash and burn. If you fail in business today, you cannot say you did not have enough information. If you are not taking advantage of all the free training from the world’s finest universities, (available everywhere while podcasts last), it is to your detriment. The tools to apply this knowledge are ever more accessible and approachable too.

Yet, for all the business advice dispensed, the application remains a cautionary tale. One size does not fit all. Just because Amazing Strategy A works for Enterprise B, (insert flashing starburst containing the word Amazing here), it does not necessarily follow that this strategy will produce the same results for you. Terms and conditions do not always apply, even if you read them. Your particular environment may be different. Many rabbit trails are pursued in the name of a famous founder, with less than stellar results. Context is always king, followed quickly by timing, constraints, opportunity, and available elbow grease.

Despite all available risk, I remain a U.P.: Unquenchable Possibilitarian. I remain hopeful that these changes in our world will bring about a marvelous evolution of free enterprise. 

What stands in the way is a strange dichotomy. While the environment is subject to continual change, humans resist it. We are subject to the Laws of the Universe, and specifically, Newton’s First Law of Motion: Inertia. This law states that things, including people, want to keep doing what they are already doing. If they are at rest, they want to stay at rest. If they are moving, they want to keep moving. It takes nothing short of great force to suspend inertia.

It can cause quite a problem. It takes an earthquake to make us change our habits. (When was the last time you gave up something yummy to eat before the doctor told you that you had to?) On the other side, once we are on a roll, we want to stay on a roll–even if being on a roll does not accomplish the right things. We long for things to stay the same, and try to insert as much predictability as we can into an unpredictable world. Inertia plagues the best of entrepreneurs.

But for entrepreneurs who want to go the long haul, we need to practice the discipline of change. Even making small changes to your daily routine can be a start. Beyond just getting used to the idea, we need to practice changing gears at a moment’s notice–all in the name of a higher purpose. Begin by taking a look at every activity for which you have said, “we have always done it this way”.

Whenever we assist a budding enterprise with graphic representation of their Vision and Mission, we start by helping them to divine their purpose and their trajectory.  “Where do you want to be in five years?” After a bat of the eyes, and an incredulous stare, they usually ask something akin to, “How it is even possible in this day in age to think five years out?”

It isn’t possible.Guessing where you will be in five years is a crap shoot at best. Yet, the entrepreneur that realizes a calling and a purpose bigger than themselves will thrive in an environment of change–far beyond the entrepreneur who is only concerned with survival. The entrepreneur with vision is prepared for change. When the environment zigs, she can zag. She is ready to jump if the opportunity arises, or take wing if the bottom falls out. (She has taken wing so many times that she has accumulated frequent flyer miles.) Most importantly, she is fit to survive, because she is concerned not only about her own success, but the success of everyone around her. She succeeds with her customers– never without them. She focuses on making herself and her company useful to a changing world.

Entrepreneurs must develop a plan to avoid Inertia. Change is the new daily homogeneity.  Few businesses that have achieved any measure of stature are the same as the founder originally planned them to be. Only one mantra remains a constant in entrepreneurial cosmology: all that can change, will change. 

We need to make daily effort to defy Newton’s First Law of Motion. Plan your own quarterly earthquake to avoid apathy and indifference. Find a mentor to hold you accountable for the vast difference between busy and productive. It will take Herculean force, because change is here to stay.

We are perched somewhere between the Now and the Not Yet. No one knows what tomorrow will bring or what we are yet to become. But today’s entrepreneur understands the risk and is prepared to engage and evolve into all that they are destined to be. I have watched many entrepreneurs transformed into a dynamic force for good. It is very encouraging in a messy world to say the least.

May you be fearless to embrace your own evolution. And may you become my fellow Unquenchable Possibilitarian. 

Have you enjoyed this series? If so, please let me know in the comments below.

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Why do we at etc!graphics inc, a graphic design company, care about your business strategies?  Because no matter how beautiful your graphics, they will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your vision, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will make with your target customer. We want to help you find the gold in your business. 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. 


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