Beginning. Becoming. Blooming.

beginning. becoming. blooming.

Spring is busting out all over. On a recent walk, I marveled at the oriental poppies in a neighbors yard. Voluptuous vermillion. Ravishing red. In stark contrast to the spring green leaves. It is quite amazing to think that these flowers erupt from one teeny tiny poppy seed. Do you realize how small and insignificant these seeds are? They are those little black things that get dusted across your sandwich at the deli. Yes, those little things. When placed into the ground, they transform. They evolve. They become that. That gorgeous bloom.

The transformation that occurs in the life of the Start Up is not much different. And this is why I love the small business journey. Few of us would ever guess what we are capable of doing, but there are times when the transformation that takes place in the life of a person is nothing short of stunning. The challenges of the environment set the stage. The journey is neither easy nor quick. The stress and set backs do not feel good. Yet it is the challenge itself that creates the bloom. Entrepreneurs become managers. Leaders. Experts. Brave.

Take for example the composer Sergei Rachmaninoff, the genius musician of the late Romantic period. He seemed to be a magnet for bad critics. The critics were wrong. They were simply on a bandwagon. Enter, stage left, the antagonist, the famous author Leo Tolstoy. Leo invited Sergei to dinner. After Sergei played a composition for him, Leo commented, “Is such music needed by anyone? I must tell you how I dislike it all.” The famous author was hardly a member of the peanut gallery. But the inbreeding of all these critics had also infected Tolstoy. His commentary led Sergei to much self-doubt, yet his gift could not be repressed. He sought help, even psychotherapy. Rachmaninoff knew, deep down, that he was creating good things. He overcame the negative press, and continued to write, becoming one of the world’s most celebrated pianists and composers.

Many small entrepreneurs have trouble knowing what they are ultimately qualified to do, and have trouble envisioning the final bloom. They do not know what hue they are destined to be. Even if it is not crystal clear, keep growing. Keep improving. Keep on taking opportunities. If you are growing, the bloom has to manifest itself sooner or later. Then you can say, “I didn’t know I could do it. But I surprise myself, because I just did do it.” Keep envisioning the goal. If the critics could see you now.

I am fully aware that the small business environment is not always encouraging. Do not despise the rigor of the daily struggle. I am fully convinced that we are better, and stronger for it. Everyone has a bloom of a specific hue to offer the world, and the world will be short changed if you do not deliver. What good is a poppy hidden from view? It is meant to be shared. Every new step of growth gets you closer to glory. Without the struggle, how would you know what you are capable of? Here’s to becoming all you are meant to be.

The B.H.A.R. (Big. Hairy. Audacious. Risk.)

The Vulnerability of Growth

by Geri Seiberling

New growth is so beautiful. After the long gray winter, I soak up the chartreuse green like the ground soaks up the spring rain. It is so refreshing to my spirit!

I don’t know about you, but I’m all too happy to pull into the lawn and garden center to invite some real color back into my gray world. I may not be able to scientifically explain the process, but I understand what a seed can do. But how often do we think about what is really happening when we put these little power packs into the ground? They certainly don’t look like much. Some seeds are so indiscriminate that you wouldn’t know it was a seed, apart from the envelope it comes in. And we would never know that a certain black pod holds genetics for a specific shade of cerulean blue. I can barely wrap my head around it. All I have to do is subject this little package to minerals, darkness, warmth, and water. And wah-lah. Miraculously, the sleeping life wakes up. A miniature transformer, the seed sprout pushes the earth out of its way, driving both downward and upward, both dependent and autonomous at the same time. It risks itself to the environment, come what may.

What does this have to do with business? Everything. Every day you have ideas. True entrepreneurs have more ideas than they know what to do with. Granted, some ideas are power packs that are worth planting, and others are duds. I hope you are at least keeping a file so at the right moment, you can plant your ideas and give them a chance to transform.  Come what may.

Now think about the transformation of any creature- take a lobster for instance. If it is going to grow, it has to subject itself to risk as well. Things that are alive, have to grow.  If it stays in the confines of the old shell, it would die from the pressure. It must crawl out. The only real chance for survival is if it takes a B.H.A.R.       A Big. Hairy. Audacious. Risk. It must become totally defenseless. And there it is. Pink. Frightened. Lunch. But it most certainly will die if it stays in the shell.

Maybe your business does not look like much right now. Take heart. That in itself does not mean it does not have potential. Hidden inside the heart of every beautiful entrepreneur is a very beautiful idea. Maybe you are learning new things, pushing yourself into scary places. Good for you! Growth is often quite messy. So go ahead. Plant your seeds. Crawl out of your shell. Come what may. Vulnerability is the price of real growth.

A Season of Change. A Season of Growth

A Season of Change. A Season of Growth

By Dallas J. Moore 

Spring is fast on its way and with that comes an opportunity for change and growth. As a business owner, everything is changing, always. You have to be quick to capitalize on what’s going on, and know how it can help, or hurt you.

 This spring put a plan in place to plant some seeds for this year. Here are few things that you can do today.

 Polish up Your Skills

 As your business has grown, you too have learned things. Part of business is learning new and interesting things. This allows you to offer more value to the lives of your customers.

 Look into things that your customers have asked you about, but have not had the time to invest in. Take a class. Read a book. Go to a conference. Join in on a webinar. Take some time to invest time in yourself, and your business. Your customers will thank you for it, and it will put you in great position throughout the year.

 -Use What You’ve Learned

 Now that you’ve taken the time to learn some new things, practice them. Communicate your commitment to learning new things with your customers. They will want to know what skills and interests you have, and how they will impact your business.

 By sharing new skills and more efficient ways of doing business, you may find a common ground or interest with your customers. You have now taken your relationship with that customer to another level.

 -Make Goals and Commitments

 Set goals for yourself, and your business. Continue to use the skills you have learned. These goals can be short-term or long-term. Make the goals you set, specific and attainable. Again, this gives you some things to talk about and share with your customers.

 Make the commitment to learn more about things that directly impact your business. Do research to find other related skills in a similar area can directly help your business.

 In conclusion, learning allows you to stay fresh on your products and services. It also keeps you competitive in the market. If you are not evolving and learning, you are falling behind. Don’t allow yourself to be left behind, strive to set the standard in your industry.

Plucky Ducks

Plucky Duck

Are you a Plucky Duck?

In 1992, a shipping crate fell overboard, containing 28,000 plastic bathtub toys. Since then, they have been sailing around the world and appearing on beaches in the most unbelievable places.  While much has been written about the Friendly Floaties, I’d like to present these little guys as an allegory of high-level business acumen.

Yes, they have provided new information to scientists regarding ocean currents, and provided another opportunity to bring important environmental issues to the surface. (Pun fully intended). But these guys are the poster child for the Power of Small.  And I’m not just trying to wring some ‘think positive’ psychology out of the allegory. It is real advantage.

Think of these three advantages alone:

Opportunity abounds

The waning economy has dumped and displaced many workers into the vast economic sea. But at that moment, hundreds of new startups were launched.  Imagine them all, minutes after they bobbed to the surface, all floating together in a friendly flotilla. They are free to do and go wherever they want, no longer hindered by the box. Don’t you love it? The big box store does nothing for creativity. Innovation is born from freedom and liberty. Opportunity abounds like never before.

Space to be me

There is always room for one more small business. Please do not view it as hundreds of new competitors. If you have carefully differentiated your small business, you have nothing to worry about.  There is room for all- even bumping up against each other. While large boats must stay quite a distance from one another, the small business, especially one that has positioned itself carefully, has all the room they need. Small business can swim circles around the big boys, under the radar, in customer service and niche offerings.

Instant adaptation

These little ducks are the ultimate evolutionary model. Darwin would have been so proud.  Currents change. Weather happens. Things a little duck cannot control. But these plucky ducks have endured storms that have brought down the most daring sailors and the largest ships.  They have instantly changed course. Recovered from the largest waves. Endured long periods of sustained sun and loneliness.

If you are a small business, you have more advantage and more help at your disposal than ever before. Got waves? Stop looking at the wave as a disadvantage and use it as a tool and an opportunity to rise to new heights and go places you have never been before.

Small is the new Big. If you are small business owner, you are one Plucky Duck.

If you have enjoyed an advantage of being small, please share it with us in the comments.


And if you would like more information about the friendly floaties, check out these sites:

The Author of Moby Duck:

Small and Swimming Up Stream

Small and Swimming Upstream?

by Dallas J. Moore

When people think about brands and businesses, the best and the biggest are often thought of first. As a small business or startup, there are aspirations to one day be at that level. We would encourage you to shoot for the moon, always.

 There are, however benefits to being small and swimming up stream. As a business grows, expenses and overhead grows with it. Your brand can be impacted by the economy much more, changes in industry, new standards, and social economic hardships. When you are smaller, it’s easier to swim up steam and sometimes faster than those you emulate.

 Being Small Offers Opportunity

 All brands start somewhere. Many of the large brands we see today started small. They have had many years of experience and trial and errors to get them where they are today. You have much the same journey ahead. Enjoy it.

Having little to no overhead when starting a business allows you to do more with less. You learn how to bootstrap, because you don’t have an expansive marketing budget. This allows you think on your feet and be highly creative.  You will be able to travel to meet with people, attend annual events and conferences because you don’t have lengthy expenses. You also have time to decide where your money is best spent and what you can and cannot do without.

 A Handful of Employees Vs. Hundreds or Thousands

 When you only have a couple employees or business partners, you can all move fast together. Delegate work and projects, and keep everyone focused. Once you add more and more employees, you become responsible for paychecks, benefits, and keeping everyone motivated and producing.

With lower numbers, you can make more money, and grow faster. You have to think smart and fast. Hiring fifty people to your brand new business might end in disaster, unless you have customers lined up around the block.  You will get there, pace yourself.

 Build Relationships

When you’re getting started, your focus should be meeting people, networking, and building quality long-lasting relationships. Sometimes it’s not whom you know, but who knows you. In the near future you may need or want business partner, a mentor, some financial support or advice, or a graphic design firm you respect working with you.

 Many big businesses have many of these things in place. But as you build, you can pick and choose how and where you spend your time. Building relationships that will allow for future opportunities for you and your brand.

Delivering the Real Deal

Warm Fuzzies

By Geri Seiberling

I’m sorry that the month of warm fuzzies is almost over. Yes, I am aware the legends surrounding Saint Valentine remain quite speculative. Yes, I know it is pretty weird to like anything about February in Iowa. And yes, I know Valentine’s Day brings with it a kind of love that is commoditized, merchandized, and packaged into processed cheesiness.

Today is Victor Hugo’s Birthday- author of Les Miserables. He said “To love another person is to see the face of God.” Think about that. What a profound statement! We all love to be loved on, but have you ever considered what a sublime privilege it is to give love to another human being? The very idea of loving people up warms me from the inside out. In February. In Iowa. We all know the Real Deal when we see it. The Authentic Smile. The Genuine Concern. But how to give the Real Deal? Some of us desire to distribute this rare commodity with our businesses. I hate the customer service rhinestone. It is the last thing I want to give. ‘Smile when you answer the phone. Everyone can hear your smile.’ I hate fake smiles. How about really smiling because you are happy about giving someone something of real value?

So how do you train your employees to give authentic customer service without the processed cheesiness of the packaged program? Without the memorized scripts- that familiarity that breeds contempt? Let me count just a few ways. (There are many more great ways to show authentic #customerlove. Please feel free to add your own in the comments.)

1. Every small business owner I know has a desire to deliver good customer service. Sometimes the customer service policy is written down, communicated and even trained! But how often do we double-check to see how well we are doing? Have you ever sat down for coffee with one of your best customers and asked them what they really think of your service, waited for their honest answer, and then actually changed something because of what they said? Customer service policies are only the first half of the battle. If you are not making sure that you are a success? It is a bit like a 3 year-old boy giving me, a middle-aged woman, a Hotwheels for a present so I can play with him. Of course he loves Hotwheels! But because he is 3, he assumes that I would surely like them too! If I have never asked what my customer wants, I do not really know what they want. Real love treats others the way they want to be treated. Their perception of your service, and not your perception, is your real Brand.

2. Have you ever been on a blind date from the black lagoon? If you have escaped this experience, I can think of no other word than lucky. Some of us got stuck with the bargain-basement model and found out why they never sold. A million blog posts have been inspired by dates who talk incessantly of themselves and their accomplishments. About the date who never asked you any questions the whole evening. About the eyes that frequently darted about the room, hoping to find a better option. As much as we hate being treated like this, this is how many small businesses advertise. ‘This is what you should know about me me me’. ‘These are our features and benefits’. ‘Do you know of anyone else who would benefit from our product or service, and from hearing about me me me today?’ Just shoot me now. Giving your name out to anyone is the last thing I want to do. Wouldn’t it just knock your socks off if salesperson asked you, ‘How can I help you achieve X?’ (Fill in the variable with whatever it is that your customer really wants). Talk to your customers about what they need and about their problems. Make a customer, not a sale. (Thank you @spinlessplates!)

3. This last way we list here to give authentic #customerlove is bit different. Perhaps even a bit strange. Where do good ideas come from? Where do we find the seeds of innovation and creativity? Often, they lie dormant in the minds and hearts of creative individuals. The only way the seed can be planted and receive sunshine and water to grow would be if someone lets go of it. What does this have to do with authentic love? We are put on earth for community. I cannot be me without you. You cannot be you without me. What good is an idea locked up in your head, without someone to share it with? If you have a good idea or a skill that another would benefit from, but you are not using it, making it known, or giving it away? We all are being shortchanged. Love shares what it possesses. Plant your ideas and dreams for the good of those around you. I’m fully convinced that the world will be a richer place when you do.

This post comes with the honest request for feedback from you. We honestly wish to bring you value. How are we doing? Please don’t shortchange us! You have what we need! We need to hear what you have to say so we can create more warm fuzzies in the world!

Is Your Business Attractively Packaged?

is your business attractively packaged?

By Dallas J. Moore

The visual packaging of any brand requires planning. Your brand is an experience, and can be communicated through all the senses that we as humans have, and should evoke an emotional response.

The packaging of your brand is almost as important as your brand itself. If you cannot get potential customers to notice you, or try you out, your story and its emotional response are wasted. You need to get attention without doing what everyone else does. Do how do you accomplish such a task?

Communicate your brand daily. Remember that your visual brand is an extension of your business. Your customers want to know you on another level. So tell them a story, connect with them, and entertain them.  Communicate your values and mission to them.  Be real and honest.

Focus on being original. Trying to be something you are not will make your brand less than authentic. What real unique value do you bring to the table? Take an inventory of brands that inspire you and make notes on what you like and why. Be bold, be fresh, and don’t fear standing alone. Allow your brand to be an extension of your ideal customer’s life.

Truly understand who your customers are, what they want, what is important to them, and how they see the world. Try on their shoes and see where they take you. You don’t have to change for everyone. Simply look at whom you are already serving.  Take time to understand the values of your ideal customer. Why do they choose you? What problems do you solve for them?

If you are not attracting the best customers for your business, consider how you have packaged your brand. It may be time to reevaluate your direction or your value proposition. It is never too late to start over. Rebranding can breathe new life into your business.  If you need help, give us a call. We would love to help you tell your story.

7 Reasons Why Gratitude is Good For Business

technically, the glass is always full.

Motivational gurus often state that success is 85% attitude and 15% skill. A person with a positive attitude is generally a person that is also thankful. It stands to reason that if you have an attitude of gratitude, your chances of success increase.

Here are seven ways gratitude can help your small business grow:

Gratitude provides perspective. Technically the cup is always 100% full. We can get so preoccupied with the problems that we lose sight of the really good things we already have. But business (and life) is a parallel train track: good things and bad things are always going on simultaneously, side by side. Don’t get ‘derailed’ by focusing only one side of the track. Make it a daily habit to find something to celebrate! It is always there.

Gratitude acknowledges those who have helped you get where you are. Obama’s statement ‘You didn’t build that’ caused a storm of outrage. We want credit for our hard work! But how many successful people actually say, “I did this all by myself with my own smarts and courage and good looks”? Very few. Successful people will acknowledge those who have helped them.  It takes many people working together to create a successful organization. Acknowledge your staff, and your mentors, and remember to pay it forward. Someone did it for you.

Gratitude will help us to view problems as opportunities. After business school, there is real business. Things don’t often fall in place like the textbook. Each problem is a little flag to indicate areas that need to be improved- especially if they reoccur. These flags are your heads up to fix something before it is really broke. Be grateful for the warning!

Gratitude helps us to see opportunities where others see nothing. God asked Moses what he had in his hand. Whether you believe the story is true or not is not the point. The point is that Moses thought the thing was just a stick. What do you already have? If you see it with new eyes, you may already have a solution at your disposal.

Gratitude keeps us innovating. Think of it this way: If you had everything you ever needed or wanted, most of us would sit back and relax. Hunger is good thing. Drive to improve is a good and necessary thing to sustain business. Too much success will build indifference, because at that point you really don’t have to try. You don’t need anything or anybody. Blessed are the hungry. They keep inventing.

Gratitude is attractive. An Attitude of Gratitude helps us maintain a positive outlook on life. You’ll attract more customers because you are more fun to be with. You will be easier to work for too!

Gratitude is good for your health. Studies show that Gratitude can reduce stress, keeps your immune system stronger and less susceptible to virus, and reduce the effects of stress-related illnesses. Running a business is fraught with risk. You may not be able to reduce the stress load, but you can change your attitude about it.

Happy Thanksgiving to our cherished Customers and Friends. May you and yours find many reasons to celebrate the good stuff in life throughout the Holiday Season.

Do you know the single most powerful tool in your marketing tool box?


Geri: The single most powerful tool in the marketing tool box is not just for the Fortune 500. It is within reach of the smallest of entities. We encourage every business we serve to develop and use this tool. We won’t lie, so the bad news first. It isn’t easy to R&D this tool. It was hard for us and we are in advertising.  The good news is that the relative cost is time. (And most small businesses have more time than money.)  

Why you need it:  This tool is a characteristic of every successful business we have served in our professional history. Should you need more reason to consider it, it also improves the effectiveness of every other tool in the box. So-you may be thinking- delay no longer. Spit it out please.

Bear with me. I do not pretend to understand macro-economics. But I do understand the law of supply and demand, as do most people who can balance a checkbook. Simply stated, product availability is directly inverse to its value. If a product can be obtained anywhere, it becomes commoditized.

Imagine an original vanGogh painting. The value is in the millions.  Now imagine that same painting printed on a gazillion tourist postcards. The same image is now worth one dollar.  

So what’s the point? Answer the following question:  What does my business offer its clients that no other company can provide? Or, what can my business say about its services and products that no other company can say?  If you can articulate this difference, you are not a commodity.  If you don’t know the answer and need help to find it, ask your best customers why they continually come back. Finding your real strength becomes the tool. Sharing this strength in your advertising is marketing dynamite. Using classic marketing lingo, the acronym for this tool is the USP- a Unique Selling Proposition. I personally prefer UVP- a Unique Value Proposition, because it isn’t just blowing fancy sales smoke. If a USP  (or UVP) does not reflect actual reality, you will be torn limb from limb one facebook post at a time in the wild jungle of unhappy consumers.

Warning: Please do not imagine that ‘we provide the highest quality product in the industry’ constitutes a bona fide USP. (Tip- don’t even use the word quality.) It must be something no one else can say. Until you can figure this USP thing out, you will have a hard time making any advertising work for you. And if your advertising is falling short of your goals, this could be the reason why.

 The USP is an essential tool for success. It is powerful branding. It is your piece de resistance, and a tool any small business can use to great advantage.

Goodbye…but not goodbye.

chris seiberling

Dear Friends –

There are a few times in life where the perfect job comes along at the perfect time. For me in 2007, etc!graphics, inc. was that job. I was growing up, getting out of the bar business, and going back to school. I needed a job where I could grow and learn while getting used to being a student again. And that’s exactly what this opportunity provided me.

It provided me with the ability to learn the science, no, the art, of managing the operations of a small business on a day-to-day basis. It introduced me to the “wild, wild west” of a burgeoning new marketing and branding frontier called social media. It gave me experience in managing the accounting systems necessary to not only effectively run a small business, but track and measure its progress. It gave me an appreciation for good design and made me realize the critical importance of this when building a brand. It provided me an income with which I could help support my family while being a full time student in the evenings and on the weekends.

Lastly, it provided me with the priceless opportunity to network within the Des Moines community. I’ve had the pleasure of developing relationships with many of you; relationships that will continue to grow and develop throughout the years to come. For this I would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to each and every one of you that I’ve had the pleasure of doing business with over the course of the last five and a half years. The most rewarding experiences I’ve had here have stemmed from the ability to collaborate and create with each of you. So from the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!

April 27th will be my last day as a business development manager at etc!graphics, inc. It is a bittersweet moment for me. Sad, because I’ll miss the people I work with both internally and externally. Happy, because I’m approaching the finish line of my formal education and getting ready to jump into the next stage of my career. My new job, a contract underwriter position with Merchants Bonding Company, starts on May 1st.  As I was going through the interview process, Merchants was my first choice, so I am looking forward to learning the surety industry under their apt tutelage.

My biggest disappointment in this transition would be to lose contact with you. Please update my email in your contact list to I’d love to hear from all of you, and look forward to seeing each of you again soon!

Most sincerely,


PS – It will still be business as usual here at etc!graphics, inc. If you are in need of any of the visual branding products and services that are offered here, now or in the future, please contact Geri or Kevin. They are excited to continue working with each of you!  Their contact info is as follows: by email ( or or by phone at 515-244-4451.

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