The Small Business Experiment Part 4- Form Follows Function

the small business experiment part 4

Think about your favorite chair for a moment. What is it that you like about it? Is it the color and the shape? Do you like the particular designer? The comfort level? Now let me ask you another question. Why did you not purchase a better chair? That is a silly question, you say.

Don’t answer that yet. 

Now think about the chair you are sitting on right now. How well is it designed? Is it optimal? Another silly question. Optimal for what? Optimal is relative, and based upon what it is designed for. Perhaps you are sitting on a poorly designed chair. Poorly designed for what? Again, it depends.

You see, the chair in which you are sitting was designed as an answer to a whole gamut of concerns; comfort, appropriateness, color, style, how difficult it is to stack or move or store it, how well it supports your back without causing undo physiological stress–and at an affordable price point. All of which goes well beyond just holding you up. It was created to fill a specific need. Could someone have built a better chair? Of course. Any chair could have been created to be more comfortable. Perhaps uncomfortable office chairs are a boardroom plot to keep employees awake at their desks. But, if your employer spent good money on comfy designer chairs, you may not get that bonus in December. Hmmm. Maybe that much comfort is unnecessary.  Imagine an office filled with Lazy Boys? Nope. Wrong tool for the job. (And maybe you already have them!)

Now imagine a little slide show in your head of all the different kinds of chairs in the world. Library chairs with sturdy short legs and bar stools with tall legs. Overstuffed armchairs, and sleek designer conference room chairs. Rattan chairs on porches and lounge chairs on beaches. Wooden pews in cathedrals and artistic chairs in museums. Spinning chairs and bean bag chairs and rocking chairs and lawn chairs.  Each chair– designed to fill some particular service.

But what does thinking about all these chairs have to do with being an entrepreneur?

Form follows function. How something is designed controls how it behaves and performs. You can tell the purpose of a chair just from looking at it. You know before someone sits on it whether it is wholly appropriate for the person who wants to use it–or not.

The same is true in business. How your business is designed controls how it behaves and performs. The design of your company helps the customer to intuitively assess whether your business can satisfy their needs before they ever walk in the door. 

The problem is, many entrepreneurs reverse the axiom. Many small business owners begin business to make money–not to serve a purpose. Without a plan to serve and solve a problem for a specific group of people, they serve no one in particular. They lose connection, and may lose the very lifeblood they need to survive. 

What if, right from the start, these same entrepreneurs focused all their activities to serve a specific purpose? Now the business performs differently. Now, the business is seen as the answer to a problem. And the marketing would speak directly to the people with the problem–not to anyone and everyone.  

A business that sustains has lucid purpose.  Work in reverse. How would a business with this kind of  purpose behave? Design your activity accordingly. How your business is designed from the start will control how it behaves and how it performs, and how well it can connect with its customers.

Design your business as if you were designing a chair. Make it the optimal design for a specific purpose. You will find your customers will understand what you do, just from looking at your design.

Join us next time for the final installment of The Small Business Experiment!

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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 3- The Weakness of Strength

the small business experiment part 3

What does Newton’s Third Law of Motion have to do with entrepreneurship?

Have you ever seen one of those desk toys called Newton’s Cradle? Definitely for geeks, it holds a half-dozen or so swinging metal balls, suspended by a clear filament from a frame. If you swing the ball on one side of the lineup, the balls in the center remain surprisingly stationary. It is the ball on the other end that receives the transferred energy and swings out in response. It is a demonstration of Newton’s Third Law of Motion, which states that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. 

The toy represents other things , such as the transfer of authority in any organization. Like the first swinging ball, a CEO will deliver instructions down the chain of command. Unfortunately, she is so far removed from the problems at the other end, that she cannot see how she ever played a part in the blowout.

One of the greatest challenges of being an entrepreneur is to see yourself honestly. Why? There is a fine line between strength and weakness. For example, there is a fine line between tenacity and stubbornness. For every strength that has helped you to become successful in the first place, there is an equal and opposite weakness that will undermine your success when the going gets tough. We may understand that we need to delegate those tasks where we are not likely to excel, and it is easy to lean upon the strengths of others in such cases. But what about when we are under pressure? Having a hammer in our hands, we see every problem as a nail. We may default to our strengths whether they apply or not. But when the problem is not the problem, we may end up with bent nails and swollen thumbs. 

Think about it. A person may have great determination to accomplish their goals. But you may be working hard at the wrong things. Devotion to excellence may make you a craftsman, but perfectionism is the enemy of completion. An entrepreneur may be chock full of ideas, but the only ideas that count are the ones that are completed and shipped. 

How do we keep the balance? Here are five strategies to keep you from becoming polarized on either side:

Have a clear vision
Your best defense against straying over the line in either direction is to have a clear vision of where you are going. Nix any action or attitude that does not advance the troops toward the goal. Vision will keep you from falling off the cart.

Find a mentor
Everyone needs someone outside the frame to provide objectivity. It is human nature to obsess over skills we do not possess, and we can quickly lose heart. But focus too heavily on your strengths, and you may rely on them too much. Losing heart makes you weary. Be oblivious to your weaknesses and you lose that valuable commodity called humility. Ask a mentor for feedback. You may be surprised that others perceive a weakness as a strength, and a strength as a weakness. Outside perspective can help you distinguish which is which.

Practice, practice, practice
Becoming an expert at anything does not start with excuses. It starts with overcoming. To become an expert in anything, you must have experience. Are you aware just how many famous people were told that they had no talent at all? Or had no college degrees? Or that they would never make it? So what! Excuses will never help you grow. Weakness can be the point of transition toward excellence, and can be transformed into a strength. Who knows? Practice, practice, practice. You may make it to Carnegie Hall after all.

Keep an open mind
The weakness of our strength is that we stop learning. Learning new things is always accompanied by humility because we have to admit that which we do not know. Once we stop asking questions, we stop growing. Learn something new every day, even if it is something very small.

Leverage your skill sets
It is an essential leadership skill to recognize the gifts and skills of others. Our weaknesses can point to the necessity of delegation, and give us an opportunity to put someone else in the limelight. Watch enthusiasm grow when everyone owns credit for projects that turn out better than the plan. By sharing the successes, weakness is transformed into a strength. 

Newton’s Third Law of Motion demonstrates many other practical maxims and aphorisms. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Whatsoever a man sows, that will he also reap. Karma. It will get you every time. Whatever your understanding of this cosmological constant, we cannot defy it. We will get back exactly what we put into our business. Use it well, and it will launch your business into the stratosphere.

What one thing can you do today that will provide the biggest bang for the buck? 

Join us next time for Part 4!

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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 2- The Law of Entropy

the small business experiment part 2

It was one of those summer days where the interstate is steaming like a hot dish just pulled from the oven. Unfortunately, we were already in an oven, and there was no place to let the dish cool down. We were on our way to Indiana to set up a large display for a client in the Pork industry. It was to be ready in two days for the arrival of the goods. Goods–as in live pigs on the show floor. These were not your standard, everyday, garden variety pig. The DNA in these animals was so valuable that they had to be destroyed after the show. It was not a possibility that they could be given away to charity. That is Some Pig. In fact, if pigs could wear lipstick? These pigs would be wearing it.

Bacon is a hot commodity in the Midwest. Our client was looking forward to making some major sales. We pulled in and began to unload the crates into space 2593. That is when we noticed the pole–the kind of pole that supported the entire architecture of the hall. Now a pole may not seem like that big of a deal to you. But in the trade show world, and in the space planning documents for the show, there was no pole in space 2593. This pole was now a Big Deal. It was an obstacle to the focal point of the whole display–a big tower to which all the rest of the display attached.

As it turns out, so many vendors signed up for the show that the management ran out of spaces. They decided if they could just squeeze in a few more vendors, more money could be made. Of course. And so they moved everyone a few feet to the north. Which positioned the pole right in the middle of our display. 

Our client had not yet arrived. The potential sales from this show warranted spending many thousands of dollars on a display. But we decided not stop to calculate exactly how much trouble we might be in. Rounded to the nearest dollar, if they were anticipating many thousands in sales? We could anticipate losing at least that same amount or more.

We got to work. The show must go on.

We quickly redesigned the display. We flew in parts overnight. We worked into the wee hours of the morning to make the display work in the existing space, disguising the pole as part of the plan. The pole was not our fault, but the display was our responsibility. We made it work. And it was ready for our four-legged products. Our client, though visibly pleased, had little understanding of what we had just gone through to pull it off and make it look like it was supposed to be that way in the first place.

We went home with our shirts intact. Nice.

I am not making this stuff up. I have more stories like this, some of which could make an entrepreneur’s hair stand on end.

You cannot ask why these things happen. In small business, it just does. 

No matter how long you have been in business, and no matter how much passion you pour into it, Murphy’s Law prevails. At times like this, I feel as if I am being filmed for some reality TV show. They, (whoever they are), are strategically hidden with their camera on their shoulder somewhere, ready and waiting for some visible manifestation of a mental breakdown, as some strange brand of sadistic entertainment. This is paranoid thinking, I know. But these things always seem to happen when you least expect them.  

But let’s get this straight. In small business, some days are diamonds, and some days are rocks. Think about Murphy’s Law for a second: if anything can go wrong, it will go wrong. Perhaps this Law is not exactly a cosmological constant, but it has a striking parallel to the Law of Entropy. The Law of Entropy is a cosmological constant. The Law of Entropy states that everything in the entire Universe will go from order to disorder. Sound familiar? Indeed, it does. These natural laws in the Universe are like the law of gravity. The more you fight against them, the more they win. 

It is not necessary to have any background in science to identify the Law of Entropy. It is easily detected. When was the last time you owned a vehicle that maintained itself? Try  placing a four-year-old child in a neatly arranged toy room and see what happens. I swear my computer operating system can go from order to disorder, just from thinking ill thoughts about the machine. The point is that no system can sustain itself without maintenance from outside that system.

Now let’s get another thing straight. You will not defy the Law of Entropy. But you most certainly can thwart its effect. It is possible for the intelligent entrepreneur to anticipate and prepare for many potential problems. This is what a business plan is all about. If you do not have a plan, you will have two kinds of problems assailing your business on a daily basis. The first kind of problem is the kind one could have avoided, had you taken a moment to think about it. The second kind is all those unanticipated poles in your way. Both kinds of problems together are lethal for any business.

Even if the law of Entropy is at work in your business right now, it does not have to have the last word. Most anyone can start a business. But it takes a true Entrepreneur to head off potential problems off at the pass, and create scalable systems that will keep customers coming back.

Slay as many dragons as you can in advance.

And join us next time for Part 3!

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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 1- How to Think Like a Scientist

the small business experiment part 1

Most of us remember the Junior High School science lab. It was our first experience with the insides of a frog. Surprise surprise! We learned that the way in which something is designed controls how it behaves. Depending on our constitution, we either loved it or hated every moment. But beyond our first exposure to slimy things, it was our first exposure to Francis Bacon’s Scientific Method:

We observed the frog. 
We formed a hypothesis about the frog. 
We tested our assumptions. 
We analyzed the data.

We came up with earth shattering conclusions like, “most frogs are green”, and “the leg muscles are designed to jump long distances”. I am certain our teachers beamed with pride at our erudite hypothesis.  
 
But we did not understand we were using an ancient discipline. The methodology was a structured framework to produce formidable results. It was used not only by Francis Bacon, but by the likes of Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, just to name a few.

And we thought we were learning about frogs.

Unfortunately, we confused the slimy things with the methodology and deemed them both forgettable. Little did we know that the biggest questions in life happen outside the lab.And little did we remember that if we could think like a scientist, it would help us analyze these questions and solve the bigger problems of life. 

Small Business can benefit from this kind of inductive thinking.Small Business is one big giant laboratory with all sorts of experiments going on in every corner. Some of them, steaming and bubbling, are fraught with danger. (Wait, do I hear mad laughter?) If we only remembered to use the inductive method, as our 7th grade Science teacher taught us, we could avoid a few unnecessary explosions.

Free thinking and structured thinking are both necessary in Small Business. Last week, we learned that Creativity is the coveted substance needed to move any business into infinity and beyond. Creativity by its very nature requires experimentation and uncertainty. We must learn to live with a measure of uncertainty and move forward despite our doubts if we are ever going to accomplish anything. (If you are waiting to be sure before you move, you will never move, because you will never be sure. If you must be sure, better keep your day job.)

But having some doubt does not mean that we cannot mitigate as many risks as possible using the scientific method. 

The question to ask before embarking on any new idea is, “How do you know that?”

We can observe, we can form a hypothesis, we can collect information, we can test our assumptions. And we can allow that testing to inform our decision making. We can also weigh the possible outcomes. How do we know our customer base will love this product? What is the worst that can happen? What could we do if that happened? Is there a Plan B, or C, or G for that matter? If you have defined what success looks like, you should be able to measure it. You can test and measure the efforts as you go along. You can test the difference between efforts A and B. You can analyze the change between periods from the efforts of B. Intelligent entrepreneurs use their heads, as well as their hearts, to move their businesses forward.  

If you are an innovator, you will have a few explosions in your lab. The failed experiments of small business can make you feel quite small. It is difficult to choose the right path forward when you have black around your eyes, burned eyebrows, and you feel like a fool. Knowing how to think like a scientist can make the difference between a knee-jerk reaction and a great recovery. 

All this month we will be talking about how we can harness the Laws of Science and the Universe to make our businesses better

While you are waiting for the rest of the posts, stir up the office a bit. Start thinking like a scientist. Don your lab coat and commence with the mad laughter. Everyone will at least be on their toes, because they will have no clue what will happen next. 

And join us next time for Part II. 

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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. 

 

How to Build a Blooming Business Part IV- The Taxonomy of Creativity

how to build a blooming business - part 4

 “Truly I tell you, unless you become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Bible, The Book of Matthew Chapter 18, Verse 4

I do not think I have ever started a blog post with a Bible verse before. But do not worry. I am not going to preach at you. What I am going to suggest is that if Jesus said it, and if it is in the best-selling book on the planet, there might be something to it. I believe it applies to small business, and to the world. Letmeexplain.

We have been talking all this month about the things that enable a small business to bloom and flourish. I have saved the best for last. There are at least a gazillion blog posts about the importance of creativity. What makes me think I can add anything to all the talented voices? I believe there may be one source for this precious commodity that we have overlooked. 

We may have overlooked it because it comes, like all good things, in a small package. And maybe we have discounted the teacher because she just happens to be the shortest teacher we have ever had. This is a recipe for something so good, that if we learn how to make it, it would be like bringing heaven to earth. Evenforyourbusiness. Bearwithme.

The child entering Kindergarten this September will graduate in 2029. Few of us can imagine what the world will be like then. By 2029, the wildest predictions delivered by the most esteemed experts will slither away from sheer embarrassment. They will be wrong again.

Schools today were designed to supply laborers for the industrial age. Anyone reading this post has learned to follow the rules, and to pass the standardized tests. Making a mistake was about the worst thing you can do. The ultimate goal is productivity, and adding to the GDP like good little lemmings.

But what would today’s diploma mean in 2029? Enter the current age of disruption. No education can prepare you for it. We all face the disruption and even the disappearance of our jobs. Even lawyers. On May 15th, the Law firm Baker & Hostetler hired the world’s first artificial intelligence bankruptcy attorney. The robot is named Al Ross. Al does the work of 50 persons. IBM conducted a worldwide survey to ask CEO’s in 60 countries what they needed from the future labor force. The vote was unanimous.

I am sure you can guess what it is. Of course. It is Creativity.

Creativity is no longer an occupation. It is no longer optional. It is a fundamental skill and a way of life. You need it no matter what industry you are in, whether accounting, or medicine, or farming. We desperately need more people who can connect random bits information and combine it together in new ways. Creativity by its very nature demands mistakes. It is a series of whoops, followed by an occasional hurrah.

Creativity cannot be manufactured. What we can do is create an environment where it can grow. As our age goes up, our creativity levels go down. As expertise increases, creativity decreases. Why? Becausewethinkweknow, andweshutourselvesofftonewideas. And so as we lose our serendipity, we also lose our ability to innovate. So where can we find the best education in creativity? You guessed it! A most surprising place. Not MIT. Not Stanford. But from short people. They are the resident experts

Here are some important things we can learn from these little profs:

We entrepreneurs need to learn to think more like a kid. Children are the world’s greatest scientists. They challenge everything known to man and ask why, why, why until we adults are beside ourselves. It takes the questions of a child to show us how little we really know. 

Kids never doubt that the impossible is possible. They do not over analyze how it could be. They trust their gut intuition that it can exist.

Kids cannot let prior knowledge get in the way because they do not have any. Researchers at UC Berkeley found that preschoolers were faster at figuring out electronic devices than college students. Because they did not know how the thing was supposed to work in the first place, they did not rule out any possible solution. Therefore, they found the correct answer faster than those almost four times their age.

Children are completely at home with randomness and things that do not make sense. They are never sure, but it never stops them from moving forward.

Children are always making things, and they are never afraid they will make something wrong. Whatever they make, they have confidence it will be wonderful. They always have a side project going.

Kids are unaware of social ranking and care little for status or power. They are not worried about what anyone thinks of them. Trying to be famous is the last thing on their minds.

Kids know how to play. They go outside. They run around a bit. They give their brain a break. Structure in the day is important, but so also is a deviation from structure.  Many entrepreneurs have forgotten how to disconnect from the day to day pressure.

Children express their emotions honestly. They know how they feel. Their heads and their hearts are connected. (Emotional intelligence, of course, comes later). It is hard for adults to know how they feel. 

Lastly, they take frequent naps. (I really like this last one. We cannot ignore our bodies as entrepreneurs and get away with it!)

Imagine if every entrepreneur were as observant as a child? Imagine if every entrepreneur used their full capacity to create with abandon? Imagine everyone in an atmosphere of inclusion? Imagine leaders learning to ask more questions instead of assuming we were right all the time? Imagine if we learned to trust our intuition, and were less afraid of doing it wrong? 

Creativity is as important as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status. How can you get more creativity in your own business? Who knew you could deal in precious commodities simply by trading recipes for mud pies in the park? Sign up for a lesson from a really short prof. It may be just the recipe you need to get your business to bloom. 

I wish you many hurrahs.

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Why do we at etc!graphicsinc, 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. 

How to Build a Blooming Business- Part 1

building a blooming business - part 1

Part 1- The Taxonomy of Intention

Blooming. As the old song says, becoming is harder than it seems.

There was a decided end in view for our April discussions. We wanted to make it clear that thriving never happens by accident. You have to be ready. 

But the goal beyond this preparation is to bloom. 

Blooming does not happen by accident either. For some, blooming is downright frightful, because you have to decide what kind of plant you are. Blooming happens when you are finally brave enough to declare to the world all that you believe in with all your heart. It all feels, well, so vulnerable.

We know in our heads what we would like this bloom to look like. We know for sure that we do not want to be just another pretty face. But we need to have a reason to bloom in the first place. If we want to continue basking in the full glory of it all, we need a point and a purpose.  

There is a decided art to this becoming. There is also intentional design to successful small business. For the entrepreneur, blooming is a two-sided discipline–a fine balance between both art and design. 

For example, on the art side, Picasso never stopped to ask the people of Paris if they wanted him to use the color blue. He did not care at all what they liked. He had only an unquenchable desire to paint all that was in his soul; critics be damned. The resulting originality is so valued today that few people can afford to own such a work. Perhaps only on a postcard. I have met many entrepreneurs bitten by the bug of creative expression as well.  

But on the other side, to sell your goods, you have to care if someone likes it. And enough people have to like it to sustain. This is where the design comes in. Not everyone likes a Picasso. A thriving enterprise must be designed to serve the end user. And therein lies the difference between the two. Design has an intended end: to communicate a specific idea to a specific audience. Art, on the other hand, flows from inspiration. The viewer is the interpreter. Art creates tribes of people who either like it–or hate it–as the case may be. 

It is business suicide to design a product around anything other than what the customer wants. So, you may ask, do we conform our business to the desires of the masses and align with all their needs? Or do we stay true to the vision in our heads, and create great art, critics be damned? To bridge between the two–of doing business as an art, and doing business by design–is a coveted model. All successful businesses are a work of art. All are carefully designed.

It takes time to find this sweet spot. It is a journey of connecting the dots.  Many entrepreneurs never spend the time and effort to find where they can deliver the biggest bloom. To be frank, it is hard work. It takes bravery to work with what you have got, to use the seeds at your disposal, and grow in the environment that you have. And you have to make the most of it while the sun is shining.  

The successful entrepreneur makes a conscious choice of where they will fall on this continuum between art and design.  There is no correct answer, only a difference in the way you market it. You can make a difference in the world either way, and neither answer is wrong. The point is to have a proactive intention.

It is a waste of humanity when people are not doing what they were born to do. Whatever you want your bloom to be, start with something other than product. Start with the effect you want it to have. Start with what it means to the customer. Start with something other than money. (Money is the last reason you should do anything.) Start with an idea that is bigger than yourself. Only this kind of art and this kind of design will make a lasting difference in the lives of those you wish to serve. 

When you find this sweet spot, you will know it to be your best work. You will not have to ask if it is good. You will know by the response you get. Confidence  blooms when you realize it is no longer about you.

Only then, will you know the reason you bloom at all. 

 

How to Build a Blooming Business- Part 3

building a blooming business - part 3

Why do architects create so many copies of a blueprint prior to construction of a cherished project? Imagine all the contractors, trying to keep the big picture in their heads, and trying to remember all the details. It would be completely impossible for the structure to stay true to the vision as the architect intended without one. 

Your business also needs a blueprint. This blueprint is called strategy. A blueprint does not show every detail. But it does show the outline. Building your marketing plan without a preparing a strategy for success first is a complete waste of time. Especially if you intend for the finished product to look anything like you had originally planned. 

Strategy answers the question, “how are you going to win this game?” The definition of strategy confuses even the best entrepreneur. It is often mistaken for position, tactics, goals, or objectives. But if we do not understand the difference, we will face many serious problems. We will put the cart before the horse. Or we will be like a dog who will not let go of a big stick and thus cannot get in the door. We will waste time on things that will ultimately derail the goal. We will also implement tactics that undermine the big picture. 

Understanding and building a strategy will help us to create an advantage, even with limited resources.

The word strategy came from the rhetoric of warfare. The Greek word Strategos means the art of the general. A good general will always understand the big picture. They will always know when and how to sacrifice a small part to achieve the greater goal. 

So how are you going to win? What is the best possible path to your business success? 

Strategy takes stock of all the resources that are available, including the skills and capabilities. It creates a plan to sustain an advantage and determines how to win continually over the long haul. Strategy is your long-term, big-picture plan for success. Tactics, goals, position, and objectives are the things you implement to get there.

During the 11-12th centuries, the Mongols conquered the world. One of Ghengis Khan’s most famous generals was a man by the name of Subutai. He was one of greatest military strategists that ever lived. With a handful of soldiers, he was able to overcome huge armies and massive obstacles. His soldiers were skilled in archery, and performed well when battling in the field. They did not do so well, however, fighting in cities. It was Subutai’s job to create a battle strategy to achieve ultimate victory. He took all the strengths, weaknesses, and resources into account, and chose to avoid battle in the city altogether. He created a plan to divide his army into two groups. One group would attack the city and then quickly feign retreat. As they were escaping, the soldiers would draw the enemy troops out of the city for great distances. In this pursuit, they would tire. The first group of soldiers would lead them right to the spot where the second group lie in wait. This second group would wait to attack from the flank as they rode by, rather than meeting them head on. Using this combo of strategy and tactics, Subutai was able to conquer much larger forces. Subutai was able to conquer the armies of Hungary and Poland within two days, even though the battlefield spread across hundreds of miles.

What is the point? His objective was to win the war.  But it was the strategy brought him the victory. It is possible for the smallest of companies to win at small business–even over competitors with great resource–if you create and implement a winning strategy. 

A strategy creates boundaries. It is as much about what you do not do, as what you decide to do. If you know your strengths, you will know where you can best play the game. You will be able to turn the strengths of your competitors into their greatest weakness. Consider IKEA. IKEA figured out how to take a huge, heavy piece of furniture, make it into a kit, and ship it in a flat box anywhere in the world. No other furniture manufacturer was thinking about optimizing this part of the industry. IKEA advanced in an area where competitors were not prepared to compete.

Marketing plans and marketing systems are good, but not if you get bogged down in the tactics and forget the big picture strategy. Social Media, email marketing, and website marketing–all are good. But not if you forget the big picture. We can create so much structure that we can forget to ensure we are using the best method to reach our ideal customers. We like being productive, and doing the things we know how to do. But it makes no sense to spend time and money doing the wrong thing perfectly. 

We can continue to spit out all the canned scripts, and do the things that everyone expects, all the right times. We get our systems up and running and then think all we need to do is just rinse and repeat–exactly as encouraged by the gurus in the last webinar. It is as if real people can be converted to loyal customers in six easy steps. Just stick the person through the door of our handy dandy customer replicator machine, and out comes loyal customers with stars on thars. Not. It does not take long before the customer realizes that they are being carried down an assembly line. They no longer want a star. It is not their agenda, but the company agenda. No one wants to be just another Sneech. 

When divorced from strategy, both the marketing plan and the tactics can backfire. It results in a failure to sustain, and failure to bloom. 

Spending the time to create a strategy is an investment in your own success. If you want to sustain in business, you must create a strategy to win. Combine this strategy with your marketing plan. You will then bloom by design, and create a blooming business.

How to Build a Blooming Business- Part 2

building a blooming business - part 2

Part 2- The Taxonomy of Authenticity

Authenticity.This word is used so frequently that it is often overlooked. It is  served up and tossed together with standard marketing fare so much that it looks like a side salad, rather than the meat of the main course. It is on the verge of falling into the bin of overused marketing words–right alongside strategize, incentivize, and monetize. Anything in that overused bin means that when we hear it, we zone out. It is suspect at best, and at worst, meaningless.

When we are talking about authenticity in our day to day conversations, we are often referring to food, or culture, or valuable works of art. Sometimes, we are referring to the qualities of a good friend. But what does the word mean when we talk about authenticity in business? And what does the word mean in a world where much of marketing is suspect? While we all might end up with different definitions, we all know one thing: the bloom of authenticity is of inestimable value and exquisite beauty.

Because of this intrinsic value, it is worth taking a closer look at the definition.

Looking back through time, we can see that the meaning of authenticity and the rhetoric surrounding this word has changed. In the romantic and modernist time periods, authentic meant sticking to tradition. It meant a product handcrafted by an original artist, having the quality of agelessness. Authentic meant unchanging with an emphasis on the past. It meant using the same production processes that have been handed down from generation to generation–and the methods in themselves were the source and proof of the authenticity. The authentic product was perfect from day one, eliminating the need for iterations of improvement. The more the product stayed the same, the more authentic it would be.

You can see how this definition is problematic today. Even if a business uses traditional methods, it is difficult for brands to sustain this kind of authenticity, let alone find new markets for their product. However, this list of the oldest companies in the US proves that Authentic brands in the traditional sense are still in existence.

Fast forward to today’s Post-Modern mindset. Most Startups cannot make the same claims of yesterday’s authenticity. They have no 400-year-old heritage, so they are authentically what? Today’s authenticity is more about experience than objectivity. Customers care more about how a product makes them feel, than whether it is made according to tradition. They care more about how a product might help to solve their problems than whether the company can provide objective facts about it. They care more about what a product does than even what it is. Authenticity today is continually evolving products and inventing new answers to new problems to help the customer make sense of their world. If your business can consistently offer up an experience, your brand will remain the answer. Authenticity today, then, means that you do what you say you will do to provide a consistent brand experience, each and every day.

You can see how this new definition is also problematic. The contemporary definition lacks proof and is susceptible to its exact opposite: inauthenticity. Inauthenticity is the chief reason consumers become disappointed in brands. The lack of authenticity will not keep a business from launching, but it will result in a failure to bloom. When brands fail to live up to their bloom, the customer drops their wilted bouquet and walks away. The competition is right there, all too eager to woo them with a bouquet of their own.

Clearly we need a measure of both kinds of authenticity.

How can your business bring the real deal to the world and become the brand your client cannot live without? Decide what kind of a bloom you want to be, and stay true to your Bloom. Say what you will do, and then do what you say. It is the fastest path to trust.

Whether you lean toward the old or the new definition in your business, authenticity is the essential foundation of every successful marketing campaign. Though the definition has morphed through the years, Authenticity will always be what it has always been. And it has always been about truth.

Truth is the most powerful marketing strategy you can employ.  The best thing about this strategy is there is nothing complicated about it! Plus the ROI is fantastic. The more you use it, the more customers you will have. Wah-lah. Amazing, isn’t it?

Do not allow your business to become just another fake flower. Use Authenticity daily and build a blooming business!

Overcoming Your Environment

preparing to flourish - part 4

Preparing to Flourish- Part 4

“You can’t do that.”

If a face can launch a thousand ships, then without a doubt these four simple words have launched a million innovations.  

It is a special person that hears these words and accepts them as a challenge. I know many such persons. They are called Entrepreneurs. Game Changers. Innovators. They use these kinds of words as a launchpad. Instead of shriveling up in defeat, they roll up their sleeves and begin to alter the course of the world. Instead of viewing the naysayer as a big wet blanket, this person becomes their biggest inspiration.

I ought to know. Someone once said these words to my sister. It was just what she needed to inspire her to become the good doctor that she is, in the fair city of Boston. And when Jack Nicholson won his Academy Award, he said something like, “I dedicate this to my agent—who told me ten years ago I had no business being an actor.”

What is the difference between inspired and discouraged? What kind of environment produces the likes of Einstein, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Orville and Wilbur Wright, Abraham Lincoln, and Alexander Graham Bell? They were often rejected, discounted, forgotten, overlooked, and even ridiculed. Many a genius has been told they would never make it.

And I have to wonder if their genius would have ever fully developed without this resistance.

The more they were knocked down, the more they stood tall. The more they were discounted, the more it confirmed the value of their work. The more they were hindered, the more they persisted. It is not sunshine and rainbows that causes someone to succeed. Sometimes success is found in the very obstacles themselves.

These past few weeks we have been discussing how small business is a lot like farming. A farmer must prepare and do many things to ensure a crop will grow and flourish. There are many internal hindrances that we entrepreneurs place in our own way, and a seismic shift in thinking is needed to overcome them. But there are just as many external obstacles in our environment that we must plow through as well. We will stumble over these rocks if we do not recognize them for what they are.

Here are just a few:

Endless wet blankets. Unfortunately, the words “you can’t do that” are often uttered by those near and dear to us. A lack of support from family and your significant other can undermine your confidence. The more you love them, the more their words affect you. Maybe you need more support. Maybe your family does not believe in you. Maybe you wish they would show more interest. Whenever someone has power to pull our strings, it is because we have given them permission. We need something from that person. What is it? Identify that something, so that you can diffuse its power. If someone is pulling the rug out from underneath your feet, you do not have to remove that person from your life. Sell the rug. Keep in mind even Jesus’s family that thought he was nuts!

Endless shoulds. Shoulds are another kind of pressure put upon us by people who feel they know what we should be doing better than we do. When you have to make tough choices to achieve your goal, you will not always receive applause. Some might be jealous of your tenacity, others may be jealous of your time, and still others may not like you anymore. You cannot please everyone. “Why don’t you just forget about this crazy idea and get a nice steady job working for your Uncle Bob?” Keep in mind you do not want to get to the end of your life to find out you are now as boring as your Uncle Bob. 

Endless rejections and strike outs. The more you are out there doing what you are born to do, the more you will be rejected. Rejection is a constant. Your strike outs will increase because you are creating more opportunity to strike out. Keep in mind, you are also creating more opportunity to succeed. Babe Ruth had more strikeouts (1,330) than he had home runs (714).

Endless monkey wrenches. No business is without problems. Every problem is a chance to improve systems, management, and leadership skills. You can plan on having employee problems, insurance issues, and conflicts from miscommunication. You will always have more red tape and more government regulations than you would like to have. It is all a part of the game, and the game is only won if you play by the rules. Having a bad day? Keep in mind, those no good, horrible, very bad days, can lead you to the biggest improvements in your business systems.

Endless competition. If you are doing your best work, you need never fear the competition. Your biggest competitor in business will be your own apathy. It takes a lot of work to get a business up and running. Once your systems are on a roll, there is a strong temptation to sit back and run on autopilot. Keep in mind, coasting is akin to going backward.

Rather than a liability, our external environment is often the source of our greatest growth. Rotten stuff, stirred up in the soil, will create the best plants and the most beautiful blooms. Hot water? Make tea. Trash? Create treasures. Let the daily struggle make you stronger.

I dedicate this post to all the entrepreneurs who have made a commitment to overcome in the daily struggles of business. Do not allow your business to bring out the beast in you. Let it help you become your very best.

Is this series helpful to you? Are you experiencing a seismic change in your environment? Tell me about it below. I would appreciate your thoughts. 

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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. 

Who Says You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover?

Preparing to Flourish - part 5

Preparing to Flourish- Part 5

What causes one small business to flourish, and another to wilt? All this month we have been talking about how running a small business is a lot like farming. In Iowa, an abundance of harvest is a natural consequence of planting. It is just what seeds do here. But flourishing is far from simple. It only looks easy. Behind every bumper crop, there is a farmer that has planned, prepared, cultivated, and plowed. She has done everything within her power to negate any hazards that will hinder her efforts. Only after careful preparation will the seed have a fighting chance to sprout, grow, and flourish.

Successful entrepreneurs know what they are planting, who they are planting it for, and why. They know what kind of bloom to expect. When it comes to blooming, they put themselves out. They do not react to the marketplace. They create it. They do not fear the competitor, because they know their service is unmatched by its very design. They tell their story with fanfare and style, knowing their customer will respond.

So what causes a small business to wilt? Wilt spreads when a business lacks the ability to create a strong emotional connection with their customer. Entrepreneurs distracted by sales quotas. Rather than focusing on how they can best help the customer, they get mired in mud. In trying to sell to everyone–they reach no one. There are a million and one ways to communicate today. There are also a million and one ways for your message to become convoluted. Choosing a specific customer segment is scary, because it means ignoring the others. But instead of losing customers, focus will help you gain more of the right kind of customer–the kind you are most suited to serve.

Focus will enable you to speak their language. Your message will achieve a new level of clarity, and will resonate further. You will reach more people with half the effort. Your business will begin to express personality. People cannot connect with washers and dryers, tires, and investments. They can only connect with personality. Personality creates context. This personality can make your customer feel that your products were designed just for them.

One of the best ways to express personality is through good graphic design. Good graphic design can create context through intuition. When you are creating first impressions, it is context, not content, that is king. Graphic design can create just the invitation you need to attract the right customer like shavings to a magnet.

Have you ever gone into a book store just for fun? Sure you have. You dig through the stacks, hoping for a new novel that will keep you awake long after bedtime. The design of a book jacket catches the corner of your eye. It pulls you in. It prepares you for an experience and provides anticipation of the story inside. At an intuitive glance, it helps you to decide whether the book is provocative or prosaic, quirky or captivating, comforting or gripping. You decide to buy the book, and primarily from the influence of the cover. It just looks inviting. So who says you can’t judge a book by its cover? You can. And you do.

The same is true for your business. Your business has a jacket. Good graphic design invites your customer inside your door. It prepares your customer for an experience. What experience do you want your graphics to convey? What words would you use to describe it? Good graphic design can express each one of these qualities. Everywhere your company appears, from your logo and your marketing materials to the sign on the building, your designs should reflect your story, purpose, mission, and vision with all the appropriate colors, shapes, styles, and fonts. They should declare who you are–the authentic you. They should send messages, even without words, to the right customer.

Getting it right means spending the time to discover what is authentically you. Getting it right means spending the time to discover what you want your business to be when it grows up. Getting it right means spending the time to discover how you can enrich your customer’s lives.  Getting it right means spending the time to ferret out what it is that your customer really wants, and how to make them feel like they belong.

Why is it so necessary to make an emotional connection with our clients? Because while our logical side considers the features and benefits of a product, we buy with our emotions. We buy shoes, not because they have a quality sole, but because they make our souls feel stylish. We buy the car, yes partly for the quality under the hood, but mostly because it makes us feel successful. 

You will never make connection spouting features and benefits. Great design helps you connect with the emotional side of your customer’s brain. Successful small businesses know that business is about people, about empathy, and compassion. Successful businesses invest in design.

Good graphic design can  prepare your business to flourish. It’s the mark of a growing concern.

May you find your bliss in blooming.

_______________________________________________

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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