Preparing to Flourish- Part 1

preparing to flourish - part 1

Part 1- Cultivating Growth

The planting season in Iowa is nearly in full swing. I live and work in the breadbasket State, and I am convinced that Iowa soil can grow just about anything. I have never tried it, but I am pretty sure I could stick a tin can in the ground, and something would come up.

Iowa is a beautiful agrarian State. Think Grant Wood. Think rolling fields of rich brown earth dotted with shoots of chartreuse green, all reaching up to catch the first splinters of the morning sun. Picturesque, yes. But though I enjoy the beauty, I am glad that I am not a farmer. Why? Because farming is a crap shoot. You only get about 40-50 rolls of the dice to get it right. And even if you do your very best, the odds are stacked against you. There are perils–hail, floods, and good ole’ Iowa tornados– that can wipe out all your hard work in a manner of minutes, right before your very eyes.

Small business is a lot like farming. With half of all start-ups failing in the first five years, and half of those that remain failing in the next five years, we are left with only 25% of the original number. That means even if you do your very best, the odds are stacked against you. There are many obstacles to hinder, handicap, and paralyze your progress, both inside and outside your business.

I am in graphic design. I spend many hours helping my clients with the art of business, helping them to visually express their hopes and dreams. We pour ourselves into our work and with it, invest in their success. Whenever you make any kind of investment like this, you care about the return. We are grieved to see any one of them meet their demise.

That is why all this month we are going to talk about growth, and more specifically, hindrances to growth. We will talk about a few big rocks in your own field that you may not have noticed in before. If we can dislodge even a few of them, we will have accomplished our goal.

Imagine a farmer waiting until April to decide what she is going to plant. Imagine wasting the winter, leaving the equipment in the barn unserviced, unsharpened, and unprepared for the next planting season. Imagine a tiller of soil not caring to prepare the soil before planting. Imagine leaving the soil untested, or neglecting to work in the nutrients to ensure the harvest will be plentiful. Imagine not spending the time to choose the best seeds. Imagine missing the optimum planting window, because you were unprepared. Imagine planting the seeds haphazardly, in glops, here and there across the field.

You would think the farmer less than serious.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for us to meet entrepreneurs who work their business in the same way. They have nothing down on paper. They plan on the fly. They market haphazardly. They are unprepared for opportunity. They perceive daily planning as unnecessary. Somehow, despite the odds against them, they think they will succeed without it. It should come as no surprise that their equipment breaks down, that they do not get the crops they had hoped for, or that they spend all their time fighting off pests and varmints! 

No matter what business you are in, planning and cultivating come before planting.Becoming an entrepreneur, like farming, is a huge risk. But if you want to take your work seriously, you can mitigate much of the risk ahead of you. Sure, growth happens all by itself in Iowa. But left to itself, and Iowa would be covered with weeds. You cannot defy the laws of nature. You cannot cut any one step of planting and think that somehow you will harvest a bumper crop. In business, as in farming, we will reap what we sow, according to how we sow it.

Bumper crops of sellable anything will never be achieved without planning, preparation, and cultivation. Plan to plan. It will help you cultivate your own growth, and create a business around your goals and dreams, instead of settling for whatever grows up through the weeds.  

What are you going to plant today?  

Need help with the Art of Business? Etc! Graphics, Inc has been doing business by design since 1988. Give us a call.

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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.

Communicating the Big Idea- Part 4

Communicating The Big Idea - Part 4

Long before humans learned to write, they communicated. With The Big Idea in mind, our ancestors used hand prints and charcoal sticks to draw images on rock walls to tell future generations of conquests of the hunt, of collaboration with neighboring tribes, and details of common everyday life. They told us stories without words. I like to imagine that when they completed their creations, that Caveman and Cavewoman would stand back, admire their work and think to themselves, “There, that should be clear enough.” They expected everyone to get it. It was not long after that, Miss Communication was born, and humans have been in trouble ever since.

George Bernard Shaw said that the biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place. Communication, as it turns out, is a lot harder than it looks, even if we draw pictures. The problem lies in the fact that no matter what story we tell, it only makes perfect sense to us.

Clear communication is the primary work of graphic design. We are visual storytellers. We are interpreters. We are visual chemists. We are educators. We are visual philosophers because we think deeply about the meaning of every mark, shape, and color; meaning held within a context, in society, in culture, in history, and to an individual. Because words are limited in scope, we use fundamental visual building blocks to create perceptions and provide understanding. 

Verbal communication is hazardous. Visual communication even more. So how are we to communicate The Big Idea? Part of visual communication is knowing what story should be told. Part of communication is knowing who to tell. Part of it is the delivery, and where that delivery takes place. Part is the reception and perception. Add to this the many things that convey meaning, including color, shape, style, position, symbols, patterns, and most importantly, context. Even if all these things work well together, you cannot disregard the obstacles. The viewer could be distracted, bored, or bombarded, or just plain tired. What you have, then, is a fine kettle of fish. 

Getting The Big Idea message out is the primary work of business. Determining the method to use to do this work is part collaborative mess making, part curiosity, and part transformation. It becomes highly important when we consider all that is at stake.

It is our privilege as graphic designers to help our clients find the gold in their business and to help them express The Big Idea. By solving these visual problems, we can affect the future of the company. No, we do not create magic. We provide a service. Future success is a collaborative effort. But no matter what, graphic design is a revealer. It is possible for us to create a design that makes visual promises, such as capacity or capability, only to have that same company fail to deliver on those promises. It is also possible for us to create a design that communicates and informs and allows entrepreneurs to enjoy the the return on their investment. The Big Idea is an investment. The thinking part is hard work, and graphic designers can only affect the externals. But when a company is prepared to communicate and deliver, good graphic design will water The Big Idea and help it to grow. The better designers and entrepreneurs can collaborate to tell the story of The Big Idea, the more likely it is that the audience will want to be a part of that story.

But imagine the obstacles and complications to communication when it is not clear what story should be told? When the story has not been considered, developed, or clarified? When the characters and the plot and the goal have not been determined? When no one is sure why the story even matters in the first place? 

To convey The Big Idea, you must have one.

Poor visual design is litmus that the underlying story lacks clarity. Good design can carry a company for a while, but it cannot carry a company that lacks a clear identity for long. How is your story coming? Is your story clear? Is your graphic design conveying the right perceptions? Honest design is always the best design.

Clarify your own Big Idea. Think about it. Mull over it. Devote your best self to it. It will help you to find the gold in your business. Better than that, you will find the gold has been there all along, just waiting for you to pan for it.

Did you miss any of The Big Idea posts this month? Check them out here:

What is The Big Idea? Part 1 here.

What’s the Big Idea? Finding Your Sweet Spot, Part 2 here.

The Big Idea- The Gravity of Purpose Part 3 here.

 

Need help for your business? Etc! Graphics, Inc has been doing business by design since 1988. Give us a call.

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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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

The Big Idea Part 3- The Gravity of Purpose

the gravity of purpose the big idea - part 3

Would you describe the work you do in your business as meaningless? Or meaningful? All this month we have been discussing the value of divining The Big Idea to serve as the gravitational force for your entrepreneurial journey. Think back to your grade school science lessons. Gravity kept the Apollo Mission on course. Gravity got them to the moon. Then, that same gravity flung them safely back to earth. The primary purpose of The Big Idea works much like that. It is the constraint required to stay on course and the momentum needed to reach the goal.

But there is a secondary purpose to The Big Idea, which is every bit as important as the first, and that is the purpose of purpose itself. We spend most of our waking hours as adults working. Should it not be meaningful? Most entrepreneurs are willing to work very hard. But we desire more than hard work. We want to know at the end of a busy day that we made a difference–that the people we serve are in a better place than they were before–even if we are not brain surgeons or working to solve some grave problem in the human condition. The human heart longs for purpose.

The possibility for human fulfillment is just one of many reasons I love small business. Many people in cubicle-land have jobs that seem vapid and pointless. They are clock watchers, planning their escape at 5:00pm. They often have very specialized jobs that are only one part of a much larger process, and often far removed from the end user. They may work all day long in one place–in logistics, or on a production line, with no direct reward for their labor other than a paycheck. But in contrast, in a small business, the entrepreneur gets to be a part of the entire process from beginning to end. When the masterpiece is complete, you place it into the hands of a delighted customer, and the direct and immediate reward for your labor is standing right in front of you, with a big smile on their face. The satisfaction of a job well done can be intoxicating. 

But I do not want you to get confused. Last week, you may remember me saying that I am just naïve enough to believe that every person was born for a particular purpose. But what I do not want you to imagine is that one moment you will be walking down the street, and the next moment, the clouds part, bright beams of glory shine down upon your head, and choirs of angels fill the sky, and a loud voice thunders something specific like, “You shall make films that change people’s lives.”

Nope. It does not happen like that.

It does not happen in an instant. It does not happen overnight. It does not happen after tests to determine your career path. It could take many years to find your sweet spot. Some people go through many iterations and evolutions and revolutions before they land on The Specific Big Idea. Prior to such landing, it is only Big Idea-ish.

But you still can find The Big Idea. And you will–if you are brave enough to continue pursuing it.

Here are three ways to pursue:

Follow your curiosity where it leads. Continue to educate yourself about things that matter to you, things that interest you, and things that bring deep meaning to your life. Continual learning will prepare you for opportunities.

Take those opportunities as the doors open. In order for doors to open, you must be looking for them, and you must knock on them. You cannot expect anyone to know that you are standing out there. You must be brave enough to say what you want. 

Seek the place where you can be the biggest help to others. What resources do you have at your disposal? Where can you use them? What task is lying right in front of you?

No matter what we do for a living, it is only a matter of time before the industry is disrupted. In the current marketplace, niches are as fleeting. Opportunities exist, but one must be ready. Seeking The Big Idea will prepare you for opportunities that are not yet on the horizon. It will help you nix every meaningless task that is not serving your goal. Seeking The Big Idea will bring order to your business. The more clear it becomes, the more the stars will align. Your business will make sense. It will help you identify your gifts. When our work makes use of our greatest gifts, we are preventing the greatest waste of all: the waste of humanity.

You have something you can do to make the world a better place, for you, and for others. Someone, somewhere, is waiting, and will miss out if you do not share it. Seek The Big Idea, because gift is a terrible thing to waste.

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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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

 

What’s The Big Idea- Part 2

Orbiting your business around the big idea

Very few career paths require the same amount of courage as launching a new business. Risking everything and setting out for a brave new world requires plenty of the right stuff. A laser-sharp trajectory, concentration, and focus are the essential trappings of a successful mission.

And one Big Idea. As outlined last week, The Big Idea is the gravity that keeps your entire voyage on course. It is just the jet fuel you need to help your business reach new heights. No other fuel comes close to packing the same punch.

The Big Idea is not focused on sales. It is beside the point that massive sales are more likely to occur from The Big Idea than from any other business model. That is not the goal. The goal of The Big Idea is to align your activities with Purpose. Making a living is the afterburner. Purpose comes before Profits in this dictionary.

But what if you do not have a Big Idea? How do you go about finding it? You may think me naïve, but I still believe that every person exists on earth for a particular purpose. I believe we have to work to discover this purpose while we are here so that we might make use of our gift, and then give it away. Horace Mann said that we should be ashamed to die until we have won some victory for mankind. We are not here for ourselves. We exist to give back and to leave the world better than we found it. Sounds like something your Mom always said to do, when you visited a place of great importance, doesn’t it?

Anyone can begin to unearth The Big Idea by asking the right questions. We will start by doing a quick sketch. Start by drawing three overlapping circles, like this:

My Sweet Spot Diagram

The first circle represents things that fill my heart and soul. What can our business do well? What kind of work am I doing when I feel most alive? What do I care about? What activities cause me to lose track of time? If you asked your best friend to identify your strengths, what would they say? Your Big Idea must fill your heart and soul like a cup of cold water after a long workout, or your Big Idea will turn into Massive Monotony. But this is only looking on the inside of your business. Which is why we need to look outside.

The second circle represents the Wants and needs of your customers.Calibrate your internal desires with the outer reality. Just because we have a passion for something does not mean everyone loves it, or wants to pay me to do it for them. Passion is only part of the story. How long has it been since you have taken the time to ask your customers what they are passionate about? About what they really want? Take them out for coffee. This coffee break is not about pitching. It is about listening. Experience their world from their perspective. What is it like to be there? What do they believe about the world? Walk a mile or two in their moccasins. Think long and hard about how you can make the world better for your customers.  Concentrate on those desires that your business is most suited to fill. But this information is still limited. It does not tell me whether someone else is already doing what we want to do, only better and faster.  And this is why we need to take a look at the third circle.

The third circle represents where my business is completely Unique in the marketplace. This circle calibrates our trajectory with our environment. Is it hostile? Friendly? Where are the meteorites? A very common error of newbie entrepreneurs is to assume rather than prove assumptions. It is human to believe that because an idea is new to us, it is new to everyone. I heard a story of a man who lived long, long ago, who invented a wonderful device for getting about. It had wheels and handles and a seat and pedals. You could get on the thing and pedal it around. One day he pedaled it into town, only to find other people were already pedaling around on similar things, and they called these things bicycles. He discovered his invention was already common knowledge. You may believe your methods are different from everyone else. Only by investigation will you discover who has already made landing where you are still seeking to go. Your uniqueness must go beyond the expected quality. What can you say that your competitors cannot say?

Think these discoveries are easy? Not on your life. But do you see that tiny shared spot in between the circles? The value of that spot is inestimable.

This “overlapping magisteria” represents your sweet spot. It is the space where your business can serve the best, and are most likely to earn the most. It is a place where you can accomplish the most with what you have on hand. It is the place where you can serve your customer in a way that your competitors are unable to serve. When you have found a spot to fly where there are fewer competitors, and when you have spent the time to make your product unique, you will have made your whole journey a bit easier, way more exciting, and more profitable.

This little sweet spot will begin to shine a light on the stuff you were born to do.

Many people live to work and work to live. Life was meant to be so much more. Wouldn’t you like to win some victory for mankind in your business? Spend the time and effort to locate your own sweet spot. It will be like adding astrophysics to your trajectory and help you boldly go where no man has ever gone before.

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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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.

 

What’s the Big Idea – Part 1

the three stooges

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

Finding Your Inner Genius

learn to love the journey

All we entrepreneurs really want is to be geniuses. That is all. Most any kind of work can be done artistically, no matter what one does for a living. So that is what we want to do. Instead of the boring grind, we want to create real art in our work—the surprising, original, fabulous, life-changing kind of art. It is a lot of pressure to put on ourselves. But hey, we have talent. At least, that is what our Mom said. If we could just get past the accounting, the insurance paperwork, the hiring, the vendor issues, and that boring grind long enough to do what we started this business to do in the first place? We would enjoy this journey so much more than we do now.

It is all too common a story.  

But now that you have been at this for a while, are you having fun yet? How is your business going? Is it going as you originally planned? I would be so surprised if you said yes. If you did say yes, it would mean that you are a rare bird indeed, because most plans do not fall out as planned.

Most entrepreneurs are surprised at the sheer amount of dedication, devotion, and determination required to run a business. They are still surprised even if they did a great deal of work on a good business plan and defused half of the problems up front. It is the rule, instead of the exception, that the five-year milestone looks quite different from the original intent.

But then again, maybe it does go as planned. When we are fearless to connect the dots, take new opportunities, and work through the rough spots, we become different people. Are you the same person that you were when you started? I am not. You cannot avoid this becoming. Small business makes you become–and makes you become more than you ever dreamed you could be.  

The small business journey grows people.

Here are just a few things small business teaches us:

You cannot pour from an empty cup. If you are burning the candle at both ends and in the middle to keep your business going, you will flame out. You will not be inspired to create anything. You will have no brainpower to work. You will run out of creativity, gas, and health. Small business teaches us that you cannot fool yourself forever. You will lose your superhero cape. You will fizzle, crash, and burn. To pour yourself into your business, you must find time to fill yourself up again so that you have something to pour out.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Ever had one of those days when it feels like you are going to die? You did not die. How do I know? Because here you are, reading this post. What did the terrible, no good, horrible, very bad day teach you? It taught you that this problem could happen. You will not be surprised by it again. (Right?) You can learn how to develop systems to keep this problem from derailing your train.

Knowing what you do not want is as important as knowing what you want. We all end up doing work we do not like to do. We all end up serving clients that we would rather not serve. From what we do not like, we learn diplomacy, delegation, better marketing strategies, and that it is quite ok to say no. All of these things are essential business skills. We will not die if we do not accept every sale. We learn that in order to say yes, you must be able to say no.  

When the same problems repeat themselves, and I am the common denominator, the problem is me. We have to be somewhat confident to open the doors of a new enterprise. So confident, that entrepreneurs are rarely aware that we have a few bad habits, and have holes in our skillset. If we lack a expertise in a certain area, business owners are usually the last to know. But if we pay attention to the clues, and the signals, and the feedback, we can learn to recognize what we do not know.

You can become more than you ever thought you could be. Granted you did not sign up to be a leader, a human resource manager, a chief operating officer, an accountant, or a teacher. You probably started business because you wanted to do what you love to do. You wanted to use your gift. But small business gifts you back–with the opportunity to grow into so much more.  

These are just a few of the major life lessons I have learned from my own small business. If I were to share them all, I could write a book. Many of these lessons were learned in the school of hard knocks. It is an expensive school, but the best school ever. As with marriage, or parenting, we have no clue what we are getting into when we start our businesses. We learn as we go, and learn as we grow.

Your business does not have to be perfect to be wonderful. Even when it is not wonderful, it can help us to grow into all that God planned for us to be. The valuable things we learn become a right of passage, blowing wind into our sails. (And sales.) The lessons become a wonder in themselves.

Embrace your own journey. Learn to love it, and your small business will enable you and help you to find your inner genius.

What are some things that you have learned from your small business? Please share them 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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer.

Learn to Love Limitations

learn to love limitations

Part 3- Love What You Do • Do What You Love

“I love not having enough resources to do the things I want to do.” Said no entrepreneur ever.

Unless your uncle is a billionaire, entrepreneurs must endure limitations every single day. Energy, girlpower, manpower, cash, and hard assets, are always in limited supply.

But I wonder if I could convince you that limitations are not a handicap? I wonder if I could convince you that limitations can be an advantage in disguise?(Probably not. We would love the chance, if only for a day, to experience money falling from the sky, yes?) 

But I would love it if I could teach you to see limitations from a different angle, because limitations are the matrix of creativity and innovation. It is rather the abundance of resources that can short circuit adaptation to challenging environments. Have you ever looked at that thorn in your side as the best thing that has happened to you all year? Did you die? No. You are still here and growing stronger every day.

We humans naturally crave sunshine and rainbows, yet this environment is notorious for producing weak root systems. (Just ask your local gardener.) Think about it. Anyone can make anything with endless resources. It takes very little skill. Endless resources mean you can take as long as you want, and be as inefficient and as wasteful as you want on any given project. When has wastefulness and inefficiency been coveted characteristics? Nor has any such project won any awards for good design.

The pressure of limitations becomes the crucible of genius. Creativity hides under the challenges, problems, and surprises. Creativity is the ability to see solutions that others are missing. This wrestling with common things is the matrix of innovation.

Here are a few classic thought patterns of how we commonly think about our limitations, and how we might think about them instead:

I do not have enough cash. Cash flow never works like the accounting textbook say it will. No one ever says hallelujah. Yet poor cash flow will teach you more about your own business and more about money management than the finest schools of business. It helps you to learn the seasons unique to our own business, even as we are forced to learn it. So you have to bootstrap! Far from being a handicap, bootstrapping is the strongest start-up position. It teaches skills right out of the gate that borrowed money will never teach you. When storms hit, as they surely will, the bootstrapper already knows how to batten down the hatches. We applaud you.

I do not have enough education.A university degree does indicate you have the pluck and the follow through to achieve a big goal. But even an Ivy League diploma does not mean you how to dream. It does not mean you know how to make something from nothing. It does not provide the chutzpah to try something that no one has ever tried before. It does not mean you know how to maximize your creativity and skill.  It does not mean you are doing the work that matters. Stop using your lack of letters as an excuse. Engage.

I have so little resources and way too many obstacles! Let’s see. Everything with a beginning started from nothing. Just because you cannot see something does not mean there is nothing there. It may simply mean you cannot see it from where you are standing. Change your perspective. Can’t budge? Out of space? Use the lack of elbow room to become as lean and mean as an entrepreneur can be. Feeling overwhelmed with your lack? Look at everything you do have and imagine life without it. Thankfulness opens our eyes to new possibilities. Too few customers? It seems counter-intuitive, but stop looking for ways to find more customers. Look for ways to help more people. And you will find more customers.

Do you ever get jealous of how easy other entrepreneurs seem to have it? Some have such an easy road, and your road seems so full of mud. But look who is building up the stamina to go the long haul? Stop looking at your feet. Look up! Look ahead, at where you are going! 

Stop looking at your limitations as thorns, and look at them instead as opportunities to improve your business. You will find more meaning packed into each day, and find more joy in your journey.

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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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

 

Learn To Make Awesome Mistakes

Learn to make awesome mistakes

Love What You Do, Do What You Love- Part 1

Learn to Make Awesome Mistakes. How I wish this were a real course and how I wish you could sign up today.

If I could teach you how to make glorious mistakes, it would help you keep the spark in your business. It would keep you from stagnation. It would keep your business from becoming moldy. Those who say, “I will only try it if I know I can succeed,” will never succeed. Because making mistakes is the only way to success.

February is a month filled with passion. If a face can launch a thousand ships, then surely entrepreneurial passion has launched several thousand ventures. Entrepreneurs fuel their fires with the stuff. It is discussed in myriads of blog posts, and for good reason. Because if you have a business fueled with passion, that means that you are doing what you love for a living. Anyone can fall in love with that idea.

But if you are doing the same thing day after day, how do you keep it fresh? Things can get, well–so daily. For both lovers and entrepreneurs, it is the daily grind that wears the passion into the ground. And then there is all the other stuff. Running a small business is so much harder than anyone dreams it would ever be.

All this month we will be discussing ways to find joy the journey, even while you are working your tail off. Which brings us to Part 1 of this month’s series. Please open your Successful Entrepreneur Kit. You will notice that Mistakes come awkwardly juxtapositioned inside your Kit.

You will also notice that the first manual is called, “The Plan”. Table stakes. Every entrepreneur knows the value of planning. And every entrepreneur understands the peril. We secretly know the actual performance of the best and brightest minds rarely line up with the planned performance. So why do we plan? Because it provides a trajectory. It provides a destination. The margin of error means that most of us are exploring new territory every day. And that means that most of us are going to be making mistakes. Big ones.

We are here to encourage you to embrace the big ones. Big bear hug. Come on! Group hug! Prior to launch, you must plan to ditch the fear. You must plan to jump in even if you are shaking. You must plan to make glorious mistakes. Courage and flexibility must be part of your Plan. We are not aiming to do it wrong. Quite the opposite. Courage accepts the odds and jump in anyway.

Glorious mistakes are the only stepping stones to real success. We are not talking the safe kind of mistake where you have one foot on the shore. We are talking the glorious kind; the kind where the boat starts to drift away from the dock, where you have one foot on the boat and the other on the dock sort of mistake. If there is a constant in small business, it is that the riskiest move is not to move. Nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved by remaining unduly loyal to The Plan.

Years ago, one of my kids had a hard time making mistakes. We had to practice. We started to play a particular game on family night which would be the equivalent to high stakes gambling for an 8-year-old: Pass the Pigs. It was the right combination of chance, strategy, and guts. It provided many opportunities to lose all your pigs in a safe environment. The practice helped. She learned she would not die if she lost all her pigs. She learned that she would never have more points if she never risked losing at least some of them.

What do you believe about making mistakes? If you are risk averse, it is good to find out why. It is also good to find an environment where you can practice Risk Light. Try dance lessons or a new sport–something you do not know how to do–and something where you can be at least a little bit vulnerable. Surely falling on your rear will help you lighten up. (Imagine how boring life would be without the blooper reel.)

Plus there are many other benefits to making mistakes. One of which is, of course, laughing at yourself. (A big hindrance to success is taking yourself far too seriously.) Mistakes can also be gloriously productive. Mistakes can be art. Mistakes can teach things that the classroom never could, and in such a way that you will never forget the lesson. Mistakes provide us with the knowledge of what does not work–which knowledge is just as vital as knowing what does work. Mistakes improve our character, and at the least, supplies us with a good dose of humility.

The next time you see a blog post entitled, “The 20 Mistakes You Do Not Know You Are Making”? I recommend you skip it. Why focus on not doing? Focus on doing. Do not waste a minute focusing on all the rules you should not be breaking. Go ahead and break a few.

Learn how to make glorious mistakes. 

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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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

Taming Your Inner Beast

lion tamer

Becoming the Real Deal – Part IV

Never before has there been a time so ripe with potential for those of entrepreneurial spirit. We have educational resources–more than we can use in a lifetime–only a click away. We can find and connect with like-minded individuals around the globe in seconds, using 140 characters or less. Fertile ideas are lying around everywhere, any of which can grow at any moment, given the right nurture and the right conditions.

It is the first time in history that we do not have to ask permission to create.

Thomas Edison said,

“If we all did the things we are capable of, we would literally astound ourselves.”

Many are still waiting for permission to become the Real Deal. Some are waiting for the foolproof formula, some waiting to complete the next perfect webinar, some for an experienced mentor to tell them exactly how to do it. They want someone to hand them magic pixie dust that makes stuff happen.

I hate to tell you. There is no magic pixie dust. No one has it. No one sells it. Even if you had a magic formula, you would only know it after the magic happened. Going forward? It is always crap shoot.

The real potential–the real magic that will make things happen? Is found right between your ears. It lies in how you think. Our businesses become a reflection of what goes on inside our heads. Truly the largest obstacle in entrepreneurship is not found in our circumstances, not the economy, not in perfect cash flow, but in our self-talk.

When you wake up in the morning, what do you say to yourself about the day? What voices crowd your thinking? What voices might be hindering you? Who or what is forming your path? Remember many of the voices in our heads are coming from outside our heads.

Your worldview is how you think–how you view reality. Your worldview informs your behavior and determines whether you feel confident, whether you feel the world is a safe place, and how well you connect with other people. It does not fashion our experience but interprets the experience for us. The voices in our heads are a formidable force. We behave according to what we believe. It is important to test the veracity of these messages and know where they come from.

It has been said a gazillion times that if you want to become the Real Deal, you need to change how you think. Think and grow rich, right? Visualization is and old technique and not without merit. But even if you can imagine your perfect skinny self, your bathroom scale does not lie. Even if we can imagine ourselves wealthy, our bank statement does not lie.

There has to be a better way to create our desired reality, and tame our inner beast. Here are three good ways to train those scary creatures:

Get some perspective. If you talked to your best friend the way you talk to yourself, would you have a best friend? Would your best friend say you were dumb? Would your best friend say that you are a loser because you did not win the contract? Of course not. You could be sabotaging your own success. Step out of your head for a moment and get some perspective. Be kind to yourself. Talk to yourself as you would talk to your best friend.

Know that action precedes feeling. So you do not feel brave. Welcome to the Club. (I am Weanie Club President. If you only knew how far I have come, you would be compelled to send fan mail and donations to my address here.) In 1880, William James was one of the first psychologists to discover that our emotions follow our behavior and not the other way around. (Lest you think he is old school, know that his two-volume tome The Principles of Psychology is still required reading for students in behavioral science.) His favorite way of putting this phenomenon was,

“You do not run from a bear because you are afraid of it, but rather become afraid of the bear because you run from it.”

In other words, if you want to be brave, do the things that brave people do. You will find more courage. If you want to be more loving toward that certain person that irritates your socks off, do the things that loving people do. You will find that you at least like them a little more than you did before.

Change your focus. Stop setting yourself up for failure. Setting realistic goals is tough enough. Sometimes we are overwhelmed by the immensity of the mountain we must climb, and we get stuck at base camp. James Clear has written a marvelous article teaching us to focus not on the end goal, but on the daily habits that make the end goal possible. Not only can you be successful in this approach, but it is sustainable even after you reach your goal. Inch by inch, everything is a cinch. 

You, the entrepreneur, are the biggest asset in your business. Don’t wait for the alchemy of success. Don’t wait for someone to give you permission to be all you can be. Success is not found in wishful thinking, but in taking action, even if it is only small steps each day.

Pay attention to your inner beasts. Take care of them, harness them, and train them into action. They will empower you to be ready for every opportunity, and in turn, help you become the Real Deal.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

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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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection your visual graphics will make with your target customer. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 

The Biggest Problem in Branding

couple

Part 3- Becoming the Real Deal

A few years back, my daughter worked in visual merchandising at a big box department store in Chicago. I will leave the store unnamed, although I am quite sure you have been there or at one of its affiliates. I asked her one day, out of curiosity, how a big company goes about communicating its mission internally to its employees. “Quite unsuccessfully in our case,” she answered. “Our mission statement glows from every computer screen, but the employees just make fun of it.” Despite the continual glowing of the visual reminder, the mission failed to glow from the hearts of anyone whose task it was to make it come true.

And there you have it.

The biggest problem in branding is not the cost, although it does cost something. It is not the time, although it requires much thinking. It is not the internal management required to make the brand images consistent, as important as consistency is.

The biggest problem in branding is making Brand happen.

It is obvious that it is just as hard for the large company to carry out its intentions as it is for the small firm. Wherever the mission and vision of a company meets or exceeds the expectation of the customer, you create magic. But wherever mission and vision depart from the actual customer experience, you have the antithesis to business at best, and potential toxicity at worst.

Entrepreneurs start off with good intentions. Many understand the power of brand, and craft a well-defined mission, vision, culture, and story. But as they grow they tend to pay more attention to sales quotas than they do the customer. In doing so, they bypass the heart of marketing, and the pulse weakens.

What is this like? Let’s imagine a man named Jim takes on one of those reality show challenges to win a large sum of money. All he has to do is find a romantic muse, get married, and inspire his partner to say that he is the perfect husband at the end of one year. If he is successful, he will win a million dollars. But, if she does not claim he is the best husband ever? He will have to pay back every expense plus finance charges. If he takes the goal seriously, Jim will work hard to keep his muse amused. He will go out of his way to be everything she needs him to be, albeit with dollar signs in his eyes. He would study the behavior of good husbands. He would study his partner’s behavior, and make long lists of her likes and dislikes. He would check his calendar to determine all the right dates to send flowers. He would plan breakfasts in bed. He would plan to say the all the right things, and do all the right things, at all the right times.

But, six months in, his partner begins to feel as if something is up. She may not know anything about the contract, but senses something is off-kilter. Jim is a little too perfect. He has no sparkle in his eye, and no spontaneity–his words are a bit too scripted. She can’t quite put her finger on it, but the relationship feels a bit, well . . . . cheesy. Of course. It is cheese. It is not a relationship. It is all about Jim.

This story may seem a far-fetched example, yet many businesses do marketing in the exact same way. In the reality show of business, this exact scenario has played itself out so many times that consumers are now suspect of anything that smacks of an advertising overture. When a company only seeks a sales quota, and sees its customers only as a package of behaviors–as someone to convince to ‘click here’–it will not be long before that customer describes the relationship as plastic. Customers want real passion. They would rather experience serendipity than scripts. They can better endure anything–even a screw up–than a fake company.

There are a thousand ways to build real relationships with your customers. Knowing what your customers need and want. Staying true to your core values. Providing real value that you know is your best work. Setting up systems so you can deliver with consistency. Doing what you say you are going to do. Making it easy to do business with you. Respecting the customer as intelligent and worthy of your time. Being genuinely excited about helping them achieve their goals. By ensuring your customer has experienced your company in the way you planned for them to experience it. And these are just a skim from the top. 

A wise entrepreneur will craft their customer’s experience from start to finish. But business is not theater. It cannot be an illusion of real relationship to obtain a sale. It must be the real deal.

Are you looking to create real relationships with your customers? You cannot fake it. Truth will prevail. Experience is hard to argue with.  How do you help your customers best?

Put your customer first, and you will become the Real Deal.

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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 we make your visuals, your graphics will never make more sense than the clarity of your own vision. The clearer your target, the more lucid your marketing will be, and the better connection you will create with your visual graphics. We want to help you become the best you can be. Join us all this month as we share ways to help your small business sustain and grow in a crowded marketplace. Etc!Graphics is devoted to helping you, the small business owner, think like a marketer. 


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