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Most of my clients, who are solo and small business owners, have a deep appreciation for what works.

E-Letter AtelierThey don’t have time or spare creative energy for anything else.

They’re busy people, usually with partners and families and homes and pets and other big life interests they’re pursuing. Their  business is not everything to them, but it is a huge part of how they’re showing up in the world, one of the primary ways they’re contributing and making a difference. And — huge bonus for ME as their creative provider — they enjoy their work a whole lot.

When they come to The Voice Bureau for copywriting or content creation support, they’re not looking for short-term tactics or to get in on a hot marketing trend. They’re looking not only for a clear and discernible result but also a deep conviction that this is the best way to direct their business’s energy in this season. They’re looking to position their business in a certain way. And they’re looking for a path and an outcome that feels right through and through.

So when I encounter a new client who doesn’t have an e-newsletter, or who has one but doesn’t ever use it, the first thing I ask (gently and encouragingly) is why not???

I’d never give up my e-letter for anything.

Of all the things the different marketing activities I’ve done in my time as a solo business owners, writing and sending a consistently high quality e-newsletter is by far the one with the highest ROI (return on investment). Let me tell you why.

As a solo business owner, you deserve to know that –

1) Your Right People want to hear from you.

They really do. Nobody really wants more email, so consider this: if someone has willingly given their email address to you, it’s because they really, really WANT to stay connected. Somewhere in their mind, they have the intention to become your customer one day. They’re curious and intrigued by how you do what you do. They like watching you work. They’re attracted to your voice, and to the value you promise to share. Give the people what they want.

2) Good solid content trumps gorgeous design.

I know and preach the value of great design all day long, but when it comes to a business e-newsletter, simple old line of type can be just as effective as a chic, sleek HTML template. The nice thing is, email service providers like Aweber and MailChimp make it SO easy to get a great-looking e-letter these days. Yet four years in, my own e-letter is still nothing fancier than a logo header, Helvetica paragraph text (with short, web-friendly paragraphs), and font colors that reflect my brand’s color palette. Visual branding goes hand in hand with great content, but without great content, visual branding goes poof. So develop your sense of what great content is for YOUR people, and come out with that.

3) You don’t owe anyone total transparency about your decision-making process or your business strategy.

I often see solo business owners treating their e-newsletter like a page out of their business owner diary. And for some Voice Values — especially Transparency and Intimacy — this isn’t necessarily a bad choice.  But not every small business e-newsletter needs to be a reckoning of the creator’s personal travails, experiments, and innermost feelings about being an entrepreneur. If you want to be intensely personal in your e-newsletter and can see a way to tie this to your Right People’s needs and desires, then so be it. But know that there’s NO pressure on you to self-disclose anything you don’t see a use for just because people have given you their email address. Not every business e-letter needs to go behind the scenes of the business. I’ll repeat. Not every business e-letter needs to go behind the scenes of the business. Consider that based on what your business offers, your Right People may be even more interested in what they are hoping to GET from your brand than they are in your personal story. As human beings, we do care about others’ stories, but not more than we care about what’s in it for us.

To quote Marketing Profs’ Ann Handley, there’s a marked difference between personal and personable, and either approach is A-OK.

4) A small but engaged list is better than a bigger but zoned-out list.

Yes, there are mathematical realities about how many people you can “convert” from an offer made to a list of X number or Y number of people. If you want to sell more stuff, you do need to grow your list over time. But in the here and now, are you selling what you could be to the people you actually have? Aren’t some sales better than no sales? Some sales can teach you a lot about your subscribers’ desire, about effective (and less effective) copywriting, and about an effective rhythm for connection. No sales can teach you a lot, too.  But you can’t learn whether people will buy or not if you’re not making the offer.

Segue: The E-Letter Atelier is the seventh course I’ve launched under The Voice Bureau in the past couple of years. But in the first week of enrollment, sales were sluggish. I asked myself why and saw a number of possible factors: the price was significantly higher than the price of many of my previous courses; I (like usual, to be honest) did little to no lead-up before the launch [the advice to do a pre-launch, warm-up campaign is wonderful and I’m sure effective, but I very rarely do it]; and it seems like an unusually heavy “launch season” out there in the values-based B2B online realm. I knew that the problem was not my list size, but rather, with the sales page itself, since I wasn’t “converting” at my usual rate.

So I sought feedback from a source I trust implicitly (The Voice Bureau’s very own Project Curator Katie Mehas) and radically reworked the sales page, including a swap-out of all photos on the page to evoke a different feel. And voilà!, sales picked up and have been steadier since. I’m so excited about the group of solo and small business owners coming together for this first-ever experience and I look forward to getting started in June.

5) You don’t NEED a free opt-in gift, but if you have one, make it worth their while.

Just like nobody really wants more email to process, nobody really wants another digital file sitting around on their hard drive. So if you go the route of creating a “free gift” for your e-newsletter subscribers, make sure it’s worth their while. Your e-letter opt-in gift should (1) loop your Right People into your brand conversation via a tiny slice of the whole thing, (2) help them solve a pressing problem or address a critical concern, and (3) be consumbable in about 10 minutes.

My own subscriber gift is my Discover Your Voice Values brand voice self-assessment. It meets the criteria for a viable opt-in gift because it (1) immediately loops my Right People in to my conversation about brand voice for small, values-based businesses, (2) offers them a way to gain quick self-understanding of a topic that can seem rather complicated, and (3) takes most people about 10 minutes to do.

Not a subscriber yet? Sign up below to discover your Top 3-5 Voice Values.

6) Top quality over laser consistency, every time.

This one turns the usual advice on its head. You know how “be consistent” is the battle cry of branding specialists and marketers everywhere? While I wholeheartedly believe there’s GREAT value (and rewards) to be found in showing up consistently, I also believe that some of the best marketing content we see out there today is a pattern interrupt. It snaps our brain out of its usual open-mouthed stare into the digital netherlands. It tell us, “Hey! Wake up! You don’t get an email from [insert your business name here] every day but today you ARE. And you enjoy getting his/her emails. So this must be significant .”

There’s all kinds of research out there about the best times to send email. For months (years), I held myself to an every-Tuesday-morning-at-3-AM-EST sending schedule, aiming to land in people’s inboxes first thing on the first day of the week that wasn’t Monday. But the more consistently I kept up this rhythm, the more my open rate declined, and then settled in at a consistent 50% lower than when I used to send sporadically! I’ve personally found that varying the days and times I send yields the best open rates. In short, my people are MORE apt to open my emails and click the links inside them when I’m less predictable. I’m still consistently, but now I’m sending consistently inconsistently. Open rates are up and more of my Right People are reading my e-letters more often.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

Do you have an e-newsletter you consistently write and send? If so, what “best practices” have you discovered hold true for you? If you don’t yet have an e-newsletter, what holds you back?

Feeling like it’s time to get your e-newsletter to where you want it? The E-Letter Atelier can help. Join me and other values-based solo and small business owners this June and July 2014 for a personalized online workshop. You’ll approach (or re-approach) your own business’s e-newsletter from concept to content, with ongoing support from me and other Atelier members via our private Facebook community. CLICK HERE for all the details. Three payment options available, plus early bird pricing until Wednesday, June 4th. I would LOVE to work with you.


Doesn’t it feel like there’s some kind of magic in a great e-letter*?

*Credit is due to Kate Swoboda of Your Courageous Life and The Coaching Blueprint, who is the first person I noticed online (some years back) referring to her e-newsletter as an ‘e-letter,’ which sounds much more elegant and approachable, doesn’t it?

Abby KerrThe truth is, I’ve started writing this particular article three different times from three totally different angles, with the intention to tell you more about The E-Letter Atelier, my latest online course. Each time I would begin, I’d try to write my way into why an e-newsletter is an important asset to your business.

But you know why it’s important. You’ve wandered around these online entrepreneurial parts a bit, you’ve gotten the lay of the land. You know that you “should” have an e-newsletter, an ever-growing list of people who have ‘opted-in’ [industry parlance] to hear from you in their inbox.

You know that ideally, you should be “sharing valuable content” with your “list” 80% of the time, and 20% of the time, you should be making them an offer: buy my e-book, sign up for my new coaching program, check out this affiliate offer.

You’re subscribed to several other business’s e-newsletters and you’ve seen other people do their newsletters both well and badly. You’ve unsubscribed from more lists than you are currently subscribed to. You’ve gotten more choosy about what you’ll allow into your inbox.

And yet, knowing all this, seeing all this, doesn’t necessarily make it easier for you to see the possibilities for your own e-letter.

At least not a possibility that feels wholly worth it — from a time investment standpoint and from the perspective of your Right People, the people you feel drawn to serve.

You may have started and stopped your e-letter at some point in the past, or perhaps you have one but only get to it intermittently.

And yet you still have a desire to have a really great e-letter, one that serves your business, inspires your Right People, and feels worth it to you. You want it to be a working asset or nothing at all. I get that. Because: me, too.

Here’s what I typically hear from The Voice Bureau’s clients when it comes to concepting and creating a great, ongoing e-newsletter:

  • “What I want to write is neither a diary entry not a straight sales pitch, but something in between. What does THAT look like?”
  • “I want to be consistent and I’d rather not send anything at all, ever, than be inconsistent.”
  • “What the hell do I write? Why is this so hard?”
  • “I love it when other business owners curate links from around the web for their e-letters, but I’m not sure if this is the right choice for my business. How do I know?”
  • “I’m so afraid of offending my readers by sending them more email that I just freeze and do nothing.”

And so back to my angle for this writing this article today.

I think what we REALLY want and need to talk about, when it comes to our e-letter, is how to make this little piece of email feel like an experience, not just a piece of digital detritus.

Delivering an experience to someone’s inbox doesn’t have to mean that it’s long. It doesn’t have to mean that it’s heavily designed. (Heck, my own Insider Stuff e-letters are just line of type with a logo header and a photo I took.) And it doesn’t have to mean that you open a vein and leave your blood on the screen. Nope. None of those.

Let’s have a conversation about approaching your e-letter with two goals in mind:

1) To make it feel worth it to you, as a creator and as a business owner, and

2) To make it a worthwhile, looked-forward-to read for your Right People.

I believe that the magic in a great e-letter is found at the intersection of these two possibilities. Let’s talk about it.

And let’s do it voice-to-voice, why don’t we?

Sign up BELOW to join in on a complimentary call, Writing an E-Letter Your Right People Want to Read, or to receive the recording. If you’re there live, you’re welcome to ask questions, or just to listen in quietly. There’s no special offer attached to this call, it’s just part of spreading the word about The E-Letter Atelier, and giving everyone (whether you become an Atelier member or not) something to think about and work toward in their business.

CALL DATE: Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

TIME: 8 AM PST/11 AM EST — here’s a world time zone converter so you can see what time it’ll be for you



To me, there’s only one sexier phrase in all of business-speak than ‘brand identity.’

That phrase is ‘brand voice.’

When I was in my mentorship semester for my (now defunct) English teaching career, my amazing mentor teacher Mark Jamison allowed me to create and teach a themed unit of my own from scratch. The theme I chose: Identity & Finding Your Voice. When I left teaching to open a brick-and-mortar lifestyle retail boutique, I was inspired not by the prospect of hawking wares or working the sales floor, but by the prospect of conceptualizing and creating a 3D world that didn’t previously exist: breathing tangible, visceral life into a brand identity, giving the merchandise a cohesive voice and story.

Clearly, brand voice is one of our primary obsessions around here.

But many idealistic business owners — including some in The Voice Bureau‘s own readership and clientele — have some discomfort with thinking of themselves as a brand, and with thinking of their ‘brand voice’ as anything but the pure, unadulterated them putting fingers to keyboard and letting it fly.

I’d like to introduce a slightly different perspective — yes, even for solo businesses with a personal feel.

There’s your brand. And there’s you.

The two are not one.

One popular teaching about branding these days is that you and your brand are one and the same. By extension, people say that if you know yourself, you’ll know your brand.

To that I say . . . yes and no.

In the sense that as a solo or small business owner doing values-based work in the world (this is you, right?), it’s easy to feel that our brand is something we walk around inside of. Some people even go so far as to think that in their business, they’re really marketing themselves. I personally don’t ascribe to this point of view, though it’s a popular one. So I understand where the habit of overidentifying with one’s brand gets started.

But in my world, a brand is something we get to create and curate. A brand is never quite ‘complete,’ in the sense that it’s always active and re-engaging with its Right People and responding to trends and other factors inside and outside of its control.

But a brand — unlike a person — should always be ready to face the world and  always be ‘on.’

You see why it’s helpful to think of your brand as a creation apart from your self?

Your brand has the capacity (and, some would say, the responsibility) to always be ‘on.’

You, the business owner, don’t have that capacity. And shouldn’t try to. The very best brands have REAL people leading them, not coldhearted robots or glossily coiffed personas. Real people get to have off days, quiet seasons, and resting phases.

Brands and businesses can be built to function much more consistently than the typical values-based business owner can function. You get to be fluid while your brand provides the flexible architecture needed to support an important conversation over time with the people you want to serve.

Let’s get back to the YES for a moment.

As a business brand with a personal feel, there’s a lot of YOU in your brand. And you need to know where YOU come in, and where the brand can take over.

Discover Your Voice Values brand voice self-assessmentI’ve developed and methodologized a way for you as a business owner to understand your own brand voice — originating out of your natural communication strengths, but to be beheld as an entity separate, complete, and organic unto itself.

It’s called the Voice Values Paradigm for Branding. The Voice Values are the centerpiece of how we work with clients, and we want YOU to have access to it.

Enter your email below and click GO to get access to your complimentary brand voice self-assessment, Discover Your Voice Values.

You’ll be subscribed to our weekly-ish Insider Stuff e-letter when you do, and you can unsubscribe at any time.



For those who have taken this assessment before, we’re proud to introduce our new scoring system. It should lead to more honed results (fewer ties) than you may have had in the past. NOTE: If you’re already an Insider Stuff subscriber, you’re receiving a link to access the NEW self-assessment in your inbox today, April 30th, 2014.

I look forward to hearing your Top 3-5 Voice Values — what we call your Signature Mix — in the comments of this post, or on Twitter or Facebook.


Occasionally I like to pause and think about the goodies that make my daily life and work feel richer, easier, and all around better. I often do this when I’m caught in a tidepool of glittering possibilities (like right now) and am trying to step firmly toward the soft shores of clarity.

Abby Kerr is Creative Director of The Voice BureauHere are the 6 best things I’ve discovered/done/read in 2014, so far.

(No affiliate links; just sharing because I love.)

DDP Yoga

DDP Yoga’s Voice Values, most likely: Power, Audacity, Helpfulness, Community

Being the purist and the aesthete that I am, I never imagined myself taking a former WWF wrestler as my yoga teacher. (I know.) I saw Diamond Dallas Page (DDP) pitch his yoga-at-home DVD program on Shark Tank, and was almost immediately sold. As someone who has been alternately very physically active for years at a time and then pretty sedentary, due to pesky overuse injuries and lifestyle (the writing habit is a pretty sedentary one if left unchecked), I had a feeling DDP’s approach to yoga-as-physical rehab could work for me.

I deal with chronic inflammation in my tissues and ligaments. I trained up to 30 hours a week as a pre-professional classical ballet dancer through my adolescent and teen years. I’ve always been hyperflexible with hyperextended joints (i.e. when I straighten my elbows or knees, they go past straight). Ballet’s emphasis on being super stretchy and elongated had already jacked me, followed by years of heavy lifting at the gym on overstretched ligaments (I used both machines and with free weights, all with great form, but still), followed by overzealous stretching during yoga practice. All this plus a decidedly high inflammatory diet — one of my unprettiest admissions, but true: when I’m not eating clean, I’m eating cheese, butter, white flour, and burgers and fries — makes for a very inflamed body.

DDP’s approach couples basic yoga poses with basic physical therapy. Plus he uses dynamic resistance (i.e. intentional body weight resistance) to help “jack up” your heart rate for greater fat burn. It feels good and it works. Plus, it’s guy-friendly and safe for those who have no interest in traditional yoga’s spiritual component.

While I’m still zenning out my tissues with rest, ice, gentle massage, and ibuprofen (and moving toward eating clean more consistently), I’m also gaining rapidly in strength, core fitness, and postural alignment. I feel back in my body, and that makes everything better.

Tara Brach’s podcast

Tara Brach’s Voice Values, most likely: Intimacy, Depth, Legacy

I was never attracted to Buddhism because of what I perceived as its ascetic austerity and denial of the self. But ever since TWO people who know me well recommended her podcast to me, it’s become my daily (and often nightly) listen. Brach is a clinical psychologist and a leading western teacher of mindfulness meditation. Her gentle, embodied, humorous, intelligent guidance on being “right here” (I can hear her saying the phrase as I type it) and accepting exactly what is has really helped defuse my nervous system and make me a more present business person, partner, friend, and person.

Body Oil from Etta + Billie

Etta + Billie’s Voice Values, most likely: Transparency, Clarity, Excellence

I’d been in search of a smartly packaged, organic, just-right-smelling body oil line to forever replace lotion, and this one is it. Etta + Billie is handcrafted in San Francisco by Alana Rivera. I always flip my wig over modern vintage design, so the packaging of this line turned my head. I’ve been alternating Lavender one day with Grapefruit and Cardamom the next. Slicking this oil on after a bath or shower makes me smell delicious and feel rapturously anointed.

THE GOLDFINCH by Donna Tartt

Tartt’s Voice Values, most likely: Legacy, Enthusiasm, Depth

This is the 2014 Pulitzer Price winner and rightfully so. Ten pages in, I knew I’d be giving it 5 stars on GoodReads. Terrorism, adolescent drug and alchohol use, awareness of class issues, New York City legend and lore, and the fine art and antiques world. It’s all here. A chunk of a read at 800+ pages, this book’s epic scope makes it the twin to Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things, but set in contemporary times.

I’ve especially loved reading up on the notoriously private Tartt herself, to whom my own fiction was compared by Lee K. Abbott, then director of the MFA program way back at Ohio State when I was an undergrad (!!!).

Deleting my color-blocked “What I Should Ideally Be Doing At This Time of Day, 5 Days a Week” schedule from Google Calendar

Google’s Voice Values, most likely: Innovation, Playfulness, Community

I finally did it. No more time tyranny by pixels. I like the idea of being a structured-to-the-quarter-hour person who lives happily by her calendar, but I’m just not. I need to flow like a stream, buffered by several well-placed rocks. Segmenting my Monday-Friday into color-coded blocks of time prescribed for “yoga, coffee, shower” or “prolific time: write!” just hasn’t been working for me for a good while, and I finally decided to stop pretending it someday might.

Not changing my brand’s color palette on a whim

My Voice Values (for sure): Power, Excellence, Depth, Clarity, Intimacy

Some months back, I’d emailed Allie and told her, “I need to shift something up, visually. Can we try recreating a similar vibe with this new color palette I found?” I sent her a secret digital passel of images showing the new palette, and we tried it on for size, but it just didn’t sing. And I kept comparing all the mockups to what was on my site already, and missing the signature pop of saffron yellow we have going on.

So instead of mixing up the palette, we tweaked the Home page in subtle ways, and I’m adjusting the intimacy level of the whole brand conversation. On some level, I like formal; I like official; I like ‘comfortable prestige’ — it’s me, it’s my personality. Someone close to me once described me as “an 80 year-old grandma, a 19 year-old rapper, and a 40 year-old Victorian lady all in one package.”

Yep. That feels about right. My natural tendency is to maintain a polite, polished reserve until I can see you eye to eye, one-to-one, and then I’ll use my inside voice — that is, inside closed doors. Like Donna Tartt, I’m pretty private.

But this year, I’m cracking the door just a bit wider open. For one, with posts like these.

In the comments, I’d love to know:

What’s one of your best non-business finds of 2014 so far? And, if you care to share, what are your top Voice Values?


“My mother loves small things,” the customer said to me.

A photo of a Paris France cuff braceletShe was describing what she saw as a particular quirk of her mother’s, but the truth was that many people love small things — for very particular reasons. When I owned my retail shop, this seemingly idiosyncratic detail was one my shopgirls and I heard often.

On this day, I’d been working the sales floor, chatting with regulars, greeting first-time customers, and giving some of them a quick tour of new finds we’d just unpacked and displayed. This particular customer (we’ll call her Marta — she was a regular) was shopping for a Mother’s Day gift. She picked up a set of tiny, glazed ceramic salt and pepper shakers in the shape of bluebirds, painted in a soft wash of robin’s egg blue (natch).

“She’ll love these,” she said, walking them up to the counter where I ran her credit card, wrapped the bluebird shakers in our signature kraft-and-chocolate polka dotted tissue paper, and tucked them into a logo gift bag. Then she was on her way, to return again another day seeking a new find, hoping for an experience that felt very much like the one she’d had on this particular day. Particular. Personal. Curated.

People love small things — for very particular reasons.  

Most of the business owners we’re lucky to work with at The Voice Bureau have very small businesses. While their revenues might range anywhere from $20,000/year (in ‘just launched’ mode) to multiple six figures, they insist on designing and running a business that feels small. Particular. Personal. Curated.

Usually, their “team” is just them, or them and a VA. Or them, a VA, and a few other collaborators or team members.

It’s fun for my team and me to work with these types of values-based microbusinesses because that’s the type of business The Voice Bureau is. We get why small and particular appeals to you.

In these online entrepreneurial realms, we hear so much about the importance of scaling a business so that more parts of it can be ‘hands-off,’ leaving the business owner with more time and energy for a life outside her business. While I totally agree with the second half of that equation, I don’t think that scaling for volume is the only way to go about having a business that feels good and is profitable. I think it’s time we talked about scaling for a tiny little jewel box of a brand.

Scaling for small

In my own business, I am scaling to be a tiny little jewel box of a brand. That’s how I think of The Voice Bureau.

Right now, and for the past couple years, I’ve been working at scaling my business for four things:

  • IMPACT — which, to me, means seeing my message and my work reach as many Right People as far as it can go
  • GROWTH IN REVENUES — which, to me, means having operating leverage, being able to bring in as much income as possible while being as modest and sustainable as possible in growth efforts
  • PLEASURE — which, to me, means getting to do mostly the stuff I truly love doing that’s within my zone of genius, and building the business in a way that’s beautiful, and not doing the things that don’t actually bring me pleasure or an internalized sense of adding value (like hustling for speaking gifts, going after PR opportunities, etc.)
  • PARTICULARITY — which, to me, means serving the exact Right People in the exact right ways in the exact particular tone and style that works for them and for me

I want to be known for really specific ideas, concepts, and approaches. I want to feel particular, selective, curated, and well-appointed.

I want my business to be well-honed, lithe, and supple where it counts (which is always around the needs of The Voice Bureau‘s Right People). I want flexible architecture. And I want to give my clients an experience that feels small, regardless of the revenues I’m bringing in. Because ‘scaling for small’ does NOT have to equate small profits.

Think about it.

Maybe in your business, the dream is to work with three carefully vetted clients each quarter, and that’s it. You’ll make fully a quarter of your yearly income each quarter from your engagements with these clients. You’ll maintain the emotional and psychological bandwidth to deliver a truly great experience for them. And you’ll have a tiny, quiet team behind the scenes engaged in building the infrastructure to support the clients’ experience and your experience. To keep focused, you’ll lean on your high Love, Security, and Excellence Voice Values.

Maybe in your business, you plan on building a suite of courses around the topics you teach and model. Your goal is to eventually license your own material so that other practitioners can teach using your work as a guide. Someday you’ll create a high level private mentorship for people who really want to go deep. You’ll lean on your high Community, Depth, and Helpfulness Voice Values to get this done.

Or maybe you’re a visual artist who works on commission, always in a very particular style and medium. You have no desire to ‘scale’ in terms of client volume, but you are interested in opening an online boutique where people can peruse and purchase non-commission works. You plan to hire a terrific Virtual Assistant (VA) to help you carry this out. You’ll lean on your high Intimacy, Accuracy, and Enthusiasm Voice Values to make this work for you.

There are many different ways to scale for small, and not all of them require you to be “hands off,” to enroll huge numbers of buyers or clients, or to hike your prices sky high so that only the heavily invested can work with you.

Toward a tiny little jewel box brand

I’m kind of in love with this ‘tiny little jewel box’ of a brand idea. It’s what I’m going for these days, and it’s what we help our clients move toward and into in their own work.


Only what fits.

Only what’s precious.

A few heritage pieces.

A few current favorites.

Lots of eminently wearable standbys.

And lots and LOTS of value.

If you’re intent on building your own business brand as a tiny little jewel box, I invite you to join me. There’s lots coming up — in terms of more articles, a new complimentary gift (later this week!), to help you scale your business and brand for small, curated, and particular, using your Voice Values as a guide.

In the comments, I’d love to hear:

What does ‘scaling for small’ look like in your business? What would you LIKE it to look like?