Why You Should Paint Your Business with Smaller Brush Strokes

Why You Should Paint Your Business with Smaller Brush Strokes

Chris Brogan is a nice guy. He’s also really smart, friendly and has great taste in shoes. (I know. We went shopping together.)

But I digress.

A few months ago, Chris sent out a newsletter that talked about bigger brush strokes – that painting the story of your life (and your business) means believing you can do more than you do and be more than you are.

You have to believe that you’re the painter. You have to believe you can paint bigger than what’s in front of you right now. Then, you have to actually do the work to paint the bigger picture. You have to actually think about what would make you happy, what that would look like in goal form, and what plans those goals will require for you to succeed.

It’s a very nice thought. We all have our canvas to color, and we control the paint’s application. Fear of touching the canvas means empty days. A big splash of sunny yellow here, a sweep of bold red, and you’ve created a vivid, rich life experience.

But you can’t neglect your smaller brush strokes. Fine details and special touches bring the broad brush strokes to life. And sometimes, just that small touch here or there makes all the difference.

Small brush strokes separate you from all the others.


Big brush strokes take no effort. Grab a large brush and slap the paint on. Smaller strokes require you to think about the effect you want to create. They require gentle application, with forethought to the result. They demand a careful, considerate hand.

With the right focus on the big brush stroke and just the right amount of detailing, your canvas of life might become a true masterpiece.

The same is true of your business. Leap in and work madly with abandon, and you’ll have a riot of color – and a mess. Work slowly and carefully, paying attention to the finest brushes you use and the tiny touches you apply, and you create a spectacular business.

Think of what everyone tells you about building your business. They want you to paint with huge brush strokes indeed: Build a large readership! More subscribers! A bigger list! And that’s all well and fine, but if the customers you earn from that large readership leave disappointed in your lack of attention to detail, soon everything fizzles out.

That’s a big brush stroke of fail.

Smaller brush strokes help make sure every moment of your customer’s experience with you is perfect, and your business becomes breathtakingly beautiful.

Easier said than done, I know. Tiny brushes need a steady, deliberate hand, and that’s not always as fun as rushing ahead or working quickly. Detailing your canvas often means slowing down and taking more time to think about what you’re painting.

But when you do… when you slow down and focus on fixing the small details, touching them up so they’re just right, you’ll feel so incredibly proud of your creation. You’ll want to shout to the world to come see what you’ve done!

When you do, you’ll have admirers who say wonderful things about your business. They’ll tell their friends. They’ll commission work and hire you or buy from you. They’ll feel great about it too.

And you’ll feel thrilled you took the time to blend your tiny, careful brush strokes into the bigger picture of your business canvas.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. I don’t know how you do it James, but your posts are always relevant to me and my business situation.

    I’ve recently decided to take my blog in a new direction and while I was planning it out, I realized that despite everyone telling me I need to gather a big audience, large number of comments, social shares and email lists – I don’t want it.

    I’d be perfectly happy with a list that has 50 people in it. People I know by name. With whom I exchange emails and hang out with on Twitter.

    I’d rather have fewer comments from people who not only found the information on my blog helpful but were inspired enough to act on it.

    Smaller brush strokes may take a lot more time and care, but they have the best results too.

    There are very few newsletters that make me feel like the sender send me an email specifically to me.

    The one newsletter I always read is Ameena Falchetto’s (www.ameenafalchetto.com). She sounds exactly like her newsletters when you exchange emails with her or even talk to her.

    • What’s interesting is that all the time spent on amassing big followings and large readerships is often wasted. Sure, you have thousands of people thinking you’re a hero… but that rarely impacts your bank account. It’s a myth to think big numbers = big business results, and I’m glad you know that.

      When it comes to paying the bills, it’s often far more effective to cultivate a smaller community with a personal touch!

  2. Hi James,

    This article sure hit home. For me, it’s more about quality than quantity. Paying attention to detail in most every area of your life is important.

    I liken this to something my father taught me at such a young age. He would say to me, “Even if you’re sweeping a floor, do it to the best of your ability and pay attention to detail.” Sounds strange for a kid, but now as an adult I understand what he was trying to teach me – which he succeeded at by the way. :-)

    Great article!

    • You reminded me of an experience I had back in the days I was competing in jumping. My coach would say, “Any fool can jump a big fence. It’s the little stuff you should never take for granted.” He’d insist I perfect my technique over small cavalettis, over and over until I wanted to scream… and he was right. The result it made on how smoothly I nailed the 5-foot fences was phenomenal!

  3. Hey James,

    Together, you and Chris have the ingredients to an awesome secret sauce. You need both:

    You need a dream so big, it makes your heart race.
    You need to know the next small step you can take.
    You need to get in motion.

    Take the small step, with the big dream always in view.

    For a long time, I had big dreams. But I thought I needed to have the whole route mapped out before I started applying “tiny, careful brush strokes.”

    Thanks for showing me the value of jumping the smaller fences. It has made a huge difference in my business.

    • Saw this quote, and it seemed to fit today:

      “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
      Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • You mentioned, “I thought I needed the whole route mapped out,” and it brought to mind how many people are actually told the opposite – all you need is an idea, and shazam! You’re in business!

      That’s a good big brush stroke. BLUE!… but there’s more to business than just deciding you have a good idea, and that’s where the small brush strokes come in damn handy so you don’t lose your shirt!

  4. Treay Cohen says:

    James, you are so right. I recall my piano teacher making me
    practise one little phrase over and over, separate hands, not both, until
    I thought I’d scream. By the time I’d done that for every one of those phrases,
    I had improved my technique immeasurably, had memorised the music and
    I was able to ‘feel’ the piece. Without the attention to the details, there
    would be less understanding of the whole. Without the bigger picture, there
    would be a less pleasing flow. Quality trumps quantity, you could say.

    • Ahh, piano. Been there, done that as well, and you’ve summarized it neatly. Over and over, one hand doing the same thing until it’s automatic nature and not a beat skipped. Then the other hand, over and over until your fingers start to want to fall off and you wonder if you’ll EVER be allowed to try something with both hands!

      And then you are – two-handed piano. Awesome! And it all comes together beautifully.

      Well, until you learn how to play with both hands at once… ;)

  5. Great point, James. The little things are usually the ones that make the experience or interaction memorable.

    When you take the time to care and to remember little details about what’s going on in a customer’s or client’s life, they remember and appreciate it. When you test a new process to make sure it’s seamless and then ask people for feedback, that care shows.

    The little stuff is really the foundation that everything else rests on. ;)

    • That’s exactly it, Leanne. The little attentions and details you bring to the customer experience can win them over forever. They may have liked you initially because you seemed good… and after they’re done working with you, they love you because you’re just an awesome person who pays attention and takes care of them well.

  6. Great article James.

    Treay – I can completely relate to the picture you painted in my mind about piano lessons. I was involved in piano a lot as well when I was young and percussion.

    When you practice building small details, the care and attention to those details becomes not only who you are, but an extension of what you do and how you carry yourself daily. Similar to how your hands almost operate autonomously from your thoughts, the way you approach your business and carry your conversations with clients becomes a reflection of who you are.

  7. James Chartrand and Chris Brogan–two of my favorite people.

    I kept thinking of Van Gogh’s paintings as I read your article. He is remembered for his bold strokes, but if you actually look at his paintings, it is the thousands of little stokes that bring the picture to life.

    Thanks James and guitar, singing, piano, horseback, ice skating… you really are amazing.

    Jesse, loved the MLK quote.

  8. This is a great perspective, thanks James. As someone who is just starting out with their own business, it’s refreshing to hear someone talk about the efficacy and joy that can be found in the day-to-day actions. Hearing about the big goals – subscriber numbers, launch earnings, etc. – is overwhelming. Frankly, it’s also not what interests me (although I know metrics are important). The everyday customer experience and value are what excite me most about transitioning a hobby into a business.

    • I think most people are pretty fed up of the “more, more, more” advice being slung at them – I know I am, and I highly recommend that everyone just do the best they can in a heathly, balanced, non-stressful manner. It’s easy to get hugely overwhelmed otherwise!

      One day at a time, eh?

  9. Excellent metaphor in your title James,

    I think it is very important to be humble enough to look at the results of your efforts objectively and be willing to make adjustments.

    This is why I have started reviewing my results WEEKLY more than monthly.

  10. Definitely see the value in honing in on details,

    what do you think James of the Mapping strategy of taking your big goals and working backward from there?

    Love your posts James!

    • Mapping goes both ways – chunking up and breaking down, and I think there’s merit in doing both.

      You definitely need to know where you want to be, and start breaking down the phases that get you there (and breaking down those phases into steps, then tasks, etc).

      But you also need to know where you are right now, and which tiny task can move you one step forward closer to your goals.

      Working backwards can also backfire – it’s difficult for many people to think that way. Let’s say I exclaim, “Oh! I want to renovate a house!” That’s hard to work backwards from, because it’s just TOO big. It’s much easier to say, “Okay, first thing I need to do is call a general contractor. And take it from there.”

      The contractor might point out that you need to call the bank or look at house plans or whatever… and that provides you with the starting point of your journey, which you can map out more easily in a “okay, what’s the next step after this one” manner.

      Make sense?

  11. You’re so smart, James. I’m glad for this post. It’s a wonderful perspective. To the smaller strokes in life. : )

  12. I must admit I took a lot away from this post. And it was more of an great example of some of great things that James does! This is why I am such a big fan, follower, and continue to come back to men with pens!

    Maybe just maybe one of these days I could be look enough to meet up and who knows maybe we could shop for shoes or if notthing else have a cup of coffee and learn from a excellent writer!

    Also, I might just have to subscribe and check out this Chris Brogan, I have heard tons about him as well!

    Thanks for the post like always!

    Eric

  13. Well ,well !! Congratulation to all of you who have participate and anticipate in psychological writing touch about the relevance of smaller brush strokes when brushing one’s work. Thought it takes a lot more time and care to make someone’s work more presentable but it clears also mistakes where bigger brushes have left behind while painting. This, it gives the best results forever

    This is what any business requires. If you fail to do so , then you make your name out of curtain forever.

    None is going to read your stuff any more.

    Ntarugera François

  14. Nice stuff, James. It put me in mind of how it’s a fine thing to be a lifetime learner, where small accretions of info put more volumes in the library of your mind. (And even if you have a sieve-like mind like mine, at least you’re still decorating.)

    I’ve read a lot of grammar books (yeah, I know how to party), but I’m reading another now, and getting some good out of it, and pleasure too. It’s great in small doses. And I had a copywriting project today to write a pretty basic press release on a not-exciting topic, but just putting it together, following the fundamental press-release structure, was a pleasure. Small strokes can get you across the pool.

  15. I agree with both ideas. We definitely have to begin with the broad strokes, the outlines, the foundation. But we can’t stop there. We have to continue filling in the details that bring a flat painting to life.

    The same is true with writing. We start with an idea, a large brushstroke. Then we go in with a smaller pen and execute the details. The big idea doesn’t work without the smaller details.

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  1. […] In business, you should aim to do more and be more than you are – paint with bigger brush strokes. But there's a reason small details exist, and this article explains how crucial they are.  […]

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