12 Things You Must Clarify for Your Organization

If you lead an organization of any kind, you’re the Chief Clarity Officer.  Here are 12 things you must clarify.

  1. Mission – Why do we exist? Too many organizations have no why, a weak why or a fuzzy. Clarify this first or nothing else matters.
  2. Vision – Where are we going?  While you’re always striving to accomplish your mission, your vision should be a tangible picture of what it looks like in a couple of years.  Very few organizations have a clear vision.
  3. Values – What beliefs drive our behavior?  Gino Wickman, author of traction says these are “Vital and timeless guiding principles for your company.” Values will create culture.
  4. Strategy – How will we accomplish our vision?  If mission answers the WHY question, strategy answers the HOW questions.
  5. Core Focus – Dan Sullivan calls this your “Unique Ability.”  Jim Collins says it’s your Hedgehog Concept.  Knowing what you’re really doing will allow you to say “If you’re looking for that, we’re probably not right for you…we excel at this.”
  6. Goals  – What is our target? A Harris Interactive/Frankin Covey poll of 23,000 employees found 37% of employees didn’t understand their companies priorities.  Only 1 in 5 were enthusiastic about company goals. If you know where you want to go, clarify some real goals.
  7. Calendar – When do we do it?  It’s not sexy but a tool as simple as a calendar will help you know when to work on what.
  8. Systems – What processes facilitate progress?  A lot of organizations fail not because a lack of talent or vision, but because they lack the systems and process to sustain growth.
  9. Meetings – When and why do we gather?  If you’re just meeting in response to problems, you’re not proactively creating growth and health.  Clarify what meetings are really necessary and who should be there.
  10. Team – Who will get us where we want to go?  “If you could get all the people in an organization rowing in the same direction, you could dominate any industry, in any market, against any competition, at any time.” says Patrick Lencioni inThe Five Dysfunctions of a Team.
  11. Metrics – What numbers tell us how we are doing? Anything that is measured and watched is improved.  So clarify what numbers really matter and create a system to track them on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual basis.
  12. Target – Who are we trying to reach?  Some people call this a persona, but you’ve gotta know who your best customer is.  And it might not be as generic as you think.

If you need help clarifying any or all of these items for your organization, drop me a note.  I love helping leaders create clarity.  There’s nothing like it.

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The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

Here are my notes from The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.  It’s an inspirational book that will help you focus on your work.

  • It’s not the writing part that’s hard.  What’s hard is sitting down to write.
  • Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unloved life within us.
  • If you’re in Calcutta working with the Mother Teresa Foundation and you’re thinking of bolting to launch a career in telemarketing…relax. Resistance will give you a free pass.
  • Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.  We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony,” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m going going to start tomorrow.”
  • The most pernicious aspect of procrastination is that it can become a habit.  We don’t just put off our lives today; we put them off till our deathbed.
  • Trouble is a faux form of fame. The working artist will not tolerate trouble in her life because she knows trouble prevents her from doing her work.
  • We unplug ourselves from the grid by recognizing that we will never cure our restlessness by contributing our disposable income to the bottom line of Bullshit, Inc., but only by doing our work.
  • When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own.
  • The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.
  • The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.  If it meant nothing, there’d be no Resistance.
  • Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance.  They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.
  • Resistance knows that the more psychic energy we expend dredging and re-dredging the tired, boring injustices of our personal lives, the less juice we have to do our work.
  • The principle of priority.  You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important and you must do what is important first.
  • The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.
  • The professional conducts his business in the real world.  Adversity, injustice, bad hops and rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all comprise the ground over which the campaign must be waged.
  • By toiling beside the front door of technique you leave room for genius to enter by the back.
  • The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment.  The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had the guts.
  • Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
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Great Leaders Do This Well

I’ve had the opportunity to work with several great leaders in my life and here are some things I’ve observed.

1. Great leaders own their schedule. Andy Stanley is one of the best leaders in the world.  And you know what?  I’ve never seen Andy tweet about how busy he is. That’s something I’ve noticed about other great leaders, too. They control their schedule and carve out time to do what they need to do.

2. Great leaders communicate expectations. Nobody can read your mind – not even your spouse. Whether its deadlines, costs, or next, work on being as clear as possible.  ASK people if you’re providing enough clarity.  Practice saying “just to be clear…” and summarizing your expectations.

3. Great leaders paint a clear and compelling picture of the future.  Jack Welch said, “A leader’s job is to look into the future and see the organization, not as it is, but as it should be.”  Great leaders don’t cast vision in an annual talk or a weekly email – they cast it all the time.  They live in the reality of what IS but inspire people with what COULD BE. Great leaders don’t become inspirational after they get followers – people follow them because they are headed somewhere.

4. Great leaders surround themselves with great people. There are great leaders, and there are great leaders you respect. The people in that second category always own mistakes and heap out praise. Not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s true. The leaders you respect the most do the hard work of building a great team. Isaac Newton said, “If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants.” That’s a really good perspective, and it’s common among great leaders.  If you’re the smartest person in the room, go in a different room!

5. Great leaders are FOR people. My friend Jeff Henderson is a great leader. “For too long, people have known the church by what it’s against. We want to be known by what we’re for,” he says. It’s been inspiring to see Gwinnett Church create a positive reputation by being for things.

It’s powerful when organizations are FOR people.  And it’s powerful when people are FOR people. The best leaders don’t act like their team is there to accomplish their vision.  Instead, they understand their role as a leader is to help people succeed in their hopes and dreams. Don’t hire people to make your life easier.  Hire people to make their lives better.

If you want to be a great leader, practice doing these things. Don’t wait for someone to appoint you a leader – get started now.

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The Secret Sauce of Success

The other day, I talked a friend who was struggling in his business.  He is a very talented person with a lot of skill.  But he’s working long hours and struggling to keep up.  I tried to encourage him, let him know his struggle was normal, and ask a few tough questions.

One of those tough questions was this:  Who are you learning from? 

It might not be the best grammar, but it really is a powerful question. When we’re stuck in the day to day, we often can’t see a way forward.  It’s classic Michael Gerber stuff – we’re so much IN the business that we don’t have time to work ON the business.

We all need people in our life to push us forward.  We need people in our lives to pull us forward. Those who push your forward are friends, family members, and inspirational figures.  Those who pull you forward have been where you’ve been before.

You need heroes and mentors.

When I asked my friend who he was learning from, he mentioned someone very famous and very successful in his space.  Later, it dawned on me.  That guy was a hero, but he wasn’t a good mentor.

If you’re leading a church of 150 people, Andy Stanley might be a great hero, but he’s not a good mentor.  You need to find someone who has grown a church from 150 to 250 and learn from him.  If you’re running a one person law firm, your hero might be the top partner at the biggest firm in town, but you need to be mentored by someone who made the jump from one man show to a small, successful firm.  If you’re running a photography business,  your hero might be the girl talking celebrity photos and making millions in the process, but your mentor needs to be someone who turned her passion into a lifestyle business with 3-4 freelance employees.  Do you see the difference?

It’s great to have heroes.  We need them. But we also need to choose mentors who are a few steps ahead of us, people who have been where we are and still remember what it was like.  People who can provide practical advice not paint a picture of the ideal.

Part of our text message conversation, when my friend helped me realize the difference between heroes and mentors
Part of our text message conversation, when my friend helped me realize the difference between heroes and mentors

Learning will always cost you something.

If I had a dollar for everyone who wanted to get together, buy me coffee, and “pick my brain,” I could probably make a good living as a consultant.  I hesitate to write this because I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but I feel like it needs to be said.  When you email that mentor and offer to buy him a cup of coffee, you’re essentially saying an hour of his time is worth $3.  As if he’s sitting around saying, “Man, I wish someone would buy me a cup of coffee…where can I find this person.

You don’t need to hire your friends or sister or neighbor to give you advice.  They will do that for free because they are your friends.  But don’t approach professionals and ask them to pick their brain.  It’s like stopping by a doctors office and asking him to take a look at your heart real quick.  Or asking your mechanic to work on your car over the weekend.

Most professionals I know interpret “pick your brain” as I’m too lazy to read your blog or book and too cheap to hire someone to really help.

Right now, I’m going through Ramit Sethi’s course Zero to Launch.  People say it’s expensive.  And it is expensive when you compare the dollar amount to zero.  But I’m not comparing the cost of the course to zero – I’m lining it up with my hopes, dreams and lifestyle.  I’m looking at the potential and the possibility.  On a side note, he told me not to buy it if I wasn’t willing to do the work, because he knows there are no shortcuts or silly guarantees.

It took me a while to learn this (and I actually learned it from Casey, who invested more money in education than anyone I’ve ever worked with, which is one of the main reasons The Rocket Company has been so successful).  Learning from friends is awesome, but if you really want to learn, pay for coaching.

Here’s a snapshot of a Dropbox folder of some of the courses and networks I’ve paid to be in over the last couple of years.  These folders represent thousands of dollars of learning.

Screen Shot 2015-02-16 at 9.16.35 AM

Practice is not enough.

On the weekends, I try to take one of my three children to breakfast.  We order waffles or pancakes and then talk about life.  They each have a notebook and we scribble down thoughts and drawings.  It’s an awesome time.

Recently, I taught my middle child a lesson on how to get good at anything.  “Emma, there’s three things you need to know if you want to get good at anything,” I said.  “And these three things work for piano, school work, raising chickens, or whatever you want to get good at.”  The rest of the conversation went like this…

First, you gotta learn.  Isn’t it amazing that people can spend two years of their life researching, writing, re-writing, re-researching and writing a book and you can buy it for $15?  Isn’t it awesome there are how-to videos online for how to fix a car or cook rice?  There’s so much good information out there, and that’s the first step to getting good at something.  You gotta learn.

Next, you gotta practice.  You can learn about songs and composers and scales, but if you want to get good at the piano, you’ve got to practice.  Experts are really just people who practiced and worked hard.  When you see people who are really good at something, remind yourself you’re looking at someone who worked really, really hard and practiced a lot.

Finally (and this is the silver bullet), you’ve got to get a coach.  Your piano teacher is your coach.  She knows stuff you don’t know but she can help  you.  All the great performers and athletes and successful people have coaches.  This is what will separate you from the rest of the pack, and this is the secret ingredient.

After this, we went back to the strawberry pancakes.

There are no shortcuts.

I’ve bought my fair share of online courses and training programs.  Along the way, I’ve noticed something interesting.  The products or services that promise shortcuts or easy steps or time-saving tricks rarely work.  They sound good and they sell good, but they aren’t real.

When people promote three easy steps to this or offer seven weeks to that, don’t just turn the other cheek – run the other way!  This is surely someone selling something. THEIR seven steps starts and ends with getting you to buy something.  An article at 99u says it like this:

Having recently concluded four years of interviews for a book on the topic of making ideas happen, I can say one thing for sure: Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage. Ideas don’t happen because they are great. The genius is in the execution, aka the “99% perspiration” that has become this site’s namesake. 

Perspiration implies sweat, self-discipline, and (yes) occasional exhaustion. I think this is what Malcolm Gladwell teaches us in his book Outlierswhen he proposes that a true mastery of anything requires 10,000 hours of doing it. There are no shortcuts to lasting success.

Hard work is the single greatest competitive advantage.

It’s easy to look at someone else, see their success and miss the hard work parts.  We envy their story but forget their backstory. We want their results without their sacrifice. But no matter what the online product promises, deep down you know there are no real shortcuts.

Opportunities are everywhere.

Let’s end with some good news.  If you want to learn, grow, get better, change or make something, opportunities are everywhere.  There are books, conferences, podcasts, coaching programs, online courses, free webinars, and so much more available to us all.  You no longer have to look for information, you have to find the best information.

Investing in yourself is one of the best investments you can make.  It will take some time, and it will cost you something, but there are opportunities for growth all over the place.

Remember my friend at the beginning of this article?  I’m hopeful.  He’s a hard worker and he seems willing to learn.  I believe in him and will keep encouraging him to keep going.  The journey isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.

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Behind the Scenes of a Startup – Creating a Brand

I heard a commercial on the radio for business cards.

They said just $10 on new business cards could be THE difference maker in life and business this year.  Man, I wish it were that easy. Building a business is hard work and anyone who says otherwise should take it back.

Don’t let any online marketer or self-help book sell you shortcuts. People that promise six easy steps to this or time-saving shortcuts to that are trying to make a buck off your misery. Creating something of value always takes hard work. It’s supposed to be that way.

The purpose of these posts is to pull back the curtain on what it’s like to start a brand new business. In the first post in this series, I wrote about choosing a name, which turned out to be so much more than choosing a name.  It was more about choosing a focus.  It was about zeroing in on what this company would actually do.

In this post, I want to talk about creating a brand. I’ve been a part of three logo-design or branding projects.


The first one was Oak Leaf Church, a brand new church in a small town outside of Atlanta. The name didn’t have any significant meaning – it was actually inspired by the name of a subdivision in another state. But I had the domain and it sounded different from all the other churches. I personally created the logo and later hired a friend to redo it. The red leaf was easy to recognize and we used that mark everywhere. I still like that logo.


The next brand was The Rocket Company. When I got involved, it was called Giving Rocket and the focus was helping churches raise money. We wanted to expand so a name change was in order. We became The Rocket Company and the brand got instantly bigger. Sub brands like Preaching Rocket, Worship Rocket could fit inside the family and there was room for expansion.

Church Fuel, LLC needed a logo.

Where you go for logo design?

If you need a logo, here are five options.

  1.  Fiverr.com.  This is the cheapest place to get a “logo.”   For “five dollars”, a “designer” will customize a “logo” and you’re off to the races.  Notice all the quotation marks, which are absolutely not misplaced.  Now I love fiverr.com and have used them many times.   I’ve ordered funny videos, tweaks to graphics and audio work from this site.  50% of the time, it’s turned out to be exactly what I needed.  I use fiverr.com all the time when I need a funny video, but it didn’t seem like the right choice for this big project.
  2.  One step up from there is a website 99 Designs. Designers submit their ideas, and you chose finalists and eventually award a winner.  Prices start at about $299, and designers from all over the world will compete for your business.   You can get eBook designs, websites, logos and lots more.   I’ve used it several times for small to medium sized projects, and will use them again in the future.  But for Church Fuel, I felt like I needed something more.  Some people have a problem with spec work, but I believe a contest is different than spec work. You should do the research yourself and make an informed decision.
  3.  A friend.  I don’t have proof, but I believe most small business logos are created by friends or family members.  Which would explain why most logos look like friends or family members created them.  This wasn’t a serious option for me. Besides, it’s tough to hire friends…it changes the relationship.
  4.  A designer. There are a lot of one-person operations that create beautiful things. They might freelance for larger companies or have a handful of clients on retainer, but you’ll surely get much better quality than options one, two and three. And the price tag will likely be lower than option four.
  5.  An agency.  A creative agency usually has multiple people on staff, each with different expertise.  There’s usually a formal process that starts with a discovery period.  You’ll answer questions and the agency will do research on your target customer.  This is the most in-depth type of project, and you’ll pay the most amount of money. Reputable agencies can start at 10k and go up from there, based on your needs.

But Wait…What is a Brand?

Sometimes, I introduce myself as a consultant.  It sounds better than “someone who used to be a pastor but is now starting an online company to help churches move forward.”  But saying you’re a consultant still sounds a little bit sketchy, like you don’t have a real job. It’s like saying you’re an entrepreneur.  Or a social media expert.

Casey and I used to joke that nobody knew what consulting was and nobody knew what branding was so we should become branding consultants.

I’m definitely not a brand expert, but I’ve helped build a few of them. And one of the most important things I’ve learned is this…A brand is not a logo.

A brand is what they think about when they think about you.  It your language and your message.  It’s your values and vision.  It’s what you stand for.  What comes to your mind when you hear the words Disney, Apple, or Coca-Cola?  That’s branding.

I’m convinced most people don’t really like Starbucks Coffee. The beans are over-roasted so the blend is consistent and the result is a flavor somewhere between bitter tree bark and charred ground. But there’s no denying the popularity and power and brand that is Starbucks. I’m convinced people like Starbucks because they like the idea of Starbucks.

In this post, Seth Godin talks about the mythology of branding.  He says brands like Google, Starbucks and McDonalds have narratives around heroic beings.  It’s why people USE Dell, but they ARE an Apple.

Your brand is more about your story than your logo.  It’s more about emption than pixels. It’s what people feel not just what they see.

When people think of Church Fuel, I wanted them to think about practical resources.  Not just theory or principles, but ideas and practice.  After all, ideas are everywhere – it’s execution that counts. You can’t create this feeling with a logo – you have to build it over time. But it can start with your logo and continue throughout a design.

Making a List of Brand Deliverables

Aaron Skinner has done lots of good work for me in the past, so I gave him this project. I asked for a logo, fonts, colors, and an overall “look.”  In fact, here’s the list of all the phase one deliverables.

  • Logo with and without an icon of some sort
  • Fonts, Colors and Standards
  • Keynote template we could use for webinars and products
  • Ebook template we could use for lead capture and products
  • Icons we could use on websites and in products
  • Facebook profile picture, header and post ad graphic (Here’s a handy, always up to date Google doc with current sizes)
  • Twitter profile picture, header and promoted tweet graphic
  • Graphic that illustrates a digital product
  • Podcast Cover Art

The Process of Brand Building

It’s easy to ask a friend to make a logo, but building a brand identity is a different story.  Take a look at this brand process from Matchstic, one of the premier branding houses in Atlanta.  I actually worked with Matchstic a long time ago when me and a friend started a summer camp for students.  Today, they are big time.  They describe their process on their website.

Screen Shot 2015-02-13 at 7.06.45 AMLook at all the steps they take when working on a project.

  1. Audit – any good process must start with an honest look at reality.  Who are you trying to reach? Do you have clear goals?
  2. Strategy – before you start building things, you need a solid plan. How you’re going to move through the process is just as important as the process itself.
  3. Design – Most people start here, and it’s certainly a necessary step. This is where the stuff is built.
  4. Implementation – once you’ve got something good, you’ve got to push it across all of your platforms.       Things can get expensive here, because you’ve got to print and code the cool stuff you create.
  5. Measure – This is another forgotten step in the process.  Who cares if it looks cool but doesn’t work?

A different designer might have a different process and use different terms, but what really matters is there’s a process.  If you’re thinking about any kind of brand creation for your organization, let me challenge you to get really clear on the process. Before you talk deliverables, understand the process.

The Church Fuel Logo

Aaron pulled together a mood board with images and concepts based on what we had discussed. He found all kinds of stuff that seemed to fit our name and purpose. Here’s the first page of bis design brief.


Next, he created the first logo concepts for Church Fuel. Here’s the initial concept:


To be honest, I wasn’t feeling it. I’m always sensitive about critiquing someone’s work because I’ve been on the receiving end. For designers, their creations are an extension of themselves. To critique the work is often to critique the designer. But I couldn’t see our company in any of these designs. I let Aaron know and he offered to do a second round of concepts. He sent this a week or two later:

next concept

I loved the color scheme and the idea of the hexagons, but I still didn’t love the overall design. I asked friends, family and clients for feedback, and they didn’t love it either. I heard a lot of “it’s okay.”

Some designers think family and friends aren’t qualified to provide critiques on design, but ordinary people are the customers. To me, they are PERFECTLY positioned to give feedback. I honestly value their feedback more than the feedback from other designers. The Screen Actors Guild often gives awards to movies real people will never understand or appreciate. I didn’t want a logo that would win design awards or make sense to designers. I wanted a brand that connected with real pastors and real church leaders. Aaron and I both agreed we wanted better than “just okay.”

How to Work with a Designer

Two or three more concepts landed flat in my mind. This process was tough. I called Aaron and the conversation went something like this:

Hey man…I don’t know what it is, but I’m just not feeling it. Maybe it’s because the name Church Fuel has built in metaphors and we’re trying to be creative. Maybe I’m not communicating well. Maybe, maybe maybe.

I’ve worked with Aaron on a dozen projects and have never gone more than two rounds on a project. The quality of work is always top notch, but there was something about this project that wasn’t connecting. He was frustrated and I wasn’t satisfied.

So I called a mentor of mine. Actually, he’s a paid business coach who also happens to run a creative agency. We talk once a month. I sent him the concepts and shared the story and asked him what I should do. He asked, “Have you given him examples of what you like and explained what you’re looking for to the best of your ability.”

He said if Aaron really was a good designer and had done good work in the past, sending additional inspiration could be a spark. Talented people get in ruts from time to time, and if the skill is there, give it another shot. Pull the plug if the talent level wasn’t there, but communicate better and take responsibility if he’s the right guy.

I realized I trusted Aaron’s skill to the point where I didn’t feel the need to over communicate. I needed to do some more work on the front end rather than trust someone to read my mind.

I collected logos I liked and sent them to him along with comments about what I liked, didn’t like and what I think could work. I decided to give it one more chance. Here’s the actual email I sent.

Aaron took a few more days and came back with this… 


The orange and the flame symbolize growth, and the blue water drop symbolizes health. Together, the logo captures what we hope to help churches do – grow the healthy way. The mark of the logo could stand on it’s own, and there’s space to add a tagline. All in all, I was happy.

With the logo done, Aaron started work on the additional assets. There were Keynote files we could use to build presentations and create webinars. Here’s one of them…


There are icons we could use to describe products…


There was an eBook design that we could use to create free resources as well as course transcripts…


If you want to see one of our free eBooks in the wild, you can grab one here.  There were social media graphics, like this Facebook header….


There were product graphics, like this one…


And there was a brand dashboard, one of the most important but overlooked deliverables in the branding process…


Aaron designed Twitter ads, Facebook promoted posts, Podcast cover art and all sorts of goodies. Aaron delivered each file in multiple formats, as well as the original design files. Since I’m a Photoshop and InDesign hack, I can modify things slightly or create new products using his templates.

It took a few rounds and a lot more time than I thought, but in the end, we are very happy with the quality of work and the versatility of the designs. Church Fuel had all the building blocks we needed to create a brand.

Along the way, I learned a lot more lessons about brand building. If you’re thinking about a redesign or a launching a brand, here are some big mistakes to avoid.

Big Branding Mistakes

  1. Designing for designers. Most people don’t even recognize, much less care about, the things designers think are cool. I don’t care if our logo wins design contests – I want it to work. Be careful not to design for professional designers.
  2. Limiting it to your logo. The logo is the starting point for your brand, but your brand is so much bigger. That’s why all the pieces of the brand needed to be created at the same time. That’s why we needed so much more than a logo.
  3. Valuing cool over community. Great designers know how to create something that fits. What works in Brooklyn doesn’t fit in San Antonio. I didn’t want a cool logo that didn’t’ make sense to our clients.
  4. Competing brands. I wanted one giant brand that could hold everything – a consistent look and message for every product and service. You don’t want one part of your organization to have a totally different look than another.
  5. Not pushing it everywhere. It may take time, but your brand elements need to be pushed to every area of your organization. If your Facebook page doesn’t match your website and your website doesn’t match your printed pieces, you’ve got a disconnected look. Here’s a video from a church who rebranded and did a great job pushing their logo everywhere.

In a way, brand building is never done. There are certainly things we missed and there are revisions to be made. We’ll update and expand and as we launch new products and services. Building a brand is about building trust, so the quality of our products and the spirit of our team matter much more than our logo or eBook design.

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