What Drives Your Business? Three things I’ve heard or read recently: (1) We are a sales-driven company. (2) We are a customer-driven organization. (3) We are a market-driven enterprise. What’s it all mean? And what should be driving your business?
Did We Learn Anything? Just In Time manufacturing strategy has been very good for many companies since Toyota first pioneered the concept in the 1960’s. It stopped being good when Covid stopped the flow of raw materials, which stopped the flow of component parts, which stopped the flow of finished products. In the printing industry, we had supply and demand issues with ink and paper and other substrates. Not to mention the difficulty in finding people to do our work, which is what I really want to talk about today
More From Less Efficiency is the solution to the two principal shortages that plague printshop owners – time and money. (If you have more than enough of either or both, congratulations!) The money part is pretty straightforward. If you can’t afford everything that you want, you have to make do with less. Dollars coming in must be greater than dollars going out, or else you’re in trouble. But let’s think about that money going out. What is it paying for? I’d like you to consider the idea that there are only two categories of expense, time and other. Paper, ink and toner fall into the category of other. Payroll expense falls into the category of time. If you’re paying rent, or a mortgage, that falls into the category of other. If you’re contemplating a new piece of equipment – or an improvement to your facility, either of which will make you more efficient – that falls into the category of time. The point I’m hoping to make is that, when money is limited, you should use as much of it as you can on things that will make you more efficient. The key to success in doing more with less is to increase the return on your investment of time.
Tryin’ To Catch Up With That Eight-Ball! If you ask my friend Fred how he’s doing, his standard answer is: “Tryin’ to catch up.” Fred is perpetually behind the eight ball. He runs a business that pays him a reasonably good salary, but rarely makes him a profit. And that’s especially sad, because his product is in demand, and he could sell a lot more of it if he only had time to sell. But Fred spends most of his time chasing the “crisis du jour” — his term, by the way, and not really accurate because for Fred, it’s really more about the crisis of the moment. Do you spend too much of your day trying to catch up with your eight-ball? If so, here are some thoughts that might help.
Be A Better Manager My basic in this article is the most managers don’t manage very well, and here’s why: They manage from the top, rather than from the front and from the beginning. I think this stems from a commonly-accepted definition of management, which most managers seem to think is about being in charge. Personally, I think management is more about being an enabler than being a boss. It starts with a clear understanding of goals and objectives. And it works best when managers don’t manage people, but instead create teams.
The Intersection Of Volume And Profit I have a little change of pace in mind for this column. Instead of writing about sales strategy, I want to write about bottom line considerations, and this may be more for printing company owners than for individual sales employees. Or possibly not, since everyone, owner or employee, should be concerned with a printing company’s profitability. Fourteen salespeople from the largest printing company in my area learned that last month, when this $31 million company shut its doors. Lots of volume, but not enough profit margin. It’s not enough to sell. You must also sell profitably.
Close Enough For Government Work The idea for the first half of this month’s column came from an e-mail I received. A printer in a state capitol wanted to know what I thought about “specializing” in government work. The second half of the message this month is about a “close enough” attitude.
Jim Elliott’s Epiphany I love it when readers respond to my columns, especially when it’s complimentary. But I don’t hate it when it’s not complimentary, because the dialog is usually good for the industry. That’s
how I feel about Jerry Hill’s response to my column in the July 2013 issue of QP, which was titled “In Praise of Micromanagement.”
Empowerment Every sales call is a business-building opportunity, and it’s also a learning opportunity. My whole management/coaching/training philosophy is built around learning as many lessons as you can from every encounter.
In Praise of Micromanagement The subject of micromanagement came up in a recent Dilbert comic strip. Personally, I’m a fan of micromanagement, because I define management itself as making sure that everything from the big things to the little things gets done and done right. Can you think of a better word to encompass that definition?
Discrimination Rears Its Head I’m in favor of discrimination. But let me make this clear. I am not in favor of racial discrimination, or gender discrimination, or age discrimination. I don’t believe that anyone’s religion makes him/her better or worse than anyone else, and I do believe that gays should have every right that straights have. I’m a pretty equal opportunity guy except for one or two things. One, I don’t think you should tolerate poor performance from your employees. Two, I don’t think you should tolerate poor behavior from your customers.
One Of Those Days I had one of those days yesterday, when no one I wanted to talk to was available to talk to me. I was pretty frustrated by the end of the day, but probably not for the reason you think. It wasn’t because I ended up leaving voice mail messages for most of those people, and only one of them returned my call. It was because most of the people who answered the phone made the people I wanted to talk to—clients or potential clients—look bad.
You Need A Stable Core! I added Pilates Training to my workout regimen a while ago. Pilates is all about building a strong and stable core, it focuses on the muscles of the upper legs, hips, abdominals and lower back. So what does this have to do with printing? To answer that question, I have to take you to a hotel lobby bar in Indianapolis where I was having a conversation with a couple of printers during a franchise event a couple of weeks ago. One of them asked me if I thought we were just starting a new cycle with all of the talk about transitioning to become Marketing Services Providers, and whether we’d eventually come back through that cycle to the core products, printing and copying. My answer: No, because those products don’t provide a stable core!
Best Of Intentions It’s a sad fact that most small business owners start a new year with the best of intentions, but the changes or initiatives they plan rarely make it past the first few weeks. What happens? Well, the day-to-day pressures of the business happen, orders and deadlines and employee issues and equipment problems and maybe even some personal/family issues too. It’s not easy. I know that. But I also know that making and following a plan is the best way to get where you want to go.
Recipes For Success (And Disaster) I’m a big Tony Bourdain fan. If you don’t recognize the name, he’s the host of the TV show “No Reservations” which runs on The Travel Channel. Tony made his bones as a chef in New York City, and back then, he was mostly in the consistency business. In other words, it’s not enough to serve a great meal, you have to serve lots of great meals. Consistency — of quality and service — is as important in printing as it is in a restaurant, and in both businesses, the key to success is to follow the recipe!
Do You Have Happy Customers? How do you know that you have happy customers? The answer is really pretty simple. You ask them! You do not assume that they’re happy with the quality or service that they’re getting from you. It’s a little crude, perhaps, but it’s often true that to assume makes an ass out of u and me. OK, so how do you go about asking them? Read on…
Be Good To Your Tomorrow Man (or Woman!) I wrote this after reading a novel titled “Devils In Exile,” written by Chuck Hogan, who is also the author of “The Prince of Thieves.” I was first drawn to Hogan’s writing because he set both of these novels in the Boston area, which is where I grew up. I have grown to appreciate the quality of his writing, though, both his storytelling ability and an interesting piece of philosophy that I found near the beginning of “Devils In Exile,” when a character called Royce explains his theory of The Tomorrow Man to a character called Maven. I found it to be an interesting way of looking at time management and prioritization, and I hope you will too.
Marketing Imagination There’s a lot of talk in the industry about the transition from “printer” to “marketing services provider.” Some progressive “printing” companies are already well into that transition, while others lag behind — and still others haven’t even started thinking about what they might want/need to be in the future. This series of 3 columns (compressed here into one document) starts with a definition of “MSP” and continues with some examples of the sort of “marketing imagination” that I think will be critical. Most printers, I think, are banking on technical competence to help them to make this transition — in other words, being technically able to produce a PURL or VDP project. I, on the other hand, think the key to success with be marketing imagination and creativity.
Make It So! A while back, I built a column around one of the tag lines from TV's Project Runway, where at least once during each episode, mentor Tim Gunn exhorts the fledgling fashion designers/competitors to “make it work!” In this column, my goal was to motivate you toward better overall management of your business by quoting Jean Luc Picard, the captain of the starship Enterprise in Star Trek, The Next Generation, who regularly told his subordinates to "make it so!" This is a column about (1) finding good people, (2) keeping good people, and (3) making life easier on you, the owner.
Do You Get My Drift? I told my "airplane story" to a group of printers a few weeks before writing this column, and afterwards, one of the attendees at the event asked me a question. "Someone told me that airplanes always drift to one side," he said, "no matter how straight you point them. Why is that?" I explained the aerodynamics, and then he said: "OK, that makes sense. Now how do I stop myself from drifting?"
What Happened To Loyalty? I think printers and customers can have very different perspectives on a printer's performance. From the printer's perspective, "I haven't heard any complaints" seems to qualify as a rock-solid relationship. From the buyer's perspective, there's a lot of opportunity for little things to add up to a less-than-satisfactory association. This column addressed the reality of the loyalty equation.
Modeling When I was a kid, I built a lot of model airplanes. My older brother preferred boats, but I was an airplane guy, even way back then. From about 4th Grade to 6th Grade, I built everything from WWII fighters to cold war-era jets. They knew me by name at the model store in the town I grew up in. These days, I don't build models, but I do build from them, because modeling is a very good way to maximize a sales effort, and in fact, to fine-tune a business as a whole.
Violent Prioritization It’s a fact of life that there’s not enough time in the day to do all the things you could be and should be doing. It is also a fact that the busier you are, the more important time management becomes. If you have 20 things on your plate and there’s only enough time to do 10 of them, you have to prioritize aggressively. If you have 50 things on that same plate, you have to prioritize violently, and I don’t think most people prioritize violently enough.
A Time For Heroes For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty… Those are the words that begin the modern citation for the Congressional Medal of Honor. I wrote this column because the printing industry could use some heroes at this particular point in time, when layoffs and closings are costing hundreds of industry employees their jobs. I was hoping to motivate some Sales Heroes to bring in enough business to save some of those co-workers' jobs!
Looking Back On 2009 To prepare for this article, I took an informal survey of 20 quick/digital/small commercial printers, asking them just three questions: (1) On a scale of 1-10, how successful was 2009? (2) On the same scale, how difficult was 2009? and (3) If you had it to do over again, would you do anything differently? The answers, I thought, were interesting. The point, or course, was how to use this knowledge to make 2010 a better year for everybody.
Not-So-Random Thoughts This was another one of those months where I want to catch up on a few not-so-random thoughts which don't justify an entire column, but will (hopefully) have some value to you anyway. The menu for this particular column included some thoughts on sales culture, personalization and having a "unique selling proposition."
Comedy and Tragedy A sense of humor helps when times are tough, and the economy was definitely in tough shape when I wrote this. But the real question addressed in this column was whether to allow the economy to dictate whether you experience comedy or tragedy. The column focused on three product/service categories that I think provide real opportunity, in good times or bad: large format printing, database development and promotional products.
Getting In or Getting Out This is an updated version of an article I wrote in 1995. That one was about quitting or joining a franchise, and it was appropriate to a time when many of the original franchise agreements were running out. This one is about joining a franchise or quitting the business. It's about exit strategy, which many people are thinking about as the "graying" of the industry continues.
Have You Ever Seen A Purple Cow? One of my clients asked me if I’d read the book about the Purple Cow. I hadn’t, but I ran a Google search and soon found myself reading an article in Fast Company magazine, adapted from the book Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Becoming Remarkable. The basic premise of both the article and the book is that “the one sure way to fail is to be boring (and) your one chance for success is to be remarkable.” Here’s what I think about “remarkable”—and also about something else the author wrote, describing his work as “a plea for originality, for passion, guts, and daring.” I think those four things have a definite place in your sales and marketing strategy.
There’s No Time Like The Present! There’s an old saying—and I’m sure you’ve heard it before!—that failing to plan is exactly the same as planning to fail. This article will introduce you to 10 Planning Questions that can help you to set and then reach both your sales volume goals and your earnings goals.
Use The Summer Months To Improve Your Operation This article describes an eight-week series of staff meetings intended to provide training and the development of better sales and customer service practices and procedures. For many quick/digital/small commercial printers, summer is a season for slacking off. Here’s a way to make the summer months—or whatever your slow months are—much more productive!
Copy This! I wrote this column after reading “Copy This!” by Paul Orfalea and Ann Marsh. Orfalea, of course, is the founder of Kinko’s, and Marsh is a freelancer who first met and wrote about him as a staff writer for Forbes magazine back in 1997. It’s an interesting story, containing “lessons from a hyperactive dyslexic who turned a bright idea into one of America’s best companies.” Most printers have their own opinion about whether Kinko’s is a great company, and I shared mine in this article. But like ‘em or not, there are lessons to be learned from Paul Orfalea and Kinko’s.
Make The Time To Make More Money I’ve had more than a few clients complain over they years about having trouble finding the time to do things they know they need to do. This article expands on my normal response to that complaint. “You need to take that word ‘find’ and kick it out of your vocabulary,” I say, “and replace it with the word ‘make.’ If you really want—or need!—to make more money, you simply have to make the time to make it happen.”
Meetings Of The Minds The prevailing wisdom in American “big” business is that too many companies hold too many meetings without getting too much of anything done. That viewpoint has been shared by a wide range of prominent business figures, from Tom Peters and Steven Covey to Mike Doonesbury and Dilbert. Having said that, though, I think quick/digital/small commercial printers probably don’t hold enough meetings. And I think that’s a significant contributing factor to the “communications gap” that keeps many printers from realizing their full profit potential.
Salesperson or Account Manager? This column notes a trend in the industry toward integrating the sales and customer service functions, using “Account Managers” rather than “Outside Salespeople” to maintain assigned accounts and seek out new business opportunities, both within those assigned customer organizations and through some raw prospecting.
The Top 3 Ways To Lose Customers Most of what I’ve written for Quick Printing over the years has been about gaining new customers, or maximizing the value of the customers you already have. This time, I wrote about losing customers—or at least about how printers seem to lose them far too often. What I’m hoping is that you’ll see some of the things you may be doing—or not doing!—in this discussion, and that will help you to hang on to more of your current customers. Because one of the hard truths of this business is that gaining new customers doesn’t help you to make money if you’re losing them as fast as you gain them!
Bad Times Are Good Times Jimmy Buffett sings a song called “Desperation Samba.” A lot of quick/small commercial printers are doing that dance in July 2003. The combination of a soft economy and the summer slump that many printing companies experience every year seems to be driving a lot of printers to desperate—and often destructive—measures. This article is about taking a step back and resisting the temptation to act in desperation. Yes, conditions in the marketplace can be difficult, but there are also significant opportunities out there for you in difficult times. In fact, bad times might actually be the best time to improve your business!
Will 2004 Be A Good Year? It’s Really Up To You! Many quick/digital/small commercial printers arrived at the end of 2003 without much in the way of sales momentum, and that condition doesn’t bode well for a sales-and profits turnaround in 2004. My objective for this column was to get people thinking about making good things happen in 2004.
A Proposal Regarding Your Quoting Strategy This article suggests two strategies: one for tracking month-to-month sales volume in uncertain time—like when sales volume swings wildly with little relationship to historical patters—and the other for thinking in terms of a proposal rather than simply a price quote when you get that first opportunity to compete for an order with a prospect.
Short Subjects As the name suggests, this column covers a number of subjects, including increasing your average order value, challenging a “happy with our current printer” prospect to think about just how happy they really are, building a “price concession” fund into your marketing budget, and using a “new customer appreciation package” as an enticement for people to start sending you orders.
What’s In A Name? There was a fair amount of talk about changing the name of the quick printing industry back in the early 90’s—and that talk eventually resulted in a name-change for NAQP. I used my space in Quick Printing one month to offer my own comments on this subject.
The Leadership Challenge A lot has been written about various management styles. My feeling is that “leadership” simply represents the best possible style. This article describes several different kinds of leadership, and encourages you to maximize the one that you’re most comfortable with.
Where Do Printers Fit On The Internet? The Internet is truly an amazing thing. From the news we here every day, it sure sounds like the Internet has created more millionaires in America than the lotteries, and it seems only natural that printers should want to get in on the fun. But where do printers really fit on the Internet?
Dealing With Quality And/Or Service Mistakes It's an unfortunate truth in the printing business that mistakes are going to happen. It's been said that Murphy's Law runs wild in a printshop, and that every job that comes into your shop is an accident looking for a place to happen. But you shouldn't be afraid of those situations, or look at them only as problems. I think you should look at them as opportunities to prove that you're willing to keep all those promises you've been making, and live up to the trust people put in you.
More Formulas For Success In an earlier article, I introduced Fellman’s First Law of Good Behavior In The Printing Industry: GB = T > (D), or Good Behavior comes from Training reinforced by Discipline whenever necessary. In this one, I explain a few more formulas for success, including: E – T = C + UP, or Expectations without Training equals Confusion among your employees and Unsatisfactory Performance; and .Vi = Pp – BD, or the Initial Point of Value is equal to a Premium Price minus any Benefit Differential.
Outsmarted Or Outdumbed? I visited with a printer who has a scrap of paper tacked to the wall of his office which posed an interesting question. “Was I outsmarted,” it asked, “or was he outdumbed?” This article deals with a couple of dumb attitudes that seem to be all too common in the printing industry.
Plan—And Act—Now To Make 2002 A Big Year! In December 2001—as we were approaching that unique point in the course of business where we tally up the operating results of one year and start another—I wrote about how what printers do over the next 4-6 weeks will have a lot to do with the results they see all through the year to come.
A Step-By-Step Guide To A Formal, Written Marketing Plan This is a “how-to” article...how to put together a real marketing plan which can help you reach the highest levels of success.
It’s That Time Of Year An article on sales forecasting and budgeting...two of the essential skills in management.
Advertising... The “Front End” Of The Selling Process A general manager’s perspective on what advertising can and can’t do.
The Art Of Apology What should you do and say when a quality or service problem occurs. There’s a right way and a wrong way to do everything.
Dealing With Problem Customers Every quick printer has at least a few good customers, but this article points out that there’s really no such thing as a bad one. At least there doesn’t have to be.
Making The Time...And Using It Wisely A discussion of time management technique, addressing one of the most difficult challenges most quick printing owner/salespeople face.
Partnerships Promote Profit You may not be part of a formal partnership in your business, but you are absolutely involved in a number of business partnerships, and the success of those partnerships has a lot to do with the overall success of your business.
Don’t Tolerate Bad Behavior… From Employees Or Customers! Far too many printers tolerate far too much bad behavior…from employees, customers and even suppliers. I think one of the secrets to success—and happiness!—in business today is to take action whenever you’re not seeing the behavior you want.
A “Hidden” Sales & Marketing Asset I’m a strong believer in taking advantage of every sales and marketing asset. Here’s one you may not have thought about recently...your shop itself! The building in which your company does business can be a significant sales and marketing asset, in four separate but inter-related ways.
Business Forms Distributors: Opportunity Or Threat? I read an interesting article in Business Forms, Labels & Systems magazine—one of two major trade magazines for the business forms segment of the graphic arts industry. The article was titled “Quick Printers: Opportunity or Threat?” Here’s my response, which deals both with competing with business forms brokers and selling to them.
Changes In The Weather There’s an old saying that “change” is the only constant in the world, and that’s certainly true in the printing industry. This article details a couple of recent changes in the way things are being done in and around the industry, and what to do about them.
How’s Your “Chicken Efficiency?” While out on a sales call with a client, I spoke with a restaurant operator who was redesigning her “chicken efficiency” form. That got me thinking about the things that quick printers can track as a day-to-day means of measuring performance.
Do Customers Care About Printing Technology? Many printers love technology…hardware and software! But do customers care at all about the state-of-the-art in printing? I say they really care about four things: Done Right, On Time, No Unpleasant Surprises, and Works Like It’s Supposed To.
Attitudes Are Contagious. Is Yours Worth Catching? There are far too many “unhappy” printshops in this industry where bad attitudes prevail. And more often than not, those bad attitudes are “caught” from others; either the owner or another employee. This article contains a list of the Top 10 Destructive Attitudes I see across the industry.
Getting In Or Getting Out The “traditional wisdom” expressed by many of the franchisees who leave their systems is that the franchise might have been important in getting them started, but after they “learned the business,” the franchise became far less important. I think many franchisees “get out” for the wrong reasons, and I think some struggling independents ought to think about “getting in!”
Take Action Now Against A Summer Slump The “dog days” of summer are just around the corner. That typically means that business will slow down for many printers, sometimes to a crawl! Many of your customers will be going into “summer mode,” meaning that half of them are on vacation at any given time, and the other half aren’t thinking much about printing. Unfortunately, you can’t change that, but there are some things you can do now to avoid as deep a summer slump as you might be facing otherwise.
Reaction Time: Lessons Learned From Graph Expo And A Few Hard Weeks On The Seminar Trail Graph Expo, held in 2000, was the largest printing industry trade show ever held in North America, and there was much to be learned there. This article also describes a few other things I learned during the summer of 2000 on the seminar trail.
A Few More Thoughts On “Selling” vs. “Service”— And On “Good” Customers vs. “Bad” Ones This was a follow-up to a Sales Management article I wrote titled “The Difference Between Selling & Service.” The original article prompted an interesting reply from a printing buyer, which I used as the focus of another lesson for modern printers.
Was It Murder Or Suicide? Do you have problems in your business which might require a professional “hit man” to kill? This article recounts a couple of horror stories, and offers some solutions.
Here’s (Part Of) The Key To Happiness And Success In Quick Printing There are good customers and not-so-good customers out there, and having more of the former and less of the latter is a big part of the key to success—and happiness!—as a quick printer.
New Employee Orientation The first days on the job provide an opportunity to get a new employee off to a good start...or a bad one.
Playing Defense Against Customer Loss Business success is a challenge of getting customers and keeping them, and keeping them doesn’t happen automatically. A little bit of planning—and consistent execution—can help you to “lock in” your customers.
Setting Goals For Success If you don’t set formal goals, you rob yourself of one of the most basic of all management success techniques.
History Lessons The end of one year and the beginning of the next tends to make people reflective. That makes it a good time for a printer to consider what went well—and what didn’t! This article suggests a process of developing three lists to identify different types of problems
Surviving The Shake-Out For years, experts have been predicting a major shake-out in the printing industry, with a significant percentage of printers going out of business. It hasn’t happened yet, and here are some of the reasons why...and some of what it will take to be a survivor if the big shake-out comes.
Self Fulfilling Prophecies Here’s some advice on what to do if you feel like your back is against the wall.
Should You Work On Your Strengths, Or Your Weaknesses? Which is more important in developing a business plan, knowing what your strengths are, or what your weaknesses are?
The Best Printer In Town What factors would make one printer the best printer in town? Interviews with a number of printers—and a number of print buyers—answers that question.
Seasonal Sales Does your shop tend to slow down in the summer? Here are five specific actions that can produce immediate sales volume when you need it most.
Time On Your Hands Not every printer is desperate for business in the summer, and a summer slowdown can also provide the time for longer-term programs. Here are a few ideas.
Product Knowledge It has never been harder to stay on top of product knowledge in the printing industry...and it has never been more important.
Partnering Possibilities Here’s an article on practical applications of one of the “buzzwords” that has swept though the printing industry.
Name Changes Does your company’s name project the image you want it to? And if not, how do you go about making a change.
Defining “Good” Customers A quick exercise can tell you how well your best customers match up to the definition of really “good” customers. This can be eye-opening!
What The Numbers Really Mean A straight-to-the-point analysis of industry sales growth information gained from The Crouser Report, and Quick Printing Magazine’s Top 100 listing.
The Best Advice I Can Give You The best advice for almost every printer is to raise prices...right now! Here’s why, and how!
Raise Prices…Boost Profits! This is a follow-up article to “The Best Advice I Can Give You,” written a few years later when the industry seemed to need a reminder.
Everybody Sells This is an article to share with every employee, because everyone in the printshop has a role to play in the sales effort.
Here’s My Two Cents Worth A response to two articles which presented opposite viewpoint on brokering...from John Stewart and Cy Stapleton.
David Fellman & Associates
501-102 John Haywood Way, Raleigh NC 27604