Quick Printing
December 2004
Learn from my mistakes
Six ways I
My Grandpa Stevens used to say, “Learn from the mistakes of others—you can’t live long enough to make them all yourself.” I’d like to share some mistakes I’ve made so that you can avoid them by letting me be your example of what not to do. The first and last mistakes are really important bookends between which specific mistakes will fall. Give them a little extra consideration.

1 Always being right This is what I call “bosses’ disease.” I don’t know why so many of us bosses find it difficult to admit our mistakes, but we do. Sometimes, we think that because we’re the boss, we’re supposed to know everything and have all the answers. We sometimes get confused and think we need to be God—all-knowing and without flaws. Of course, that’s silly logic. Always being right is a sure way to alienate your co-workers and prevent your print shop from reaching its potential. Here’s how I try to keep this destructive urge in check:
-Being accountable to others. As bosses, we don’t have to be accountable to anyone, unless we choose to be. I have chosen a person—on purpose—who holds me responsible for my actions, behaviours, and attitudes. It really helps me.
-Try talking less. Even if you don’t think you know it all, your co-workers will think you think you do if you give long-winded answers about everything. Learn to be brief and get right to the point. Use few words and ask a lot of questions.
-When you don’t know the answer, look someone in the eye, smile a little and with humility ask, “You know, I don’t know the answer…do you?” Then be quiet, and give them a chance to respond. Their answers will often surprise you.

2 Forgetting that printing is a relation-ship business Sometimes I’ve made the mistake of thinking that customers will buy from us because of our history, our reputation, our quality, or our location. While each of those attributes is important, most sales are made because of the relationship between the print buyer and someone at your print shop. If you want to build your sales and attain greater customer loyalty, strengthen your relationships with your customers. Think about your top 30 customers, then think about customer #11 to customer #30. All of us probably take care of our big customers. But don’t forget that second-tier. What have you done during the last twelve months to demonstrate that you appreciate their business? If your list is short, here are three suggestions for you:
-Take them out to breakfast or lunch once a year just to talk. Tell them in advance it’s not a sales lunch, but rather a social lunch to get to know each other better.
n A couple of times a year, send them personal correspondence—a birthday card, or a business article or book—with a “I thought you’d enjoy this” note.
-Get them out of a jam. The next time they screw up and run out of letterhead, or forget to have a brochure—create a miracle for them. Turn the miracle into a relationship-building victory by saying something like: “This will require a lot of extra effort from us, but I’m so glad I’m your partner—you can relax and consider it done.”

3 Sticking to a boring and ineffective marketing plan Marketing is one of the top three things owners and managers should be spending their time on. If your print shop’s marketing plan isn’t getting the results it needs to get, I’d suggest you take a closer look at the probable problem—you. Are you spending five to 15 hours per week writing, researching, creating and defining your print shop’s products and services? Here’s three ways to improve your marketing:
-Commit time and money to creating and printing a really good direct mail campaign. If you don’t have the skills or time, look for help—but get it done.
-Meet regularly with your employees to review your marketing plan and direction. Regularly scheduled meetings will hold everybody accountable to ensure your stuff gets printed. And, it will remind everybody how important your marketing program is, and that no matter how busy you are, you still need to print your marketing materials.
-Never let your employees talk you into changing or stopping your marketing plan—unless it’s because it’s poorly designed. A universal problem is printers being persuaded to try something new because employees are tired of the same look. That’s an unfortunate mistake because just about the time your look has created some front-of-mind awareness with your prospects and customers, you change it.

4 Losing focus of sales How much time do you spend every week reading mail, running errands, surfing the Internet, going through your in-basket, and reading countless e-mails? Then ask yourself (honestly) if that time is more or less than you spend on sales activities. There are a hundred different ways to keep yourself busy at work, but there are only a few ways to build sales revenues. Don’t get in a rut, thinking the little things are important. My suggestion: break bad habits by doing all those little things just before you go home, and do the big important things when you get in and your mind is alert, and your energy level is high.

5 Neglecting to train, develop, and grow strong managers If you feel like you’re a prisoner at your print shop, never able to take vacations or leave without feeling like the place is going to fall apart, chances are you don’t have a strong manager to keep things running smoothly in your absence. My best suggestion in this area is to find a younger person with star potential whom you really like a lot. Pay him or her well, and teach that person everything you can about the business. Then, when you’re away, your print shop will continue to function smoothly. And when your manager has grown into the role, he or she can run things while you work on those all-important sales and marketing projects.

6 Not forgetting the past OK, I know it sounds a little odd, but learn to forget the past. I have a little sign on my desk that says: “Yesterday ended…last night.” It is a reminder that if I had a bad day yesterday, made a bad decision, lost a good customer, or had a prized employee quit—it’s over and it’s done with. Now it’s today, and it’s time to move forward. No matter how costly, painful, or personal a problem I have, I’ve learned to let it go at the end of the day. It just makes for better mental health. And, for what it’s worth, I do the same thing for victories and big wins. If we made a big sale, landed a new account, or collected a long overdue receivable, try not to keep gloating over the success. It may have been a very good thing, but that was yesterday. The question is: What will I do to improve my company today?
On a slightly different note, I want to tell all of my Canadian friends and readers how much I’ve enjoyed being a columnist in Graphic Monthly. Your emails, letters, and faxes are an ongoing source of inspiration to me. Until next time.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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