Quick Printing
June 2005
Embrace your website potential
How to turn an online presence into an incredible marketing opportunity
There are few topics in the printing industry that generate more buzz than whether printers should embrace their websites as the greatest marketing opportunity ever, or avoid it as an over-hyped “empty bucket” that really doesn’t do much to generate sales.
Well, I’d like everybody to know I’m in the group that believes a printer’s website represents a marketing opportunity of almost unimaginable magnitude. But, I will also say that it took me a long time to arrive at that conclusion. I was a slow starter on the whole website/Internet thing, and I’ll admit that in the beginning I just didn’t believe the Internet would catch on all that much. I simply couldn’t envision millions of average people buying computers for their homes, and then learning how to operate them—when most people can’t even figure out how to program their VCRs. Well, I was wrong. Even my parents, who are in their mid-seventies, can surf the Internet and send e-mails.

I think a large percentage of print buyers—our customers—are computer-dependent in their work. At my print shop we have 40% more computers than human beings. The question we have to ask as business owners is not “should” I tap into this gigantic sales opportunity, but rather “how” do I tap into the opportunity?

The obvious place to begin is with your website. Ask yourself: “Is my website as good as it needs to be?” Since that question is subject to a lot of different opinions, here’s a guideline for evaluating whether your website is good enough. Imagine one of your customers is going to visit five sites. The first is TimHortons.com. The next is Ford.com. The third is your print shop’s website. Number four is Apple.com. And the fifth and final website your customer will visit is CanadianBusiness.com. Now, the big question you have to ask yourself is, “Does my print shop’s website fit in and look as good as the other four?” The bad news is that if it looks out of place among the others, you have a lot of work to do. The good news is that you know exactly where to begin.

There is one basic, elemental truth for your print shop’s website: if it doesn’t look as good as the average site your customers see, it is damaging your image. On the other hand, if your website does look as good as the average site they visit, it won’t guarantee your success…it will only create an equal opportunity for you to tell your story online. Converting your visitors into prospects and real customers requires much more than just a professional, attractive website. In fact, there are four essential elements of website success. They are:

Create what I call The Online Brochure In the same manner that a printed brochure gives a brief but comprehensive overview of your company’s product (printing), your website must do the same.

You can create an online brochure much like a printed one by simply identifying the important features you need to tell your printing firm’s story. In my print shop’s example, I felt there were six important elements I needed to include in order to make it an effective online brochure. The site had to look good, so we hired the best graphic designers we could find, and then I worked closely with them. The content must be thought-provoking. No fluff. It needs to make a good impression. Printed products must be in the spotlight. We included a little blinking picture of different printed products like carbonless forms. We also included What’s new?, a fun little news blurb that we update every week to keep it fresh. We also created a help-wanted section. Showing job openings may seem a little odd, but more than 50% of the visitors to our website click on this section. Lastly, showcase your products and services. This is a big feature item in the online brochure category. We have descriptions and graphics for more than 30 printed products and services we provide.

Create confidence, trust, and credibility We must understand that not everyone who visits our website will know us or our reputation. Therefore, we must try to develop trust online in order to prompt visitors to become customers. Here’s what I included on my website. A message from the owner provides a platform to tell your story, and explain why visitors should bring their printing to you. A guarantee that details exactly what we will do for our customers gives them the security they need to place an order with our print shop. Staff biographies let our prospective customers see the real people behind the front counter and printing press. Tech tips and tricks are a great way to show visitors the expertise we have in our field. A sample gallery showcases the high-quality work our print shop does on a regular basis. Testimonials from satisfied customers let our prospective customers see how our print shop’s products and services helped other business people.

Provide effective e-commerce utilities Here are some elements I have included in my website to meet my customers’ needs. Online estimating means no more phone calls or trips to our print shop to request an estimate. Customers can simply do it online. Online ordering lets customers go ahead with a job we have estimated by placing their orders online. When customers have files that are too large to be sent as e-mail attachments, they can use the “Send a file” feature to be sure everything arrives intact. Providing a place for customers to view proofs of their projects online means they are able to approve or make corrections to the proof without visiting our print shop. Often customers send print-ready artwork through our website. Our PDF utility makes sure that all the fonts and images for a job are correct as it travels to our designers’ computers.

Find a way of building loyalty That’s not an easy task, but we think we’ve done a good job by adding something called “The ideas collection” to our website. It features a steady stream of creative ideas for our print shop customers. We send out a bi-weekly e-newsletter called Printer@Work to nearly a thousand prospects and customers (PrinterAtWork.com). We also have customer portals that allow customers a confidential and secure area on our website where we store their order history and their document library.

So, as you can see, we have a large and powerful website with a lot of customer-focused benefits. I’ve had to skim over some important features due to space requirements, so please download my e-book in the “Free Stuff” section for the whole story, and please visit our website at ExpressPressUSA.com.
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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