Quick Printing
August 2006
7 activities for lousy managers
Avoid time-killing jobs and focus on activities that help build your business
Often I hear printers say they don’t have time to put together a marketing plan. Oh, really? When I hear this, I ask them what it is they’re doing that’s more important than their marketing plan. The answers are often very revealing. They usually start mumbling and give me a dirty look, or they make a joke about the issue, or they say something like, “I know I should spend time on my marketing, but my situation is so different and unique from anyone else’s.”

I think it’s amazing how we, as owners, can talk ourselves into thinking we don’t have time for something as important as a marketing plan—which will build sales and create new accounts. I’ve seen so many printers make the same time-killing mistakes that I’ve compiled them into a list I call: 7 Good activities for a lousy manager. Each of these activities is legitimate but none should ever fill the time that could be spent on marketing your printing firm.

Here are seven deadly activities that will eat up a lot of your precious time—time that could be spent on marketing efforts:
1 Reading the mail Do you have a daily ritual of stopping everything to spend 15 to 20 to 30 minutes going through the daily pile of mail? Sure, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s interesting…and once in a while you’ll even discover a really good idea in the mail. But the problem is, most of the time you’re doing a very simple task that could be easily delegated to someone else. About five years ago, I let go of the mail and let someone else sort it. I’ve never regretted it and it’s never caused a problem. If you sometimes feel too busy and overwhelmed, give your mail to someone else to handle. Don’t be surprised if you discover an extra six to eight hours a month as a result.

2 Mismanaging your e-mail I’ll probably ruffle a few feathers here, but if you’re a print shop owner, and you have a computer on your desktop, you should consider removing it. I check my e-mails twice a day, and if I’m busy I do it only once. It takes a lot of discipline to not let my favourite toy, my computer, dominate my workday. You can waste tons of time reading e-mails, yet many printing executives also admit to spending excessive amounts of time on frivolous activities on their computer. Consider doing what I do and move your computer off your desktop. Mine sits on a small table five steps away from my desk and it helps me to only use my computer for important and meaningful duties. Just by spending 15 minutes less a day reading e-mail, you’ll create another three hours a month.

3 Accepting too many phone calls Do you have an effective system to screen incoming sales calls and donation requests? If you don’t, get one. I have this really unique way of handling calls from sales reps and donation requests. I have a special voicemail message asking them to send the information to my home. I tell them I’ll read it over there, and if I’m interested, I’ll get back to them. I really do read the information they send, and sometimes I respond. But the amazing thing is that less than 5% ever send me anything…I only get three or four items per month. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could save four to six hours a month if you simply choose not to accept so many phone calls from non-customers.

4 Booking too many appointments I’m surprised that some printers allow vendors, equipment suppliers, and sales reps to have so much of their time. The logic for doing so usually revolves around the belief that these sales reps are bringing new ideas to the business, so it’s a way of staying current with what’s happening in the industry. I very rarely allow any sales reps to consume my time. If they have an idea that sounds interesting, I request a complete packet of (printed) information—including pricing—and tell them I’ll read it over and contact them if I’m interested in learning more. I estimate this saves me four to six hours each month.

5 Excessive meetings It’s time to get personal. Here’s one of my downfalls. I have a tendency to hold too many staff meetings to talk about stuff. Meetings can be a good thing, of course, and can accomplish much. But they can be enormous time killers. Meetings make me feel good. They make me feel like I’m in charge, like I’m knowledgeable, like I’m a good leader…and I like to think sometimes that my co-workers really, really like to listen to me talk. Yeah, right. Truthfully, I’ve learned that I can accomplish more by just having quick, stand-up meetings. They don’t last as long—and they create a sense of urgency about the issue at hand. If you absolutely think you must have a meeting, I suggest you provide an agenda to all attendees in advance, set a time limit for the meeting, and appoint a secretary to take notes listing what action steps are agreed upon. Cutting down on meetings could save you another five to 10 hours per month.

6 Having an open-door policy Allowing an open-door policy is a dreadful time killer, and it’s just not a good way to run a business. What does an open-door policy say about you as the owner? You may think it says you’re a really nice guy who’s always willing to listen to the needs and concerns of your co-workers. What it really says is that no matter how significant the important task is that you’re working on—you’re always willing to set it aside because your co-workers’ urgent problems are more important than yours. I actually think an open-door policy is a sign of weak management to your co-workers.

I sincerely believe the best bosses are very sensitive to the needs of their co-workers. Good leaders are good listeners, and I urge you to make yourself available to listen to ideas and requests for help from your co-workers—but do it on your terms time-wise. You’ll not only save two to 10 hours a month, but you’ll build respect for you personally, and the duties you have to manage as a business owner.

7 Doing the work yourself I know hundreds of printers, who really don’t own a business…all they own is a job. Why? Because they spend all their time running presses, or sitting at their computers, or working at the front counter. All good things…but all things that prevent you from building a real business. If this is you, and you’re happy and having fun—keep going! But, if you want to someday sell your printing firm and use the proceeds to fund your next business or your retirement—it won’t happen. Very few people want to buy a job, and you probably won’t find many who are interested.

What should you be doing? Selling. Managing your cash flow. Developing a marketing plan to bring in new customers. Networking to build contacts and sales. It feels good to run a press or get the paper for a big rush job, but let somebody else do it. You’ll save 15 to 25 hours a month if you do the things owners are supposed to do and let your co-workers do their jobs. Don’t ever forget, your role as the owner is to build a business, not be a production worker.

Well, I’ve probably managed to step on everybody’s toes a little bit with this article. Maybe I even made you mad…but that’s OK, because if you get mad, hopefully you’ll really think about whether or not you’re guilty of mismanaging your time.
If you’re too busy to develop a good marketing program for your printing firm, maybe you should re-read this article and ask yourself if you’ve been a lousy manager in one of these seven activities that can waste so much of your precious time. Why not begin to control some of your time today?
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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