Quick Printing
June 2007
Thinking small delivers big
Last April I wrote about how, once a year, I like to discuss a bunch of small ideas that are easy to implement. This article is the second installation of my annual “Thinking small” series.
It seems everybody is always looking for that one “big idea” that will put their printing firm over the top. Through the years, I’ve seen a lot of printers looking for that one special piece of equipment, or that one marketing idea, that will crush their competition. When it happens, there’s nothing more exhilarating than discovering a profitable idea.
But, in my experience, those magical big wins are few and far between. I’ve discovered it’s far more beneficial to focus on implementing a lot of good, but more common, “little ideas” that make my printing firm a better place. So let’s think big most of the time, but once a year we’ll go small. Here’s the current list of bite-size ideas. Don’t laugh until you’ve tried them all.

1 Allow time for traffic Is your career a little behind schedule? Has your print shop fallen a little behind those long-term goals you had set? Please don’t quit. The truth is that most printers are optimists and tend to overestimate how quickly things will happen. Allow yourself some extra time before you start feeling guilty. To quote an old adage: “Be not afraid of going too slowly, be afraid of standing still.”

2 Use escrow accounts to eliminate tax stress I like to plan ahead, but once, about 15 years ago, my accountant surprised me at tax time and gave me a tax return with an unexpected $42,000 balance. Ouch! It really hurt. Every year since, I’ve kept an escrow account that I use to pre-pay my estimated income taxes. Now I always have a surplus, and don’t have to get discouraged at seeing my personal or business bank balances rapidly decline at tax time.

3 Get a dog When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone is happy to see you when you get home after a tough day at the print shop.

4 Measure everything of significance Do you have areas where your sales or production efficiencies are lagging? In my 23 years as the owner of Express Press Printing and Graphics, I found that anything that is measured and watched, improves. I promise this is true.

5 There is no point in making a pie crust from scratch I was lucky to have learned the value of attending educational printing seminars early in my career. I have borrowed many good ideas from other printers throughout the years. Thus, I’ve saved a lot of time and money following the successful solutions of others. I don’t care how long you’ve been in the business, you need to attend trade shows and educational events so you can keep on learning and stay excited about our business.

6 Over-tip I was raised to be generous. The only problem was that, for most of my life, I wasn’t. About 10 years ago, my late father reminded me of the lessons he and my grandfather tried to teach me. So, I started a purposeful plan to be more generous and giving. I’ve discovered they were right. The more I gave, the more I got. It must be a God thing, because I occasionally give large sums of money to good causes, yet my personal net worth seems to keep growing in unplanned ways. Please forgive me, but I’m not trying to make myself look good. One of the most amazing truths I’ve learned is that when I tried to hold on to wealth by accumulating and saving, I had less. By giving and sharing, I have more. Illogical, but true.

7 Back up your files We all know we’re supposed to do it, but few of us do. I am flat-out astonished every time a printer tells me he doesn’t have a system for backing up computer data. Last year I heard from a printer who lost the records of every sale for the entire month-to-date (it happened on the 26th). It took the staff countless hours to try to reconstruct each sale from files, human memory, delivery lists, etc. What a nightmare. And it’s not that hard to fix, is it?

8 Don’t ask everyone’s opinion before doing something This is commonly called “buy in.” While there are times when it’s valuable to have everyone on board before launching something important, such as a marketing or sales effort, some managers use it as a technique for avoiding action. Keep everyone informed and involved in essential projects, of course, but buy-in can be code words for “I don’t want to get blamed or look bad if something goes wrong.” The issue is leadership. Decisiveness is the ability to make difficult decisions well, and act on them. A sure way to kill a good idea is to start getting too many opinions.

9 The longer you carry a weight, the heavier it gets Do you have any problems that won’t go away? Are you stuck simply because it’s easier to avoid facing a problem head-on and resolving it? Don’t feel badly, we all do it. Why not do a quick inventory of the solvable problems you have and consider putting a resolution deadline on each one. It probably won’t be easy to fix all of them, but every time you fix one, the weight on your shoulders will get lighter—and you’ll be happier and more productive.

10 Do you really need your cell phone? I know I’m treading on sacred ground here, because we all “need” our cell phones, right? Almost all printing executives I talk to tell me they’re “too busy.” I think that’s incorrect. I think they’re “too interrupted.” Technology has brought us the Internet, Fed-Ex, faxes, e-mails, voicemail, and cell phones. I recently reflected on how many interruptions I was getting every day and decided to try giving up my cell phone. So, on January 1, 2007, my wife Jenny and I cancelled our cell phone service. Guess what? The world didn’t stop. But, amazingly, the 50 interruptions we each averaged every single week went away. I’m not sure where they went; they just vanished. Just think about that for a minute because I’m sure that you—as I was—are convinced you need your cell phone. I quickly found out that I really didn’t need a cell phone at all. Not having one has caused a few minor inconveniences, but the tranquility—and thinking time—has been stellar.

11 When designing, communicate, don’t decorate How often are you caught up in adding imagery and typography—even details—that have little or no relevance to the project at hand? No worries, I still struggle, too. But the sooner you and I learn to communicate with designs that use only what’s necessary and relevant rather than decorating for the sole purpose of decorating, the sooner we’ll find our designs touch our customers’ hearts, rather than just satisfy the designer’s eye. Think of it this way: every element you add to a design decreases the importance of every other element already on the page. You’d better be sure, then, that the additional element enhances rather than detracts.
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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