Quick Printing
December 2008
7 foolproof rules for success
Cultivate excellence in everything you do, stay out of debt, and meet your employees
This is my last column for Graphic Monthly magazine. More about that later, but first I’ll share my best advice. If I had just 15 minutes with you, here’s what I'd tell you.

1. Hire smart people
There is no substitute for a high IQ. It’s not always an easy topic to discuss because IQ is so easily misunderstood, but you cannot build a truly great team unless you have very bright people in key positions. Likewise, low IQ employees can slow your progress and bog you down with endless diversions because they don’t get it. Printing is a fast-paced business where you need to think fast and be quick on your feet. I think it is especially important to have high IQ types in customer service and management.

2. Curious what your employees really think about you?
Spend time with their spouses and kids. You can effectively gauge what your employees think about you by paying close attention to how their families act around you. If the employees say positive things about you at home, the spouse and kids will be warm and engaging. If the family is hearing lots of trash talk about you, you’ll sense a stand-offishness. It can provide an important early warning sign that you may have areas in your business where you’re vulnerable.

3. Be patient with sales and marketing
Don’t expect too much too soon. A sure way to make bad marketing decisions is by overestimating results for the short run, and underestimating results for the long run.

4. Ask yourself, “What do I do that is really, truly excellent?”
Why not make a commitment to become truly excellent in a few things and understand the value and benefit of excellence as a discipline?
I have the nicest yard on my block, not because I enjoy yard work, but because I want my kids to see their dad living a daily example of excellence. I want to teach them by example that if they work hard and pay attention to details, they can be the best at whatever they put their minds to. Maybe they’ll decide it’s possible to be better at math than anyone else in their class. Excellence is its own reward.

5. Attend annual trade shows
You’ll be around new ideas and innovations. You’ll find yourself thinking outside your old paradigms, and you’ll come away energized and inspired. If there are networking opportunities, you’ll learn from casual conversations with your fellow printers. While it can be expensive attending a tradeshow, it’s more costly if you don’t go. It’s the easiest way to stay plugged into your industry.

6. Get out of debt.
I can’t tell you how many good printers I’ve seen go out of business, simply because they over-leveraged themselves with debt. I earned more than $5 million in the 23 years I owned my print shop. I made the most money when my debt was the lowest. Once, I went through a high- sales, high-debt, low-profit cycle. I over-expanded and propped up my growth with too much debt. I had to restructure things and sell off a lot of personal assets to get things right side up. It is possible to have a debt-free printing business. There is a terrific book called The Complete Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey that offers helpful ideas for becoming debt-free in your business.

7. Manage your accounting and bookkeeping carefully.
A very large and successful quick printer I know, with $7 million in sales, called recently and told me how he had uncovered a plot among four of his employees to steal cash from his company. It made me wonder how tight my own bookkeeping systems were. I thought I had really good systems. But I discovered that they contained many loopholes. I hired an outside expert to help me construct better checks and balances and division of duties. If you have a bookkeeper doing your books and your system is heavily supported by online banking, you may be at considerable risk, unless you install safeguards.

This is my last column for Graphic Monthly, and I will miss it in many ways. But truthfully, it has become more difficult to write about the daily management and operational issues printers have to deal with since I sold my print shop more than two years ago. I will always be a printer, but I’m not as in touch as I used to be. I currently own an advertising agency for the printing industry, so I am immersed in sales and marketing issues daily, but it’s hard to write about those topics without it sounding like an advertorial, or without feeling like I’m sharing trade secrets.
So to all my Canadian friends, I humbly say goodbye. Your kind emails and phone calls were a tremendous source of joy for me. I wish you success and happiness in all your endeavors, and I hope to bump into you at a printing tradeshow in the future.
I pray God will richly bless you all. Long live Canada!
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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