Friday, July 31, 2009

Are You Your Own Worst Enemy?

A recent essay in the July issue of New England Printer & Publisher looked at why printers constantly self inflict damage on their business. Jack Epstein, a consultant, took the industry to task about not billing customers for valuable services.

According to Epstein, the industry is its “own worst enemy” when it comes to being treated fairly by customers. “Who else makes custom products under extreme deadlines and doesn’t collect full or partial payments along the way?” said Epstein. “We are more lackadaisical about getting paid than cobblers, dry cleaners, and the building trades.” Epstein believes there is a lack of respect for printing. He also thinks printers have low self esteem. He provided a number of rationalizations printers use when they are giving away their services. Do you recognize any?

• Rush delivery charges. “They’re not a house account, so we’re not paying a sales commission.”
• Additional RIP time. “That’s the nature of the beast.”
• What started off being a two-color job needs to be four colors. “We can print four-color. It made the job look better and maybe we’ll win an award.”
• Fronting postage. “Nobody charges extra for that.”
• The price of paper has gone up since the original estimate. “They can’t change their PO without sending it back out for competitive bids’
• Finance charges. “Nobody pays in 30 days”
• Press checks. "Chalk it up to relationship building”
• AA’s. “No way on that job. We were late and there were quality issues”

Among Epstein’s recommendations: instant notification to customers whenever specifications change or AAs occur; clear understandings with customers about services included in the base price vs. those that will incur additional charges; and tighter coordination of effort between estimating and sales.

Epstein argues a printer’s survival just might depend on being able to collect for justified expenses by applying them only when and where they belong.

Are you giving away services? Are you leaving money on the table? Do you overlook prepress costs because you are afraid of losing the printing job? It isn't any wonder that most printers don't make any money.

Printers only need 25 good customers to have a viable business. Usually the ones who get the deals and special treatment aren't even in a printer's Top 25. They hope that by showing "they're a good guy" with low prices and free services they will end up getting all the customer's business. Usually all they get is more work that the customer wants free.

If you are a good printer with good service and quality and who brings extra value to the table, then you ought to charge for it. Let the cheap customers go to your competitors and drive them out of business. Your Top 25 customers usually appreciate what you do and will pay for it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Going Green Getting Easier for Printers

Everyone wants to be "green." For printers, it is a constant battle to get the message out that a printer can be green and that the work being done doesn't contribute to the loss of trees.

There are a number of high dollar groups you can join who are suppose to "certify" that you, after paying a large fee, are a green printer. Even if you decide to go that way, most of the certifiers are only looking a paper use and nothing else. Is this really being green?

There is help for small printers without a large budget. The DMA (Direct Marketing Association) offers an online “Environmental Policy and Vision Statement Generator” that can be used to not only help you write your own statement, but it is also a checklist for sustainability activities. It can make it easy for a company to go green.

While the DMA is a trade organization for companies who use a variety of media including direct mail to sell their products, the online statement generator is useful for any company using or producing printed materials. It covers five areas:
• List Hygiene and Data Management
• Design
• Paper Procurement and Usage
• Printing and Packaging
• Recycling and Pollution Reduction
According to DMA officials, because this checklist/statement generator is used by print buyers/users, as well as print producers, printers can also use it to understand how direct marketers are thinking about sustainability.

When you’ve completed the checklist and customized the statement to fit your operation, have a copy emailed to you. In a matter of minutes you have created a formal environmental policy statement that you can put into your own format and publish. Get the checklist at

International Paper has published a “Down to Earth” series to help printers explain some of the printing industry environmental practices to customers. The latest is “Pixels vs. Paper,” which compares print with electronic media in terms of their respective “greenness.” Among the advantages of paper are that it comes from trees, a renewable resource, and it is biodegradable, with some 60% of all paper being recycled vs. 18% of all electronic devices. Others in the series cover certification, recycled vs. virgin paper, and carbon footprints.

There are three other brochures in the “Down to Earth” series including “Certification: Where does your paper come from?”; “Recycled vs. Virgin: Is recycled paper the best you can do?” and “Carbon Footprint: How big is your carbon footprint?”

You can find the PDFs or order brochures at It is listed under Sustainability information in the left column.

Every printer should be doing his or her part in helping the environment and every printer should be telling the customer about it.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Just Do It!

Many printers spend hours and dollars trying to come up with the best solution to drive business to their company. Too often it doesn't work because they left out one component: what they do once you get the lead.

Today printers have a multitude of ways to get customers interested in using their company. Digital technology makes it easier for the customer to buy. Web sites offer customers many advantages. Run lengths can be shorter. Color is more affordable. This is going to interest some customers.

But what happens after the customer gets interested? What do printers do with the leads they have? Printers have to develop a plan to close the sale and open a new account, not just get a lead. It means getting out and getting in front of the customer.

Getting leads is a lot easier today. Sign up on and visit the different online communities right in your own backyard to find prospects. Follow and see what local business leaders and owners are interested in this week. Visit local blogs and learn who is doing what. You can generate more leads than you can visit.

You have the lead. Are you ready to get in front of the customer? Can you probe and ask questions to find out the real needs of the customer? Do you know how to qualify a customer and know if they are worth your time? Do you have a procedure to open a new account? Can you tell the customer what you do?

Printers need to quit planning and get out and make a sales call. Will you visit your Top 25 customers this month and try to get new business out of them? A push of the button of your print management system will give you that list. Do a Google search for specific types of businesses and find prospects you've never heard about in your town. There are leads all around you.

Want to be a successful printer? Get out of the shop and make a sales call. The print owner needs to be out asking for business. He or she wants new business from old customers and new business from new customers. You got the leads: Just Do It!

Monday, July 13, 2009

Great Sales Lead Idea

If you sell to non-profit organizations, don’t forget to use the website Want to find out about how much printing a non-profit organization buys? The website includes a statement of the organizations purpose, contacts names and how much they spend on printing for every non-profit customer in your area. Visitors to the site can find a block that says “Find non-profits” and then enter their city or zip code. You will be redirected to a page listing all the non-profits in your area.

When you find an organization you are interested in, you can review their Form 990 of its tax return. This form is required by law and includes full information about the organization showing their income and expenses, net worth and also will have names of the people that serve on the board of directors and more. The report also lists the expenses of the organization which includes a separate line for printing and publications.

With this information, you don't have any excuse not to make a sales call.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Printers Flying Blind Will Crash

Bob Hall made an interesting observation in the July issue of Quick Printing about printers and estimating programs. He reported Eastern Kentucky University technology professor Dr. Marlow Marchant, recently published a paper that said the inability or unwillingness to track and understand financial data is a sometimes fatal flaw in the quick and small commercial printing industry. “Sadly, business failure in printing, particularly in small printing companies, has been linked to top management who are unable to understand their own financial statements and are therefore unable to take timely and appropriate action,” he writes.

As the nation continues to ride out the economic slowdown, more and more printers will be closing their doors because they didn’t stay on top of their business. The simple act of learning how to read a financial statement could have helped print owners make decisions that would have kept their businesses viable. Too many printers forgo the cost of monthly financials complied by a professional accountant as a cost cutting measure. They try to do it themselves even when they don’t know what it really means.

All printers should take time to learn what their financials mean and how they can be used to guide decisions. Some will learn that they need to raise prices to stay in business. Others will learn that they should shut their doors and quit losing money.

This isn’t the time to fly by the seat of your pants and be blind to your financial realities. Its finally going to bite you.