I asked the owner of a mid-size printing company how his business seemed to be going so far this year. He said “Well, I ended 2010 better than 2009 and we’ve started this year optimistically. The plant seems busier, quotes are up, my salespeople are telling me they’re seeing more action, and I’m even thinking of hiring back some of the people I had to let go a year ago.” Then, I asked him, “other than lay some people off, reduce everyone’s hours, wear more hats yourself and work more than you ever did before, what have you changed in your company that will help you not just survive but grow in the next five years?” For anyone in the same situation as this business owner – I ask you:
- Are you still a traditional general commercial offset printer or
- Do you have digital printing capability but you’re only printing short run, static work or
- Are your customers placing their work with you only via email and telephone?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, your future is in doubt. The world is narrowing for commercial offset printers without a solid focus or niche, for digital printers who aren’t using their equipment for personalized, variable data printing, and for companies who do not realize that their customers want to use an online ordering system to work with them.
PIA’s 2009 industry study, Beyond the Horizon, projected that conventional ink-on-paper sales would decline by 1.5% to 2.5% annually between now and 2020. Digital sales would increase 3% to 4% and ancillary services would increase 1.5% to 2.5%. These trends are not new – we have heard about them for years. But many of us aren’t planning to address them. And now we are taking comfort in seeing that our business is improving, but relative to what? To last year’s terrible sales and weak or nonexistent profits? Many of us need to get our heads out of the sand, look at the direction of our business and our industry over the last five years, and make some hard decisions.
One of these decisions should be to develop a plan or a strategy to change the direction of your company. This doesn’t have to be an intimidating, formal process – some of the best ideas can come out of an informal but structured gathering of your key leaders, managers, and/or advisors. The discussion needs to cover three basic areas:
- What does the company do today and what are its strengths and weaknesses?
- Where do we want it to go and why?
- How are we going to get there?
The key is to get buy-in from the group about these goals and strategies, so that everyone is on board with the plan and its direction. And the process needs to be top down – you need to be hands-on here, showing your enthusiasm and involvement, but letting the group speak freely and openly.
Out of this meeting or meetings should come new sales plans, marketing plans, equipment purchase plans, hiring plans, technology plans, etc., all developed around the new strategy. Your job will be to serve as coordinator of these plans, holding all those responsible and accountable for implementing what the group agreed on.
Set realistic goals and target dates – 3-months, 6 months, a year, two years. These are long-term plans and you shouldn’t expect to see change overnight. But there should be steps and achievements along the way that you can look at to know that you are going in the right direction.
So business may seem better today but that is not sufficient. You want business to be better at the end of the year and at the end of every year to come.