After working in a print shop for a short period – 6 months to be precise – I learned a lot of valuable lessons about how business works and how work gets done.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was from my dad’s best friend who he met in college and went on to build a company and sold it for $5 million dollars. He told me: “Do what they do!”
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should copy (or plagarize) someone exactly, but rather to keenly look at their strategic plan (if the have one) and follow it. Thankfully, I received this advice after I graduated (before my first full-time job) and took note of it as I worked at a local print shop. I then took the lessons I learned and applied them to my entrepreneurial life.
In doing so, I have his wisdom and my own experience at the print shop to be thankful for; they both got me to where I am today. So, here’s a look at several tips and tricks I’ve learned that helped to carry me through and land ideal clients.
1. Do what it takes.
In a fast-paced environment the customer is boss. In a performance review, my former boss once told me that while I work for him he works for the customers. If the job isn’t done right, the customer will go elsewhere.
This means that all the rules they taught you in school get thrown out the window. If the customer is well respected, you do everything it takes to get it done right. When you do, they’ll likely return. And with a business that is built on repeat orders, this is extremely important.
2. Quality over quantity.
It’s better to have ideal, repeat customers who order in large quantities than a multitude of one-time customers who order smaller quantities.
This may be obvious to some, but it’s often overlooked when businesses look to acquire more customers in lieu of serving and creating value for current ones. Create strategic plans that can do this naturally. The cash flow will go further and you will be able to sustain your business.
3. Set clear expectations.
If a customer requests a quote, this is a good sign. Make sure you gather all the information necessary and include all steps in the process from the beginning to the end.
Make sure you ask if the job is a “rush job” because additional charges may apply and it will guarantee customer approval. If the deadline is reversed, make sure the customer understand problems can and do occur and you’ll do your best to get the job done right the first time. Request a deadline even if the customer doesn’t have an opinion on one.
Don’t be afraid to follow-up. Sure, you may come off as a pushy salesperson but if you don’t, you may never get the project moving forward and eventually lose a sale. If the customer has trouble committing to the project perhaps ask more details about their project (i.e., budget, timing, challenges, etc.). You may know options that can make the project fit their specific needs.
5. Time is money.
The print shop allowed for a maximum of 2 weeks for each project completion date. Most customers wanted their business cards yesterday. Which goes back to the first point of this post; customers don’t care about the details, they just want it done. If you have to cut corners internally to get the job done it’s okay. For example, if an employee screws up the job, the shop will need to find time to redo it.
6. Prioritize and plan workflow.
When I worked at the print shop I would look for specific pieces of information on the work ticket. It helped me to get certain projects done. At the end of a busy day I looked at my document count from Indesign and had 20 documents created throughout the day.
The same is true when you run your own business: you’ll be doing multiple projects simultaneously. Some people can handle this environment some people can’t. Your plan for the day will be interrupted by other clients, employees, life happenings, etc.
When interruptions come, make a mental note of where you left off so when you return and quickly get back on track. Have a plan for the day. Review which deadline are closest, new projects and other projects that may be more important. Write them all down and mark them off once complete.
7. Mistakes are costly.
While working in a print shop I quickly learned that mistakes and typos will be the death of your bottom line. A lack of attention to detail in any business can act like a leaky faucet and drain hard earned resources. And when you do make a mistake, resolve it quickly.
8. Be polite.
If you make a mistake, apologize and tell the customers the steps you’ll take to resolve it as soon as possible. Say please and thank yous. Do not demand information; instead, request items or additional details. Don’t be afraid of being authentic. Sometimes customers are sold on your product or service based on how well you handle their demands.
One time while I was working, I was chosen to deal with a Groupon fiasco because of my patience and sweetness in dealing with challenging situations. I knew the importance of staying grounded while dealing with difficult customers. So, I would make note of exactly what went wrong and get help when needed.
If you have prior work experience before starting your own business, take note of successful operations and strategies that worked well. Then decide how to apply to the same principles and ideas in your own business.
Without him knowing, my former boss at the print shop taught me a lot about how to sell my own work, how to gain customers and how to interact with them. Today, I can thankfully apply these lessons on top of growing the business and analyzing my field and portfolio to gain desirable customers.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Kristi Beisecker is a Massachusetts-based artist and freelance graphic designer in Massachusetts. In her spare time she creates photograms using electricity and organic materials with analog darkroom processing. She also reads and writes about science and spirituality, composes and performs music and gives spiritual guidance. Connect with @KGlyphics on Twitter.