Taking your business online

By Chris Mullen, September 29, 2010

It wasn’t easy for us. It required about two years of strategy to transform our local, and failing, print shop into a successful online printing company. Besides the usual obstacles like poor cash flow, we faced tough decisions about where our company should go. We were also unsure if we could compete since the online printing market is so flooded. But now, we are almost 100% online and are generating more revenue than ever before. We made tons of mistakes along the way and are still fighting ourselves out of some accumulated debt; however, I think we made more good decisions than bad and that might be worth sharing.

THE GOOD DECISIONS

Take it slow – If you offer many products, don’t let your business’s complexities overwhelm you. Start with your best products and go from there. This will ensure your shopping cart will take less time to build and be a less expensive initial investment.

Keep it simple – Try to make every single action your customer makes easy and quick. Simplify everything. Continue to improve the overall easiness of using your website.

You need two or three niches – The online market is tough. Two or three things need to stick out about you. This is a general business essential, and it took me a long time to figure out. Be cheaper than the rest, offer free shipping when others don’t in your market, throw in something free with the deal (that is spectacular), or anything else. We are dedicated to being the cheapest, specialized in short runs only, and we have an unmatched 100% guarantee. Being cheap and having a guarantee may seem like a no brainer until you have to put your money where your mouth is, and we do.

Be yourself – If you’re fun, be fun. If you’re weird, be weird. If you are small, let people know you’re small. My greatest mistake when starting a print company was trying to be like the other guys and looking ultra professional. Many people thought our original company, IDM Print, was a national chain, but that didn’t make them loyal. Now, I focus more on efficiency, pricing and customer happiness rather than my attire. That has lead to a larger customer base than ever before. Be sure your company pages (about us, our values etc.) reflect you.

Stay efficient – Get rid of any services or products that you hate offering, loses money or is inefficient. This may take time. For instance, we were losing money on blueprint copying and it was terribly inefficient for us to provide since we had old equipment, the markup wasn’t that great, and the clients took too long to serve. We knew one year ago that we would probably have to eliminate the service, but it required some transitional time. In fact, blueprints was our largest income source, and now we don’t provide it at all. In the end, eliminating such services/products helps you better serve your best products.

Only offer the best – As a small print shop, we used to offer a variety of papers, sizes, finishing options and anything else that generated revenue. We cut that out. We only offer products we know we do well and fits into our daily workflow. Additionally, we handpicked papers and sizes that are most common so customers rely on our recommendations rather than making demands. More importantly, we only add new products that fit in.

Advertise online – Seriously, I have little faith in most conventional advertising medias. We do very little print ads, only participate in one phone book (that will be zero next year), no memberships, nothing. The only print ad we have done lately is in a local newspaper thanking customers for making us Beaufort’s #1 Print Company and winning the Reader’s Choice Award. I’m not saying abandon your current advertising strategies, just try not to treat online advertising as a second thought. I have met many business owners willing to spend thousands a month on TV ads, but only a couple hundred dollars on Google.

Surround yourself with good people – This is the toughest one of them all. Every staff member we have has potential. Our cutting specialist has a psychology degree, our production manager has a business degree and our graphic designer has a marketing degree. Don’t be scared to mix it up. Surround yourselves with people that care. Sure, everyone in our office has their weaknesses, but they all care about the company because they are helping build it.

A FEW MORE ITEMS

Social Networking – Many customers use a social networking site, and you should embrace it. I mean really embrace it. Be willing to spend time on this and gain prospects you could never have reached before. Also, its today’s e-letters and could be better than any mailing list.

Hire a photographer – I have been to so many sites that use the worst pictures. Get your people and products organized and hire a photographer. If you can barely afford one (we couldn’t) then only take pictures of the most important items. I see so many websites with expensive products, but have the worst photographs. We mix our own pictures with professional ones to keep within our budget.

Get into video – We are just finally doing this. Yeah, we’re about five years late, but its a good thing that many companies in the printing field have not really grasped it either. That will not last long.

Mailing list – Seriously, if you don’t have a mailing list or offer a newsletter signup on your website, you should stop reading now and get it done. We reach thousands of current customers each month this way.

Go mobile – Google launched an update in 2015 giving preference to mobile friendly searches performed via a mobile device. Building a responsive design is abolsutely essential in the future of your website as this update will likely become more influential as time progresses.

I will be writing more tips and expanding on some of the above topics in the future.