My mission is to guide decorated apparel shops through the process of strategic change. Simply put, the goal is to elevate performance, focus on the future, and provide solution-based direction. My role is to act as a trusted advisor, providing objective and results-oriented analysis, solutions and implementation. This mission is expressed in my company motto: Helping Shops Succeed
In any business, there are plenty of reasons why setting goals is a good thing. For one, it gives us a brass ring to reach.
In fact, I’ve written many articles that are either about setting SMART goals, or used the concept of SMART goals in the piece to describe some action. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, & Timely)
Yet, setting Goals only gets you so far. Plenty of people set goals and then never achieve them. This could be sales goals, weight loss goals, or simply better health goals…like quitting smoking.
In this article, I want to detail some thoughts that focus on why improving your processes in your business can yield better long term results than simply setting a goal and working toward it.
Start With The Definition of Processes
plural noun: processes
A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.
“military operations could jeopardize the peace process.”
“faxing a seventy-page document is an expensive process”
Processes Define The Journey
Now think about that. “A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.”
This is why it isn’t enough to set a goal.
Goals setting is great. But without action, it’s meaningless. It’s a transparent idea. It is the process that you build that pushes you toward achieving that goal.
You should be far more concerned with the current path you are on than your current score. Your processes define that journey.
Get To The Next Level
For example, let’s say that you state that you want to “get to the next level” for your shop. I’ve heard that phrase probably a million times in my career in this industry.
What does that even mean?
It could be sales. It’s the million-dollar club. Or the ten-million-dollar club. Maybe more for some people. But it is always out there like an apple that you can’t quite pick off of the tree.
It could be technique. Winning awards and peer recognition. Mastering your craft. Who doesn’t want to be known for their quality?
What about the physical size of the shop? Moving from a garage or basement to an actual location. Building your own facility. Adding more zeroes to your square footage.
The “Next Level” could be anything. For most it’s a pipe dream.
Because They Lack Processes
As many start out in this industry on a wing and prayer, it isn’t difficult to imagine why they never achieve their goals.
People don’t know what they don’t know.
Some will work crazy hours and “do what it takes” to make it. And still fail.
Because they haven’t spent the time building out their processes. “A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.”
Therefore all that hard work is like driving your car blindfolded. Does that sound like your shop? Zooming off toward wherever with your hair on fire as fast as you can go without a clue?
But here’s the truth: too often people in this industry have convinced themselves that fantastic success only comes after some sort of massive action.
“All I need is one big client” or “Just wait until we get an auto, then our problems will be over!” or “As soon as we launch our new website we’ll be huge!”
That’s where everyone gets it wrong.
So, let’s take a step back and slow down. Evaluate the situation for a minute.
What type of processes are we talking about here anyway?
Well…literally everything you do in your shop. Have you defined each step so there is a “shop way” of doing something?
Or, and this is more common, do you leave it up to your crew to figure it out and the results flow from there.
Sales Processes: The Lifeblood Of Your Shop
Since more sales are the lifeblood of your shop, let’s use that as an example. It’s a good one, as setting sales target goals is something that every shop should be working on constantly.
First, let me ask you this. Would you define your sales process as “Reactive” or “Proactive”. This is important.
A “Reactive” sales process is where the customer contacts your shop and you help them with their order. It’s reactive because your sales growth is tied to people contacting you. No calls = no sales. You are more of an order taker than anything.
A “Proactive” sales process is more aggressive. You are hunting. There is a process in place to identify new customers, reach them, and close the sale. Your sales brain is always a few weeks ahead.
Maybe it is a little mix of both? It’s ok either way. But it is important that you define your processes and improve them continually.
Process Improvement – The 1% Rule
Here’s a nugget that I want to you take away from this article. In anything you do, try to get 1% better every day.
Small, incremental change is where your growth is going to happen.
That doesn’t seem like much does it? However, it’s the effect of compounding that is going to make the difference for your shop.
Although not all improvements are about money, an example to demonstrate the power of what I’m talking about, let’s take $100.
If we compound that daily by 1%, on day 100 it is $270.48.
By years end, it is $3,778.34.
Therefore imagine the payoff to your business if you start trying to make things better by tiny increments.
This could be in more training for your staff. One more cold call to a potential new customer. Redefining your communication for clarity. Actually posting that short video in your shop on Instagram. Sending a “Thank You” card. Building out your automated Drip Campaigns for marketing and client retention. Firing that customer that sends you no-profit work that clogs up your schedule.
It is the accumulation of these tiny wins that pushes you to the success you are seeking.
As I mentioned before, I’m a fan of setting goals. I truly believe we need to understand where we want to go.
However, what happens when you achieve that goal?
Let’s say you do hit the $1,000,000 mark in sales. Does everything just stop?
Nope, because a new goal is going to be set. This time, it will be $2,500,00 or another figure. But what is going to get you there faster is the habit of continually refining and improving.
That 1% compounding every day.
Remember the definition of processes? “A series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end.” In all facets of your business every time you improve something, you are taking a step to compounding your results.
That 1% is about your shop learning to change and improve.
Consequences of Not Improving Processes
So what happens if you just stay put?
Nothing is broken, right? Why mess with it?
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you don’t live in a bubble. The world is evolving all the time.
How is your shop evolving?
Or, better yet, how is your competition evolving? Is someone poised to eat your lunch? There are plenty of horror stories from other industries that tell the tale of not adapting.
The important part here is that there are friction points, bottlenecks, and landmines in your processes that can use some adjustment. Can you remove a step? Is there a way to automate it? How can technology handle something to help?
Your goal is to improve something so that it is improved forever.
What If You Don’t Have A Process?
That’s ok too. Describe how you do it now. Don’t be afraid.
For example, plenty of shops don’t have a well-defined process for creating art, checking in inventory, quoting, or even scheduling jobs.
Not the end of the world.
To start your improvement after you have charted your current method is to think about “How” it should work. What’s the best way that someone else might be doing it? Would that work for you?
What’s preventing you from adopting that in your shop? Time? Money? Experience? Tools?
Don’t fret. You need to simply map it out and start. Remember, we want a 1% improvement daily.
Remember, continuous improvement never ends. It is the habit of always working toward improving every facet of your shop that I’m advocating here.
As anyone who has ever tried to lose weight before the summer swimsuit season can attest, just because you set a goal doesn’t mean you will achieve it. It is the daily accumulation of everything that you put into it that helps you get there.
Eat a salad or an entire pepperoni pizza? Be a couch potato or go to the gym? Keep things a secret or post your weight score online or on the fridge? Do it alone or share the experience with a group?
Which of these choices can influence the outcome? You know the answer already.
It is the same in your shop with what you want to achieve.
You can’t hit your sales goals if you aren’t constantly refining your strategy and tactics to acquire new customers. For those three Yeses, maybe you had to get seven No’s.
Which means for thirty Yeses, you might need seventy No’s.
But what if you aren’t getting the opportunity to get a Yes or a No? Maybe you are waiting for your customers to walk through the door? With zero traffic that isn’t quite working.
If you aren’t getting the results you want, you need to rethink your processes.
Build New Habits
So that might mean you need to build new habits. A habit is a behavior that is performed on a regular basis.
“I drink two cups of coffee every morning” is a habit.
Just like “I phone four potential customers every day by lunch” or “I post two pics to Instagram daily.”
Maybe you don’t like the habits that your shop seems to have. That’s ok. You can define what they should be.
You decide the type of shop you envision.
The habits that you instill will work to become the type of shop that you are dreaming about. That’s your focus.
Prove it to yourself every day with those 1% victories.
“Almost all quality improvement comes via simplification of design, manufacturing…layout, processes, and procedures.” – Tom Peters
“Positivity is like a muscle: keep exercising it and it becomes a habit.” – Natalie Massenet
“Only I can change my life. No one can do it for me.” – Carol Burnett
What’s ironic about this industry that is called Screenprinting is that so many shops completely ignore the screen part of screenprinting. It’s funny because it isn’t like this is some sort of deep, dark, industry secret.
Yet, I’ll bet at least half the people reading this article (or need to read this article) either don’t own a tension meter or never use it.
True Story About Screens
Some time ago I visited a shop to help them out with some process and workflow efficiency points. When I walked through the front door, the production manager was screaming at the artist. You could cut the drama in the air with a knife.
“Your separations suck! Nothing ever lines up! Do you even know what you are doing?”
But, I’ve seen this movie before.
“Hold on”, I said. “It isn’t the seps. It’s your screens. Do you guys have a tension meter?”
Tension Meter Archeological Dig
They did. It was buried underneath a bunch of junk in the back corner on a shelf. The clamshell case was coated with dust and t-shirt lint.
Probably like yours.
We dug it out, and I calibrated the meter using the thick chunk of glass that comes with the set. The production manager brought the screens over. All were static, aluminum 23″x31″ frames. Common.
The table was cleared off and the tension for each of the four screens was measured.
The best tension of any screen in the group averaged out to about 16. The lower left corner of the underbase screen was under 11.
Here’s an image of the actual corner in question.
“We Don’t Have Time To Measure Tension”
This is why that job wouldn’t register.
It’s like trying to build a house on top of quicksand. There isn’t enough foundational support to do the job right.
So, being the curious guy I am, I asked the production manager why they didn’t measure the screen tension. His response:
But, they did have time to spend an average of over ten minutes a screen a day trying to get jobs to register. Not to mention the previously discussed finger wagging drama.
It is a strawman argument.
Why Does Tension Matter Anyway?
Look, I know this is a fairly boring subject. People in this industry normally want to talk about presses or equipment. Those are sexy.
It uses numbers. Math.
“Oh my gosh, measuring?”
It is a step easily forgotten.
Hence, why the tension meter was locked away in a plastic case under a bunch of stuff on a corner shelf out of the way.
But what if I told you that screen tension was a secret way that your shop could make more money?
Would the enticement of a truckload of cash make it more interesting?
Let’s take that apart for a minute and I’ll explain what I mean.
Screen Tension 101
Your screen mesh is comprised of threads that run perpendicular to one another. One set is the Warp, and that runs vertically. The other is the Weft, and that runs horizontally.
Mesh count is the term used to describe the number of threads that are contained in a square inch. A 110-mesh screen has 110 threads per square inch, while a 230-mesh screen has, you guessed it, 230 threads.
This is important because the higher the mesh count of the screen, the smaller the openings are between the threads. This factor determines how much ink can pass through the screen and onto the shirt.
For static frames, the mesh is pulled in all four directions across the frame and glued down with a special adhesive. Retensionable frames have a built-in system for stretching the mesh using a table jig and special wrench tools to tighten the mesh within the frame without glue.
Either way, you want the mesh to be evenly tensioned and locked into place on the frame.
This is a precise instrument and care should be taken to ensure the proper storage and use. The meter measures how much the screen fabric gives away when a downward force is applied to it. The downward force when measuring is gravity, and it uses the weight of the meter to calculate that movement.
For an analogy, think about how much a trampoline might give away if you are standing in the middle. For our screens, that deflection is expressed in Newtons per square centimeter. Yes, Newtons as in Issac Newton with this whole gravity and apple falling from a tree bit.
If you are using static frames, 25 N/cm2 would be an acceptable tension. For rentensionable frames, 35 N/cm2 is a good target.
How to Measure Tension
First, lay the screen on a flat table with the mesh side up. Measure the Warp (vertical direction) and then the Weft (horizontal direction) in the middle of the screen.
Like a tennis racket, the middle of the screen is the sweet spot.
It’s not hard to do and only takes a few moments. Then, measure each of the four corners, about a palms width away.
More expensive tension meters can measure tension bidirectionally, meaning the Warp and the Weft directions simultaneously. Less expensive tension meters only measure tension one way, so you have to rotate the tension meter each time.
You want to measure the center and the corners, and ideally, they are all about the same in tension. It is possible to have good tension with most of the screen but have one area fail due to any number of reasons.
Tension Floor – Set Some Limits
Your shop should have a floor limit on what is acceptable for tension.
The question that I’m asking right now is, “What is your minimum screen tension for your shop?” Do you even know?
My recommendation for shops is that any multicolor job should have tensions for all screens on the print run to be over 20 N/cm2. And, to ensure easier registration, all of the screens should be within 2 N/cm2 of each other.
For any screen that has tension under 20 N/cm2, they are relegated to only one color jobs.
I’ve seen shops set their minimum for one-color screen tension at 16 N/cm2, 17 N/cm2, or 18 N/cm2. It’s up to you…but this needs to be established. Personally, I’m a fan of 18 N/cm2.
Remember, this is the low end. The higher your tension, the better results you are going to get when printing.
Let’s examine that next.
Tension And Print Quality
Have you ever been at a trade show and marveled at all of those amazing prints on display? The print hand is incredibly soft, the colors vibrant, perfect and tight registration. Those prints are made with all different ink sets, presses, people, and shop environments.
What could be the one factor that links them together for print quality?
Tight screens give you crisp, sharp edges. Prints are smooth, not rough. The ink sits on top of the shirt fabric, not driven through it like a nail, which influences opacity.
If you were to peak your head underneath the press when you are printing the shirt, you could see that when your squeegee travels across the mesh during the print stroke the screen mesh actually touches the fabric of the shirt for a quick instance. When the mesh tension is high, the mesh will snap back up instantly leaving the ink with a smooth finish on the substrate.
With low screen tension, the mesh touches the surface of the shirt longer. It doesn’t snap back fast enough. Due to physics, what’s left behind is a rough, bumpy print. When printing over an underbase, the top color could print irregularly and leave some small unprinted dots.
For multi-color jobs, because the low tension mesh has more contact with the wet ink of previously printed colors it picks up on the back of the screens. This causes opacity issues with printed colors, and sometimes blurry looking edges where the colors might touch in the image.
This causes poor ink opacity and leads to having to double stroke the print. Worse, many printers then feel obliged to add more squeegee pressure. The harder they crank down the print, they feel the more ink will be banged down onto the garment.
I’ve been to shops where every screen hit is a double stroke. Printers commonly blame the ink first, then the press.
That’s why for those printers it takes twice as long to print, and they use more ink as well.
It is incredibly common for print shops to blame everything but their poor screen room craftsmanship.
Here is something to consider. If ink or a particular press works for other people, but not you…maybe the problem isn’t with that product.
Are you really using it correctly?
Surfing the Mesh Wave
Another common problem is a combination of low-tension screens and too much squeegee pressure.
This creates a “wave” that travels in front of the squeegee during the print pass. This typically causes the ink to smear as the ink doesn’t drop down perfectly onto the shirt, but prints a little ahead of the squeegee.
At the edge of the image, this causes the ink to smear instead of having a crisp edge.
Plus, if you aren’t careful because the ink isn’t completely shearing through the mesh and onto the garment, it can build up in your screen.
This can prevent details from printing, or produce a blurry print.
Great Screens Make You Money
Here’s a concept that I want you to consider. When your screens are perfect, everything is easier on the print floor.
You don’t have to double stroke on an automatic press to get opacity.
Screen registration is a breeze.
That saves time, and time, as we all know, is money.
Plus, on the money side, every time you double stroke your ink you are using twice as much ink to get the same result.
Why not focus that time and energy instead of using a band-aid and correct the problem?
Good screen tension is the start of that.
Let’s say that your opportunity cost for your press is at $300 per hour. For some shops, that’s too low, but for this example, it is a good conservative number.
$300 per hour is equal to $5 per minute.
As everyone probably knows I like screen setup time to be under five minutes per screen. But, let’s say we’re dealing with that example shop mentioned before. They were around ten minutes per screen for their set up on average because nothing was lining up.
After adjusting their workflow to take screen tension into consideration, they got their setup times down to about 6 minutes per screen. That is a four-minute per screen savings.
Like a lot of shops, they average about three screens per job and print about ten jobs per day.
So that can be expressed as 3 (screens per job) x 10 (jobs per day) x 4 (minutes per screen savings) x $5 (opportunity cost per minute) = $600 per day savings.
So, tell me again how you don’t have time to measure your tension?
Last Word on Screen Tension
This isn’t anything new, is it? Hopefully not, but there are plenty of people posting online in groups or forums that don’t comprehend the importance of screen tension.
I’m not trying to make fun of them or anything. There are plenty of resources out there to learn how to improve your techniques in this industry.
So, as people love checklists I’m going to offer one.
Regularly use a tension meter. If you don’t have one, buy one. Learn how to use it.
Design, as part of your screen room workflow, when the tension should be measured for your screens. Who is doing it? When are they doing it? How are you recording it on the screen?
Train your staff. Screen room crew certainly, but your print and art staff as well. Illustrate what success looks like.
Reach out to your suppliers for help. You can get better screens. Training is available too. Don’t be in the dark.
Don’t make excuses. “It’s how we’ve always done it” is not a valid reason for not having best industry standards in your shop.
As my friend Alan Howe with SAATI is always fond of saying. “Screens are equipment”.
Treat them as such.
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do. You can act to change and control of your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” – Amelia Earhart
“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.” – Henry Ford
“If you don’t like how things are, change it! You are not a tree.” – Jim Rohn
Click the button to book a 30-minute call with me. Let’s discover how I can help you solve your biggest challenges!
You’ve heard of that right? That’s when an experienced old pro guides someone through to a faster solution, or quicker way to understand something.
I have my mentors and I’ll bet you do as well. I’ve even mentored a bunch of people throughout my career.
But what about the concept of “Reverse Mentoring”? No, that doesn’t mean they attach a suction device to your forehead and suck out everything you just learned.
That’s called tequila.
Reverse Mentoring is when the new hire, typically a Gen-Z individual spends time mentoring the old pro Boomers (like me) or Gen-Xer’s on the new culture, technology, language, marketing, worldview, and a host of other ideas.
Reverse Mentoring Isn’t New
Back in the 1990’s Jack Welch, then CEO of General Electric realized that their senior leadership needed some help understanding the Internet.
500 of their top executives participated in the idea of a reverse mentor with an equal number of twenty-somethings to show them how to use it to their advantage.
That’s right. Can you imagine having to be trained on the Internet?
Yep, it was a thing once.
Top of the Pyramid
Are you at the top of the pyramid in your company? From way up there, how does everything look down below?
You are the king (or queen) of all you survey.
But yet, that pointy part of the monolith allows you to get knocked off your perch fairly easily if you are not ready. I’m being a little dramatic, but it’s easy to ignore the new hires and lowest level employees.
After all, they don’t know anything about the company! They just got here!
And that is the thing.
They just got here. Their eyes are fresh. The old fuddy-duddy way of doing things doesn’t make sense. It’s clunky. A struggle. It’s a wheezing, coughing, rust bucket methodology that worked great up until a few years ago.
“Get a load of this…they still use paper forms!”
Want An Eye Opener?
You have to make it safe for the new hires to speak up when they see something that just doesn’t look right to them.
So when they say, “Hey, I don’t understand this. It seems dumb to do it this way.” They just might have a point.
Are you listening? Or, do you slam them down?
“Whoa, there buddy. We’ve always done it that way around here!”
Instead, why not try out the idea of Reverse Mentoring? Grab the new kid, and have them show YOU the ropes. Ask them some quick questions like:
“What excites you?”
“How are you using technology?”
“What social media platforms are you and your friends using?”
“Anything around here look a little stale?”
Ask My Favorite Question
If I’ve been to your shop, you’ve probably heard me say this to one of the team members:
“If you could change one thing about this place to make it better, what would you fix?”
Those brave enough to ask that question will be shocked at the variety of answers they receive. Some folks just want a more comfortable chair. Others, wonder why you can’t set up direct deposit for the paychecks so they don’t have to run to the bank and use up their lunch break. Betty might just be tired of people constantly taking “her” tape gun.
Break out the Bedazzler.
But the new kids on the block will have the best answers.
“How come we don’t use Slack for communication between production and other departments?”
“Why can’t the customer enter this information so we don’t have any order entry work to do?”
“What is the company doing to invest in my personal and professional growth?”
Reverse Mentoring. They have questions, you may or may not have answers.
Why This Idea Might Work For Your Company
For starters, it’s simply good practice to get conversations going.
Want to build a winning culture? Get your A-team members together and get them talking. Start off with simple. 30-minutes or maybe an hour once a month. Pair off and start the mentoring process.
Hopefully, something really difficult pops up. Something with some substance that is rarely discussed.
Let’s face it, that new hire that started last Monday is the closest thing you have to a customer’s brain. But only for a short while. For a few weeks, they still see the company outside in.
Anything that looks weird needs to come up in the mentoring session. Along with ideas on what (and maybe how) to fix it.
But it won’t work if you are too scared to try it.
Let’s Break It Down
I’m sure some older employees might get a little insulted by a younger generation teammate trying to teach them anything. Hopefully, you don’t have those stubborn old mules on your crew.
But I’ll bet plenty do.
So let’s get some “How to get a mentor pairing” ideas set up to help you get started with mentoring.
First Set Up the Ground Rules
Where, when and how will the mentoring take place? Set up your program. It could be as simple as eating lunch together on the third Thursday of the month.
What is the reporting mechanism? Who is taking notes?
Second, Make It Easy
This isn’t like a dating site. But still, you want the mentoring relationship to go well. Offer suggestions on pairings based on some facts you know. Common interests, backgrounds, hobbies, or job functions. People should be able to pick their own mentor or accept a mentee. Nothing forced.
Third, It’s Not Forever
All good things must come to an end. Mentoring is one of them. Make sure you set a specified duration. I would suggest three to six months.
Lastly, It’s Not A One and Done.
People can have multiple mentors in your company. In fact, that will help broaden the appeal and help everyone understand one another and communicate.
Offer Support and Suggestions
While you don’t want to be heavy handed with mentoring, as things should come natural, it is quite alright to have some suggestions or tips to follow.
These could be questions to ask or situational topics that have proven to be sticky. From the new person’s perspective, what’s a better way to handle these problems that aligns with how they see the world?
Make sure you get feedback from your participants so you can make your program better.
“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” – Steven Spielberg
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.” – John C. Crosby
“With a growth mindset, kids don’t necessarily think that there’s no such thing as talent, or that everyone is the same, but they believe that everyone can develop their abilities through hard work, strategies, and lots of help and mentoring from others.” – Carol S. Dweck
Speaking of Mentoring
Help me out!
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Have you ever wondered how other people and companies seem to accelerate and do so much more than you every day?
I named this article “Squirrels and Shiny Objects” because it seems that for some folks they veer off the path of what they need to be doing as soon as something interesting pops up in view.
“Hey look, a squirrel!”
“Ooohhh, a balloon.”
All kidding aside, that doesn’t have to be you.
The secret is focus and some time management ninja habits. So grab another cup of coffee, and let’s breakdown some things that can make an immediate impact on how you get things completed every day.
First, Watch This Video
To begin the article, let’s chat about “Selective Attention”.
Sure, Selective Attention is what my wife might say I have when she’s talking and I’m focused on something else. That’s a different type of being distracted. (I’m not ignoring you, I’m focusing!)
But in the business world, this is serious business. Here’s a famous video by Daniel J. Simons that illustrates that aspect. In the video, there is a group of kids passing a basketball back and forth. You simply need to count how many times the players wearing white pass the basketball.
Use a piece of paper and write down your number. It sounds easy, but it isn’t.
Take the challenge!
Press pause when the screen goes black and it shows “How many passes did you count?”, after the kids are finished with the exercise.
selective attention test - YouTube
So, how many did you count?
Hopefully, you were paying close attention and nailed the right number. Did it match what you wrote down?
But did you see anything else in the video?
This is what happens when we focus so closely on something, that we ignore everything else around us. Your eyes simply don’t recognize any stimulus that isn’t part of what we are targeting. That’s being distracted, but at a truly weird and astonishing level.
That’s why you missed the gorilla walking through that crowd of kids.
Yep. A gorilla.
Watch it again.
Now think about all those times in your shop where you were so intently focused on one thing, that the “easy” thing got missed or you made a mistake. That’s that gorilla walking through your shop.
By the way, if you were lame enough to just keep reading and didn’t watch the video as instructed, and then went back and watched it, the trick won’t work. In fact, you will be shocked that anyone could fall for it. So, to prove my point you now have to share this with someone on your team.
Don’t tell them about the gorilla. Have them focus on the basketball passes instead.
But now, when you have them watch the video this becomes a distraction.
I still win.
Not Distracted Game Plan
Next, let’s talk about “putting first things first”. In this industry, it is amazingly easy to start racing down the road after some tangent. When you look up, hours have gone by and the important things you had to do today aren’t even remotely started.
A good game plan for handling the important things begins with one simple word.
Having a solid process removes the flakiness of people from the work. It’s not Billy’s way of doing something, but the “company way”.
A good process starts by detailing all of the steps necessary to handle the work.
For example, quotes aren’t handled by scribbling the math on a yellow legal pad. Instead, there is a system in use and any trained person quoting an order for a customer will arrive at the same answer as everyone else. The process defines the math for the quote and even how and when to follow up with the customer.
This should be true for every department, and every task.
Another level of planning within your process is how you prioritize the work.
Let’s say you have five quotes to send to customers or seven orders that need artwork created. Which one would you work on first? Second? Can you delegate one or two off to someone else?
Learning how to prioritize work is easy if you set up some guidelines.
For me, the one thing that always works is to use the Ship Date as a keystone marker for work priority.
Something that is due to ship in a few days has to have priority over something that is due to ship next week, right? This is why it is crucial to use real dates for your orders. I know a lot of salespeople and companies like to use padded dates, “just in case”. But that only leads to problems down the road.
Let’s face it. Not using the real Ship Date is mainly due to a lack of trust with your process. Fix that so you can prioritize the work correctly. Padded dates = lazy production management. Do it right so there is trust established.
As I’ve written before, I like to use the Ship Date and organize everything with these four ideas.
Rush orders are those that are paid to go faster or have some critical component in them that makes them a critical priority. These orders are always worked on first in every department. It is the equivalent of the Disney Fast Pass where you get to skip to the head of the line. This is true not just in production, but in purchasing, receiving, the art department, the screen room, even in shipping. Rush jobs get worked on first. Every. Single. Time.
Rush orders have to go first, but after that, anything that is Late needs to be knocked out. Late jobs cannot get any later. This happens all the time, especially in high-concept areas like the art department. You can’t simply put tasks off because something better came up, or was tagged important by someone else. Stick to your process, and don’t get distracted.
Today’s jobs mean those tasks that are scheduled for today. The Rush and Late work have to go first, and after that, anything that needs to be worked on or completed today is handled. It’s easy to cram in that “little thing” for Today ahead of another one that may be a Rush or Late task…but this is how that excuse, “Sorry, we just ran out of time, that Rush order didn’t ship”, happens. That’s when the Rush job or the Late job gets pushed out.
This is critical. You can’t work on future work until the Rush, Late, and Today’s jobs are handled. Too many times that fun order for two weeks from now or that job for the donut-wielding salesperson gets jumped in front of everything else. Don’t fall into this trap.
Simply Not Distracted
Let’s assume you have built some solid functional processes. What’s next on the road to not being distracted? Here’s another clue for you: Keep things simple.
Don’t get sucked into the vortex of distractions by limiting the things you are doing at one time. You can not multitask and do good work.
If you want to limit how you get distracted try sectioning off blocks of time into chunks. Try using 30-minute or 60-minute blocks, and color code them on your calendar. During that time you focus on whatever that scheduled time is about. Don’t answer any emails or take a phone call. Those can be responded to later.
When that segment is up, move onto the next thing that is scheduled.
That’s when those tasks are handled. Leave unscheduled time on your calendar for those tasks that always seem to come up.
Use a Kitchen Timer
For some, a good trick might be to get a cheap kitchen timer that winds up. Set it for whatever chunk of time you need to designate, and then keep your head down working on it until the timer dings. How much work could you do if you worked UNINTERRUPTED for 30 or 60 minutes at a time?
I know, I know. It seems dumb to have to use a kitchen timer to get work accomplished, but this tip works for those that are easily distracted. Try it!
A trick that has worked for me for years is to only respond to emails three times a day. Morning, midday, and before you leave. I call it the “Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner” plan. It’s the best way to not let emails get you distracted from the main work that needs to be handled by you.
The first thing in the morning is when you respond to anything that came in after hours. Get those handled and any outgoing follow-ups that need attention. If you need to write some outgoing emails, do them now.
Then, put your email priority aside and work on other things. Like printing or embroidering shirts. Or making sales calls.
After lunch, respond to anything that came in. Write some more, and then leave it alone.
Get more crucial work handled. Remember, don’t look at those emails. You will do that later.
Right before you leave, check your emails again. Get those handled and then that’s it for the day.
Then, and most importantly, when you get home leave that work stuff at the office. No matter the temptation, do not look at your work email away from the office.
Your family and friends need you too.
“Hey, Marshall I just need a minute to talk about the…”
Hold on. Do you get this type of drop-in interruption on a regular basis? I hate them. You lose focus and it’s hard to get back on track with what you were working on.
If you have an office door, let everyone know that when the door is closed it is your focused time. But maybe you work in an open-air cubicle or just have persistent people that need their questions answered.
The trick to use a verbal judo move.
“Oh hey, Cheryl. I’m in the middle of something. Can I come find you in thirty minutes and we can discuss? Thanks!”
If you don’t want to be distracted by whatever Cheryl wants to talk about, you need to take matters into your own hands. This phrase allows you to wrest control of the conversation and lets Cheryl know she’s important. It gives her a timeline on when you are going to find her. Cheryl will walk away happy, and you can finish that priority task you were neck deep in when she stuck her head in the door.
As in, it is the very first thing I’m working on that day. Or better, I kicked it’s butt yesterday.
But one thing I’ve learned in running shops all these years is that for me, there are only about two or three major tasks that can be handled a day. These are the gigantic, time-sucking projects that you get straddled with. That’s because there are simply too many things going on in your business. Don’t over-plan by adding too many tasks on your to-do list.
Once you get distracted with some challenge that needs your attention, not all of those items are going to get handled.
Instead, be realistic about how long things take.
Planning a review for your employee’s compensation for next year? Building a pivot table for a spreadsheet that will analyze all of your production data with color-coded macros? Receiving a floor-loaded truck with inventory for that new client?
These things take time to handle.
I’ll bet you have big projects on your plate as well. So why do we cram a dozen of these on our to-do list for a day? It’s just not realistic time-wise.
That’s right. You’ve heard of that before, right?
Sadly, most leaders that I speak with feel that they have to own and do everything in their shop. Here’s a tip.
It’s 100% ok to give your tasks away to other people. In fact, they don’t even have to work in your building.
Think about everything you have to do today. Is the reason you keep putting some of the things off on your list is because you don’t really like doing it or don’t have the skill? Get someone else to do it and move on.
This means you need to occasionally go do something else. Go talk to people. Take a walk. Break a sweat.
Want more focus? Take more short breaks.
I think one of the greatest features in some of the new smartwatches is the ability to monitor your body and tell you to get up and move around.
Hey, I’m guilty of sitting in a chair for hours working too. Raising my hand right here. However, after I finish one task and before I start another I will get up and move around. Get some water. Do something different. It really helps me focus my concentration for the next round of activities.
You can do it too.
To get rid of old bad habits you have to replace them with something else.
Be the change you seek.
“Never neglect details. When everyone’s mind is dulled or distracted leaders must be doubly vigilant.” – Colin Powell
“I don’t think we realize just how fast we go until you stop for a minute and realize how loud and how hectic your life is, and how easily distracted you can get.” – Meg Ryan
“I think we get so distracted with our smartphones… It takes your body and your brain to switch between tasks. If we can focus on what we are doing, we can be more productive at that task.” – Yael Cohen
Maybe You Need A Distraction?
I’m being ironical of course.
However, I would really love it if you would take a few minutes and contribute to my crowdsourced eBook, “The History of Screen-printing”.
I’ve always been fascinated by how people get into the decorated apparel industry. Everyone has a unique path into the crazy business. The purpose of the book is for people, just like you, to share their story.
My goal is to get between 100 and 200 people to contribute their journey into the industry. I don’t care if you have been doing it for six months or sixty years, let’s hear about your path into the business!
How did you get started? Who influenced you? What have you learned?
How you do that can make a gigantic difference to your overall shop efficiency. What do you emphasize in your company?
When I travel and go to shops, one of the things I love to observe is how the entire company starts their day. It is a telling sign. Some are on top of things and have dialed in procedures and processes. Others, have employees that meander around like zombies or have staff members trickle in at seemingly whatever time works for them.
What’s the norm in your world?
In this article, I’ll break down some of my favorite ideas on how a shop should start their day. (Or shift, if you are running multiple crews)
Start: You Can’t Manage What You Don’t Measure
This is a big one.
If you want improvement you need to understand some data points. What is the current state? Can it be improved?
Before you start changing anything, take some time and simply measure how you do things now. Measure some different points (I’ll outline below) for a few weeks or a month to get some good averages. This snapshot will be important as it will set the baseline for changes to come, and probably some good discussions you will have with your team.
You can measure these informally just with a pad of paper and a pen, or have a more formal approach. The important thing is to measure.
Let’s look at a few ideas:
What is the set time for each department in the shop to arrive each day? Let’s say it is 7:00 am. At 7:00 how many people in each department are ready to work? What time will you see everyone at their stations actually working?
In production, what time does the first shirt get decorated by each workgroup or machine? 7:05? 7:35? 8:15?
Where is everyone after 7:00? In the breakroom getting coffee? In the bathroom? Still on the highway driving in? At their workstations starting up? Write it down.
Are you crystal clear regarding your expectations on how the shift should start? Is it in your employee handbook? Have you had meetings or discussions about it? Do you talk to your employees about their work habits during their review meetings?
This is a good start.
Capture how it works now. I’ll bet your gut is telling you that your shop can do better.
In an ideal state, if your start time is 7:00 am for your shop, everyone in the company will be wherever they are supposed to work at 7:00 am getting started working. Not in the bathroom. Or the breakroom getting coffee.
They are where they are supposed to be, doing what you pay them to do.
But that doesn’t happen if you don’t talk about why that is important.
Time Is The Biggest Enemy
For our industry, we battle the clock all day. We only have so much time in our day to complete all of the tasks that are on our slate.
So, let’s say there are twenty people that work in your company.
For this discussion, everyone is required to start at 7:00 am like we mentioned above. But that seldom happens, and nobody is really enforcing it.
Crews come in some time “around” 7:00 am, and on most days are at their workstations actually starting up for the day by about 7:20.
Therefore, that’s twenty people x 20 minutes = 400 minutes.
Let’s reverse that a second.
Suppose those twenty people arrived at the shop at 6:40 am instead.
They got their coffee in the breakroom. Went to the bathroom. Liked that cat meme on Facebook. Chatted about the game last night. Then they clocked in and went to work, and at 7:00 am were busy starting their day doing their work.
Enforcing this doesn’t require you to be a jerk either.
First, get an audible warehouse alarm bell that is automated and timed to clock settings. At five minutes before the start time, break times, lunch time, and end of shift times, the bell will ring letting everyone know that they have five minutes before each important period.
This means get ready.
At the designated times to start, take a break, take lunch, or end the shift, the bell will ring again.
When that bell sounds, it drives the appropriate action from your team.
People are held accountable and need to work up until the bell. The time clock and the bell are synced for hourly employees. If you have a lot of employees, maybe you should have multiple time clocks so your crews can punch in and out quickly without having a line back up.
Set the expectation. If the company starts a 7:00 am, what time is exactly considered late? 7:05 am?
Can someone clock in at 6:55 am and start working? You bet.
People want to know the rules.
So let’s say that now everyone is getting to work and starting on time. Now, what should happen?
Here’s where having a start-up procedure for each department can get everyone on the same page. This means that for each department, a written list of tasks is organized in a way that sets the tone on what tasks need to be started on first thing. Not the entire day, just what should be first on their plate on an average day.
Get it down on paper.
Review it with the team.
What we want is to push more tasks through the pipeline as fast as we can. By prioritizing them, so each department or workgroup starts with the most important work first, challenges are mitigated. You can self-identify these, but here are some suggestions:
For sales or customer service, have them follow up with customers on quotes, art approvals, questions or anything hanging. Don’t wait. Reach out and take care of business.
For the art team, they should separate any files that were approved overnight and then start with any changes that need to be made. New projects only begin after those are handled.
In production, jobs should have been staged by each work group yesterday. Crews begin on what is staged before them. 100% of everything needed should be lined up in this priority order: Rush, Late, Today, Tomorrow. This way all Rush orders are always worked on first.
For the screen room, they need to take care of any last minute screens that may be needed by production. Then, they should work to get all the screens burned for production that needs to start two business days from now.
Receiving should get ready for incoming work. They pull up any hot items that need to be found with the incoming inventory. Those should be found and received first. The receiving area is prepped and ready for the trucks coming in later.
Shipping should have everything that was produced yesterday staged and ready to process. They start processing the finished work with the Rush orders, and then proceed to Late, Today and then Tomorrow too.
Ideally, your shop should be 100% prepaid, but if not, the Invoicing crew should send out invoices to customers for everything that shipped yesterday.
Dealing With “What if”
Hopefully, this makes a little bit of sense to you. But, if you want to change how you start every day then you need to get your leadership team together and brainstorm on what needs to happen differently.
Your brain trust has to be on the same page.
Filter out the “what if” challenges that are going to come up.
“Susie comes in a little later because she’s in class.”
Ok, no problem…but she needs to be consistent with that start time. For her, 9:30 am is the time.
“Maria has to drop off her husband, and then come in. She can’t make it until 7:15 am”
Ok, no problem…but she needs to be consistent with that start time. For her, 7:15 am is the time.
“The front office doesn’t need to come in that early.”
Ok, no problem…but the front office start time is now 8:00 am.
This Isn’t Rocket Science
You simply need to construct the rules for your shop so they make sense. The more you align so that there is consistency the better.
Set the rules.
Then follow them.
Also, you should set the expectations for what happens if people can’t follow the rules that you created. The tiger has to have teeth.
So are you missing the equivalent of 72 days a year of work in your shop simply because you can’t get your act together for how people are aligning with time in your company?
Actions Reveal Priorities
Therefore, what are you going to do about this? How you start the day is important.
But also how you start back up after any break or lunch period as well.
Dig into this and measure your problem first before you discuss it with your team. Define the problem.
“Hey, look at these times last week”, is a great way to start the discussion. Annualize whatever you find. Put some labor dollars into that equation too.
If this doesn’t get your motor running on how to change things I don’t know what will.
Remember, your actions reveal your priorities.
“Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” – Arthur Ashe
“Be like Curious George, start with a question and look under the yellow hat to see what is there.” – James Collins
“Stop the habit of wishful thinking and start the habit of thoughtful wishes.” – Mary Martin
If you find yourself with a staff full of folks that don’t seem to understand the rules…maybe it’s because you haven’t written them down.
But don’t fret about spending a gigantic chunk of time slogging through what to write. I’ve included a template for an Employee Handbook in my eBook, “Shop Basic Info Pack”.
This has everything you need to make an employee handbook for your shop, just fill in the blanks for your shop name and other details.
There are also two Business Plan templates for you to write a business plan that works for your shop. A section on marketing for your shop. And a complete screenprinting production log and dashboard system so you can keep daily track of your production efficiency.
Definition: an adhesive bandage with a gauze pad in the center used to cover minor wounds.
a makeshift or temporary solution. Noun: band-aid; plural noun: band-aids
“a band-aid solution to a much deeper problem”
We’re obviously focused on the “makeshift or temporary solution” part of this definition. Although to some degree you could argue that using a temporary solution in your shop can feel like we’re covering up a wound.
And just maybe, it’s festering underneath too.
No, what I want to focus on this article today is how that “temporary solution” somehow became the norm for something in your shop. Nobody stops to think that there are a cause and effect to the decisions (or lack thereof) for situations that are present in your business that have an actual detrimental side to them.
Like what you ask?
Production Meeting Band-Aid
First, let’s start with the fact that for some shops the ONLY way jobs go out is by having a production meeting every day.
Holy smokes what a waste of time.
This happens because there isn’t enough training, accountability, or professionalism in the building to look at a schedule and have every department make their own decisions to move the job forward.
It’s a crutch. And a huge band-aid that covers up the lack of leadership and training in the shop.
Sound like yours?
If you are mad and grumpy with me now and think “There’s no way!” that any shop can run effectively without a production meeting…I have news for you. Tons of shops do.
Just not yours.
Do yourself a favor and do a head count at your next meeting. Multiply that with the sum of what you pay these people an hour. A five-person meeting where each person makes an average of $15 per hour costs $3.900 annually. That meeting in your shop might even cost more than that.
That’s a lot of cash tied up because nobody has set the initiative to build a better culture.
Start by trying to wean off of it. Next Friday, try to run your day without the meeting by having everyone do their own work looking into the schedule to see what’s needed. Build out some training.
Solve for x.
Once you get it to work for one day a week, move to two-days a week. Then three. After that, suddenly you won’t need it.
Low-Volume / High Labor Dollar Band-Aid
You’ve heard the phrase “Money covers up a multitude of sins” before probably.
This is for the shops that have a lot of work booked, but because they aren’t efficient, they have to have a higher headcount to get everything out on time.
They just keep adding equipment and people to the problem instead of digging into why they can’t speed up the process. When you really take a closer look it isn’t that they need to speed up, but instead, work to get their vast percentage of downtime reduced to a reasonable rate.
Remember downtime is the amount of time NOT spent decorating a shirt.
For plenty of shops, they don’t have a way to control their people during the day and hold them accountable for their time. So, their crews wander around “looking” for things to do, get the right tools, or anything other than getting work completed. Nobody is measuring the output, so there are zero emphases on improving anything.
Instead, more workers are hired to get the work completed. This leads to headcount bloat.
How do you stack up?
For a quick assessment, multiply your headcount by $100,000. That should roughly equal your total sales volume.
Does it match up? Good.
If you have a lot of automation and process controls you can get your number to creep toward $200,000 per employee.
But if you are way under, you may need to ask yourself why you are so heavy with your labor? Do you have multiple people in one department instead of just having fewer really good employees?
Can some sort of automation or outsourcing achieve the same result with less payroll?
Double Stroke Band-Aid
For many shops, on an automatic press, they can’t get decent opacity with their ink on the shirt without double stroking the squeegee pass.
I’ve seen it where for an underbase white, color, and final wet white print, the amount of ink going down on the shirt is incredible.
First, the underbase white is printed with a double stroke. Then it is flashed.
In revolver mode, the entire run goes around and then it’s double stroked again with the white. Flashed again.
Then two hits of the color with an accompanying flash hit, right before two more passes of the final white.
What should be three strokes of ink churning out a shirt every five to seven seconds, is now slogging along due to the revolver-mode-double-stroke circus of eight ink passes.
Does it seem normal?
I spoke with an automatic printer once who told me that he’s been printing this way for over a decade. It is the only way he knows how to print.
When I asked why he told me, “Because that’s how I can get the ink to be opaque and look nice.”
Checklist of problems that might sound familiar:
They don’t measure their screen tension. But yet, they believe that their screens are “good”.
They have never sharpened a squeegee or replaced the rubber. Ever. “You are supposed to do that?”
Their squeegee pressure was cranked down to over 60 psi – in fact, the squeegee looked like a capital “L” it was bent over so much.
There has never been a discussion on adding an extra coat of emulsion to the screen. “What would that do?” he asked when I mentioned it.
I even asked about the mesh count for the job, and the screen room usually picks what they think might work. There wasn’t a standard. They’ve had underbases come out on a 305 before, as that was the only clean screen ready for use.
With this many variables, it is a wonder that they can even get the image to look right. Hence, why they deploy all of those screen-printing band-aids.
Here’s a tip.
If you are remotely interested in learning how to yank this band-aid off cleanly, take a class at the next trade show available to you. My buddies Alan Howe, Charlie Taublieb or Lon Winters can set you straight. (Among others in the industry)
Bringing In Bad Work Band-Aid
A common problem in this industry is the lack of direction for sales. Many, many shops operate every day without a business or marketing plan intact.
What about your shop?
So, instead of going after clients and work that will bring them high-value, highly profitable work, they fill up their schedule with low-value, low-profit work. “Just to keep the presses spinning”.
Like a vicious outer-space body-snatcher movie, that’s when that low-profit work slowly creeps in and takes over your entire schedule. You are so busy defending your schedule with the idea that you are busy, that you have never looked up once to consider if you are profitable.
Being busy does not equate to making money.
Plus a lot of shops don’t even know how to calculate how to price anyway. This is why you see incredibly busy shops simply go out of business one day. It’s a shock. But in a way it wasn’t. They simply couldn’t afford to be that busy any longer.
Do your shop a favor. Spend some quality time focusing your business at the exact sales bullseye you want to hit. Build a marketing plan that builds a sales pipeline to your door with quality, profitable orders that make sense.
The “We Can’t Put Them On Credit-Hold” Band-Aid
You hear this from salespeople all the time.
So and so owes you money. Sometimes a lot of it. They are way past 30 days, but the sales guy is lobbying to take another job…and it’s a big one!
Hold on there cowboy.
A customer that doesn’t pay you isn’t a customer. They are a liability. Some would even call them a deadbeat.
Accepting another order from them only exacerbates the situation. How are they going to pay for that next order (Remember, “it’s a big one!”) if they can’t pay their current debt? Here’s another reason why shops go under.
Falling for this craziness.
Instead, I want you to repeat after me:
100% of the money upfront for all orders.
Yep. All of it.
“But Marshall, we can’t do that!” Our customers have to pay with Purchase Orders or credit terms. It’s the only way they do business.
Do they buy from Amazon? Ever bought a plane ticket? Hotel room? A meal at a restaurant? Attended a conference?
Other industries get their money up front and you can too.
Why don’t they take a PO or work on credit terms? Because they have a policy and rules stating how they do business.
You can too.
A Literal Screen Band-Aid
While I was writing this article, someone reminded me how some shops keep using screens well past the usability of the screen.
For static frames, the mesh tension drops below an acceptable level (For me, under 18 N/cm). Or there is a tear in the screen and they fix it with a chunk of tape.
For that shop (yours?) they want to keep using that frame because it’s too expensive to get that frame remeshed.
My friend was lamenting that some shops have their financial priorities upside down.
Here’s what he meant.
It costs between $18 – $35 a frame to get it remeshed, depending on the size of the frame, mesh count, and who is doing it. Most shops value their press time at about $300 – $400 per hour in opportunity costs. That’s how they make their money.
But because they are looking at the problem backward, they don’t realize that every minute that they aren’t actually printing a job that’s costing them money. A low tension screen, or one that has a defect in it, can cause registration challenges on a press.
It’s a known fact.
So they would rather screw around with that screen, wasting valuable press time, trying to get it to line up…than simply restretching that frame and making sure it was working properly.
It’s the age-old problem of stepping over a dollar to save a dime.
Don’t fall for that false economy band-aid.
Do things the right way.
“Well done is better than well said.” – Benjamin Franklin
“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
“It’s easier to prevent bad habits than to break them.” – Benjamin Franklin
Need Some Help With That Band-Aid?
For some shops, they want to do things themselves. I get it. This is a DIY industry.
However, there comes a time when you might be ready to reach out and have someone help you rip that band-aid off and move you into a better, more efficient, future.
That’s what I do.
If you are ready to work on those challenges, then let’s set up a time to chat.
I’d love to hear about your shop. Your journey. Struggles. Challenges. Dreams.
Let’s discuss how a solid coaching program or an onsite visit can help solve those challenges for you permanently.
Here’s why. If your answer is all about your “Low Prices”, you probably aren’t making enough profit. Congratulations, you just won the race to the bottom.
If your answer is about how your business has the best “Customer Service”, congratulations again on spreading the BS because nobody cares or will believe you. People only believe other people about customer service awesomeness. They don’t believe companies that brag about it. I don’t, and I’ll bet you don’t either. So why say that in your own business?
Finally, if your answer is about your great “Quality”, that’s the final dumb business statement that nobody believes either. Quality is a default on what we expect. So what you are saying is “Hey, we meet the minimum standards!”
So if you can’t talk about price, customer service, or quality in your business marketing what you should focus on?
Let’s take a look and maybe shake out some new ideas for your shop.
One idea for your business is to sell on emotion. How your product or service makes someone feel deep down.
Think about how your business plays into a human to human connection. Don’t tout features and benefits. Play up the joy. Describe what victory feels like. Illustrate that fist pump awesomeness of your favorite band. What does the fear of missing out or being embarrassed feel like?
That’s what you have to show.
“But Marshall, we’re selling t-shirts. Who gets emotional about that?”
Plenty of people evidently.
Why do people buy those $35 concert tees? I’m sure they look fantastic, but it’s not because it’s a rational decision. It’s an emotional purchase that screams to everyone, “I WAS THERE”.
For the business to business apparel, having a coordinated professional look exemplifies confidence. You are selling that idea. Not a logoed golf shirt or apron.
Can you get behind the psychology of why people buy? Focus on the real issue people need to solve.
Let’s talk about pressure points for a second for your customers. You may have never thought about this before.
Everyone (including you and me) feels pressure from different aspects of their life. These are the emotional triggers that push us into the decisions we make. Think about these in your business and with your customers. How would you present what you do differently if you knew their:
This is feelings of inadequacy. That you don’t belong. Maybe some frustration or humiliation with past experiences. That there is potential for ridicule.
Fear of missing opportunities. Of not hitting that big sales quota. Doing a good job so the boss notices or they get a promotion. Maybe that they may lose money.
There’s history there lurking, can they meet expectations? Are they in the group, tribe, or community? Do they meet the standards?
Of wanting to succeed badly. There is anger or resentment. The need to be happy. To not be embarrassed. To please others.
Time. Resources used. How much effort needs to be used?
How Your Business Presents Itself Matters
So think about how you present your business to your customers. Do you know like the back of your hand your customer’s pain points and pressures that they are trying to overcome?
Or are you simply squawking about your “big sale” that you post every time your shop runs out of scheduled work?
Stop for a second and think about how you present yourself to your current and potential customers.
People feel these pressures. When you solve something for them that addresses their pain haven’t you noticed how elated they get?
You need to dig into why that happens. Absolutely ask your customer questions that define these pressure points.
How you answer that problem is how you should be marketing your business. Tunnel down and discover how your customer’s internal and external problems need to be resolved.
That is what answers the question:
“Why should anyone do business with you?”
Because you have the answers to solve their problems.
That’s the value they crave and will shout out from the mountaintops.
“The golden rule for every business man is this: “Put yourself in your customer’s place.” – Orison Swett Marsden
“Networking has been cited as the number one unwritten rule of success in business. Who you know really impacts what you know.” – Sallie Krawcheck
“Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them.” – W. Edwards Deming
Basic Shop Business Book
How is your screen-printing pricing built?
Did you use the “average of all the shops around me” method? That doesn’t work. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why shops go out of business every year.
Instead, I’d like to teach you a better way.
In this eBook, “Price for Profit” you can learn how to use your shop’s production efficiency coupled with your shop’s costs to build a price matrix that makes sense. Because it uses not only your costs but how you work to determine your pricing. It’s your math. Use it to your advantage.
Get your copy today. For $59, learn do to it the right way.
Are you aware of your customer’s version of your business?
Here’s a fact that you may not be aware of until now: Whatever you think about your business, your customer sees things differently.
Their perception is the only thing that counts. And, as we all know, they vote with their wallets.
Therefore here’s a challenging question for you today: When was the last time you asked your customer regarding their opinion of your shop?
After that last order?
Last year sometime?
You may want to build out a strategy for this. When you have intimate knowledge of your customer’s perspective of your business you can do a lot with that information.
In this article, I’ll detail five ideas for using that information. Plus I’ll give you a survey that you can steal and use in your shop.
Idea One – Content Strategy
I was speaking with a decorated apparel industry shop owner yesterday and she was lamenting their lack of social media content. “We just don’t know what matters to our customers!”, she said. “It’s hard to create any content that sticks.”
That’s when I asked if they ever simply talked with their customers. Start with some easy questions. Maybe a few like these:
“How likely are you to recommend us?”
“What are we doing right?”
or “What are we doing wrong?”
The answers to those questions, or others you may want to pose, can instantly become an idea generator for your marketing content. Instead of hoping that whatever you pull out of your butt and post online with the dream that it will connect somehow, you can use these answers to build out a content strategy for what really matters to other potential customers.
It’s like taking a test where you already know the answers. Because your existing best customers are giving you the clues as to what matters to them most.
Writing that blog article or filming that video doesn’t seem that daunting now when the idea is served up to you on a silver platter.
Those top customers, especially if you can narrow down why they are happy with you, can provide you the demographics for you to focus on finding other customers just like them.
What you are after is the clarity of segmenting and profiling where to find your best customers. Connect the dots.
Where are they?
When do they buy?
What do they buy?
How much do they buy?
What common traits do they share?
Can you identify their unique problem that you can solve? Your best customers like you for a reason. What value are you bringing them?
If you can identify the biggest challenge these customers face, then you can work up an approach to find more customers with the same need. You’ll know the language and specifics. The data that matters. You can use this in your marketing to bring in more leads.
In fact, you may start to get known for particular expertise of a market segment and your potential customers will start seeking you out. That’s called reputation.
Idea Three – Expanding Your Offerings
When you get a grip on your customer’s worldview, you’ll know what they will want next. It’s no secret that finding a new customer is harder than keeping an existing one. But did you know that one loyal customer can be worth 10x as much as one single purchase?
But you need to give them a reason to order again from you. You need to stay in touch and top of mind.
Can your shop provide more solutions to their challenges? Is there an add-on to a purchase that you can develop, such as banners, promotional items, or even building out online stores for them.
Are you getting in front of them with new ideas? You can’t hit a home run unless you are at the plate swinging at pitches.
So are you at the plate? Or, are you waiting to get into the game?
Develop new ideas and get onto the playing field!
Idea Four – You Need A Referral Engine
News flash. It absolutely doesn’t matter what you say about your business. To most people, it comes off as noise.
Blah, blah, blah, t-shirts. Big sale! Blah, blah, blah.
However, if your customers are the ones that are shouting your praises…or even better dragging new customers to your doorstep, then you can quickly scale.
That happens when you build a referral engine. Do you have one?
Referrals are your most important sales leads because they come from existing customers. To potential customers, referrals mean something.
Think about your own life. When that new restaurant comes to town, you probably won’t go unless someone starts singing the praises about one of their dishes. “You gotta try their nachos! Out of this world!” So, based on that feedback, that is where you are going to head the next time it’s nacho time. All based on that referral.
“Hey Bob, thanks for your recent order! Do you know anyone that we should be talking to about the same stuff? We’d love to expand our network.”
Get this into your MailChimp automated email strategy too.
Idea Five – Be The Problem Solver
Your customers all have problems. Do you know what they struggle with constantly and how that matches up with what you can do?
Consultative selling isn’t firing off one crazy idea after another or pushing a “sale” that might not be a good fit for their purpose. It’s taking your experience and resources and putting together an idea that will solve a particular problem. Can you make things easier for them? Do you have the answers?
In the book, Miller explains that if you understand your customer’s problems and set yourself up as a guide, it’s easier to show them what success and peril may look like if they don’t go with your plan.
The first question is simple, “How likely are you to recommend us to a colleague or friend?”, and for this question is a scale from 0 – 10. Zero equals not likely, and ten equals very likely. The fancy term from this survey is called a Net Promoter Score, or NPS. This is a standard benchmark used to gauge how likely someone will refer your company to someone else.
It is basically their overall feelings regarding your brand. The other questions are used to gather important feedback. Make sure you don’t ask too many questions, as the longer the poll the fewer the responses you will get.
Be sure to thank your participants of the survey, regardless of how they answer. I added contact information but didn’t make it mandatory.
Gather this information and then use that data to create new strategies as outlined above.
You can do it!
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.” – Sam Walton
“The first step in exceeding your customer’s expectations is to know those expectations.” – Roy H. Williams
“The buyer, the prospect, the customer expects you to have knowledge of their stuff, not just your stuff.” – Jeffery Gitomer
Got a minute to take another survey?
One of the things that I’m never tired of hearing is how people got started in this industry. It comes up a lot.
But, nobody is writing this stuff down. Until now.
I want to record how people got into this crazy business. Here is your opportunity to tell your story on how your shop got started, who influenced you, and what you would like other’s to know about you.
Make your mark on history! Tell your story, and share your journey.
I’d like to collect about 100-200 shop stories to put them in a free downloadable eBook. I’ve already collected a bunch, but I need yours to complete my project.
It is official. Shirt Lab St. Louis was an amazing success.
One of the most interesting takeaways from Shirt Lab St. Louis was the fact that I was awestruck by the tremendous amount of expert knowledge not only in the room but being delivered by the instructors. As one of the founders of Shirt Lab, I had the presentations from the instructors well before the event.
I knew what was coming.
But I wasn’t prepared for the brain melt that transpired as I listened to the interactions between the Shirt Lab attendees, instructors, and sponsors in the room.
As each segment was delivered, the knowledge bombs stacked up.
Never before has the phrase, “You must be present to win” has been more truthful.
Even the instructors, experts in their fields all, paid rapt attention and asking fantastic follow-up questions.
It was just that kind of day.
But, let’s back up a little bit.
First, Shirt Lab St. Louis was in St. Louis
Have you been to the “Show Me State”? It was a lot of fun and really easy for our attendees to get too. Nice airport or an easy drive.
Plus there is the BBQ. On Thursday we stopped in at Pappy’s Smokehouse. Tom can tear up some ribs.
Huge Shirt Lab Shout Out to Sponsors
Tom and I can’t do it all. Believe it or not, we need help.
This comes in the form of our incredibly generous sponsors. Please drop what you are doing right now and throw them some business.
They can’t sell equipment, shirts or ink at Shirt Lab. They back us because it makes the industry better.
We’re not a trade show. Tom and I just want to make the industry better and build a tribe of like-minded people who share that same dream.
Here’s the video link from that visit from Lawson’s recording.
Shirt Lab attendees Bobby Harris with K&B Promotions (2nd Shirt Lab), Megan Urban with IdntiTeez (2nd Shirt Lab) and Darryl Garcia with Color Tech (1st Shirt Lab) all Ubered over with us to Lawson for a fun tour. Huge shout out to Taylor Landesmann for his hospitality and financial support for Shirt Lab.
Shirt Lab Friday Night Networking
For our Friday Night networking event, InkSoft helped us build a perfect event. First, we had it at the Budweiser Tap Room in Ballpark Village. We had our own section and using Shirt Lab / InkSoft pint glasses, everyone helped themselves to our own selection of about ten beers. You just pulled your own beer.
As usual, our networking event is the Rock Paper Scissors championship and Danielle Tynes from Kick Print was the Shirt Lab St. Louis champion!
Here’s a fun shot of Danielle being presented the trophy by Scooter Cardoza from Trinity Graphics, who was the Shirt Lab Columbus winner.
Big shout out to Kevin Loose (Shirt Lab Columbus) and Custom Craft Trophy for supplying the hardware.
Shirt Lab – Personal Branding & Networking
Shirt Lab co-founder Tom Rauen kicked the day off with his personal method of inventing the “interesting character” in his hometown of Dubuque Iowa.
Why was this important?
For starters, when Tom walks into a room just about everyone already knows who he is and what he does. He’s worked very hard at creating this persona to his advantage.
Which is why he’s been featured in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, on television news channels, and all of the other local media.
Journalists call him for his opinion.
But it wasn’t always that way.
He’s always at work creating new and interesting ways of getting his brand out there. From setting the Guinness Book of World Records for wearing the most t-shirts at one time (247), to being the national polar vortex correspondent for international media by freezing a wet t-shirt on the doorstep of his shop.
He even got coverage when the Catholic church was convening to name the new pope, which coincided with the month of March, by creating the “Pope Bracket”, which was a March Madness type bracket of all of the cardinals that were slated to be picked.
It’s always something different, and Tom walked everyone through his journey for building his brand.
Shirt Lab – Facebook Ads Simplified
Next up was Matt Plapp. Matt travels the country training companies on how to use Facebook to gain more customers by using primarily one tool, Facebook Messenger.
Matt has an interesting take on “normal” marketing and that is the proposition that nobody is consuming your content as they did before, or at the levels that you expect.
Think about it.
Let’s say you have a mailing list of 2,000 customers. If you are pushing out some interesting content, you might have an open rate of about 20-30%, and a click-through rate of 10-20% of that.
That’s 400-600 people opening that email, about 40 – 120 people reading it.
Out of 2,000 people on that list.
Matt walked everyone through a different journey using Facebook Messenger and creating automated bots. These would be set up on your brand page, not your personal page.
He likes Facebook Messenger because it is a more human way of engaging your audience. He uses segmented and highly targeted posts that will generate open and engagement rates that are 80-90%, instead of 10-20%.
That’s because they are taken down a path that filters out the message and who gets it.
It’s not one-size fits all.
Matt carefully explained how he builds this out, and he answered dozens of questions from the Shirt Lab crowd.
Shirt Lab – Starting a Subscription Service
I polled a number of the attendees before the event, and this segment taught by Justin Lawrence of the Oklahoma Shirt Company was one of the main reasons many of the attendees came to the event.
Justin wove his journey into the industry and told the tale of how he started the Oklahoma Shirt Company subscription t-shirt idea.
It was funny, inspiring, and loaded with “How-To” and “You Better Not” tips.
Justin shared his failures too.
It was awesome.
In fact, one of the things I like the most about Justin’s presentation was constant words of caution. He wanted to be clear about expectations and the amount of hard work it takes to build that service.
A lot of his success with running a subscription service comes from being organized and working backward from when he wants his customers to get the new t-shirt for the month in their hands. His shop has everything mapped out and they use a calendar for planning each step along the way.
Justin is a printer’s printer. He was open. Honest. He shared his mistakes so that audience members could start their subscription service and (hopefully) not make them.
It’s going to be fun tracking how many shops that attended Shirt Lab St. Louis launch their t-shirt subscription idea in the next few weeks.
Shirt Lab Shout Out – PixelsHive
All that learning produced the need to fill up our bellies. PixelsHive provided catering to our crowd for lunch. It was fantastic!
Lunch break was an hour and afforded many conversations about what was taught during the morning sessions, as well as follow up questions with the Shirt Lab workshop instructors.
Personally, I chose to eat with Brian Bufka with 1st Place Printing, as we’re Facebook friends and in a lot of the same industry groups. It was wonderful to get to know him better and hear his story about his shop.
Time spent working on connections like these is what makes Shirt Lab tick.
Shirt Lab – Profit First
You can literally say that Mark Coudray “blew the doors off” with his presentation. How can I make that statement?
Look at this.
During his talk, someone was quietly sneaking out to use the restroom and this massive solid metal door fell off the hinges to a thunderous crash. Nobody was hurt, but it was a dramatic moment for sure.
Profit First is a best-selling business guidebook by Michael Michalowicz. Mark is not only a Profit First Professional, but he has an advanced Profit First certification so he has access to higher level information and resources.
Mark walked everyone through what it means to take a shop through the Profit First journey. It’s one thing to read the book (or listen to an audio version), it’s another to hear a member of our community describe how it works for our industry. Specifically.
Except for the crashing doors, the sounds of pens scribbling in their Shirt Lab journals, the audience was quiet. This was the good stuff.
Even one of the speakers, Matt Plapp, came up to the front row to absorb this information.
It was that good.
Shirt Lab – Branding Your Shop with Video
Every Shirt Lab has Ryan Moor doing something with video, but his presentations for each one are uniquely different.
For Shirt Lab St. Louis, Ryan walked everyone through the process of building a video to brand and highlight your shop. He used a few specific examples of already published videos and then dissected each one.
What worked well?
Could there be any improvements?
What should they change?
From the thumbnail chosen to how the videos could be improved for SEO value, Ryan delivered the goods on the foundational basis for constructing branded videos that work for your shop.
He even walked Shirt Lab attendee Jim Barboza with Gateway Shirts Marketing Group through the finer points of outlining steps to make his videos better.
It was inspirational.
Ryan even made me want to do more with video, as that is something I’ve been wanting to do for some time now.
Shirt Lab – Automated Marketing
We pegged Lori Feldman, who is the self-titled “Database Diva” to help us with this segment of Shirt Lab. She was fantastic.
Lori delivered her presentation in a no-nonsense, but warm and soothing style.
She spoke eloquently on what she calls her “Treasure Triangle” for automated marketing. This consists of three areas.
“Sell Stuff Now!” through the use of an email or newsletter.
“Drive Traffic” using targeted landing pages.
And “Automated Marketing”, which uses trigger-based functionality to push potential customers toward action. As the workshop discussion was about automated marketing, you can probably guess which of the three works best.
Text vs HTML
She then expounded on how to create automated marketing emails that work and demonstrated why text-only emails get a significantly higher rate of return and engagement.
Lori then dove into illustrating a step-by-step blueprint for two automated marketing campaigns. One was a for a 30-Day Onboarding New Customer Campaign, and the other was a Quote/Proposal Follow Up Campaign. Lori says that 100% of your database should be on some sort of automated drip campaign 100% of the time.
You just have to build that.
She closed with sharing her 11-word top performing email of all time. I’ll bet you wish you knew what that phrase might be…
Shirt Lab Q&A Roundtable
At Shirt Lab Columbus we asked the attendees on our feedback form how we could make Shirt Lab even better. The most popular response was more interaction with the instructors with a Q&A session.
Have you heard that axiom before? I’ve spent a lot of time with shop owners over the years, and one thing I’ve learned is that some are super cheap when it comes to outfitting their shop, but others always seem to buy the right tools for the job.
Oh sure, you’ll hear the often used phrase, “But we don’t have the money for that.”
Instead, you see these same folks struggling.
That Costs Money
“Who needs a Pantone mixing station? That costs money. We can eyeball that mix and come close.”
So instead of having anybody in the company use a system and mix a perfect Pantone match in about four minutes, they will gladly have Fred (the one with the good color eyeball) spend an hour and Frankenstein some color together for the job. Reorder next year and need to mix some more of that same color? Good luck.
“Use the right polyester white for the job? That costs money. Let’s just hit it three or four times. That will prevent dye migration.”
Uh, no. That just makes the print thicker. I never understood the mentality of printing multiple print-passes instead of using the industry-standard formulated ink, printed correctly.
Cheap China Version
Nothing against that massively huge country, but not all products made there are the same as the industrial grade items that most everyone uses.
Sure you can save some cash by using that weird China-made flash unit or press. Maybe even those “recycled” t-shirts that come individually polybagged, and are delivered in the always crushed 1 mil thick cardboard box. But you know in your gut that these are going to be a problem even before you click the button to order them.
“We’ll just give these a try.”
Feeling brave? Post your horror story in the comment section below. I’ll understand if you don’t.
There is something to be said about being reliable and safe.
Buy Nice or Buy Twice – Frustration with Consumables
Does your emulsion remover reclaim the screen without ghosting or excessive scrubbing?
When you try to use tape in your shop, does it easily peel off of the roll and stay in one piece? Does it leave a residue on the screen?
Can you use ink right out of the bucket or do you need to doctor it up to be able to print with it?
My favorite story about this was with an accountant in a shop. It was insisted to use a particular shrink wrap for skids because it was the cheapest they made. But in order to adequately secure the boxes to the skid, the load had to be basically mummified with three layers of wrap. Instead, we sourced a new shrink wrap that was stretchy and stronger. Sure it cost a little more, but you only had to go around the skid once.
This was a 2/3 reduction in the amount of shrink wrap used, not to mention having the shipping clerk less dizzy from wrapping the skid.
Look Beyond Cost
Let’s say you want to get your webpage redesigned and you need to outsource that task. There are two companies to evaluate.
One has decades of experience and has built hundreds for small businesses just like yours. They have a proven track record, and you even know the people they feature in their testimonials.
The other is over 50% cheaper, doesn’t quite have the experience and wants to “give it a shot”.
While plenty of people might go with the more experienced developer, you know there is a crazy huge amount of folks in this industry that would always choose the cheaper route. You’ve seen their websites too, I’ll bet.
Saving cash on things that you don’t use all that often is one thing. But for “it-must-work-perfectly-or-we-are-doomed” things for your business, it might not be the best option. Your website. The machines you use to decorate the garments. Items that are constantly in use.
These are the items that you need to buy the best that you can afford.
Buy Nice or Buy Twice – Intangibles
Sometimes you have to look deeper before you make a buying decision. These ideas won’t be written on the box, or maybe even on a website.
Does the company have a good reputation in the industry? Ask on a Facebook or Industry forum to get a good reaction. In about thirteen seconds after you post, you’ll know.
What about a warranty? Do they back up their products or service?
Do they have a helpline, technical assistance, or customer service staff that is easy to access? Try calling before you buy.
How well stocked are they with replacement parts? Easy to order? On a website that you can look up yourself?
Do they have a pre-order checklist on things you might need? This is especially helpful with equipment purchases for electricity, floor space, and other things.
Sometimes there is nothing wrong with buying used. Can you find what you need, but at a discounted price? Has it been refurbished?
If you are buying equipment for a new decoration method you don’t currently offer, do you have a sales plan on filling orders to pay for the machine?
Can you get some training to use the product, machine, or software? Does it come free with purchase?
There Is A Reason It Is Cheaper
Name anything. There is a cheaper version. Baked inside is a host of problems.
Shortcuts on the design, materials, or ingredients. No warranty. Zero training or support. Inconsistent manufacturing.
That’s often why the item is cheaper. So before you buy, ask yourself this, “What is this thing missing?”
Quality costs money.
Think car parts. Toilet paper. Hotel rooms. Hamburgers. Car tires. Even cheese.
The good things cost a little more. That’s why I believe things should be evaluated on performance.
Can you name a few examples in your head of something you bought for your shop, and in a short period of time you had to replace it?
(Did someone say pressure washer?)
Buy nice or buy twice.
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” – Simon Sinek
“Buy the ticket, take the ride.” – Hunter S. Thompson
“You can’t buy a good reputation; you must earn it.” – Harvey Mackay
Buy This Ticket
Do you sell Athletic apparel?
Are you hitting constant home runs with your sales and marketing efforts? Want to learn from the best industry pros and develop a new strategy that actually works?
Then Shirt Lab Washington DC is for you.
May 18, 2019
Not only is it built for Athletic and Team Sales and Marketing, but we’re actually having it in the Reagan Room of the Washington Nationals stadium. Plus, every attendee after the event on Saturday will get to stay and hang out with us as we watch the Washington Nationals play the Chicago Cubs.
This Shirt Lab is all about sports.
Whether you are catering to team sports like soccer or little league, cross fit gyms, or 5k race, as you know, this is a niche all it’s own.
That’s why we are bringing the heat for this special event that is built to make you better.
Here’s the topic line up:
Hit a home run with Athletic Sales
Seasonal Action Planning for Sports
Team Webstores for Sports Sales
Crushing Your Sales Team Goals
Increasing Your Revenue with Sales Team Bundling
Educating Customers with Video
Plus an “All-Star” Roundtable!
This event is about you winning. Let us help you develop the tools and strategy you need.