My observation suggests that most printing company owners don’t spend enough time planning. They spend even less time writing plans that can help their businesses. Many print owners don’t have the time, don’t want to spend the time, or have some aversion to writing things down. Yet, by taking the time to plan and by having a written plan, success is more likely to take place than by relying totally on memory.
A plan in a busy person’s head is going to be difficult to recall when that same person forgets to return promised phone calls. Writing down the plan removes that issue forever.
Most large companies take the top-down approach to planning. They start with a strategic, long-term plan and then move to more specific tactical plans. Established businesses with solid models and a secure place in the market have that luxury.
Smaller businesses should do the opposite: Start planning tactically and build to a strategic plan. If time allows only one plan to be developed, it should be a written marketing plan. I would not have said this a few years ago, but most printers suffer from a lack of sales growth.
The marketing plan does not need to be elaborate, and it does not need to be very long. It simply needs to define the sustainable competitive advantage that your printing company has, compared to the competition. Do not use words like quality, price, or value. Quality is a given and no one wants to be the low price leader. The marketing plan must also define exactly and precisely who your niche market is and how the niche market is to be reached.
Without taking the time to think these foundational issues through, your printing company will struggle, and any success will be based on blind luck. Blind luck, like hope, is not a winning strategy—it is a whining strategy.
Many printing companies arrive at a sustainable competitive advantage from within. This reliance on what the target market thinks is important is wonderful within the four walls of headquarters, but may quickly fall apart in the mind and eyes of the target market.
Sales Prospecting Plan
The second most important plan you should have is a written sales prospecting plan. If there is one thing that can quickly turn around the fortunes of your printing business, it is the creation and implementation of a prospecting plan.
Often, salespeople are supposed to bring in their own leads. It becomes a question related to the “best use of time versus money.” If a salesperson is responsible for creating his or her own leads, is that the best use of their time? It is a very rare salesperson who excels in prospecting. If the person is not skillful, resolute, focused, and driven, they will fail in their prospecting efforts. Most salespeople are lousy at prospecting. Salespeople are usually good at something else in the sales cycle: presentations, overcoming objections, building relations, closing, and account management for add-on sales.
A prospecting plan lays out the most effective and efficient ways to reach specific potential buyers on behalf of the seller. This kind of plan focuses the efforts of the salespeople and prevents anyone in the company from believing that “we sell to everyone,” because that is no longer true.
The third plan that most companies fail to create is a comprehensive plan to stay in touch with prospects and current clients. Some printing companies do this well. Most don’t do it at all. Some ruin it for others by constantly bombarding clients and prospects, which turns all buyers off.
While email is the least costly, other means of staying in touch can be useful, including direct mail, telephone calls, trade shows, webinars, and face-to-face meetings. The client or prospect should determine how they wish to be communicated with, and plans should be made to stay in touch based on their needs, wants, and desires.
The fourth plan is a public relations plan to gain and maintain visibility in the niche market sandbox the company is selling in. While the media may have gone electronic and may be more diffused these days because of a multi-segmented marketplace, it is still essential to have some level of visibility.
The fifth plan is a strategic long-term plan, running over two to three years. This comprehensive type of plan all too often is unrealistic, overly optimistic, and filled with dreams that rarely come true. But that same kind of dreaming keeps people motivated and moving forward to a better future. That is why a strategic plan matters.
Developing these five plans and putting them on paper is nothing less than an insurance policy for business success. The return on investment is well worth the time to think through the critical areas to build your printing business.
If you don’t have the time or motivation to put these plans in place, then hire someone to guide you through the process or join a peer group that will hold you accountable for putting a plan in place and then working the plan.
Mitch Evans is president of Mitch Evans Consulting, which is specifically targeted to meet the consulting needs of the quick and small commercial printing industry. His areas of expertise are in strategic planning, valuation, mergers and acquisition, financial planning, new technology, and “1-2-1” coaching. Evans regularly speaks to printing associations and groups on these and related subjects. Contact him at 561/351-6950 or firstname.lastname@example.org.