It is the end of the year and time for predictions. I’m keeping them simple this year. There really isn’t anything new when it comes to technology for the printing industry. The challenge is for printers to use what is already out there and what they already have.
Prediction 1: There will be fewer printers in 2010. The recession played a part in some printers’ demise, but most failures can be attributed to cash problems and poor management tied to technology decisions. The failing printers either increased debt by buying technology and failing to market its advantages or they ignored the new technology and couldn’t compete. Either way, the printers who did survive are a bit savvier than the ones who didn’t. The real key to success in 2010 will be getting in front of a customer to show how the technology works and asking for the order.
Prediction 2: Automation is the next big thing. The big printers and online printing services have had automation for a while, but now it is affordable even for the smallest print shop. Some printers are already taking automation baby steps in prepress. It is letting them cut prepress production time and, in some cases, allows orders to bypass prepress completely. Printers who have digital printers and presses and newer platesetters are the first to benefit.
Prediction 3: Printers without fully functional websites will be less likely to make it to 2011. Customers are becoming more sophisticated when surfing the Web and will ignore a website that looks like it was done by a local high school student. A website has to make it easier for customers to buy printing. If it is just a page with a phone number and a list of services, customers will fly by it looking for “real” printers.
With the end of the year comes the holidays, so I would like to offer some “gifts” that can help a printer use computers and technology to make more money. These are tips I’ve found successful printers using in the past year to find customers, increase efficiency, and make money.
Tip 1. Use Google to find more customers. Go to www.maps.google.com and enter your address. Then use “Search Nearby” to seek out businesses that need printing. Type in “associations” and see how many are close to you. How about marketing companies? Training companies? Any type of business that might buy printing? You’ll get a list of businesses and can easily get contact information. There isn’t any excuse for a printer so say, “I don’t know who to call on.”
Google also gives businesses a free listing on Google Maps to make it easy for customers to find you. Any business can use the “Local Business Center” to create a free listing. When potential customers search Maps for local information, they’ll find your company’s address, hours of operation, even photos of your storefront or products. It’s easy, free, and you don’t need a website of your own. Go to www.maps.google.com to sign up. And don’t forget to check the reviews for your business on Google. You might be surprised what customers are saying about you online.
Tip 2. Buy the book “The PDF Print Production Guide” by Julie Shaffer and Joseph Marin. If you need a crash course in using PDF files in a printing environment, then you must have this book in your reference library. The book offers step-by-step instructions for fixing almost any PDF problem using a variety of PDF plug-ins. It will give your prepress staff the answers to their most common PDF problems. It is available on the Printing Industries of America website (www.printing.org) and at Amazon.com.
Tip 3. Join the Adobe Print Service Providers Program. Not only does it give commercial printers unbelievable discounts on Adobe software, it provides access to training material and support not available to the average user. You can sign up by visiting the “Communities” area of Adobe’s website.
Tip 4. Upgrade to Adobe Creative Suite 4 and Acrobat 9. Some printers haven’t made the move to the newest version of Creative Suite, but they should. It provides a number of advantages over earlier versions and especially for Acrobat 9. The program is ready for prime time and the third party plug-ins work. It may mean getting a new computer, especially for Mac users, but the productivity increase will pay off quickly.
Tip 5. Take advantage of free YouTube.com training. Everyone is always asking where the best place for training would be. It is as close as your Web browser. Visit www.youtube.com and search for your favorite software. I just searched using the word “InDesign” and found more than 2,300 results. If your prepress staff wants to “see” how something is done in a program, someone has probably made a video and put it on YouTube.
Tip 6. Find a PDF expert. The PDF format is so important that you need to have someone who is an expert. This means you either have to train your current staff or hire someone with experience. If you want to make it easier for customers to order printing and to automate your workflow, you must have a champion on staff to lead you. Your PDF expert will write the scripts and action lists and create the hot folders to automate order entry. He will quickly fix common problems and make your output devices run more efficiently. Because so many larger printers have closed their doors, it is easier to find someone with PDF experience. Just advertise on a free online service such as Craigslist.com and you’ll get a ton of applications.
Tip 7. Use hot folders. Automation is already in many print shops and they just don’t realize they have it. A number of the RIPs that come with digital printers and presses have hot folder capabilities to automate pagination and other common tasks. The hot folders require a PDF workflow. Your PDF expert on staff should easily set up the hot folders to eliminate busy work and produce jobs faster. Many of the platesetters also come with workflow programs that support hot folders and automation. If you are still pushing native applications through the newer output devices, you probably aren’t using 25% of the system’s power.
Tip 8. Buy, learn, and use Enfocus Pitstop, callas PDF Toolbox, and other Acrobat plug-ins. Acrobat is the basis of a PDF workflow, but other tools from companies such as Enfocus and callas make it a prepress person’s dream. You don’t have to fight with common PDF problems because the plug-ins add functionality to solve almost any prepress problem and they do it automatically. The plug-ins require an investment, but they quickly pay for themselves in time savings. You’ll need the plug-ins when you start automating your prepress workflow.
Tip 9. Use automatic online backups. Don’t let a computer disaster destroy your business. With everything that you have stored on your computers, you need the additional insurance of online storage services. For only a few dollars a month you can back up your computers to a safe offsite source. Check out online tools such as Carbonite.com and jungledisk.com.
Tip 10. Back up your operating systems, applications, downloaded updates, and your RIP settings. You don’t just lose your files when computers crash. You lose your operating system, applications, and settings. Make sure you have those backed up, or at least print out screen shots of the different screens so you can easily reset the old settings in things like your RIP. You also want to make sure that when you download an update you save it as well as install it. Then you will want to save the install file and back it up so you can quickly rebuild an application if a crash happens.
Tip 11. Start a blog. Today’s printer wants to look technically savvy and get his message out to his customers and prospects. Google.com makes it easy to set up a blog. All you have to do is go to https://www.blogger.com/start and sign up for a Google account if you don’t already have one. In only a few minutes, Blogger.com will walk you through the process and you are ready to begin. It is a very simple process.
The hardest part for most printers will be deciding what to write about. Since it is a blog for your business you will want to keep it business oriented. You should stay away from politics, religion, and any other topics that might draw fire. Focus your blog musings on printing subjects. With all the information on the Web, it is easy to find topics on printing. A helpful hint: Use your blog to link customers to other sources of information. You don’t have to write all the info, just point them in the right direction.
Promote your blog. Make sure you include your blog address on the home page of your website. You will also want to promote your website on your blog. Be sure to include your blog address on your email and any other material that goes to customers. You should post to your blog at least once a week. This will keep information fresh and give visitors a reason to come back. Make sure you also promote your blog on any social media you are using such as Linkedin.com and Twitter.com.
Tip 12. Get more out of your website. Is your website working for you? There are a variety of online tools that help you measure your site’s effectiveness. Worried about the look of your site? Check out Hubspot.com and download their redesign kit. It offers ideas on how to improve a website and construct the site with marketing in mind. You can download the information at http://www.hubspot.com/website-redesign-kit/.
If you are using your website as a marketing tool, you can have it “graded” by Website Grader (www.websitegrader.com). This is a useful tool for measuring the marketing effectiveness of your website. You can get a free custom report in seconds with advice for your website
John Giles is the author of “12 Secrets for Digital Success” and “The DTP PriceList.” He is Technology Director and a consultant for CPrint International. He can be reached at 954/224-1942 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find John on Twitter (Search for JohnG247) and LinkedIn. You can also visit his website at www.johngiles.com and link to his blog. This article is available as a podcast at www.quickprinting.com/podcast and from iTunes.