Owner to Owner: 2009, Tracking the Year of Potential, Part 2

Note: Highlight Printing owner Lisa Bickford set a goal to build her company’s sales by 35% this year. In this series of articles, which will run every other month and conclude in January 2010, she will share her strategies, setbacks, and successes. You can find Part 1 of the series at : www.quickprinting.com/print/Quick-Printing/Owner-to-Owner--Tracking-the-Year-of-Potential-Part-1/1$9903

A few months ago when I met Karen Hall, QP’s managing editor, the most popular question to kick-off a conversation was a guarded and worried, “So, how’s business?” My optimism and energy filled answer was so completely against grain that she asked me if I would be willing to share our efforts and progress through 2009. Long story short…here I am: An amateur writer and professional printer, writing an honest account of our sales and marketing journey in our quest for 35% growth in 2009.

First of all, yes, I sort of wish I wouldn’t have put our goal of 35% growth out for the whole world to see. Are we on track for that? Umm, no. Remember, we picked our 35% goal before we knew what a crummy year it was going to be. That being said, you’re supposed to shoot high. Right?

For us, it was a great goal because it has kept the energy going. I shudder to think where we’d be if we had decided to just try to sell the same amount we did last year—yikes! I joke that our goal is simple: World Domination in printing. What that means to us it to keep pushing, keep marketing, keep selling, keep the attitude. I promised an honest account of our progress, so read on.

When I last left you, we were working the marketing thing as hard as we possibly could, with most of the energy spent on trying to lay the foundation for an online presence. Luckily, months before this economic meltdown got really intense, we had decided to invest more time, energy, and money into sales and marketing (having grown primarily by word-of-mouth during our first 12 years in business). After all these years, we had finally added a salesperson too, and he was taking over most of the direct sales efforts.

Here’s how the second quarter sales and marketing efforts are going so far. At the closing of the last article, it was our goal to keep the energy up and better manage the time and effort put toward our online marketing and networking efforts so we have more time to integrate the traditional sales and marketing efforts back into our plan more fully. It has sort of worked out that way, but not as much as we would have liked.

  • Traditional networking and direct sales efforts: Between my salesperson and I, we belong to about six networking or business groups that require various levels of participation and investment. While I have never been much of a networker before, I am starting to like it. My salesperson is still in charge of most of the direct sales efforts.
  • Online marketing and networking: We are starting to get a little traction from our online networking and marketing efforts, but as I said before, online marketing absolutely positively is not the be all/end all, effortless, inexpensive path to sales success that current wisdom sometimes portrays it to be. It is a boatload of work. I find blogging to be the biggest time sucker. And as such, even though I enjoy it, it seems to get pushed to the bottom of the to do pile.
  • Our trump card: My husband Don (also an owner at Highlight Printing) is the captain of “Full Frontal BBQ,” a championship level BBQ competition team. As a way to thank our clients, vendors, and work friends, five years ago we started hosting twice yearly BBQs at Highlight Printing. Don cooks everything and people just love it (including the staff).
  • Direct Mail: We’ve done some and plan on doing much more.
  • Community Service: Our biggest community service project will be done within the next couple of months. I shouldn’t really even mention this as a part of our sales and marketing efforts because it doesn’t get us any media attention (which is okay—we do it because we want to, not for the hype), but it was on the list in the last article so I didn’t want to skip it.
  • Passive Marketing: We did some more “branding” within our building—painting to coordinate with our logo and hanging some samples and testimonials, but not much else. We’ve been discussing more signage.
  • PR: Workin’ on it.
  • Trade Shows: We’ve had a table with our info at a couple events. In fact, I have one today.
  • Advertising: And by this I mean radio, television, billboards, newspaper, etc. At this point, all we’ve done are the free ads that come with the various memberships we have.

Thoughts and Questions
I still think faster progress would be made by just doing sales the old fashioned way. But as a foundation, at the very least, a company should have a decent website. I think I went a little overboard on the online foundation building, but here I am, so I am going to keep going.

I have been in printing for 25 years—13 of them as an owner of Highlight—and I have never worked for a company, nor have I ever heard about a printing company that has done as much in the way of marketing as we are. This begs the questions, have other printers already figured out that it doesn’t work for printing companies, or has printing been such a cushy business that marketing wasn’t necessary? I think none of us would refer to printing as a cushy business, but how is it that we have gotten away—mostly—without this component of business operations?

Okay, so here’s the meat of it: How is it affecting sales? All evidence points to a pretty good payoff. At our present level, I think it would be reasonable to expect a smidge of growth this year. At the very least, if we project the first five months of sales out for the rest of the year, we will end up at roughly the same level as last year.

Let me explain. Even though year-over-year sales are down, the best five months of last year were the first five months of last year. So yes, sales are down so far this year, but if we can just hold steady (maybe dip a bit this summer, but have an up-tick this fall—a fairly standard sales pattern, in my experience), we will end up almost exactly the same as last year.

I checked in with about 100 long term clients recently, in part to confirm we were still in good standing with them. We are. Combine that with the new clients we are getting, the economy recovering, and a pendulum swinging back to print for marketing folks, and I think we’ve got a recipe for a strong fourth quarter and beyond.

The marketing efforts for the next two months will include everything listed plus looking into a few strategic partnerships, more community service projects, increasing our capabilities (so a couple of equipment purchases), and tweaking our website.

I look forward to reconnecting with you all in September!

One additional thought: There is not enough being done to promote the benefits of print. As printers, we need a super strong, “Got Print?” program in every piece of marketing communication we do—similar to the “Got Milk?” program. (Okay, so we probably are not allowed to use exactly that campaign, but you get the idea.) If you agree, and are looking for a resource for this info, visit The Print Council (http://theprintcouncil.org) and check out some of the work they are doing to promote our industry.


Lisa Bickford is owner of Highlight Printing in Minneapolis, MN. Contact her at 612/522-7600 or lisab@highlightprinting.com. Visit Highlight Printing online and read Lisa’s blog at www.highlightprinting.com. Follow her on Twitter as Printing_Mojo or join her on LinkedIn.