Winning Strategies: Sometimes it Gets Pretty Lonely Out There

In today's tough economic times, it will certainly not be business as usual. Most printers are struggling to grow and many are seeing sales fall. While it's easy to blame the economy, the reasons go beyond just the current recession. The other reasons include:

  • The increased use of the Internet as a communication vehicle continues to decrease demand for printing.
  • Many of our customers are doing more work in-house. They can design documents more easily now, plus the cost of inkjet printers continues to plummet.
  • Increased competition from low cost Internet printers, which still continue to grow at double digits.
  • Prices seem to continue to decline as competitors quote jobs very low just to keep their presses or copiers running.

As a business owner faced with tough times, it gets pretty lonely at the top. We sometimes run out of good ideas to move our businesses forward. No one around us wants to talk about our business issues. So what can you do?

One solution is to join a peer group. As a member of two different print peer groups and a CEO peer group when I owned my printing company, I can personally vouch for the value of sharing with others who face the same issues that I faced. Today, I co-facilitate three peer groups, and I continue to see the value it provides to those print owners and print managers. All of our current members have the same challenges that you encounter. In 2008, almost 80% of those printers had sales increases over 2007. Why?

Having a Written Business Plan

The number one reason for their success is that they all had a business plan that was created and reviewed by their fellow members. In January, the members meet face-to-face and present their plans to the group. Adjustments are made based on the feedback. Each month the members report their progress. Each quarter the results are measured against the business plan.


Each member commits himself or herself to their business plan, which includes their goals, strategies, and specific action plans. Since these are in writing, with specific dates, it is easy to track progress each month. Peer group members become your "board of directors."

Someone to Talk With Who Truly Understands

Not only can the members talk to each other, but peer group facilitators are trained executive coaches and previous print business owners who have been in their place. A few members have experienced some tough times and they need someone who they can talk to in confidence who knows their business and who can give them counsel. Peer groups usually discuss specific member issues and offer advice to each other.

Sharing of Ideas

Since members are usually not competitors or even in the same geographic areas, members openly share their best marketing, sales, management, and production ideas. Each of the members puts the other members on their marketing and email lists. We all have great ideas, but multiply your ideas by the number of members in your group and you will have more ideas to use than you probably have time to implement. One of Dale Carnegie's principles of success was to start or join a "mastermind" group.

Key Performance Indicators

Members report key performance indicators (business metrics) each month. Key indicators allow a print owner or manager to see problems before they become big problems. Key indicators should be your scorecard for your business and should be created to cover all aspects of your business—financial, production, sales, employees, customers, and vendors. Certain metrics are used to compare your business to others in the peer group and also with the general printing industry.


Members are usually from all over the country (and, in some cases, the world). Even though they are in the same basic business, we all do things differently. We have different equipment, diverse customer bases, different product and service offerings, different business philosophies, etc. Look for diversity in a peer group. The only commonality to look for within the group is business size. Peer groups function best when all of the members have similar sized businesses.

Soar with the Eagles

I joined my first peer group so I could rub shoulders with other printers I admired. I had a lot of respect for their business acumen and what they had already accomplished. While I had experienced a good degree of success, I knew that I did not have all of the answers. I found that I was very good at taking other's ideas and making them work for my business. I also liked being associated with others who shared my desire to grow and learn.


Most peer groups have educational sessions that are either run by the members or by outside resources the members select and bring in to speak to the group. I have always believed in the philosophy that you need to "learn to earn." If you are the "know it all" type, don't join a peer group, as the other members will quickly catch on and ask you to leave.


Members connect with each other on more levels than just business. You will find that the members of your peer group will become life-long friends. You will get to know them beyond their business lives. You will look forward to seeing them and talking to them at the meetings.

While joining a peer group has always been a good idea, today it may be even more important, as business conditions are tough and our industry is becoming more and more mature. Opportunities are still out there, and sometimes it takes others to show your where those opportunities can be found.

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


We all have great ideas, but multiply your ideas by the number of members in your group and you will have more ideas to use than you probably have time to implement.