Winning Strategies: Secrets of the Best Printers

As we are getting close to the end of the year, it is fitting to ask why some printing businesses have survived and others have gone by the wayside; why some printing businesses have done well during this downturn and others have struggled.

Some of the differences are in how a printing business is structured: how it operates, what it produces. In other cases, it is how the print shop owner chooses to lead and manage. This assessment compares “the best” versus “the rest.”

The best have strong business models. These printing companies have clients, not customers. The best have ongoing revenue streams and strong relationships with clients. The relationship could be with the brand name, the products and services, or the people who work in the business. The rest have “hope is our business model,” restated as “we hope customers do business with us.”

The best create and work from a written plan. The plan is long-term, strategic in nature, and includes an annual plan that clearly states objectives and the actions required to execute. The rest have a poorly conceived plan somewhere in the print owner’s head. This plan is impacted by emotion, relationships, ability to communicate, level of trust, delegation and follow-up skills, and reliance on the owner’s memory.

The best delegate appropriate responsibility to their people. This does not include giving away the keys to the kingdom (i.e.: the company checkbook). It does mean that all the print shop employees are trusted and empowered to get things done to the satisfaction of the client within established guidelines. The rest suffer from ongoing underperformance because people lack the authority, responsibility, and tools for getting things done.

The best evaluate their people continuously. Performance reviews in the best companies are scheduled and held. The people in these organizations know what is expected of them and they are motivated to perform. When goals are achieved, rewards are given to reinforce performance. The rest don’t believe in performance evaluations because they take too much time, aren’t done well, and don’t work.

The best believe in “sharpening the saw.” From the print shop owner on down, people are learning all the time. Continuing education is considered a sustainable competitive advantage. At the rest, learning is optional, as in “almost everyone opts out.” The print owner learns in the school of hard knocks and the rest of the employees suffer as a result. They are taught only what they need to know.

The best don’t make or accept excuses. When something goes wrong, the best take responsibility, learn from what happened, and move forward. The rest spend most of the time being caught up in the blame game—pointing fingers, which results in punishment, but not always of those responsible.

The best focus on results. At the end of the day, the best understand that intention, action, and activity do not equal results. Trying doesn’t count either. The better printers focus on results. The rest spend their time focused on everything that keeps people from achieving results.

The best hire the best. Those companies that want to be the best pay more and reward more for higher performance. The rest hire those who aren’t hired by the best.

The best have clear priorities. Every day at the best printing companies, people focus on the vital few things that matter. These organizations understand the key performance indicators and keep a sharp eye on those measurements. For the rest, most of each day is filled with working on many trivial matters, and nothing much gets measured. The clock is watched all day long.

The best always try to find a better way. The best printing companies are never satisfied with how things are because they understand that to improve means they can continue to distinguish themselves for their clients and from their competition. The rest are satisfied with what they have—good enough is good enough. The rest don’t understand that fair, and good are the enemies of great.

The best weed out poor and underperforming people at every level. The best printing companies know that allowing people who aren’t working to a high standard lowers the standards for every employee. High-performing employees will soon resent the presence of those who are not keeping up and results will suffer as a result. The rest tolerate underperformers and poor performers.

Is your company one of the best, or are you one of the rest?


Mitch Evans is president of Mitch Evans Consulting, which is targeted to meet the needs of the small commercial printing industry. His areas of expertise are strategic planning, valuation, mergers and acquisitions, financial planning, new technology, and “1-2-1” coaching. Evans regularly speaks to printing associations and groups on these subjects. Contact him at 561-351-6950 or