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How can you win more customers for your printing business

Written by Colin Gillman on Monday, 06 March 2017.

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Photo381657 resizedAnybody who has run a printing business for any time will at some stage ask themselves the question “How do I get more customers?” The trouble with this is it’s a perennial question that has no right or wrong answer. You could always start by learning to think differently and to learn to change or adapt the way you approach the problem. 

You might start by looking to your existing customers for example, because if you can sell them additional printed products and services you probably wouldn’t be asking the question in the first place. Your existing customers are the fastest, and least costly, way for you to pick up new business. It’s also a positive step in the right direction, and is also the first step on the journey toward thinking about how you can offer new products and services to an existing client base. 

This also comes down to how well do you know your customers? Do you speak with them much? Do you ask many questions of them about their business? Do they have a customer facing newsletter or any other means where they might better communicate with their end customers? You might even ask them outright if they too want to win more customers for their business. However, the list of possible questions is pretty much limitless, but it goes without saying that if you ask keep asking enough questions of your existing customers you will undoubtedly begin to uncover more opportunities where you can eventually provide a solution, even if you can’t straight away.

Once you start the process of thinking differently you will begin to see more clearly the direction you wish to go. Some printing companies do this by investing in new types of production equipment and then offering these new services to their customers. The problem with this approach is it’s a little like putting the cart before the horse. It is also why I think the initial approach to cross-media solutions was such a balls up, because nobody really understood it in the first place. 

We had a dedicated cross-media trade show and a magazine to go with it, but the problem with the show was nobody quite understood how any of these new fangled cross-media ‘solutions’ could work for them, and all the the magazine did was repeat much of the jargon that nobody understood in the first place. So cross-media was largely overlooked by the majority of PSPs in the printing industry, so much so that in the UK there are probably less than 100 companies offering a full cross-media selling solution. Less than 100? Doesn’t that sound like an opportunity to you? Well it certainly does to me!

So we realise there is no single right answer to the question of how to win more customers for your printing business, but for anyone looking to start having this conversation, I strongly recommend a visit to Sign & Digital UK where I will be hosting a talk session in the Business Theatre at 11.00am on day one - Tuesday 28th March - called ‘More money, more customers, more focus’ where print service providers from across all sectors of our industry can begin the process of learning to think differently about the question of winning new customers and generating more revenue. 

It all starts with the question. Once you start asking the right questions, you'll be able to find what you're looking for a lot sooner than you might think. 

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The future’s so bright for IHTBB (I’ve gotta wear shades)

Written by Colin Gillman on Thursday, 26 January 2017.

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IMG 0238 resizedI first met Simon Tabelin, managing director of strategic marketing and creative agency It Has To Be Brilliant (IHTBB), a long time ago when he was running Brilliant Media, an award winning print media services company in London. He is a top bloke, very clued-up and a lot of fun to be around. I’ve lost track of the number of times we have bumped into each other at various industry events, chatting over a drink, with me always offering to pop-in and take a look at the business. This is usually countered by something along the lines of how I’d probably be disappointed because there really wasn’t all that much to look at, so nothing ever happened. That is until this week when I was invited to meet Simon Tabelin and the IHTBB team at its North London HQ where, in the nicest possible way, they managed to completely do my head-in. Here’s why.

About three or four years ago Tabelin realised that times were changing. Social media outreach for brands was already happening, but now new technologies such as RFID and Near Field Communications and mobile apps had arrived, and all of which became the enabler for brands to reach out and touch consumers in more memorable, engaging, and highly personable ways - and that’s when and why Tabelin decided to change tack. 

Recognising that change was the constant factor, and that if you always do what you always do; you’ll always get what you have always got etc. He reached out to creative design, marketing and branding guru Tony Kenton to join him as Strategic and Marketing director and re-branded the company as It Has To Be Brilliant (IHTBB), a strategic, creative marketing agency that focuses on the clients objectives rather than its own. 

Focuses on the clients objectives rather than its own? I didn’t understand at first. Tabelin pointed out that print was now one of the last things the company talked about when discussing its clients needs. Today, IHTBB is focussed on talking to clients about increasing sales, creative marketing concepts, data management, lead generation, graphic design, and exhibition management. The printed aspect is just a given. If it’s required; it can be supplied. It has taken Tabelin three years to undertake a complete metamorphosis from print service provider to a fully blown, full service creative marketing agency that will convey compelling messages for clients across the complete range of media from social media, to video, mobile, print, digital and managed data.

Tabelin and Kenton are zealous about meeting the client’s overall objectives and are not content to sit back and play their part in a marketing campaign as just the printer. The way it works, they enthused, is if a fishmonger wants to sell more fish, IHTBB will help it sell more fish. If a baker needs to sell more bread, IHTBB will sell bread. If a car dealership wants to increase its weekly test drive quota, well, you guessed it, IHTBB will provide a solution to the problem. 

Everywhere you look there are people working in teams on behalf of the clients. There’s a team for marketing services, a team for graphic design, a team for production, fitting, exhibition services - all coming together in a melting pot to combine creative, social, digital and mobile media where the focus is on the client achieving its goal, and not just on the delivery method. They call it Objective Marketing. 

What took my breath away was a huge wall map of Europe covered in highlighted locations of all the towns and cities where IHTBB is distributing its services for retail clients. Each dot on the map indicated a retail outlet where the firm is sending POS, promotional items and display print to a team of local installers who are connected to the company’s bespoke management software via a mobile app. The app becomes a digital job ticket, and when the installation is completed, all the fitter has to do is photograph the job in situ and upload a picture to complete the process. 

The actual print production is controlled centrally through what IHTBB calls its Network of Successful Friends. This is a posh way of saying that it farms out a lot of the production, but the clue is in the name. It does give the impression that nobody is going to want to bite the hand that feeds it. There is also a lot of in-house production too, but for such a solutions-led business there will always be plenty to go round for others to produce, particularly where promotional items are concerned. Better to give the business to a specialist ‘friend’ to produce rather than do it in-house and incur the costs of production. It makes total sense. 

Both Tabelin and Kenton are bullish about not worrying about competition from other printing companies, which is why they are happy to openly discuss their unique approach to business. The pair are unanimous in their opinion that it would take a huge leap of faith for any printer to even consider undertaking such a metamorphosis, let alone the cost, and besides, wouldn’t these companies prefer instead to join their ever increasing circle of Successful Friends? 

Simon Tabelin is a very clever man indeed, and IHTBB has a vey bright future ahead.

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Your company has a thief; how do you handle it?

Written by Colin Gillman on Wednesday, 07 December 2016.

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Photo on 07 12 2016 at 15.09 resizedA recently published report - The Annual Fraud Indicator 2016 - says the cost of fraud in the UK is now estimated to be as high as £193bn per year, with the private sector coming under the biggest attack from fraudsters, with both SMEs and large enterprises losing an estimated total of £144bn a year. 

The report states that by far the biggest source of fraud for these businesses relates to procurement – an enormous £127bn. Procurement fraud includes crimes such as the submission of false invoices or the awarding of contracts in exchange for bribes. The report highlights that procurement is so vulnerable because of the sheer size of expenditure which it accounts for, as well as the high volume, low value nature of transactions and the breadth of fraudulent activity it is susceptible to.

According to corporate fraud investigator Paul Wiseman, employee theft and fraud are the most serious threats to the success of businesses. “You won’t know it yet, but one of your employees is probably stealing from you,” he says. 

Wiseman, whose corporate investigations company specialises in investigating fraud in companies, usually by employees, works predominantly for small and medium sized enterprises. “Losses by businesses are estimated as ranging from 1% to 6% of turnover,” he says.

But why would anybody in your firm want to do that to you? You run a sound profitable business and pay your staff well. Well, according to Wiseman, this chap, although he doesn’t show it, thinks you’re a bit of an idiot. “In his eyes you are too demanding and you don’t treat him with the respect he deserves,” he says. “He thinks he’s underpaid and overworked and that you drive around in a better car than he does, you live in a bigger house in a better part of town. You also disappear, sometimes for days on end, while he grafts away making you more money, without any thought that he also has a family to support and expenses to pay. Yes, he thinks he has every right to steal from you, he deserves the extra. And after all, you have so much money, you probably won’t even notice if he takes just a little bit of it.”

What can you do about it? As a business owner what can you do to reduce losses incurred by dishonest employees? “Pre-employment background checks are a good way to start,” says Wiseman. “This will confirm the information given to you via references and may potentially highlight a potentially rogue employee right at the beginning.”

Have more than one person ‘doing the books’. “This will reduce the likelihood of that “indispensable treasure” controlling the finances,” he says. “Put in password protected controls so that staff only have access to documents and data that is necessary to do their job. You should also set up a regular series of spot checks – random checks on inventory, payroll, petty cash etc. Finally, you should think about outsourcing certain financial functions such as payroll for example.”

All of the above are simple measures that are easy and inexpensive to implement. More than anything they could go a long way toward saving your business should you find yourself on the wrong end of a fraudulent employee who is abusing your trust and syphoning-off funds without your knowledge, but what do you do if you discover that somebody in your organisation is a thief; how do you handle it? What do you do? Call the police? Call the thief into the office and dismiss them? Call your solicitor? Call your accountant?

“You could do all of those things and then still get it horribly wrong,” says Wiseman. “For example, the police may only prosecute for a fraction of the loss, or you could end up being taken to an Employment Tribunal by the thief. Furthermore, your solicitor may not be experienced in employment law, criminal law or the recovering of money.”

If you discover that you are a victim of fraud by one of your employees, you are not alone. Wiseman says that in most cases when a fraud is discovered, you have a pretty good idea of the identity of the thief. “This is a very dangerous time for you, and you need to use your head and dust off your plan,” he says. Plan? Who actually makes a plan for such a thing? If the sums involved are not particularly high most firms will usually just dismiss the employee and move on, but what if the sums involved are potentially ruinous for the business? In this instance Wiseman says this is when you really do need to call in an expert in fraud investigation who will work with you to do the following: 

  • Find out how much money is involved and how it was taken.
  • Find out if anyone else is involved; don’t forget it could be someone from outside of your company.
  • Begin the disciplinary process; remember you don’t want end up in an Employment Tribunal, so do this under ACAS guidelines.
  • Gather evidence to criminal and civil court standards.
  • Perform an asset assessment on the thief – how much is he worth?
  • Contact the police. 

“When I go and see the police I take all my evidence with me; that means Section 9 Witness Statements and Exhibits, all in a format that they use. You have immediately saved the police a lot of work, and it goes a long way to getting them “on side”,” states Wiseman. “Remember, the average policeman does not want to investigate commercial crime, he has very little training in fraud, and he is outside his ‘comfort zone’. A lot of companies choose not to prosecute for various reasons, but you should still gather evidence to a criminal standard, just in case you change your mind.”

Wiseman says if you do change your mind and want to prosecute, this is where your lawyer comes into play; because now you are going to begin the process of getting your money back including costs. “That’s why one of the first things we did was to undertake an asset assessment of the thief,” he says.

There are a few approaches you can take to try and recover your losses. If the police are involved, you can use the Proceeds of Crime Act 1988 and amended 2002. The CPS Barrister will apply to the Court for a Restraint Order on the thief’s assets; followed by a Confiscation Order after conviction. 

“This only happens if the amount stolen is over £5,000,” Wiseman says.  “Unfortunately it is not uncommon for the CPS to accept a lesser amount to gain an admission, and so save the cost of a trial. So much for looking after the victim.”

The other way is to simply sue the thief in the Civil Court. If you’re worried about this from a costs point of view; remember ‘the plan’ you made at he start because you now know what the thief’s assets are. 

Wiseman says if the thief is convicted in a criminal court, this effectively takes away any defence they may have in a civil court. “If the thief has not been convicted in a criminal court, this should not deter you from taking action because the level of proof needed is much lower, and if the investigation is done properly and compliantly it should not present a problem,” he says.

There is also a third way which should always be considered where the thief may wish to avoid costs being awarded against them in a civil court and be willing to negotiate a return of the money he stole, plus the costs incurred managing the issue.

And there you have it. It all sounds a bit far fetched, but this is a major problem for the private sector and it is really is going on right now; right under our noses - every day. 

I will leave you with the thoughts of the American economist Alan Greenspan who famously said: 

“Corruption, embezzlement, fraud, these are all characteristics which exist everywhere. It is regrettably the way human nature functions, whether we like it or not. What successful economies do is keep it to a minimum. No one has ever eliminated any of that stuff.”

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And the wiener is…

Written by Colin Gillman on Tuesday, 15 November 2016.

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ed world nov 16 bsga awards resizedIndustry awards can sometimes be a bit of a cynical experience. The majority of these events are run by trade press publishers looking to extract a few extra pennies from the market, with winners tending to be representative of the individual category award sponsors own customer base. From experience the majority of awards events that I have attended seemed to be nothing more than a good excuse for a pissed-up food fight and an all-round back-slapping session in the bar afterwards, and there is nothing wrong with that if this is your thing, but it’s not for me. 

So when I was invited to attend the recent 2016 BSGA British Sign Awards in Nottingham I was a somewhat concerned that this event might turn out to be like any other, but I needn’t have worried because it wasn’t - at all. In fact it was bloody good and I was really glad I made the effort to attend because the BSGA Awards - now in its third year - sets out its stall by recognising and celebrating the outstanding skills and creativity of our UK sign businesses. What was also refreshing was the awards are ‘open-to-all’ and as such membership of the BSGA is not an entry requirement. If you produce good work and you think you would like a little recognition for it - send in an application. It’s that easy.

Awards are presented in a total of 15 sign categories the winners of each category are also put forward to be judged for the overall ‘Sign of the Year’ award. According to the BSGA, winning an award can have a dramatic effect on a business both externally, for both current and prospective customers, as well as internally as a major boost to staff morale - and I couldn’t agree more. 

The best thing about winning something is telling everybody about it. Some companies go as far as adding the award to their headed stationery (a good idea) and some even send out press releases to the ‘other’ trade press that didn’t present their award (a bad idea because nobody else will touch it), but you have to admire their enthusiasm. However, with the BSGA Awards, everybody is interested because the BSGA is not a trade press publisher, and it is not an exhibition organiser, nor is it likely to be because if it was it would lose the very thing that makes it special - its independence. 

The BSGA is run by a Council of elected members, of all whom serve in a voluntary capacity, with the various activities of the Association organised by Committees, each Chaired by a Member of Council and each includes members and advisers co-opted for their specialist knowledge. Put simply, the BSGA is run by a body of people with nothing but the best interests of the industry, and those working in the industry, at its heart. The day-to-day business activities of the association are managed by a full time Director and associated staff, and without whom the whole thing wouldn’t function.  

Membership of the Association includes every type and size of sign business, from craftsman sign writers, through businesses that manufacture architectural and illuminated signs, to those that specialise the production of vinyl signage, vehicle liveries and digitally produced signs.

The BSGA also represents a number of additional sign related business sectors including sign installers, designers and specialist consultants as well as businesses that manufacture and/or distribute materials, equipment and services used by sign makers.

So industry associations are important. Many join and never call upon them for help, but a good association is there for both the good times and for whatever reason when the shit is hitting the fan and you have nobody else to turn to. Membership can also provide help and advice with all aspects of business law, along with a unique insurance scheme designed to meet the needs of sign makers, access to Government funding, as well as a range of supplier discounts for members. 

What I would really like to see in the near future is the BSGA Awards to be tied-in with an evening event held during the Sign & Digital UK show. I think both parties would benefit from the publicity surrounding such an occasion and, in my opinion, this would lead to a broadening of the award categories as well as boosting ticket sales for those companies wanting to get behind the event and support it by booking a table with which to entertain key customers during the trade show. 

The real winner here would be the industry at large. Read more about the winners here.

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Why settle for latex?

Written by Colin Gillman on Tuesday, 18 October 2016.

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eds world oct2016The topic of latex inkjet printing can be a funny old thing at times. There are many who love their latex printers but there are also those who don’t. Let’s face it, most people who have invested in a latex printer probably made the decision to do so based on environmental concerns (my customers will love me more for having a latex printer over a solvent printer etc.) and they fell for much of the hype that HP fed the market. 

For example, in addition to an outstanding global PR and marketing campaign, HP published white papers, printed literature, developed micro websites, and maximised every facet of social media to promote the environmentally related benefits of latex printers. 

But are they really all that environmentally friendly? It’s a tough one to call in my opinion, but with HP latex printers still requiring phased electricity to power the heater and the fans to dry the prints, a machine of this type is already burning way too much energy for anyone to be really all that environmentally conscious in the first place. 

The thing was, users never noticed anything untoward at first. After all, you do your homework, research a printer, make the investment, instal it in a corner and get the fastest ROI you can possibly achieve. You’re not thinking about anything else until the electricity bill comes in and you can’t figure out how come your energy bills have shot up so much, so this is something that tends to creep up on users after they have been running latex for a while. 

The other excellent job HP did was the way it promoted its water-based latex inks. Not only do the inks provide you with an improved printing environment without the smell of solvent, but they have been certificated by just about every environmental agency around the world. So water-based latex inks are better right? Err no, not really. They are not better; they are simply water-based. With a water-based system you are never going to achieve the sort of colour gamut and density that a solvent-based inkjet printer can achieve. This is where the saying that solvent based printers are considered to be more for the pros comes about because the graphic arts professionals are going to be more discerning about print quality, density, and vibrancy.

Solvent printing does do quite a few things that really work well for very high end print jobs, so they have their place. This type of printer is going to find itself installed at a graphic arts company that does work for advertising, or window displays for high-end retail brands where the print standards are top notch and price isn't usually a consideration. Many latex users tend to be smaller shops where quality is not considered to be as paramount. 

In my own experience I have found the camp in favour of latex to be often divided and have met a lot of graphics printers over the years who had bought a latex printer only to regret their decision. They found that after running it for a while and trying to produce the same type of work on the printer that they were used to running on a solvent machine, they couldn’t. Like the majority of printers when they bought the printer they didn’t give much of a thought about environmental issues at all; they were too busy thinking about how much more business they could pick up because they could play the eco card with their customers - and we all know that ploy hardly works anymore these days. 

Nobody likes to ever admit to buying a turkey either, especially when it’s not at Christmas, and as such I tend to think that today there is an undercurrent of graphic arts users who are now beginning to think about stepping away from latex printing to return to the folds of solvent printing once more. And what with the way that eco-solvent inks have taken off recently, there are plenty of good reasons to do so. 

This is why I think Roland DGA in America has decided that it is high time it slipped off the gloves and has started to give latex printing a bit of a bashing. The company has set up a portion of its American website under the heading Never settle for latex where it calls-out latex printing for being too expensive, piss weak and with a colour gamut that is as flat as a witches tit; or words to that effect. And why not? I think many solvent printer manufacturers were initially scared of being seen to be anti-latex, principally because they were afraid that customers might perceive them to be un-environmentally friendly by their speaking out.

I think Roland DGA has had a whiff of the first wind of change and is acting accordingly to attract users who are either fed-up with latex or are thinking of buying into it. Either way it’s a very plucky move and I hope that more graphic arts printers take the time to consider the wider implications of running water-based latex technology before making any investment in their first wide format printer.

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