Where Do Printers Add Value?

We know the world, we know print, we know marketing.

The Buggy Whip Syndrome
If only buggy whip manufacturers had realized they were in the personal transportation business, perhaps they would have pivoted to invent the gas pedal. Instead, they ran out of horses to whip. Similarly, printers, ran out of customers who needed a printed page when a website or e-blast would have sufficed. Printed pages have not gone away. Neither have horses, but there are a lot fewer being used as they were in the past.

Print is not ordered, it is sold

And why should anyone buy from you? Because you add value… right? But do you? Candidly speaking, most printers stick to what they know, which is putting ink on paper. Differentiating your business from your competition becomes impossible without added services. Does your customer use other providers? What services are they buying? The likely list includes:

  • Creative and graphic design
  • Marketing programs
  • Digital ad development
  • Branded websites
  • Data management

Each of these extend the value you can add.

Any of them deepen customer relationships.

All of them are high margin.

And if managed properly, very profitable.

Form follows function and information rules the roost

The purpose of a printed page is to carry information. If an email, tweet, website or digital ad does it better, faster and/or cheaper than print, then offer that. Manage the information provided, then channel it to the best form to deliver it. That is what printers did when paper was the best choice and it is what you should continue to do. Offering all the other options available is a value to the customer and just plain good business.

The future is defined by the present, not the past

Certainly, print has enjoyed a robust and prominent past, but those days are gone. Business must adapt to survive. There is no valid reasoning in hoping that what was is what is going to be. Innovative solutions, services, products—these are what will move a business forward.

Innovation does not guarantee success. Yet it fuels differentiation. Although there is no net under the high wire, the nature of focused change and implementation offers you the opportunity to become an innovator in your market.

Businesses that incorporate new services are perceived as forward thinking. Small and medium-size print providers need to implement this vision to help them better connect with the customer. The types of services mentioned in this article create partnerships that are nearly impossible to disrupt. When you move beyond commodity services, you control the gas pedal and drive the success of all involved.

Diversify Your Client Base

The risks of a client base that is too narrow, driven by too few of your clients, are issues of concern. We have all worked someplace where 2 or 3 clients rule the roost. All production scheduling, capital equipment selection and staffing center around their needs. In my experience, it was the movie studios. If a movie flopped, it was as if they had caught a cold and we got pneumonia. It is great to have major clients, but the risk of losing them after gearing your operation to their needs can put a business in a world of hurt.

Because nothing stays the same, a balanced client base is best. Things can change without warning. A key salesperson will leave and take a client with them. A company goes out of business or moves to another region.

Risk of narrow client base in a single market

Unless you have significant trade relationships, over-specializing can be dangerous. This results in a client base that provides too narrow a range of work. If something disrupts that work such as an innovation in software, then there are no other revenue streams to bolster the gross income.

Production geared to too few clients

In an honest effort to better serve clients who make up a high percentage of your revenue, decisions on capital equipment purchases are often influenced by one client’s specific needs. Choosing equipment that is efficient for a specific type of work may boost profits for a given client but can be ill-suited to deliver efficiencies to other clients’ work.

Dependency on small segment of active client base

With a large client base, a business is still exposed to risk when attention is focused on the biggest spenders. Smaller clients find It difficult to get the attention they need and sending their business to you can make them feel less important. This cycle also impacts the sales force. It then becomes harder to bring in new clients because there are not enough additional resources to properly serve them. Providing a range of services and using diverse sales channels are the best ways to broaden your client base.

Make sure you have a broad base of clients, large and small. Seasonal clients that create spikes of work need to be balanced by other revenue streams. E-commerce that uses a web-to-print solution is one way to balance the seasonal valleys between spikes. Designing workflows that are flexible enough to accommodate different kinds of products broadens your appeal to more markets. Finally, augmenting your in-house sales staff with broker relationships can help achieve this balance.

These strategies help ensure you will not suffer too much when a major client flies the coop.

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