Page 2 of 24

Rocky the Squirrel: Garment Decorator

rocky-the-squirrel

Here’s lies poor Rocky.  

Once upon a time he ran a Garment (Fur) Decoration Shop (Tree) for all the other animals in his area.  

He used to have a good business and made a lot of acorns over the years.  Rocky wasn’t comfortable with change, as he always liked to do things “his way”.

Recently there has been a good bit of financial pressure in his Tree.  Rocky has been losing acorns steadily over the last year or so.  His wife Matilda has been in his ear about trying something new to grow the business.  

She fancied a bigger nest in that Oak Tree across the pond.  The one with golden leaves in the fall.  You know the one.

Rocky’s biggest challenge is that gaze of Raccoons that work in the forest across from the farmer’s field.  They built up a huge fur decorating enterprise seemingly overnight and have been steadily eating into Rocky’s territory.  One client after another, they all seem to be heading away from Rocky.

“They don’t even do a good job!”, Rocky used to say jealously.  “I’ve seen their work.  Sloppy.  In fact, I heard the Raccoons aren’t even doing the printing!  They are contracting the orders out to those Badgers by the river.  They run everything out of their basement Log.  They just ship the goods in Raccoon branded  boxes!”

But look at poor Rocky now.  He’s a mess.  Business indecision led to his heartbreaking demise.

Here’s his sad tale:

The other side of the asphalt was calling.  

For years he had heard tales of the siren song of what was over there.  New ideas.  New ways of doing things.  New equipment.  New everything.

When he finally had enough of Matilda’s nagging he left to venture over to the promised land.  He was reluctant to go, as he’s always been more comfortable in his own Tree.  

He never completed the trek.  The crime-scene photo above captured his result.

Alert and eyes wide, he thought he was making a safe bet by darting over the pavement.  It looked clear.  Quick, zig-zaggy steps.  Just like usual.  Despite being an older squirrel, Rocky hadn’t lost much in his speed.  Yet, he made a dangerous decision.  

He stopped mid-step and questioned his direction.

“What exactly is on the other side anyway?”  Mumbling, he pivoted to his left, “Maybe I’m better off on familiar ground!  I’d better go backkkkkk.”

That’s when it hit him.  

The truck bumper of change.  Driven by one of those scrawny, devious Raccoons.

Rocky didn’t stand much of a chance.  He was too slow to try something new and got a face full of chrome instead.  Jelly-legged in fear, he was flattened by his biggest rival.  

Tragic.

If only he had stayed the course and just embraced the thought of learning something different.  Even at this late stage in the game, he still could come out ok.  

He’d be eating a big slice of fresh homemade pecan pie that Matilda baked earlier that day.  Coffee cup in one hand, tiny fork in another.  He’d be squeakily describing the enthusiastic magic and epiphany of the “new”.

So if Rocky had made it across, what would he have discovered?  

The Scurry Shares Secrets

Rocky wasn’t one to socialize or ever, ever admit that he didn’t know something.  Squirrels get more prideful the longer they do something the same way.  

It’s true.  

Experienced in traditional fur decoration methods, he always struggled with learning anything different.  He just didn’t see the value.

New inks or threads, techniques, and even suppliers didn’t matter to him.  “Go with what you know” was always safe.  

Rocky always played it safe.

Across the road was a land full of fresh ideas.  All the other fur decorator animals were constantly inventing better ways to do the same old thing.  A lot of them were tremendously successful.

Sure, the old ways still worked.  That’s what made Rocky always so secure in that “his way” was the right way.  

But on the other side of the road the new approaches made the other Trees more competitive and relevant.  This drove the growth that Rocky was missing.  And more acorns.

Heck, some of these animals even benefited from new Eagle programs.   By adopting new sustainability strategies or worker-animal training initiatives, your Tree could get free acorns.  Just for adopting a different way of working.

You just needed to know how fill out that paperwork.  Even in the animal kingdom there was bureaucracy.

Every animal was fighting the same fight against those damn Raccoons.  Because these smarter squirrels banded together, they learned how to operate their businesses better.  

What equipment made production faster or easier. How to decorate new types of fur.  Even different pricing strategies.  

Soon, their acorn piles were the highest they’ve ever been!  As a result, they all had the best trees in the woods.  All sturdy oaks.  You should see their nests.  Some were on multiple branches.

Their trick to fuel the growth was simple.  Inject fresh thinking into their tired old game.  

But How?

They gathered at different watering holes sporadically during the year.  These were nicknamed “Trade Shows”.  There they could visit with each other.  Compare notes. Even test out and view new products for decorating fur.  

There were even classes dedicated to teaching the deepest held secrets!  (All taught by the best Owls)

All you had to do is show up.  Amble around.  Touch stuff.  Listen.

It was the listening part that Rocky found troubling.  Even away from a trade show floor.

Rocky always hated talking to salesanimals.  “What a waste of time”, he would always say.  “They just want to sell me something.”  

The Scurry knew better though.  

They always actively listened to the salesanimals when they trotted over to their Tree. Spending time with them allowed them to learn new tricks.  Plus they always had great samples.  

Who doesn’t love that?

The “Vine of Continuous Improvement” never grew around Rocky’s tree, because he never knew to plant the seed.  The best seeds, and the easiest to grow, all came from these salesanimals.  

But Rocky wouldn’t pay attention.  

“I’ve been decorating fur for years!”, he would squeak when anyone mentioned talking to a salesanimal.  “Geez, what do they know?  If they knew what they were doing, they would still be in the fur game themselves!”

Prideful, Rocky never noticed the other squirrels in his own Tree.  They just shook their heads and scrambled away.  

Rocky never could quite hear what they were chattering about.

Time to Improve the Tree

One of Rocky’s largest challenges was time.  He never had any.  “I’ll get around to that later.”, was a phrase Rocky said at least once a day.

In his Tree, Rocky was famous for starting a project and then bounding off to do something else.  Leaving the first idea half completed and the area a mess.  Scattered around his tree there were at least six improvement attempts.  Zero finished.

The irony of course is that Rocky employed many Squirrels and at least nine temporary Chipmunks.  He never let any of his subordinate staff handle anything though.  

Matilda would always ask why, and he would always say “They won’t do it the same way I would”.

Charles the Marmot even had a degree in Branch Management from Acorn State University.  But Rocky couldn’t see past his whiskers to put that to good use.  Charles had studied across the road.   He had even been to a few gatherings at the “Trade Show” watering hole when he worked for a Tree in the next valley over.

Charles had suggested upgrading their fur decorator to a newer model.  There had been some mechanical and technology advances in the last few seasons.  The newer models outperformed the older ones.  This potentially would make a tremendous impact on the Tree’s production schedule.   Less downtime meant more production completed per day.

Rocky wouldn’t hear of it.  “Our Tree paid this equipment off years ago!”, he stammered red-faced.  

Charles even showed him a comparison spreadsheet. New equipment versus the older version.  It graphed what it cost them in acorns in overtime to keep up the same pace if they kept using the older equipment.  The new equipment would be paid off in almost a year and half at the same rate.  

It was easy math, even for a Rodent.  

That’s how Charles the Chipmunk wound up working for the Raccoons.  Rocky fired him for bringing in new ideas.  And for not agreeing with him, of course.

Charles brought all the new ideas to the Raccoons, which they hungrily ate up with scavenger-like relish.

The truck that killed Rocky was packed solid with orders going to Rocky’s old customers.  It even held six boxes of goods for the fat old Beaver for their annual dam building event.  Rocky had been printing that job for a decade at least.  Not anymore.

Rocky never knew what hit him.  Literally.

Ask the Owl

The one thing that always terrified Rocky was that across the road lived all the Owls.  Owls are scary.

Because to Rocky, they were always asking questions.  Rocky hated questions.

“Who”, said the owl, “are your customers and where do they live?”  Rocky hated that one.  Of course his customers live in his woods!  They are his friends and neighbors!  

“Then why are the Raccoons stealing your business?”  

All Rocky could think about was that they were just sneaky.  “C’mon, they wear bandit masks everyday!”  

But what Rocky couldn’t face was that the Owl always had good answers to go with the questions they proposed.  The Owl knew that Rocky’s biggest problems could be broken down into a few different buckets.  

What the Owl wanted to suggest to Rocky more than anything was to write a business plan and focus on resolving his future-oriented challenges.  

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” was the old Owl saying.  

  • Hiring New Squirrels – Where to find them, how to train them, what to pay them, how to motivate them.  Plus, are temporary Chipmunks a good idea?
  • Making More Acorns – At the end of the day, how many acorns did you make on that job?  Can you do it better?  What does each task cost?
  • Scaling the Business – Strategic planning for growth.  Matilda wanted a new nest, remember?  The owls would have asked, “What is the purpose of your business?” or “Who is your ideal customer?”
  • Managing Acorn Flow – Acorn problems are always at the top of any list.  Acorns in.  Acorns out.  What’s left over?  Winter is coming.
  • New Ways to Decorate Fur – Especially the newer material made from synthetic polyester-fur.  Rocky’s always came out wrong.  He constantly blamed his suppliers.  The Owls knew better.
  • Technical Processes – How to do things better, faster and more efficiently.  The Owls knew that no matter how good you think you are, there is always room for improvement.
  • Speed as an Advantage – The Owls know that when everyone else takes 7-10 days to ship, and you can do it in 3-5 you will win.  The trick of course is how.
  • Finding New Customers.  Competing with today’s marketing craziness.  How to sell on value, not price.  Play up Rocky’s strengths and creativeness.  Create Trust.

But Rocky never did talk to any Owl with real fervor.  Lip service at best.

He just couldn’t admit that he needed help or even that there might be a better way to run his Tree.  What was even more ironic is that the Owl would have come to Rocky.  He didn’t even need to cross the road.  Owls know how to fly.

Don’t Be Like Rocky!

Sure, you know what you are doing.  Without your skill, hard work and determination your Tree wouldn’t be successful.  

It’s a fact.

Despite all that, there are plenty of reasons to cross the road and search out better answers.  Plant the seed for the Vine of Continuous Improvement today!  Get the help you need:

.

Click Here to find out how to let me help your Tree.

.

Watering Holes – (Trade Shows)

ISS Shows – Long Beach, Atlantic City, Nashville, Orlando, Fort Worth

NBM Shows – Ft. Lauderdale, Arlington, Indianapolis, Long Beach, Secaucus, Denver, Charlotte

Embroidery Mart – Nashville, Columbus

DAX Show – Kansas City, Treasure Island MN, Tinley Park IL

SGIA

PPAI – Las Vegas, Atlantic City

Advantages Roadshow

MAGIC – Las Vegas

FESPA 

Parliament of Owls (Associations or Thought Leader Groups)

National Network of Embroidery Professionals

Embroidery Trade Association

ASI

PPAI

PromoKitchen

2 Regular Guys Podcast

SGIA

SGP

The Shirt Board

Owls – (Experts)

Charlie Taublieb – printer training

Lon Winters – printer training

Bill Hood – printer training

Erich Campbell – embroidery wizard

Mitch Different – color separation guide

Scott Fresener – printer training

Heat Press Info – Sawgrass 

The Ink Kitchen 

Read Stuff from Owls – (Industry Publications)

Impressions

Printwear

Images

Wearables

Screen-Printing Magazine

.

“Live as if you were going to die tomorrow.  Learn as if you are going to live forever.” – Mahatma Gandhi

“A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a foolish man can learn from a wise answer.” – Bruce Lee

“You don’t learn to walk by following rules.  You learn by doing, and by falling over.” – Richard Branson

 

Leaves on the Ground: Social Media Marketing

leaves-on-the-ground-social-media

I was out running through the neighborhood the other day at my usual old guy pace, (i.e. SLOW) when it occurred to me that the leaves from the trees that were scattered on the ground are just like companies’ Social Media Marketing effort.

Your customer’s social media feed is so saturated with posts, that unless your share is so unique it just blends in with all the other leaves on the ground.

It’s a congested pile and it all looks the same.  Everyone is in such an overcommitted rush these days, it takes an awful lot for someone to stop what they are doing and pick up your “leaf” and check it out.

So, what is going to make it stand out?  

The golden rule for this is to know what type of posts your customers enjoy already. The top types are blogs, videos, ebooks, pictures or infographics & podcasts.  Do you create any of those?

If you want to get more attention from your current or even your future customers, here are some ideas that you might find useful:

Mobile First

Your content needs to be created so it works on a cell phone as the primary method of interaction.  This, of course, means your website.  Your ordering platform.  Your blog.  Everything.  

I’d don’t know about you, but most of the stuff I read is on my phone or shared with me in a hyperlink in a text from one of my pals.  Sure, I’ll bet there is some cantankerous old dude out there that still uses a flip phone that can’t access anything, but as time marches on your customer base is steadily skewing younger and more tech friendly.  I know people who have phones that are about as big as a skateboard just so they can watch videos and read articles.

Mobile ready goes for suppliers in our industry too.  Want to win more customers?  Make it easier to order from the shop floor or customer’s office by streamlining the process.  

The reason Uber blasted off so well with consumers is they took the pain away of not only hailing a cab, but paying for it too.  People can instantly see when someone can pick them up and how much it’s going to cost to get to where they need to go.  When you get there, all you do is get out of the car.  The payment portion is already handled, as the user set that up when they created their account.

In our industry are we building that simplicity?  What if you could order 12 more black medium hoodies or another gallon of metallic gold ink that way?   Click.  Link.  Boom.

Imagine how much frustration you could save if you happened to have a press down due to a mechanical problem and there was an instant solution.  You could snap a picture of the part needed with your cell phone, and an app could recognize what it was and show you the pertinent information.  Hit a button and it’s on the way.  

For your customer base, what if you built that same sort of problem or challenge solving tool?  Do you think you’d snag a good bit of market share?  What would it take to do that?

Now think about the social media content that you are pushing out to your audience.  Is it geared to be seen on someone’s phone?  Is it actionable?    

If not, maybe your lack of response make it just look like all of those other leaves on the ground.  Just a lot of clutter.

Can They Tell It’s From You?

In other words, how is your branding?  Stylistically, do all of your posts across your content have that same look and feel?  Don’t forget there are many types of screen sizes and resolutions.  Have you checked to see how they might appear?

Time invested creating a style guide isn’t a waste I promise you.  It is the professional way to create authenticity.  This obviously may mean using your logo, but it could also mean just how you compose your image, colors you use, filters or textures.  Be sure to include what not to do too.

When you think about how Nike or Columbia or Patagonia or SanMar or Cutter and Buck or Gildan or Bella + Canvas or Alternative Apparel or PolyOne, or Ryonet any other company that boasts robust imagery, use of text and good marketing…what can you learn?  

Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel.  Pay attention.  You are surrounded by stellar examples of marketing every day.  Check out their social media feeds.  Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.  Now look back at how you do things.  Are you posting clear and concise messaging that shows off your creative chops?

Your brand is the shape, color and texture of the leaf.  Can anyone tell yours from the rest of the pile?  If you removed your logo, would anyone guess it was from you?

“Hey, check this out!”

Another great marketing idea that you should try to grab is what’s called “Influencer Marketing”.  This is basically the idea of celebrities endorsing products.  But who has a gazillion dollars to get a movie star or sports hero to talk about your shop?  Not many companies.  

So what do you have that you can use as an opportunity?

Your own customers.  Nothing says “these guys are awesome” than your customers posting or sharing your work.   A 2015 Nielsen study showed that 82% of consumers rely on people they know above all else.

Smiling, happy customers always resonate.  Got some of those?  Hopefully so.

People naturally will flock to companies that other people have used before.  That’s the influence that you want to show.  

Trust.  

So what do you specialize in?  Schools?  Rock bands?  Corporate apparel?  Resorts?  Bars and restaurants?  Sports?  Beer-guzzling biker dudes?  

Whatever it is, imagine the power you’ll show when your customers are bragging about their order they just picked up!  How much influence do you think a video describing your great customer service during the ordering process or how you turned their scribble on a napkin (show it) into this fantastic t-shirt art (show it), would have?

Any creative effort put into this endeavor would go a long way.  Especially if you make it easy.  

  • Create a branded “Instagram Selfie-Booth” in your shop for customers to snap a picture holding up a sample from their order.  Make it fun!  
  • Hold a contest or just give customers some benefit for posting on your Facebook feed or linking to your Instagram or Twitter account with a hashtag that you create.  #yourshopname.

It’s easy to score major points with your marketing “leaf” when someone else picks it up and hands it off as a trusted friend.  That’s the power of Influencer Marketing.

Live Streaming

Speaking of power, let’s not forget the wave that is upon us now which is live streaming on Facebook or using Periscope, which is Twitter’s live streaming app.  Words are great.  Pictures are 1000x better.  Video is king.  Live video is the ruler of the universe.  For now anyway.

It’s not for the timid.  There could be a mistake.  There will be problems.  People will tune in maybe just to see you sweat or mess up.

And that’s ok.  Because not only are they watching, but other people are too.  Your fans.  Your soon to be fans.  Plus, the friends of all these people if they like, share or comment on the feed.

Are you brave enough to do this?  What would you share anyway?  Are you one of those people that won’t try it because you can’t make it perfect from the outset?

Come on!  Put your big pants on and try something new.  Give them something they can use.

First, identify your customer’s number one problem or pain point.  What is it?  Then, you simply orchestrate the filming of you solving that challenge.  You do this everyday anyway…just not on camera.

Maybe it’s delivering an order in your custom branded truck, with a happy customer (see Influencer Marketing above).  Maybe it’s printing over the zipper on some hoodies.  Maybe it’s doing puff embroidery on some hats.  Maybe it’s digitally printing some custom infant onesies.  Maybe it’s printing shirts after the big win for the team.  What if you showed the steps involved in blinging out that soccer mom V neck tee?

Whatever you do, make sure it is conceived well and makes you look like a star.  You might want to practice a few times.  Look at the results with fresh eyes and imagine your customer is viewing the results.  What are they seeing?  Can they see your logo?  Is your shop a mess?  Are the employees wearing branded apparel (our equivalent of a chef tasting his own food) in the background?  How is the sound?

Of course, the brother of live streaming is recorded video content.  It’s the same idea really, but just not “live”.  I guess that takes some of the highwire act off of the table, but also the sense of urgency to watch it.

Live streaming is the leaf that is blowing around by the wind wanting someone to catch it.  There is a sense of urgency, danger and unpredictability that makes you want to check it out.  

Of course, be sure to set this up if you can when your audience is available to watch.  It doesn’t do you much good to set up a great live feed opportunity at the wrong time.  Can’t swing that time crunch?  Film a video and post when you it fits your audience’s viewing habits.

Develop Better Content

If you really want to be noticed, spend some time developing better content.  If all the leaves on the ground are red, this makes yours gold so it naturally stands out.  Search engines love great content if it is created and tagged properly.  A well thought out headline will work wonders too.

For social media marketing, content is king.  There aren’t many rules, but if you think about these three things you will have a good starting point:

  1. Everyday Content – this is essentially answering questions that your customers may be asking.  How is this printed, or what’s the difference between a raster versus a vector file?  It’s the easiest place to start as you’ll bump into this stuff all the time.  As soon as any of your customers call in and requests you to explain something about your business…bingo, new content idea to share.  Don’t have the time to write a blog article or film the process right now?  Make a list and keep it handy for when you do.  Want to know what people type into search engines for anything?  Click this link and ask the old man.
  2. Authority Content – this sets you apart from everyone else.  It’s show and tell, but on a grander scale.  Create this type of content with a focus on being “evergreen”…meaning you can repost that video or blog article at the same time next year.  This is more advanced sharing, and typically includes some story telling and more in-depth content.  The more information you share in your content, the better it will be received, liked, shared or commented on.  Want to be labeled as the “expert” in an area?  Show people why and demonstrate how.  This requires more effort.  Create a video or an infographic.  Blog articles work great for this too.
  3. Viral Content – this is the hardest to do, as it’s the magic from the genie bottle.  This isn’t just answering questions but sharing insights or something humanly relatable that gets more attention than any other similar content piece.  You may need some help.  The mastery of this content is that it provokes the human emotion that makes the user want to share it with their friends.  This catches on and is shared again.  And again.  And again.  And again.

So your post about how you just delivered that order won’t go viral probably.  But it will get viewed.  People will know that one aspect of your business, although they won’t share it with their friends.

Something outrageously funny or heartwarming might.  People connect with their emotions and love to share.  “Check this out – I know these guys, they are great!”…and boom.  Mic drop as your post goes viral.  

There’s nothing wrong with creating Everyday or Authority based content.  And unless you are super talented, Viral content may be a stretch for you anyway.  

The best thing you can do is to share your story.  What makes you different?  Who are you?  Why are you relevant?  What is your creative voice?  

Be brave.  Share your passion.  That’s a leaf that is always interesting to pick up.

11 Points on the Social Media Marketing To Do List

  1. Develop your Brand Guideline.  This is your style guide.  It’s the rules that are detailed to give you a place to start when creating anything.
  2. Ask questions.  What are your needs?  What do you hope to accomplish?  How can social media be used to achieve them?
  3. Set SMART Goals based on those needs.  Remember a SMART goal is defined as a Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time centered.  For example, if you want your social media to increase your sales by 20% by the end of the quarter, you’ll have to be able to use data from your sales history to show your previous state, be able to gather data as your campaign is going to measure your present state, and then tweak things along the way to influence your future state.  Write out your goals and work backwards on what you are going to do to achieve them.  Who is creating the posts?  What channels are you using?  What is the best time to share?  How will you know if whatever you are sharing is making a difference?  What happens if what you are doing isn’t working?  What happens if it starts to take off?  Make a detailed plan of attack.  Then, launch that sucker.
  4. Speaking of data mining, you can glean great insights from Google Analytics, YouGov Profiles, SproutSocial, social media sharing sites like Buffer or Hootsuite, and even the content sites themselves such as Facebook or Twitter.  You should know your audience already, but using these tools helps you refine what you are sharing, when to share, even how to write the posts if you are careful enough.
  5. Make a Buyer Profile.  When you think of your customer who comes to mind?  Does she look like a soccer mom or maybe he is an executive type?  Is there an age range, geographic area, type of business, gender, ethnic group, or any other demographic that can be used?  List your top ten customers by sales volume or margin.  Can you describe their attributes like this?  Where on social media are they the most active?   Does your company even follow them?   What do they usually like, share or comment on with social media posts?  Articles?  Video?  Podcasts?  Pictures?  Cat memes?  Want to resonate with your customer base?  Pay attention to what they like to consume and emulate that.  Your customers are already telling you what to post.  
  6. Research your competition’s marketing.  That’s right.  Be a spy.  You’ve always wanted to, and here’s your chance to queue the James Bond theme.  Make sure you follow your competition on their social media channels to get an insight on what they are doing.  Who is following them?  What type of content are they creating that’s getting attention?  There are some good tools for this out there too, like SEMRUSH, or SpyFu.
  7. Build your program.  Use a calendar.  Assign responsibilities.  Who is creating the content?  When is it due?  Set marketing meetings on the calendar to brainstorm ideas.  Work backwards from key dates a few weeks out so your posts aren’t created at the last minute.  Use your established SMART goals.  
  8. Be ok with failure.  A lot of marketing is learning what doesn’t work.  It could be the right content shared at the wrong time.  It could be the wrong content shared at the right time.  Maybe it’s just how you word your headline.  Maybe you have a great blog post, but the picture that goes with it doesn’t entice people to read it.  Look back on your results and see if you see a trend.  Experiment.  Try something else.
  9. Be consistent.  If you want to grow your audience, you need to be regularly doing something.  One of the first things I do when I hear about a new shop or start helping a company is check out their social media.  You aren’t getting much value or exposure if your last post was six months ago.  Especially in an age where anything five minutes ago is old news.  The more content you share, the more people may remember you.  I use the 80%-20% rule.  80% of the content I share is from someone else, but has value to people I’m connected with somehow.  20% of the content is the stuff I create like this blog or an infographic.  You want the top of mind; so when someone needs your services you’ve been there all along on their social media feeds and they think of you first.
  10. Strategy, then budget.  When prioritizing what to do for social media, it’s best to think about what you are trying to achieve, on what channels, with some realistic SMART goals attached to it.  Create that, then figure out the dollar amount you’ll need to spend to achieve those goals.  This may mean sectioning off some time for an employee to create the posts, design the image, or film the video.  It may mean how much are you willing to spend for pay per click or even to boost the posts on social media channels to push it out to a bigger audience.  It can get complicated quick, so if you are just starting out, start small until you know what’s working.
  11. Talk to your customers.  What are their opinions?  Ask if you can share the work you are producing for them, or if they would like to participate in your program’s content.  

If you are creating some new and exciting marketing ideas for your shop, please share the links in the comments section!  Better yet, share this post in your social media feed and let’s get this industry humming with some crowd-sourced marketing help!

There are a lot of businesses that are developing some fantastic ideas and we can all learn from each other.

.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” – Maya Angelou

“The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.” – Albert Einstein

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

3 Polyester / Performance Production Secrets

polyester-performance-secrets

What is one of the number one growth area in the decorated apparel industry?  Performance and Athleisure wear.  The good news is that your shop can benefit directly from this boom by decorating on these trendier tech apparel blanks.  Maybe you already are, and that’s great.  There is better margin in them too; as they prove to be more difficult for some lesser educated or experienced shops to handle.  I’ve talked to plenty of new customers over the years that left their previous decorator because the white ink turned pink on some red polyesters shirts (see the picture above – does this look like your handiwork?), and the printer didn’t take responsibility for the challenge.  

In their clumsiness is opportunity.

However, it’s really not that difficult to get your shop dialed in to print this stuff if you have the right mindset and attention to detail.  Below are a few things to consider when printing on polyester performance apparel.  

First, let’s take a look at the fabric of these shirts.  Polyester performance fabrics are synthetic.  They feel and print differently than a cotton or even a 50/50 shirt.  A good bit of the time they are just 100% polyester, but sometimes there is another percentage of a stretchable thread woven into the garment to give it some added elasticity.  These garments are made for active people doing things, and are being sold for their moisture-wicking properties.  Garments are usually very lightweight, slinky, and if you have ever tried to fold a stack of these…hard to deal with sometimes.  (Mine always look like my kid did the laundry.)  But at the end of the day, they are just shirts.  You just need to dive deep into the proper technique in how to print them.

What Sticks Out

So what’s the biggest issue with printing on polyester performance apparel?  Dye migration by a mile.  This is when the dye of the fabric leaches up through the lighter printed inks in the design, causing a unwanted color shift.  It sucks.  Mainly because this doesn’t happen in front of you, but quite often in the box while it’s on it’s way to the customer.  It’s a time bomb.  You think your print looks great.  They think it’s a disaster.  Get ready for some yelling, followed by some major butt kissing.  

It doesn’t have to be this way though.  Here’s the secret to your success in three easy steps:

  1. Control the heat.  
  2. Use the right ink.  
  3. Be careful.

That’s it.  Ok, article over…right?  Not so fast.  Let’s dive into these a bit and see what they mean.

Control the Heat

Where shops start traveling down the wrong road is not looking carefully at how they are using heat in the process.  It’s the best thing you can do, and the one that’s most ignored.  I think by now most everyone is adept at least using a low-bleed, high opacity ink for polyester. (Uh, right?)  The big speedbump is not thinking it through and looking at the cumulative effect of the temperature and dwell times of the flash units, and the temperature and belt speed of the dryer.  It all adds up.  A lot of ink gets blamed for not working, but instead it was a heat issue that should be called out instead.

In your shop do you emphasize this on polyester print production orders?  Is there any discussion before the job starts?  Does your shop have a special note or call to action to do anything different? 

“WATCH THE HEAT!” or “POSSIBLE DYE MIGRATION ISSUES!”.  Some gigantic alarm trigger on the work order?  Be careful!

Probably not.

Most low bleed inks cure at 270-290 degrees.  Regular plastisol inks cure at 320 degrees.  Now look at the temperature setting on your dryer right now.  350?  375?  400?  Be honest. 

While we know that the temperature gauge only measures the ambient temperature in the chamber, and not the actual temperature of the ink as it’s going down the belt…the only way to know for sure is by testing with a donut probe.  If your shop doesn’t have one of these gadgets, order one today.  I’m not kidding.  

The probe is shaped like, you guessed it, a donut.  The crossed wires inside the probe are placed on the wet ink on the shirt going down the belt.  Want to control the temperature exactly for your job?  Measure this and adjust your dryer so you hit the right number you need.  Remember, these inks cure at the exact moment they hit their cure temp.  Added heat doesn’t cure them any better or give you any sort of boost.  For polyester, you are just exponentially adding more danger to the job with every degree higher than the cure temperature of the ink on the shirt as designed by the ink manufacturer.  Dial that dryer heat down and save yourself some frustration later.

So what’s the second biggest issue?  

Hot polyester shirts falling off the belt and going into a box/hamper, getting placed in a big stack on the catcher table, or worst of all – going straight into a box for shipping.  

Any one of these three scenarios all produce the same result, which is just continually baking the shirts.  If you have ever gotten a weird pattern in your printed ink and can’t figure out where that crazy Shroud-of-Turin-like image came from, this is what happened.  Your Betty Crocker Cardboard Box Shirt Oven was still on.  Ut oh.

The cure for this is to stack the shirts coming down the belt into three or four piles on the dryer table.  As shirts come down, pull the next one from the belt and place it on the next stack in the row.  Have a fan blowing air on these shirts.  Keep working the rows and stacks and the hot shirts will go on top of the cooled ones.  Never hot on hot.  Your number one goal is to get them to be cool to the touch as quickly as possible.  If you can feel any heat at all, do not place them in a box for shipping until they don’t have any residual heat leftover.  

Also, make sure they are cooled completely down before printing another location.  Polyester shirts should never drop off a dryer belt and into a hamper or box.  Either get a better trained catcher, or give them some help.  These shirts aren’t cheap to replace, and neither is a customer leaving you because your catcher can’t keep up.  If you are a one man shop printing polyester shirts that day, bring in your neighbors’s kid or your wife or someone to help on that job.

Use the Right Ink

So let’s talk about ink.  While I purposely don’t name manufacturing brands much, as I try to stay neutral on this blog, I feel it would be a disservice to not mention my favorite dye-migration Force Field, which is the Wilflex Epic Performance Underbase Gray and Epic Performance White system.  Yes, I purposely used the words “Force Field”.

These two, when used together, hit home runs every single time and absolutely control any dye-migration challenges.  They even block out sublimated camo, stripes or other patterns in sublimated patterned polyester apparel.  

digi-camo-white-demo

The gray is incredibly thick though.  Use a drill or mixer and work the ink in the bucket before using to get the viscosity better.  It prints easier when it’s been a little active.  (Like me in the mornings after three cups of coffee.)  The white is so good you won’t need a highlight white.  The image above is just the UB Gray, Performance White, & Red.  Also, if you have a roller squeegee, be sure to use that in the underbase cool down station after the first flash.  You should be doing that anyway, but for polyester printing it really give the underbase layer a smooth and perfect foundation surface for other colors to drop down on.  These inks are a little more expensive that other inks formulated for the same purpose…but if used correctly you will never have an issue.  

How much is peace of mind worth anyway?

Lots of shops have fantastic results printing with waterbase and silicone ink too.  Waterbase ink has a alien sounding “Bleed Blocker Black” that is used instead of white.  I’ve done some performance testing with red polyester shirts and with a black underbase and white top screen, and printed a great looking result.  Soft hand, with fantastic stretch. 

Silicone works great too, but has a more rubbery feel and you have to absolutely flash after every color.  A lot of the shirts that Nike or the other shoe companies put out are printed with Silicone ink.  This ink is much more expensive than plastisol or waterbase, but has some excellent print properties.  It works with a catalyst, so it’s a two part system with a limited pot life.  For the right production application, this is perfect.

While we are discussing ink, we should talk about design if we can.  For the most part these types of shirts are used for some sort of athletic, sports, yoga, or purpose for people moving and sweating. Or just getting up off the couch to go get another beer because the game is in commercial.  (I’ll have one too!)   It absolutely doesn’t do anyone any favors to utilize this type of performance shirt and then print some gigantic design that covers 100% of the available area.  

Get your creative team to consider the user and work the “purpose” of this type of garment into their design thinking.  Maybe instead of a full front, a center chest might be ok.  What about instead of a huge solid circle of white, the designer just used an outline of the circle, and selected that to be a darker color that won’t even need to be underbased?  Want to control your dye migration?  Start with limiting the chance by minimizing the lightest colors from your crayon box.  Sure, I understand that sometimes you have to use white, yellow or whatever…but if you can rethink how these are being used you are protecting your shop from a possible problem later on.  Your client doesn’t have to know that.  They just want something “that looks cool”.  I’m sure your creative team can handle it.

Be Careful

Bullet List of Tips & Tricks – hey, add your own in the comment section!

  • There are plenty of low cure additives you can use.  These make your existing inks usable so you don’t have to buy new.  Follow the manufacturer’s specific instructions on the percentage to mix in.  It will be by weight.  Don’t guess.  Use a scale.
  • If you use a low cure underbase, the colors printed on top should be low cure too.  Nothing is worse than having a great underbase and the rest of the printed ink sloughing off the shirt after a wash.  Do it right.  See above.
  • Plastisol usually cures at 320.  Low bleed inks usually cure at 270-290.  Use a donut probe and make sure you are hitting your temperature numbers.  You know why now, right?
  • Use screens with good tension (above 30 newtons), with the proper mesh count for usage in the print.  140 – 160 for underbase should be ok.  Not enough ink?  Look at your EOM, or maybe drop your mesh count down to a 110.  230 – 305 for colors. 230 for a highlight white if you need it.  Remember for colors printed over a flashed underbase, the thinner the deposit – the less flash dwell time needed.  This prevents the shirt from getting too hot.  Control that heat.
  • Spackling the shirt with so much ink to “cover” the fabric and hope you build it up enough to prevent the migration, not only makes the print feel like you stapled a cardboard box to the shirt, but will take forever to flash or dry.  Which means that your brain tells you to increase the dwell times to compensate for that.  So you add more heat, and increase the likeliness of the problem you are trying to prevent.   That’s a dog chasing it’s tail.  Stop. It. Please.
  • Optimize your print with perfect pressure and squeegee angle.  You want the print sitting on top of the shirt, not driven into it like a nail.  If you can see your print on the press platen, you have too much pressure.  A thinner deposit cures faster and requires less flash dwell time too.  Yes, it’s a recurring theme.
  • For longer runs, as your production day goes on be sure to reduce your dwell times on your flashes as your boards heat up.
  • Bold strong ink colors won’t have much of a problem with dye migration.  No, you don’t have to underbase the navy or black to print on a lime green polyester shirt.  Yes, I’ve seen artists do that.
  • Be careful with unrecognizable inventory.  If you haven’t printed on that particular brand or color before, treat it like it’s going to be your worst nightmare.  (Because it is)  Print a sample at the end of a shift and let it sit overnight. Better still, schedule it for a Friday afternoon and let it sit all weekend.  If it looks great on Monday, you’ll know you did it right!  If not, retrace your steps and find out what happened.  Next step?  Give it a wash test too!
  • Of course this means that either you’ll have to start that job earlier, or get more time from your customer.  Your choice…but you can do it if you properly plan.  “Proper Planning Permits Peak Performance”
  • A lower cost alternative is to use athletic base polyester inks, such as Wilflex Epic Top Score.  This ink is engineered for athletic apparel.
  • In production watch your team’s transition between printing 100% cotton to polyester and back again.  Also, what happens if you change the dryer temp and belt speed for that job, but you have another press stationed for that dryer?  Be sure those jobs on the neighboring press are being cured properly too.  These failures occur most when shops are extremely busy and nobody has time to think…or when shops are slow and nobody is thinking because they are bored.  Ok then, you got me.  These problems happen when nobody is thinking.  There, I said it.  Pay attention!
  • If you have multiple presses in your shop, try designating one of them to be the “Poly-Crew”, and all of these types of jobs are routed there for production.  It’s easier to schedule.  You’ll have a trained crew that will be the masters of the technique.  Work in other crew members for training occasionally so you can broaden your knowledge base.
  • A lot of buckets of white ink look the same, especially from across the shop.  Try wrapping blue painters tape around the Polyester White bucket handle, so at a glance from twenty feet away you can tell what white to grab.  If your crew has ever used the wrong white for a poly job, you’ll understand the need to this easy visualization to mark the correct bucket.  There is nothing worse that seeing pink in areas that should be white just because the wrong ink was loaded in the screen.
  • Review the garment label for thread properties.  Beware of stretch in the garment.  Especially with how you load the shirt.  Circle designs become egg shaped quickly.  You can’t blame that on the ink either, as much as some people would want to.

So are you a master at printing on this type of garment?  If not, do some research by trial and error and perfect your process.  If you are, shout it from the rooftops!  There is a lot of demand for this type of work, and not everyone does it well.

If you have a Pinterest board, gallery on your website, or other social media platforms be sure to regularly post polyester or performance print jobs so new customers can see that you have the chops to handle their order.  

After all, not everyone is going to do it right like you!

The Lost Art of Thumbnails

lost-art-of-thumbnails

No, I’m not talking about fingernails.  

I’m talking about the tiny, scribbly sketches that graphic designers use to work out creative concepts before getting to the nitty gritty of building that file in the computer.

There once was a time when folks learning design, actually learned how to design.  Any solid concept starts with some mental gymnastics first.  This comes from working out the challenges of building the layout.  Balance, use of whitespace, proportion, where things fit.  The basic nuts and bolts of the image.

Remember, there is no idea button on a keyboard.

Good ideas start fresh from concepts that you create.  Not stolen from others or changed seven ways so you won’t get sued.  (Total myth by the way)

Great creative minds truly abhor the thought of using someone else’s ideas anyway.  Would a trained chef bake brownies from a box mix?  No.  They know that fresh ingredients produce a better result.  How fresh are yours?

Also, using thumbnails as a launching pad gets you from point A to the finishing point B faster, than if you just sit and stare at the computer, or squander time trying to make some shape work in the background.  This is important, as your boss knows if you are a fast or slow designer.  Can you pound out designs that look great in no time at all?  Or are you that “artiste” that slugs their way through and cruises the internet looking for “inspiration”?

Faster designers are worth more as they get things done.  Here, have a raise.  Slower designers are frustrating to work with and are the first to get fired.  See ya’!  Believe it or not, the old adage still holds true today: Time = Money.

That’s why spending a few moments game planning the design before any work gets started is crucial.  Not just to the company, as that order has to ship soon; but to any graphic artist personally as everyone wants to get paid more.  In fact, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t feel they are worth more money.  

Have you?

Another salient point is that when you use a thumbnail as the launching pad for your rocket ship of awesomeness, you are building the file with your visual vocabulary and style in mind.  What separates top designers from the bottom of the barrel?  Visual style, my friend.  Really good ones have that certain something that you can identify their work from a mile away.  Do you think they have sticky fingers and nabbing someone else’s idea, layout or style?  Hell no.  They want to do it their way.

Personally I like to use Post-It-Notes for my thumbnails as I can just do several in a few moments and then stick the one I like the best on the side of my keyboard monitor.  When I build the file it is just right there at a glance.  But that’s not a hard and fast rule.  I’ve doodled up some great ideas on the back of envelopes, notepads, or any scrap of paper that’s handy.  I know some designers that like to use graph paper, because it comes with all those little boxes already to use to make things fit.

Use whatever clicks your trigger.

You don’t have to spend much time on these either.  Actually if you look at the quality of the scribble, it usually sucks from a drawing standpoint.  That’s not the point.  What I’m looking for in a thumbnail is the relationships between the items that I know have to be in the design.  Words, images, a background element or two, whatever.  When you write out words that have to be in the graphic that’s basically how much space you are going to need for the text.  If that long wordy phrase won’t fit in a box on your thumbnail, you’ll be hard pressed to make it work so it looks right on your computer file too.  That’s when you’ll know you need two lines.  See, that just saved you probably five or ten minutes of fooling around with the file.  Conclusion reached in 22 seconds, a new record!

Also, you don’t need to even draw things the way they look in reality.  A circle or square can represent the client’s logo.  A zig-zaggy line can be the headline.  Don’t forget that the thumbnail is just a sketch.  Feel free to change things as you go when actually constructing your file for real.  Thumbnails are just the starting point!

Thumbnails are great to shoot off to clients that have wishy-washy attitudes too.  “Hey, am I on the right track with this idea?”  This is how you get to the “approved” and ready to print stage faster, as you involved the customer in the beginning stages.  They can tell you up front that they don’t like that layout, or please add the year at the bottom or whatever.  Some people just want to insert their ideas into things.  When you go from creative brief to finished product without giving that sort of person the chance to comment, they naturally will want to change something at the end.  Get ’em hooked up at the beginning of the process.

So, got a deadline looming?  Get crackin’ on some spirited doodling and find the solution the old fashioned way – with some work.

Your client will love it!

Here are a few thumbnails from recent work:

thumbnail-1-bomb

thumbnail-2-tools

thumbnail-3-battlefield-rock

thumbnail-4-gen-lee

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.” – George S. Patton

“Simplicity, wit and good typography.” – Michael Bierut

“My favorite days are the days when I can get a lot of shit done efficiently and then somehow just enjoy it.” – Aaron Draplin

Adjust The Sails

adust-the-sails

Pessimist.  Optimist.  Realist.

If you had to characterize your business personality into one of these three types, which would you choose?

Did you pick one?  

Why do I ask?  Well, I stumbled on a fantastic quote the other day that I thought would make a great focus for an article.  Have you read this before?

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.” – William Arthur Ward

When thinking about your company and your business strategy do you find yourself complaining about forces that are thrust upon you?  

New regulations, more competition, employee challenges, supplier problems, customers forever beating you down on prices.  You name it.  And of course, the 500 lb. gorilla in the room and the favorite topic of stand up comedians and TV talking heads everywhere, the new US president, Donald Trump.  How will his new tenure affect your business?  Who knows?

Do you expect things will magically change in your future for the better?  Are you wondering what to do next?  I’ll give you a hint.  Plan on the third choice above.  The one that starts with the word Real. 

Learn to adjust your sails for the wind.  

Below are a few tips that might help you out as you look to make some strategic changes:

Clear Up Confusion – Change Your Direction

When was the last time you took a hard look at your business?  What is your number one goal?  To make a profit of course.  The bigger the better.

Does your shop do anything that seems like busy work?  Do you regularly take jobs that are losers or work with customers that drive you crazy?  Maybe you have some equipment that you bought years ago, like a cylindrical press or a DTG printer…but you rarely, if ever, use it.

Rather than just keep doing the same thing and expect a different result, what if you either:

a) developed a better business plan to handle those areas of concern,

or

b) scrapped those problems and eliminated them forever by going in a different direction.

Plenty of shops have a great entrepreneurial spirit and try new things.  Have you bought some equipment that you don’t use now?  Do you offer production services that you honestly don’t do very well?  Do you possibly serve markets that aren’t aligned with your primary business focus?

I’m here to tell you that you it is ok to say NO, or change the way you do business with customers.  Increase your pricing or your minimums.  Change your lead times.  Get some help or training to understand the technical aspects of those challenges better.  Sell off that equipment you don’t use.  Hire that salesperson.  Redesign your website.

The point is to do something.  Sitting on your butt isn’t helping.  Be the change that you seek.

Reconnect

Have you somehow lost touch with people that matter?  Your employees, your business partners, maybe even your core customers?

When was the last time you had a meaningful face to face conversation?  Not a work or job related dialog, but good old fashioned “Hey, how are you doing?” connection-driven discussion?

What are their concerns?  What are their fears?  What is really going on in their lives?

We get so busy and wrapped up in getting that next order out the door or other critical tasks that we miss one of the most truisms out there and that is people like to do business with people that sincerely care.  

On a scale of 1 to 10 rate your empathy level towards others that surround your business.  Employees, customers, suppliers, your neighbors.  Do you think that they would give you that same number rating?

Guess what?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  It’s not too late!  

Get up out of your chair and go thank someone.  Stop in and see how someone is doing.  Take someone out to lunch or dinner or just buy them a cup of coffee.  It doesn’t matter.  The goal here to just take some action and reconnect with others.  Do it!

Add Value Rather Than a Discount

When you strategize on building your customer base, is the first idea out of our mouth giving someone a discount or offering up a big sale to attract more business?  Companies that don’t offer much of anything in value are the first ones to slash their prices.  What are you showing the world?

What if you took a harder and more difficult journey instead and thought of ways that you could add value to the customer facing relationship, and either keep your margin or even increase it?

To do this you have to think like your customer.  Don’t spend another minute trying to cram your idea of what you want to sell down their throat.  Instead, spend some quality time discussing what are the most important things that matter to them.  

Is it speed?  As in – can I have it tomorrow or even today?  What would you need to do in order to build that service?

Is it easy?  As in – doing business with your company is so simple and quick that everyone else seems to be traveling in slow motion and mired in quicksand.  What technology is out there that can help with that?

Is it creativity?  As in – your designs and creative thinking are so different than anyone else in your market that people will flock to you and just hand over wads of cash to get it.  If you don’t have these fantastic earth shattering ideas coming from your team, what would you need to get them?  A different team perhaps?

Is it quality?  As in – best in industry craftsmanship.  You lead the pack and everyone else wonders how you constantly pull it off.  There never is a problem.  What do you think it takes to build that mousetrap?

Is it new?  As in – nobody has ever seen this before.  This is the hardest of all, as you will fail more than you will succeed in building the new.  But if your new takes off…winner winner chicken dinner.

What’s Not Working?

Internally what policies or procedures aren’t working?  This could be anything from your employee handbook to how you take credit cards.

You have these rules in place for a reason, as it helps standardize tasks and keeps all the canoes going in the same direction.  However, often we invent these things or adopt a policy and then years later it just doesn’t make sense.  Times change.

Are you sticking by these things because “that’s how we have always done it”?  Are you too stuck in the mud to change your thinking and find a new way that works better?

Sure, I can hear you now.  “I don’t have time for that!”  

However, you still have time to get frustrated on how that challenge impacts your business.  That low murmur from the break room is your staff grumbling about how “nothing ever changes around here.” 

Maybe it is because the person in charge can’t get in front of the change because they don’t know how, don’t believe in doing anything differently, are too lazy or even too invested in keeping their control in place so everything is in a constant lockdown mode.

Which is why none of your antiquated company policies ever evolve.  

So, get out of that rut and list the top company policies that just aren’t working and do something about them.  Discuss everything with your staff.  Get their opinion.  Let go of the control a little bit and find out how a better solution can be reached by talking to the people the policies will impact.  What makes the most sense?

Then write up the “new way” and test it out.  Give it a short period and see how it works.  Not good enough?  Tweak it some more.  After it settles in, make it the new standard.  Problem solved.

Feedback Loop

Speaking of feedback, when was the last time you sent out a “how are we doing” survey?  Last year?  Never?

A lot of companies use these to gauge performance and find out any areas of concern or opportunity.  I wouldn’t limit this task to just customers though.  Feedback from your suppliers and also your employees can be extremely valuable as well.

Of course you can do one that is ratings based.  Many companies use a scorecard for performance too.

However, the more complicated you make it and the more questions you ask, the less survey returns you are going to get.  Nobody wants to take a test.

Can you structure your feedback survey to just one question?  Not enough info?  What about two?

Will it be anonymous?  For employees, the more they are tied to their name, the less critical they will be as they will be scared of repercussions.  For more honest results try to keep it so answers can’t be tied to one person.  There are plenty of tools to use,ranging from Survey Monkey to just a simple notecard that is put in a box.

Here’s one thought though.  What if instead of glowing praise, your results from your survey are hard to read?  It’s a dog pile of negativity.  Would you want to know?  No?  Is that like burying your head in the sand like an ostrich?

Sometimes the hardest to hear truths are the most valuable.  You have to have the courage to ask.  If you do get some unexpected answers, make sure you listen to them and act on the change.  Do something with it.

Get the Help

Not everyone or every company is positioned to fix what they need to get to the next level.  The biggest challenge for a lot of folks is that they need to do something, but just can’t.  

Either they lack the skill, the time or the resources to pull it off.  So what do you do then?

Easy, you bring in a ringer.  This is a company or person that has the knowledge, the skill and the time to help you.  You are surrounded by these people already.  (…ahem, me!…)

They work in your supply chain.  They teach classes at trade shows.  They sell you the equipment, shirts, thread or the ink.  They repair your machines.  They have websites and publish articles on solving problems.  They maybe even work in your shop already.

The first step to make any change is simply identifying what it is.  

Narrow down the challenge by writing it as a simple sentence.  “We are having a problem with _________, and this is caused by ___________.  If we change this __________, we can get better with __________________.”  Or something similar.  Define your problem.

Who can help with this?  How big is the problem?  If you could resolve the challenge today, would you?  

So what are you waiting for?

Marathon Not a Sprint

Lastly, part of the adjustment that might be needed is to review and change how you perceive your week.

Many hustle from one crazy critical “the earth is going to stop rotating if I don’t handle this right now” task to the next all day long.  At the end of the day or week, we are so burned out that we become zombies at home.  Not fun.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint.  We are all in this for the long haul.

You need to make time for yourself.  Eat right.  Exercise.  Spend time with your kids, spouse or grandparents.  Take a vacation.  Laugh.  Read a book.

The constant perception is that we always have to be hustling.  Slow down a bit.  Delegate some of the tasks to others in your workplace and let them try their hand at it.  Call it training, but you’ll refer to it as peace of mind  when you can get more done in a day without actually having to do the chore.

Another great tip is to simply just change a habit or something that gets in the way of something else.

For instance, how many times a day do you check your cell phone?  Try skipping checking an hour or two (or more) a day and see how much more you get accomplished!  What if you just put it on the charger at 6:00 pm and left it there?  Will the world come to an end?  I started doing that a few years ago, and I’m much happier.  People are still ok with me getting back to them in the morning.

Part of adjusting your sails is to find calmer seas and smooth sailing.  Your mental and physical direction are part of that course correction too.

So, here’s to you skipper!  Adjust your sails handsomely now.

For Want Of A Nail

for-want-of-a-nail

How many times has an order or something gone wrong in your shop and you thought to yourself, “Hey, we are better than this!  How did that happen?”

This type of situation reminds me of that old Ben Franklin parable:

     “For want of a nail the shoe was lost,

       For want of a shoe the horse was lost,

       For want of a horse the rider was lost,

       For want of a rider the battle was lost,

       For want of a battle the kingdom was lost,

       And all for want of a horseshoe-nail.”

When you trace back how your challenges happen it usually comes down to some seemingly small detail that is overlooked or a task that is so common that people just quit doing it correctly for some unexplained reason.  

Apathy?  Lazy?  Untrained?  Too harried?  All four?

Then all hell breaks loose when your client is on the phone and something is amiss.  Not good.

Let’s take a look a few basic things that tend to get overlooked in a production environment:

Instruction Details

The age old problem.  One salient point of the order somehow didn’t make it onto the Work Order and in the process throws the whole thing off.  Now production doesn’t have it ready, and it won’t ship in time.  When the customer service rep is asked about it later they say, “Well, I sent Fred an e-mail”.  

You’ve heard that before from your staff, right?

Deflecting and blaming others doesn’t solve the problem.  If information is missing or something changes like a shipping address or the quantity of mediums for the order, you have to get up out of your chair and go make sure it’s right.  This means talking to someone or even replacing some of the work order documentation.  Do it right then.  The only way to be 100% sure is to check.  Insist on excellence.

Also, the deflection game is a bad habit.  Your customers aren’t going to single out someone in your company and say, “Well, it was Fred.  You know him!”  They are going to blame the entire company as a whole.  If they are mad enough, they will take their business somewhere else.  

Not to mention, they will tell everyone they know about the problem.  Then whatever dumb problem Fred missed is the reputation your entire company is going to be painted with by a lot of people.

I hate to break it to you, but other companies know how to print or embroider a shirt.   Maybe even better than you.  Don’t let the internal finger pointing get out of control.  

Get a sense of urgency and accountability established instead.  Work with a team mindset.  When one order goes awry, it’s the entire company’s problem.  Band together and solve your issues before they make it out the door.

For want of a detail, the order was lost.

___________________________________________

Color Matching

How many shops have a Pantone book available within easy reach for their press crews?  

And by easy reach, I’m not referring to the five year old, dog eared copy in the art department which your artist hangs onto like it was solid gold.  (Or worse you hear, “Hey, has anyone seen the PMS book?”)

Why is this important?  

Trust me, your clients are going to check the colors.  Especially when you print over an underbase.  Doubly so if you are one of the dozen or so shops on the planet that can still get away with charging for a PMS match.  If you are charging, it better be perfect.  It better be perfect anyway, but you understand what I mean.

Any brand manager worth their salt is going to look.  It’s pretty hard to explain why you didn’t hit the color and that “we’re close”.  It always sounds lame.   In reality, nobody ever checked…they just printed what was labeled on the bucket.  Don’t try to pass that off, your customer doesn’t believe you anyway, as they have the printed results in front of them as proof you missed the easy lay-up.

Even if the ink color is perfect, plenty of things can influence the final print.  Mesh count and EOM, squeegee durometer and pressure, printing over an underbase, even the shirt color.  Don’t get lulled into sleep with the lazy “we used the right bucket of ink” argument.  

What’s on the shirt is all that matters.

Do you know what is going out the door of your shop every day?  Do you have procedures in place that someone is checking and signing off on the job?  Does your quality control program consist of just crossing your fingers?

What is the number one reason why more printers DON’T check to see if their color matching is accurate?  

You guessed it, the PMS book isn’t easily available.  Nobody wants to walk “all the way over there” so they just think, “Looks good to me…”  Of course when that job is rejected they aren’t personally eating the cost either, so what do they care?  If you don’t demonstrate that it is important enough to provide them with the correct tool to gauge the printed color hue, I could argue you don’t care enough either.  

Get a brand new one (yes, with all the numbers out of order so you have to use the index in the back) and keep it within about five footsteps away.  Make a special place for it at each work group, and use that same set-up on all presses in the shop.  

Ideally every press should have one, but at $123 or so it can get expensive.  I would recommend having at least one for each dryer, so that makes it available for two autos at least, with a manual thrown in there if you can squeeze it in.  

Make sure you are checking at each set-up, in clear natural light (use the flashlight on your phone for a quick tip to see how your light color can shift when checking), and signing off on the Work Order by someone responsible AND the press operator.

For want of a Pantone book…the client was lost.  

___________________________________________

Pressure Point

When printing on an automatic press can you see the image on the boards?  If so, you may be using too much pressure.  Walk your floor right now.  What’s on your press boards?

The optimum print has the ink sit on top of the fabric, not hammered home like a nail through wood.  Too much pressure affects registration, print quality and how much ink is being transferred to the shirt.  If you are over 50 psi on your squeegee pressure for the print, how many bananas are you feeding the gorillas a day?  Lighten up. 

Lots of rookie printers use a lot of pressure to cover up for the lack of skill in registering the job.  They think: “Can’t get it to line up?  Mash it until it does.  Of course, this causes some bleeding issues where the different colors touch.  But hey, at least it’s registered.”  

Don’t put up with this.

Squeegee angle, durometer, and screen tension all come into play here too.  If your squeegee looks like a capital L when printing, you might want to check that pressure.  Your goal is to adjust the angle and pressure on the squeegee to use just enough pressure for the ink to clear the screen.  Probably in the 20-25 psi range, depending on the equipment and other factors.  Most newer automatic presses have a gauge right on the end of the screen arm, which makes checking easy.  

Believe it or not, there are some shops that (gasp) even record the pressure on their work set up sheets, along with other print information so they can dial it back in later for reprints, or also for quality control.

Why is this important?  For starters, using less pressure will make the print look and feel much better on the shirt.  Also, you can dramatically reduce the amount of ink used to print, as you aren’t losing all that ink when you pound the ink through the fabric.  You aren’t getting paid to decorate your press platens.

For want of checking a gauge…the print was lost.

___________________________________________

Tension Meter

Quick, go to your screen room and ask your crew when was the last time they checked any screens to see if they had proper tension.  

Do they even know what the proper tension should be?  Do they know how to measure?  Do they have a Newton meter that is available?  Or do they just thump the screen with a finger and declare, “Sounds good to me!”.

My guess is that if you are having trouble with registration, especially at the top and bottom of the print, you have some crazy tension issues.  You never check tension either, but instead point a crooked finger at either the equipment, art department or the press operator.

Screens are the keystone to the entire screen-printing operation, but so few shops invest in the right tools to make sure that everything functions the way it is supposed to.  A good Newton meter used correctly, will determine the tension for the warp (vertical) and weft (horizontal) of the screen.  They should be equal.  This can help your team in the screen room make some good craftsmanship decisions about the screens for use in your shop.  If you are using retensionable screens, it may be time to jack them up a notch.  If you are using static frames, it may be time to retire that screen and remesh.  

Remember, you can’t manage what you don’t measure.

Click Here to check out a short infographic I made that gives some basic information about screen tension.

The problem with under-tensioned screens is that they won’t perform like they need to during the mechanical print process.  A slack screen can cause registration issues, off-contact issues, even ink texture issues on the substrate.  If your press crews are struggling keeping a good looking print, I’d start backtracking the problem from the press to the screen room.

For want of a tensioned screen, the registration was lost.

___________________________________________

Mmm Donuts

Screen tension isn’t the only production detail that is often overlooked.  Another big challenge is the dryer temperature.  Often it isn’t set correctly or is not accurate.  A lot of things can affect how your dryer cures the ink as it travels down the belt.  Just because your temperature gauge is set to a particular temperature number, doesn’t mean that’s what’s happening in the actual chamber.

The best way to find out if your ink is being cured properly is to measure the temperature of the ink as it’s going down the belt.  Don’t believe your dryer control panel number, check for yourself with a great device called a Donut Probe.  

This handy gizmo looks like it sounds, a donut.  Inside the donut are two crossed wires.  You simply place the donut probe with the wires on the wet shirt ink, and as the dryer belt moves the shirt down into the heat chamber you can see the readings increase on the probe’s control panel.

Did the ink reach the right cure temp?  With the donut probe you know exactly what the temperature was for the ink.  Sometimes this is dramatically different than what is on the read out on the dryer control panel.

Zero guessing.

Check your manufacturer’s spec sheet of the ink you are using and find out what the minimum temperature is to cure the ink.  For plastisol, most will cure at 320 for regular or 270 for low bleed polyester.  Don’t have a spec sheet?  Go to the manufacturers website and download one, or ask your supplier rep.   

One of the challenges is that you may have the dryer set much hotter than you need to cure the ink, but something is affecting the way the unit is curing the ink so it never reaches the correct crock temperature.  

I’ve seen drastic problems with shop doors open on a windy day, and gusts coming into the shop right down the belt.  This instantly lowers the chamber temperature.  Another similar issue is with print crews having big industrial fans blowing air down into the dryer chamber.  Believe it or not, both of these can have an adverse affect on the heat in the dryer.  Even seasonal weather changes with air temperature or humidity can cause problems.  

At the end of the day, you are relying on these dryers to cure the ink properly.  Unless you want to spend a lot of nights awake, staring at the ceiling and wondering if everything you print is being cured correctly; you have to have faith that the thousands of shirts you are sending down the dryer are hitting that mark.  

If you use your donut probe as part of a monthly preventative maintenance program, you can have that assurance.  

Imagine the inside of your dryer chamber is divided into nine zones, similar to a tic-tac-toe diagram.  Zones 1 through 9.  Each month, use your donut probe and record the temperature for the zones on the same day (let’s say the fourth Monday of the month).  Make up a simple Dryer Zone Log Form, or download this one by Clicking Here.  Do this for each dryer.  Now, if you have any curing issues with your shirts, you can refer to the log and see that the temperature has been consistent or not.  If you haven’t been measuring, you won’t know when the problem could have surfaced.

For want of correct dryer temperature, the ink print cure was lost.

___________________________________________

PM Plan

There are two types of people regarding planning.  One regularly keeps track of things and schedules maintenance on a regular basis.  The other puts it off, and when things break, calls in the repair guy.

Which one are you?  I can tell you which one is aimed at a lower operating cost and a more efficient shop.  

Putting a Preventative Maintenance Plan together is an essential part of any well run shop.  Every single machine should have a section in a master Log Book.  Printing presses (both automatic and manual), heat presses, embroidery machines, digital printers, forklifts, dryers, automatic folding machines, ink scales, air compressors…really any mechanical device that is critical to your success.  Detail each page with the name of the equipment, model number, date purchased, description and any other pertinent details.  Each time you change a filter, grease the parts, add fluid, change a gear, whatever…record that effort into that Log Book.

This is especially true for leveling your platens or any other task that is crucial for smooth operations.

Why is this pain in the butt documentation so critical?  For starters, it keeps you honest.  If you can’t remember the last time you did something, you have a big problem.  But the main reason is that all machines are mechanical, use parts, and are prone to eventually break.  Keeping a detailed log of what’s going on is akin to a doctor reviewing your medical history when you complain about not feeling well.  Having all that info helps you rule out anything not related as you have proof that certain tasks were performed.

If you don’t have a plan, your shop can still function and operate well.  Until…  One day, usually when a critical job is due, the press won’t work, or the air compressor goes down, or the dryer can’t stay at temperature, or the embroidery machine heads seize, or the digital printer nozzles get clogged, or…  The list goes on and on.  If you are an owner or manager of a shop without a true Preventative Maintenance Plan, the shop isn’t running as well as it should.  All is not lost, however.  Just start one.  Click Here and use this to get going.  Modify it to suit your needs.  Just fill out the info, three-hole punch it, and throw it into a binder.

For want of a plan, the day’s production was lost.

___________________________________________

So that’s six things that could going wrong.  Guess what?  There are hundreds, if not thousands more lurking in your shop right now.  

What critical detail are you missing?  Are you consistently discussing the need to handle things correctly with your staff?  Do they know that details matter?  When you do have a problem are you backtracking it all the way upriver to the source and changing something to kill the problem from occurring again?

“For the want of a nail, the shoe was lost.”  For a lot of shops, that sums up how these challenges start.  It’s up to you to make sure you have a box of nails handy.  Otherwise, see ya’ later kingdom.

.

“It’s the little details that are vital.  Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden

“Excellence is the gradual result of always striving to do better.” – Pat Riley

“Leadership is an ever evolving position.” – Mike Krzyzewski

The Deep Freeze

the-deep-freeze

Most of the time my articles are squarely focused on the business owners or shop managers out there in the decorated apparel industry.  

Not this time.

After receiving an email advice request from someone with a very personal problem, this article is going to be focused on everyone else in the shop, but more importantly that one employee that is being ignored.  

Is this you?

Let’s call that attitude you are feeling “The Deep Freeze”.  

If you are in the upper level of management or an owner of a shop, please read this and ask yourself if you are guilty of behaving like this and possibly think about what you can do to change it.  Yes, your attitude matters too.

The Deep Freeze occurs when your boss for one reason or another just stops communicating with you in a meaningful way.  Maybe there is just too much going on, maybe there are bigger challenges on the horizon that need to be solved, or maybe the guy just doesn’t like you.  For whatever reason, that awesome feeling you had when you got the job has now turned to doom and gloom.  You are the mayor of Suckville.

You feel like you are being cut out of the conversation at work, and at the end of the day you start taking things personally.  That cold shoulder is just pushing you out the door.

Do any of these sound familiar?

  • During meetings your boss asks other people what they think about something but never asks you anything.  Ever.  This happens even when the subject is about an order you are directly working on at the time.  It’s like you don’t even exist.
  • Not once does the subject of your future come up.  What job in the company are you aspiring to, what professional goals you may have, what extra training may make you a better employee?  Nothing.  You are a cog in the machine.  Just silently doing your work.
  • The two most important words your manager can ever say…”Thank You” are never heard for anything you do.
  • More than one conversation was had in the past about setting some goals and priorities for your job.  Now, your boss never has time for you and dodges any meeting you want to set up.  Those big ideas you had a year ago that everyone was excited about?  The hairs on the back of your neck and arm are telling you that your involvement in the company just isn’t needed.
  • When you suggest things to help improve or solve a problem they are often ignored.  Worse, is when your idea is taken but you don’t get credit at all.
  • At one point other managers, and even the owner of the company, liked you, but now they are all acting a little weird towards you.  Something is going on, you can feel it.
  • Small, even insignificant, problems often trigger outlandishly huge reactions from your boss.  There isn’t proportionality to the challenge.  Other staff members with similar instances will always be treated differently.  You however, are publicly shouted at, ridiculed and criticized.
  • Your boss changes your schedule, gives you extra work that will make you stay late, even demands that you cancel obligations, despite the fact that these disruptions could impact your life outside of the shop.  There is zero empathy for your time away from work and your other priorities.  In fact, when you mention that you can’t do something things get downright nasty.  Other staff members though, get concessions so they can still handle their life outside of the shop.  It’s unfair.

If more than one or two of these statements above rings true, I hate to say it…but your boss hates you.  For whatever reason, you are on their mental pick-on list and believe it or not, probably on the “first to fire” list too.

Tune up your resume, pal.

But wait, isn’t there anything you can do?  Probably, but it’s going to mean doing something that is very uncomfortable and could possibly backfire.

Namely confronting the problem.  

First, if your manager is acting like this towards you but not anyone else, they probably don’t respect you at all.  They’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.  (I hate that.)  

Having a brief private conversation could dig in a little bit and you can find out what’s going on.  Maybe something a year or so ago just triggered that response and you didn’t even know it.  Maybe they are just a clueless dolt and don’t even realize how their behavior is affecting you.  Maybe the confrontation is the last straw and is all it takes for them to fire you.  

It’s a risk.

Is it worth taking? Believe me, there are other jobs out there.  Better companies and better bosses to work for too.  

Talk to them about what is bothering you.  Don’t make it a yell-a-thon.  Just mention that you noticed that you are being treated differently than other staff members and you want to find out if there is something you can do.  Be specific.  Before the meeting, write down a few points so you can remember them.  Have the conversation.  You just might learn something.

Who knows, maybe it was your actions that is the source of the attitude shift?

However, as I’m sure you have been talking about this at the dinner table, with your family, friends, maybe even your co-workers in the breakroom…if something doesn’t change your job dissatisfaction is going to lead you to the conclusion that you need to look for a new employment anyway.  Having a brief conversation might just be the thing to shake things up for the better.

How’s that?  Feel better?

If you are a manager, owner or leader in your company…look inward.  Are you treating people like how I described above?  If so, people notice and they talk too.  Don’t earn a reputation as a workplace ogre!  

Remember, most employees don’t leave their jobs because of money, better opportunities, or for other reasons, they leave because of bad bosses.  Is that you?

Don’t be a jerk.

.

“Act as if what you do makes a difference.  It does.” – William James

“Good, Better, Best.  Never let it rest, ’til your good is better and your better is best.” – St. Jerome

“Every day is a new day, and you’ll never be able to find happiness if you don’t move on.” – Carrie Underwood

Help Your Employees Succeed

help-your-employees-succeed

In your business are your employees constantly working towards completing the tasks needed?  Probably not.  

We’re people, not a bunch of robots, so human centered problems can become obstacles in everyday work.

To get your staff to complete more tasks in a day, there are some things to consider.  Look inward and see if any of these fit.

Stuff Not Working

You would think that staff would speak up sometimes when things aren’t going their way, but they often don’t.  

They don’t want to be seen as troublemakers or maybe they just want to try to resolve the challenge themselves.  So when that computer workstation slows down and freezes, you are going to be the last to know.  Your staff will just simply restart and reboot that thing four or five times a day.  What a boat anchor.

Another challenge that constantly comes up is working with software.  I can’t tell you how many shops use licensed shop software, and they only get a limited number of them as they are expensive.  The problem that occurs is when you have more workers that need access than you have licenses for.  If you have had to send an email asking someone to log out, so you can work on a job raise your hand.  This has a direct impact on worker productivity, not to mention overall job satisfaction.  Is it really worth the money to skimp?  

Maybe there is a better way.  I do know that some shop software systems have barcode log in readers to more employees can have access to the system without as many licenses.  You should find out if the one you are using has that capability.

Let’s not forget when the server or wifi router shuts down.  With everything in your business connected, it can be an overwhelming experience to not be able to send an email or connect to the outside world.  These days bandwidth is at a premium.  With that notion, is the guy in the back office live streaming music?  What if more than one person is doing the same?  That molasses slow internet connection you have when you are trying to download that 100mb art file is due to that dude that has to get his Maroon 5 fix.

Making Extra Work

Let’s face it, not everyone thinks things through when it comes to their jobs.  Some people will just sludge through things and do them any ol’ way.  A crucial step for any manager is to make sure that your team isn’t making extra work for themselves.  

You would like to think that people just get their training by osmosis, meaning that just being in the building will allow them to pick up the right way to do something.  However, it doesn’t work that way in real life.  

You have to show people how to do something, sometimes several times, before they really understand what you are talking about.  

Have you ever trained someone in how to coat a screen with emulsion, pull (or push) a squeegee to print a shirt, or hoop straight for embroidery?  How many people get it right the first time?  Zero.  It takes practice to do it well, with quality and speed.  That only happens when they get the experience of doing that task.  

Are you letting them drive the car?  Sure, they will be slow and make mistakes, but that’s all part of learning.  Want more people trained?  You have to train them.

Sometimes other departments might make things tricky.  I went to a shop a few years ago and noticed the accounting file cabinets in the middle of the production area.  Evidently the accounting team thought that was a good open area to place them, as they didn’t want them cluttering up the office space.  So during the workday, the production folks had to walk around these to perform their tasks.  

Every.  Single.  Day.

A great trick to see how efficient your shop layout is in reality is to draw a spaghetti diagram of the floor for each worker.  You simply detail a quick diagram of the space, and draw with a pen a line that corresponds to their steps as they move around the shop working.  When you see that they are constantly going across the shop for something, ask them about it.  It may turn out that they are borrowing a tape gun from another department ten times a day because they don’t have one.  That’s a $10 fix with instant impact.  Or, in the example above, they are circling around something on the floor that can be easily moved.  Straight lines are always quicker.

What is the way of your staff from working faster?

Work Instructions

I’m sure you would like to think that your team knows what to do each day, but do they know what is really important?  

Unless you stress that this certain order has to ship, or that report needs to be completed by noon, they can get sideways with their day and run out of time.  Have you heard that before?

How are you triaging and prioritizing your day?  Does everyone in the building know what to do next?  Is there a way to easily look up the priorities without having a major meeting?  If your team can’t function and know what today’s priority work is without stopping everything and having a discussion, you aren’t doing it right.  

Here’s a quick quiz that you can do to find out.  Today, go ask the crew what they are working on next, and even the job after that.  Will they have the answer?

Today’s work should be set yesterday.  Tomorrow’s work should be made ready today.  Think things through.

Also when it comes to work instructions, jobs don’t go to the floor with missing information.  Either the job is ready to work on, or it is on hold.  This all happens from the sales and order entry end of the stick.  

Get everyone in the building set up for success by organizing the job in the beginning.  If your art staff has to ask what color shirt the job is for, or if your production team has to stop what they are doing as there is a box of youth shirts to print and the design won’t fit; there is a hole in your process.  Your work orders are your blueprints for success.  Make sure they are complete early on.

Also, if any work instructions change (especially shipping from ground to expedited freight), your office staff needs to get up out of their chairs, go find the work order, and replace the outdated information with what’s new.  It’s not ok just to put it in the system or send and email.  Production staff are busy working, not necessarily looking for messages.  I know it is a pain to walk across the shop, but it is minor compared to being chewed out from a client because disaster just struck with that order.  Trust me.

Work Attitudes

A long time ago I learned the rule of thirds when it comes to groups of people.  The first third is comprised of the go-getters, the A-listers and the rockstars.  These are the fantastic folks that every group says they can’t do without.  I’m sure just reading this sentence you can name a handful of people in your company that you would describe this way.

The middle third are the people that just aren’t quite at that level.  Sure they do good work, but they loaf around occasionally, sometimes are late for work, make dumb mistakes, and probably could use some extra training or support.

The bottom third are the worst workers in your company.  These are the people that are on your list when you need to downsize.  They will be the first to go.  They have been written up before, maybe even suspended.  They cause trouble.  They have crappy attitudes.  People often think, “I wonder why Fred is still here?  How come management doesn’t do something?”

If you are a leader in your company your goal should be to always make the top third happy, try to move the middle third up to the top tier, and to train up or eliminate the bottom third.  The more you do this, the better your organization will become.  Keeping anyone on the bottom third just poisons the well and sometimes makes for an unhappy work atmosphere.  

I’m positive you’ve seen it and experienced it before.  That comment about Fred?  That’s really about your leadership team.

Work Conversations

Your staff doesn’t work in a vacuum.  You should be constantly inquiring and discussing with them about their job.  Is everything ok?   Do you have what you need?  What isn’t working?

At least twice a year sit down with each of them and discuss their job performance and set some goals for improvement for the next six months.  Ask them what they would like to do.  Are they happy in their current capacity?  You’ll find that a good number of the people on your team have higher aspirations than what they are currently doing for you now.  Some are happy just doing their job, and that’s fine.  But for the ones that want to grow and learn, are you supporting them?  

Pulling this information out and setting some training goals will help your overall bench strength with your staff.  I don’t care what company you work for, you are going to need new workers; and in every department.  

People quit, people get fired, people move away.  One of the top questions I get asked constantly is “Where do I find trained help?”  

My answer is, right under your nose!  

When you are hiring for your basic worker staff, don’t just think that this person is going to fill that slot forever.  Hire for attitude, train for skill.  During the hiring process try to find someone that has the innate capabilities to learn a job three or four levels above what you are hiring them for during the interview.  I’ve found that during interviews, it is the people that are asking tons of questions, taking notes, and wanting to learn all about the company that make the best employees that you can train.  The people that just sit there like a statue usually won’t go anywhere on the training journey you need.  Look for that enthusiastic curiosity.  

It is Up to You

Work staff job performance is all about leadership.  Are you getting them what they need to succeed?  Clear expectations on what needs to be accomplished.  The right tools for the job.  Working equipment.  Training for more skill.  An extra hand when they need it.  

Most of the time there are plenty of clues out there.  You just have to have your eyes and ears open and receptive to gathering that information and making good decisions.

This means you can’t manage by sitting in your office.  You must constantly go and see.  When someone asks you “Hey, what do I do next?”, that’s the tip that you have something broken in your company.

At the end of the day, work staff job performance is a direct result of the interest and effort you put into developing them.

.

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.” – Thomas Jefferson

“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up.  The most certain way to succeed is to try just one more time.” – Thomas Edison

“Job training empowers people to realize their dreams and improve their lives.” – Sylvia Matthews Burwell

There Is No Cure For The Internet

there-is-no-cure-for-the-internet

Sure, your company is online.  Hey you have a webpage!  Woohoo!  So how is that working out for you?  Driving tons of business your way I’ll bet.

Except when it isn’t.

Don’t you feel that sometimes you are standing there on the curbside of today’s business highway while all the really great orders are zipping past you like a Ferrari hitting fourth gear.

Zooooom!  There goes another one.

Think about how your company is situated online for a second.  What do you think is going on that might be causing that anxiety or stress of non-performance?  Let’s take a look:

Robots are Taking Over

First, nobody really makes decisions anymore with online rankings.  It’s all handled with fancy algorithms and AI programs.  Despite what the folks at Bing or Yahoo will tell you, the de facto cutting edge is about how Google ranks you. Search isn’t processed with people, but instead Google uses a RankBrain algorithm that learns on its own based on experiences and evaluations.  It is self-updating, like the computers in sci-fi movies that always go awry.  That is of course until the next brainiac invents a better way to do it.  Which I’m sure will happen twenty minutes from now.

When your customer types something in the search window, RankBrain is what determines the results.  The results of your company’s webpage position or customer’s product keyword search query is based on a learning interface and you don’t have much (any) control.  What does help, besides just outright paying for ads, is to continually offering fresh information and content.  So if you haven’t touched your webpage since 2008 you are taking a huge hit, compared to your competition down that street that might be updating stuff constantly.  RankBrain just sees those other webpages as more interesting, so they get pushed to the top.

Think of your webpage as a produce stand.  Unless you are constantly putting out new tomatoes and melons, most shoppers are going to be passing you by.  Does anyone want some zucchini from eight years ago?  Make sure you are giving them something to squeeze and thump.

Or just pay the big bucks and get to the top of the list with paid ads.

Virtual Reality

You’ve seen those goofy looking scuba mask-looking headsets that everyone is touting as the new face of digital.  Look at that picture above.  Is that where we are heading?  How is that immersive content going to rule marketing in the future?  Will you or your competition be the first to plant a flag into this new software and use it as an advantage?  How expensive do you think that will be?

Web users are always on the hunt for more interactive experiences.  What will shape the future in days to come?

Fashion VR apps are the wave of the future if you believe the hype surrounding some major fashion brands.  Why lug yourself all the way to the store when you can just sit at home and try on outfits in a make believe store?  Don’t believe me?  Read this article.  It’s true, at least in their minds.

Unless of course that VR headset thing just doesn’t go as far as some people think.  How many people bought a pair of Google Glasses?

I just don’t see myself ever wearing one of these things.  Of course I also defiantly stated that I would never get a cell phone either.  Look at me now.  Wrong about that for sure.

Social Media

Who doesn’t love social media?  Well actually almost everyone.  Most social media users don’t post for business, but just seem to be ranting about politics, posting pictures of food they are about to eat, cats that are afraid of cucumbers, or just plain ol’fashioned insulting someone because they disagree with them.  Those trolls have to live somewhere!

Ok, I’ll admit it… there are some people and companies that are really good at positioning themselves and making a difference with social media for their sales.  To some degree though it’s just all so much noise.  Is there a benefit?

You bet.  But you have to do it correctly.

When I talk to shop owners about their social media marketing, almost to a person they state that “they don’t have time for that.”  Those that do, almost always just throw some younger person into the deep end of the pool and hope they can figure it out.  I guess it’s because they can type faster on their phones that anyone else in the office can on a keyboard that gets them the gig.  That doesn’t mean they are qualified or even know what they are doing.  But hey, if you are the owners daughter that just graduated from college and haven’t found a job yet, you are hired!  “Might as well start an Instagram account, honey.”

Will that work?  Maybe…

Social media is all about connecting with your customers where they thrive and hang out online.  Interacting, commenting, sharing and liking.  Just posting you having a sale a few times a week doesn’t get you the following you crave or even those sales for that matter.  Eventually you’ll just get tuned out or even worse, unfollowed and ignored.

Be careful.

A better approach is to think about social media as going to a party.  You want to be included in the cool group (your customers), so be sure to walk over there and start talking.  At a party, you wouldn’t just start blabbing about how you’ve got this great deal next week.  Nobody would listen to you.  Instead, good conversationalists (and marketers) will get interested in what this chatty group is talking about, sharing and work their own point into the conversation.  Sure, it takes more effort, but it works better and is real.

Create your own content.  Videos, pictures, blogs, infographics.  If you can do something different, funny or helpful you’ll stand out.  Get on a regular schedule and post the content that matters to your customers.  Use the channels that your customers use.  Hunt where the deer live.

Get Personal with Data

How are you doing with using your customer’s information to push your marketing?  You have loads of it already just sitting there.  Do you use it?

I’m not talking about reselling it or any nefarious mustache-twisting evil ideas either.

Customers fill out forms constantly, and we have loads of order information usually in our database systems.  Does your website offer personalized search results for customers, a way to save information or be able to target them later with a follow up?   Is it easy to order and get set up for automatic reordering?  Are you suggesting “other customers purchased this” with similar items?

When was the last time you sent them a thank you card, or maybe a personalized newsletter that contained information based on the items that viewed the last time they visited your site?

Another idea might be to search your own system and pull out all the customers that ordered jackets, sweatshirts or hoodies and shoot them a flyer that shows them some new colors and styles that are available this year.  Call the program your shop “Idea Generator” and let them know you can get them on the production schedule pronto.

What can you do with the information you have in your system?  Is it time for that big order again?  What if you set a reminder to pop up a few weeks early and contact them?

When a user on your webpage abandons their shopping cart, do you send them a follow up inquiring if there are any questions regarding their experience?  Have you even thought about this?  “Hey we noticed that you didn’t complete that order…any questions?”  That might go a long way for someone.

Most of the time we get so focused on all the stuff on our plates that we can’t think through our problems and see that we actually have a lot of information already at our fingertips that could make a huge difference with our sales outreach if we just used it.

Data mine your own system for some new customers once in awhile.  If you number your customer’s accounts how many do you have?  Of those, how many have an order in the system right now?  What are the rest doing?  Want to find out?

Keeping Up with the Challenges

So what is around the corner?  I know some companies haven’t even upgraded their sites to work on mobile phones, so the next phase of the online experience is really going to throw them for a loop.

The big question isn’t so much “can we keep up?”, but will the next thing be accessible quickly enough to make a difference for us?

The really great thing about using technology in your business though is that it makes things easier.  That’s the real benefit.  The struggle is to learn what’s available and how you can use it in your shop.  Usually this just means tinkering with stuff and seeing if you like it.  I do this a lot, and it is even sometimes fun.

Sometimes.

It’s always a challenge, as there is no cure for the internet.  It’s evolving.

.

“We’re still in the first minutes of the first day of the Internet revolution.” – Scott Cook

“The first rule of any technology used in a business is that automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify the efficiency. The second is that automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.” – Bill Gates

“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust