Page 23 of 24

Why Customer Service Needs to Have a Big Dose of Empathy

Late one day my car had a flat tire.  Not just a flat, but a complete blow out – I must have ran over something.  After going through the ordeal of changing it in eleven degree weather, I narrowed down my choices to venture out and go buy a new one.  I was only about three miles from a Sears, and previously I have used their auto center for various small repairs, so I thought that it was a good choice.

I arrived at the Sears shortly after 6:30 pm, and was greeted by a technician behind the counter.  I stated that I needed a new tire, and before I could even finish my sentence the guy said “Sorry, we’re closing at 7:00”.  Looking immediately at my watch (it was only 6:40), I said “Hey, you’ve got twenty minutes!  How long does it take?”  He just shook his head and started to walk off.  I then asked for a manager.

He then reiterated that they couldn’t help me, but added “The guys have to clean. “ And this gem, “Including you, we’ve turned away six people who all needed tires or batteries – so you’re not the only one.”  Incredible!

What has happened to customer service in America?  Sears, of all big brands, used to be the store for the average Joe.  Think Craftsman tools.  Sears Auto Centers.  Those are big mainstays with the American public.  Now, the store manager turns away six people so his shop can get cleaned and his crew out of there by 7:00.  I’m actually still shocked by this (it’s the impetus for this blog article).

Call me old fashioned, but I think that good, solid customer service has to start with viewing your company through your customer’s eyes.  What do they see when they interact with you?  A caring, dedicated, “we’ll solve your problems” company?  Are they making it easier for the consumer somehow?  Are they experts and will help you guide some tough decisions?

For Sears to turn away business, of any kind, when they are closing stores all over the country is just ridiculous.  Well, maybe that’s why they are closing stores?  This is a management mindset, and it’s passed down to the workers.  Remember what Deming said, “ that managements actions result in 85% of all a company’s problems”.

So for Sears to say to a guy that just spent an hour in eleven degree weather changing a tire, “we don’t want your business”, I’m going to believe them.

By the way, the folks at the Goodyear Tire store the next day sure were helpful.

Pinterest: Visual Social Marketing for Apparel Decorators

By now you’ve surely read one or two articles about the value of incorporating a social marketing strategy into your business plan.  Connecting with your current and potential customers is an ever-demanding and crucial step in growing your sales and working towards successful sales goals.

You may already have a website, blog, Facebook page, LinkedIn account, and Twitter feed.  Adding another element to that may seem overwhelming and daunting, but if you haven’t heard of Pinterest (www.pintrest.com) you may want to jump on this gigantic growing social media phenomenon.  Pinterest is the hottest social media website on the internet, with millions of users and it’s growing every day.  In a recent study released in April (http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2012/04/09/new-study-pegs-pinterest-as-the-number-3-social-website/), Forbes Magazine reports that Pinterest is the number three social media service, with 105 million users, ranking only behind Facebook and Twitter respectively.  Below, I’ll explain what Pinterest is and how you can use this to your advantage as part of your social media marketing strategy for your business.

Pinterest has been likened to a “Visual Twitter”, and that’s pretty accurate.  Your account is essentially one or more bulletin boards of visual pictures that you want the world to see.  Instead of blasting out a short 140 character message users “Pin” a picture of something that “Interests” them to one of their boards.  Others may find that image likable and can either “Like” or “Repin” the image to one of their boards.  Popular images can go viral and spread across the country in minutes.  The fun of Pinterest is exploring other people’s boards to see their interests and connect socially.  After I created my account a few weeks ago, the business epiphany of using this as a tool for marketing was readily apparent.  I’ve loaded an image and in literally ten seconds, someone I don’t know Repinned or Liked the image.  It’s amazing.

Obtaining and creating a Pinterest account is pretty easy.  You can sign up for an invitation from Pinterest (www.Pinterest.com), or be invited from someone that already is using the service.  After you’ve joined, you can sign in using your Facebook or Twitter account so logging in when you want to poke around is easy.  After you’ve joined you can create your “Boards”.  These will be the landing zones for your visual images that you want to pin.

  1. The easiest way to add a new image is to use the “Pin-It” bookmark, as this is the tool that adds the image to one of your boards.  Go to the Pinterest Goodies section and drag the “Pin-It” bookmarklet to your bookmarks toolbar in your browser.
  2. When you want to share images from the web with others, simply click the “Pin-It” tool and all of the available images from that page will appear.  Move your cursor over the image you want to share and a “Pin This” icon will appear on the image.  Click on the icon, and you can choose one of your boards to pin your image.  Simple.
  3. When you pin the image you can include a description of the image if you want.  You have 500 characters, which is considerably more than the 140 character limit that Twitter imposes, but most people using Pintrest only post a sentence or two at the most.
  4. When you Pin something, the image will be placed on your Board.  Anyone viewing that can click on the image to Repin it to their board, or if they click again it will take them to the original source of the Pin.  This is what’s driving the world-wide craze, as Pinterest is quickly outdistancing other social media referrals.
  5. The enjoyable part of Pinterest is exploring and sharing images.  Warning: It’s addictive.  Once you start, good luck getting anything else done that day.
  6. Pinterest has a free app for iPhone users and they are working on one for Android phones now.  You can still do everything from your phone if you have web access though, so don’t let that discourage you.  I have the iPhone app, and it works great for viewing your pins, but they haven’t worked out the “Pin It” bookmarklet yet for the iPhone – but it’s coming soon.

The downside for Pinterest is that it’s already battling some copywrite infringement challenges.  Webpages that don’t want to allow Pinterest users to capture images can install some short code to their site that will push a disclaimer that reads, “This site doesn’t allow pinning to Pinterest. Please contact the owner with any questions. Thanks for visiting!”  You might want to tread cautiously if you are unsure about an image.  Also, some companies are still waiting for the legal dust to settle before moving forward with any marketing use of Pinterest for their business.  However, a simple rule of thumb to consider is that if it’s your image, it’s yours to post.

Ok, so that takes care of the basics of how the site works.  You should play and explore around a bit to see how others are using the site and the mechanics of doing the steps.  Remember, nothing is permanent and you can edit, delete, rearrange and redo whatever you want, whenever you want.  Make some mistakes and play around.  Have fun!!

For apparel decorators here are some ideas on how you can use Pinterest to your advantage and make this a part of your social media marketing strategy:

  1. Educate your customers about your shop.  What do you do?  Have a board showing different facets of your business so everyone can see all the wonderful things you can print.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, twenty pictures from your shop is an entire article devoted to your business.  Quite often nobody really knows how a shirt is printed or embroidered and pictures of the process are very fascinating to the general public.  Photos of your staff smiling and working are great.  Include some descriptive texts and your company name so your photo is more searchable.  Check out my board “Behind the Scenes at a T-shirt Shop” here – http://pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/behind-the-curtain-at-a-t-shirt-shop/
  2. One of the coolest features of Pinterest is that you can Pin videos too.  If you have some video shots of your company or an introductory video, here is a great place to include them.  Have a board just for videos and Pin all the ones that you like.  Take some short videos of your presses in action or your embroidery machines humming.  Make a video tour of your shop, or show someone how a high density print is made.
  3. Create a board for blog articles that you read and share your favorites.  If you have a blog, this is a great place to share your blog as well.  I have a blog board and a few times, there weren’t any available photos from the blog that could be pinned so I wasn’t able to link the blog and share it.  Remember, everything on Pinterest is visual so the key for sharing on Pinterest is to make sure your photos can be shared.  Web designers take heed.
  4. If you have an art staff, encourage them to join Pinterest and use the service as a tool to create inspiration boards that they can learn or spark and idea from.  Each board can be categorized by a theme, such as “Elephants”, or “Motorcycles”, or “Distressed Textures” or “Blue”….whatever makes sense to the artist.  As they bump into great looking or inspiring ideas on the web they can Pin that idea to the appropriate board, so when someone wants a shirt with a distressed graphic of an elephant riding a motorcycle on a blue shirt, you have some reference material to start that work already available.  Type in Logos, Design, Type, Graphic, T-shirt, Image or any other key word in the search field and be prepared to be mesmerized by the high volume of insanely great work flowing to you.
  5. If you have a brand or retail line, Pinterest is right up your alley for marketing your designs.  You can simply Pin your collection from your online catalog, and your designs will be in front of a huge mass market instantly…and for free.  The great thing about Pinterest is that once someone discovers one of your images or your boards they can follow you, and have instant access to all of your Pins in the future.  This means for example that if you are promoting a line of t-shirts that feature creative images of a dragonfly, all of the people that like dragonfly t-shirts can immediately be updated with your new designs if they have found you and are following your boards.  If they like a particular design, in two clicks they are on your ordering page and could be buying that shirt!  It’s that easy.
  6. You can create boards to spark ideas for your customers such as “Sale items”, “Things We Love”, “Promotional Ideas”, “Unique Placements”, “Distressed Graphics”, “Mixed Media”, “All-Over Prints”, “Foil”, etc.  The list is probably endless, but you get the idea.  Customers want to know what you do, and by showing your repertoire you can get their creative juices flowing.
  7. Give your customers reasons to follow you by creating boards that are more than just a visual portfolio.  Create contests where they can link back to you, such as “Pin It to Win It” or “Corporate Pin It Challenge” where they show your product and how they use it for a reward of some kind.  Remember, this is a SOCIAL media and it’s all about connecting and sharing.  At my company we are already tossing around ideas on how to develop this strategy, but we haven’t released anything yet.
  8. You can also make a collaborative board, and have others Pin images to the board.  Under Settings you can change the board controls from “Just Me” to “Me+” – this might be an interesting way for your art staff, sales force, or clients to collaborate on an idea.  For example, maybe you can start a board for your local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary group, or networking circle.  Maybe a client oriented board or two that shows of the work that you print for them?  People can share and post their visual Pin to that particular board, driving traffic to your Pinterest account, and maybe while they are there they will check out another one of your boards.  Get creative!

In closing, I think that if you try Pinterest you’ll quickly see that it can become a major part of your social media arsenal.  Remember, you need to include good looking visuals of anything you Pin.  Boring or trite images will get passed over for funny, interesting, or stunning shots every day.  Make your boards fun and informative, and include some personal interests too.  If you’d like to check out my Pinterest boards here’s the link – http://pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/.  I’m always adding to this page and playing around.  It’s such a new and interesting tool, and like you, I’m still learning how to incorporate this into some big picture ideas. Happy Pinning!

Why a Sustainability Program Makes Economic Sense for Your Shop

I could easily write an article describing the myriad of ways that every apparel decorator can contribute to the “greening” of the industry.  You can’t pick up a newspaper, magazine or watch a TV show without someone blathering on about Global Warming, Save the Planet or another trendy, talking-head catch-phrase.  Removing the feel good and karma building reasons why a shop sustainability program should be implemented, the purpose of this article is to discuss the real reason why many companies are actually making the effort, and that reason is simple: MONEY.

Many larger corporations are demanding sustainability programs from their supply chain partners.  Go to the corporate sustainability webpages of Wal-Mart (http://walmartstores.com/sustainability/), Coca-Cola (http://www.thecoca-colacompany.com/citizenship), Nike (http://nikeinc.com/pages/responsibility) or adidas (http://www.adidas-group.com/en/sustainability/welcome.aspx) and see how they are addressing the issue.  Usually when the big boys latch onto something and start educating consumers, it’s going to have a trickle-down effect eventually and make it to the local marketplace.  If you haven’t noticed this already, there’s tons of press about this issue every day focusing on the triple bottom line in corporate America.  But why are they really doing this?  A good reason is that they understand that they can link aspects of their Lean Manufacturing programs, governmental regulatory responsibilities, tax incentives, and good old-fashioned marketing to make a public stance on sustainability and drive consumer spending their way if they can.

Ok, by now you are saying to yourself “I’m not Wal-Mart, Coke, Nike or adidas – how does this apply to me?”  It’s the same principle, but just on a smaller scale.  Greg Kitson with Mind’s Eye Graphics (http://www.mindseyeg.com/) calls it “finding nickels”.  He has a sustainability program in his shop, as he knows that if he can save money by doing something he’s already tasked to do, his cost for printing that shirt just went down.  If he can save five cents here, or a few pennies there…it eventually adds up to more margin and profit at the end of the year.  Common sense, right?

The three core tenets of any sustainability program are Reduce, Reuse & Recycle.  I’d like to add a fourth, which is ReEconomize.  To elaborate:

                Reduce – means simply that.  Find ways around your shop to reduce the amount of energy, materials, labor, or other ideas to get the same results for the task.  Using less electricity or energy, masking tape, ink, paper, or other commodities often goes overlooked in the desire to get that order printed and out the door.  Finding the discipline to question everything, document what you are doing, finding methods for reduction, setting goals, and then actually doing the work tracking everything is a lot of work, but worth it.  Already doing that?  Great!  That’s a big part of a sustainability program…

                Reuse – means repurposing one thing and using it in a different way.  For example, lots of shops cut down their 30 gallon ink or chemical barrels and use them as trash cans.  Or use defective or misprinted shirts as shop towels.  In your shop, what can you reuse instead of just throwing it away?  When you buy – can you purchase something already made such as a press or office furniture?  Can you repurpose your scrap paper into office notepads?

                Recycle – everyone is familiar with this idea – but do you really have a recycling program?  Paper, cardboard, metal, plastic, electronic devices, hydraulic oil, light bulbs, office furniture, phones, computers, appliances, equipment, even ink – all can be recycled.  How are you managing this in your shop?  Are you in control, or is it a free-for-all?

                ReEconomize, which I freely admit is a word I just made up; means to take everything listed above and document, track or otherwise show how you are either saving money, or making money on your efforts.  This can’t just be a “gut instinct” either – to do this correctly the industry best practice is to document by creating a list or spreadsheet to use for the program.  By continually tracking your efforts, you can quickly understand what’s successful or not, and focus your efforts accordingly.   For example, if you document your energy costs over a period of time you can link your expenditures with the amount of impressions printed.  For the sake of easy numbers, let’s say your shop spends $100,000 a year on energy (electricity, water, natural gas, & propane), a simple 5% annual reduction as a goal could amount to a savings of $5,000 per year.  Every shop is different, but how many shirts would you have to print to make a $5,000 profit?  Do you know what it costs per impression to print per year?  What if you could drop that cost a penny per shirt?

If you don’t already have a program, saving that $5,000+ a year on costs now seems like a good idea, but how do you get started?  First, and I can’t stress this enough, it can’t be a one-man show.  To make any real impact at your company this program can’t just come from the owner or production manager whereby he tells everyone in the shop that “we are saving money so turn off the lights when you leave the room”.  It’s not that simple.  The best industry practice is to build a teamwork culture where everyone shares in the effort and is committed to the success of the program.

Start with organizing a Sustainability Committee consisting of representatives in all facets of your business.  From the shop floor to accounting, the more people invested in the success of the program the better.  Make them responsible and accountable for the program.  They will quickly brainstorm on some ideas and be eager to get going, but may need to have some direction.  SGIA has some great ideas on getting started.  (www.sgia.org)  Based on my experience here are a few must do’s to get started:

  1. Write your Sustainability Policy – this will be the core principle that drives your success, and that people will refer back to if they are trying to make a decision.  It doesn’t have to be overly complex, but it should give direction and demonstrate company responsibility.  The policy should show that you are to be in compliance with environmental, health and safety regulations.  Give direction for continuous improvement, including areas not subject to regulation.  Emphasize pollution prevention from source reduction, reuse and recycling.  And finally, communicate information on your sustainability performance.  In a nutshell, make it work for your business and how you operate.
  2. Get an energy audit.  In your local marketplace this could be a free service that your utility company will provide, or one that you may have to pay a small fee to schedule, but either way it’s going to be a great way to get started and to learn how to save money.  Someone will come out and tour your shop, poke around and measure for energy inefficiencies such as heat or cooling loss, HVAC maintenance recommendations, and other ideas.  An individual report should be written on how you can reduce your consumption and provide you examples of where you are wasting money.  Chalk this up to “getting an expert to help”, similar to getting an annual physical from your doctor.
  3. Engage your staff.  Make the program fun!  Reward their effort and make everyone part of the success.  Publish information, graphs, events, and news in the company newsletter, webpage, or on a bulletin board in the shop.  This program can’t be a secret.  Celebrate your successes as you go.  Give “attaboys” when you catch someone doing something right.  Think long term, and don’t let the initial fire die out.
  4. Engage your vendors.  What are they doing?  How can you partner with them to revamp how you purchase to be a more sustainable effort for everyone?  What are the potential cost savings?  For example, maybe changing the frequency of your purchases can save on shipping or delivery costs.  Review year to date information, and purchase quarterly.  Does the added volume purchases on some items amount to a savings?  Can you negotiate a rebate based on the vendor saving on shipping costs?  You will never know unless you ask.
  5. Engage your customers.  What’s important to them?  Inform them that you are getting started and want to know what they are doing.  Partner with them on strengthening your relationship by trying something new.  Just having this conversation could be a selling opportunity alone.  Can you change their purchasing behavior as part of the program?  What if they sent their PO’s in electronically instead of a fax or mail (yes, people still do that), or can you invoice them with a .pdf attachment instead of mailing them a statement?  Can you set up electronic payment so you don’t have to use traditional paper checks and deposits?  Make sure you annualize the savings and document your efforts so you can see the bigger picture.
  6. Don’t be afraid to ask “Why”.  Why are you doing something?  What if you do something differently?  The statements we’ve all heard before (and unfortunately continue to hear), “We’ve always done it this way”, “I’m too busy”, “I don’t have time”, or “It’s too costly to change” need to be thrown out as lazy thinking.  You are in control of your process, not the process is in control of you.  Don’t accept mediocrity as the status quo, as this is costing you money.

While you are building your program you may also look into if obtaining certification through the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (www.sgppartnership.org/) makes sense for your company.  Depending on your market niche, obtaining this particular certification could be tremendously beneficial as many companies are demanding that their suppliers not only have sustainability programs, but that they are third party documented and certified.  The SGP program encompasses the entire graphic printing community, so it’s larger than just t-shirt printers.  It’s only been around for a few years, but its gaining momentum.  Currently there’s close to 40 printers certified, and a handful of those are apparel decorators with more getting certified every year.  Marci Kinter, chairperson of the SGP Board of Directors, says that sustainability is quickly becoming a bigger requirement in the business world and that “in the new economy companies are looking to reduce waste, use the least harmful products, and find more sustainable print systems.  Companies that obtain certification differentiate themselves in the marketplace, and can drive more business to them by framing their sustainability story by demonstrating accountability and aligning themselves with the values of their customers”.  SGP has prepared a great three part video on building a program, check it out: (http://preview.tinyurl.com/8xq8jb8)

Keys to Success – Building an Accurate Production Schedule

Hopefully your sales are at a point where your production schedule is crowded and full of orders to produce.  As everyone knows, it’s pretty easy to prioritize work when there are fewer jobs to sort through.  However, once the schedule is full and moving towards over-capacity that’s when any production manager will start to feel over-whelmed and liken the experience to juggling running chainsaws.  This article is written with the aim of outlining the need to link building an accurate production schedule with the understanding that every person in the company plays a role in this effort.

The basic goal in having a production schedule is to prioritize and predict when an order will hit the production floor, and the duration of that particular Work Order’s production cycle.  This information has to be shared with the customer service and sales staff, and built so that they can be trained to comprehend the schedule and make some decisions regarding accepting new orders.  There is nothing worse that the cold hard stare a production manager will give a sales rep when they hand them a newly entered rush order that “has to go” on an already booked day.  Something has to give, and it’s usually the order that’s been scheduled and sitting for two weeks.  By having the full involvement of EVERYONE in the company regarding the schedule those circumstances can be mitigated.  The age-old theory of overbooking print production that’s akin to overbooking an airplane flight, where the airline will purposely sell more tickets than they have seats and just issue a voucher for the guy that gets bumped, just doesn’t work in a production environment and leads to upset clients, stressed out staff and increased labor costs.  There is a better way.

The production schedule has to be published on a calendar and made available as a company-wide reference tool.  Whether you are using software such as Shopworks, a whiteboard, or just a big cork bulletin board with index cards that represent orders, defining your system and setting up some rules and standards that have to be followed will go a long way in keeping your schedule current.  Standardizing the work, lead times and actions that your staff must follow is the only way to getting a predictable schedule.  Tailor any standards to your work, company culture and clientele, but here are some I would suggest using:

  1. Orders from the client must be entered 100% accurately in the system, with as many notes, instructions and detailed information as possible.  Anytime someone in production has to “go upfront” to find out what the client wants to do for the order is downtime that can throw your schedule off in big chunks of time.  An extra two minutes on order entry can save twenty times that on the shop floor in downtime (with the press crews standing around wondering what to do and NOT printing).  Complete written information, a color copy of the design showing placement on the shirt, and even a previously printed sample (if available) will go a long way towards keeping your presses churning.
  2. Orders must have an accurate ship date listed.  It’s extremely common for sales and customer service to “pad” the ship date for an order, as they may have learned to distrust the production staff on when something will be ready.  This does everyone in the company a disservice, as the production staff knows this and doesn’t trust ANY dates put in the system so it’s a vicious cycle.  I would encourage your company to use the real information, as production scheduling decisions need to be based on exactly when something has to ship, and not a moving target.  This cannot be stressed enough.   If your production manager has ever asked “when does this really need to ship?” – You are not doing it right.
  3. There needs to be some sort of visual prioritization method for “important orders”.  Yes, I know all orders are equally important, but what I’m referring to are those orders that are associated with an event date, key customer, or some other reason the order is a priority.  These are the orders that will be scheduled and produced first to ensure that they are completed on time.  The visual could be a different colored paper the work order is printed on, the job name typed using bold text, or a “$” is placed in front of the client’s PO in the system so it can be searched and ranked easily.  Whatever your method, giving the production staff a visual heads up on these types of orders instantly communicates the importance and saves time.  If you have this set up well, you don’t need a special daily production meeting to communicate daily production priorities.
  4. Workflow standards.  I would suggest having a basic set of guidelines as to targeted deadlines for tasks to occur.  When these don’t happen according the standard there has to be an adjustment somewhere with the schedule and how you are organizing your production.  For example:
  5. Work Orders must be processed the same day as the PO comes in.  The day the customer wants the order delivered isn’t going to change, so if it takes a day or two for the order to be entered you are short changing your production staff.   Orders are not complete until all information is received.  Before pushing the work order out to the floor, order entry performs a quality control step to ensure the order entered is 100% accurate.
  6. As a daily task, Production Scheduling reviews the orders placed in the system the previous business day and regardless of when it ships, schedules the order to an actual production press on the day that the job has to start to completely finish production the day before the published ship date of the order.  This happens for all orders, every day.  For the production scheduler this is where understanding the capacity of the press per shift, and what types of orders are commonly printed on each press will help.  (more on that later)  The goal is to constantly focus the production schedule based on real information, and always be proactively looking out several days in advance.  This is the most important key to getting a predictable production schedule for your company – you have to schedule the job immediately and work backwards on when everything is due.
  7. Approved art is due back from the client two days before the job is set to run.  This gives the art department time to separate the file and update your system with accurate art notes regarding PMS colors, mesh counts requested, flash and cool down stations, and print order.  I recommend that a color copy showing the art and placement on a shirt is printed and placed with the Work Order documents.
  8. Receiving should have 100% of the inventory for the job, all hangtags, stickers, boxes or other items needed to produce the order, at least one day before the job is to run.  Blanks need to be verified and counted against the Work Order.  If complete, organize the complete job inventory in an area by the last digit of the Work Order for easy staging by the production team.
  9. Seps need to be ready for the screen room and screens burned on the specified mesh for each plate one day before the production run.  This ensures that the screens are ready and can be staged with the blank inventory prior to production.  Presses should never be waiting for screens to come out of the screen room.  Group the screens together on the staging rack, and use a piece of masking tape to label the screens by Work Order number and ship date.
  10. The production team’s goal is to completely print the job one day before the order has to ship (with the real ship dates).  This is an admirable goal, but as they say “production happens”, and won’t always be achieved.  That’s ok.  By working proactively to finish orders early, this also leaves room for a rush order to be produced or some other challenge that may arise.

The main ingredient in getting an accurate production schedule is communication.  The calendar should denote each day of the week, with every job being printed for each press.   Show the total number of impressions booked per day so sales reps can review to see if an order can be accepted or not, based on how much production capacity is available.  If it looks questionable, other orders can be moved around or other allowances made to accept the job.  (Including contracting the order out to another printer, keeping it in-house and working overtime, moving another order for the same client, etc.)

A big help in understanding what’s happening on the production floor is to keep a daily production log.  Think of this log as the speedometer for the shop floor.  This is an important tool to understand your print capacity in real, not vague terms.  There are three key indicators that need to be measured in print production: Set Up Time, Production Time, & Downtime.

  1. Set Up Time is the measurement of the amount of time to accurately set up the screens, prepare the job, get everything registered, or whatever is necessary for production approval prior the job.  This is measured in minutes per screen.
  2. Production Time is the measurement of when the job starts after approval until the last shirt is produced.  This is essentially “how fast” the press is moving.  This is measured in Impressions per hour.
  3. Downtime is the measurement of anything that prevents the press from printing.  This could include waiting on ink to be mixed, ripping a screen and waiting for a new one, waiting on an artist/client to approve the job, equipment failure, etc.  This is measured in hours per shift (or minutes if that’s easier for you)

The daily data gathered on this production log can be kept on a simple Excel spreadsheet and a daily average for each press determined.  This is extremely valuable information to use for your Production Schedule, as you can use this to accurately estimate blocks of time for each press for the work being scheduled based on the parameters of the order.  For example, let’s say Press one sets up at an average of 6 minutes per screen, runs at 438 impressions per hour, and have an average of a half an hour of downtime per day.  You’ve booked a 10,000 piece one location full front 6 color order.  Using your production log information you can deduce that it should take 36 minutes to set up the job, and you can expect 3,022 impressions the first day, but 3,285 impressions thereafter.  If the crews print slightly over those averages, you should expect to finish this on one press in four days.

This information can be booked on the calendar, and would show that Press 1 is booked up for four days until that job has completely finished printing.  If your front office staff is trained in understanding the calendar, any prospective new orders can be added based on the actual availability of the production capacity.  In an overbooked situation, options can be explored such as moving booked jobs on the schedule, contracting jobs out to other printers, staying late or running overtime to complete the jobs.

In conclusion, if your shop has a need for an accurate Production Schedule it’s important to point out that it’s a team effort.  This isn’t a task that the production manager is going to handle on his own.  If the art isn’t ready, the shirts aren’t in, screens aren’t burned, or there’s some confusion on the instructions on the order it will be difficult to keep to a set schedule.  Due to the complex nature of the orders in this industry (every order is a custom job), keeping the orders moving through your shop step by step and on time is always challenging.  Having a proactive, detail oriented, and “team player mentality” effort from everyone in the company will pay off large dividends with the schedule.

Jumpstart Your Sales with QR Codes

Want to boost your company’s sales with an easy and value-add idea?  Adding a QR code sales program just might be the ticket.  Below I’ll give you a brief explanation of what the heck a QR code is, tips on engaging clients with this new idea, how to create the QR code, how to print, and some tips on checking to make sure your QR code is properly set up and working.

Let’s start with a brief explanation on the definition of a QR code.  You’ve probably seen this in stores, on some packaging, or maybe out somewhere.  A QR code is the boxy maze like barcode that is steadily growing in popularity.  QR is an acronym that stands for “Quick Response”.  The code is set up to be used with scanning devices on dedicated barcode readers and now smart cell phones.  What’s exciting about this technology is the development of an infinite number of creative applications.  Common applications that companies are using this technology include information sharing via a vCard, links to website URL’s, pre-written text displays, e-mails, or to connect to a wireless network.

Don’t think it’s been used for t-shirts?  Do a quick test and Google QR Code T-shirt and check out how other shops are already using this technology.  Jay Berman with Visual Impressions in Milwaukee, WI says, “More of our customers are looking to jumpstart their social media campaigns.  QR codes printed on tees can give our customers traditional billboard t-shirt advertising but allow them to connect on a much larger platform as well.  Recently, Zaffiros Pizza in Milwaukee printed their QR codes on all the staff uniforms at Summerfest (A 10 day Music Festival in Milwaukee).  They use the QR code to link patrons with a site that gives them a chance to win pizza for a year.  It promotes the restaurant by posting to the patron’s Facebook network that they have just enjoyed Zaffiro’s Pizza and signs them up for a chance to win a reward.  It’s a win-win transaction.  QR codes are here to stay and are not just for print advertising and the backs of business cards“.

Selling a QR code program can be pretty easy, but what you need to sell is the idea of how this can be used to add value to the t-shirt print.  (Like Visual Impressions did with Zaffiro’s Pizza)  That is going to drive your sales.  A restaurant or store can use it to link to a coupon or sales offer.  A company can link this to their Facebook page so they can build their “Like” program.  A non-profit or church can use it to link to their donation page.  Bands can use it to link to a YouTube video of them performing.  The list is endless, but you get the drift.  Stop and think about how you can engage your clients with this technology, and how you can help them achieve their goals and selling this program will be a no-brainer.

There are many apps and software that can create the QR code, but we only have space for one – so I’m recommending that you utilize www.delivr.com/qr-code-generator.  This is a free service that not only allows you to generate a QR Code and download the small icon in .eps or .png formats…but allows you to instantly set up and track usage.  You can create reports on where your users are scanning the code, what phone they are using, and the day and time of the usage.  Here’s how you demonstrate the value of the QR code program, as you can deliver a weekly or monthly report on the code’s usage rate.

If you have a modern smart phone you can download free apps that will allow you to interact with QR Codes.  For iPhone users, it’s recommended to use QRafter or Blazerfish.  For Android users (like me) use Blazerfish.  For Blackberry users, download Q Scanner.  All basically work the same and will allow you to scan and use the QR Codes that you find.

Once you’ve set up the code (I would rename the file “Client X QR Code” or something so you can keep track of the file easily) you can apply it to your artwork.  The whitespace around the code is important, so make sure that it’s free from obstruction and works – make sure you test the code before sending the art approval to the client.  The art will print just like any other image, but make sure it prints cleanly and that all parts of the code are correct.  I’d scan the first shirt off the belt to ensure it’s working before running the entire job.

For easier scanning, here are some tips: Keep the phone as level or parallel as possible to the code.  Scan in a well-let area and keep the code in the scanning rectangle, as large as you can.  Move your phone around for best placement…and you can visually see the phone trying to scan as small dots will appear in various areas of the QR code.  Note there are many scanning apps available for different models of phones, and this is new technology that people are just starting to employ.  It may take some time to catch on, but forward thinking companies are already using this technology to their advantage.

Last tip: Use this technology for your company’s marketing and promotions too by developing a QR code program that links to your website or a promotion.  Print the QR code on invoices, hangtags, carton labels, delivery vans, etc.  Get ahead of the curve and drive more sales to your door!

Safety – It’s No Laughing Matter

A few years ago, someone slipped on a wet concrete floor at the shop and one of the other staff members inadvertently laughed.  I guess it was just that type of pratfall that induced the giggle, but it clearly defined the lack of concern with the safety and well-being for that individual.  The management staff took it very seriously, and after an investigation, disciplined the giggling employee.  I wanted to include that incident as the introduction for this article, as it proved to me at the time that the safety culture that I thought we had at the shop, was severely lacking.  Sure, as senior management we had all the correct tools and procedures, but didn’t take it one step further and talk about safety and demonstrate the seriousness of it to the staff.  After that incident, we ramped up our efforts even further.  I’ve traveled the country touring shops and engaging other company’s staff, and I’m always surprised that safety is one of the most overlooked aspects of running a shop.

Building a culture of safety at your shop is the one thing that you can do to proactively prevent a huge money drain from your bottom line.  How many shirts would you need to print or embroider to make up the cash lost from a settlement or legal fees?  If you don’t have a safety program, you should start today and build one.  If you do, spend a few moments of good solid introspection and investigate to see if your actions not only prevent accidents, but would form a solid defense if you were inspected or subpoenaed.  Listed below are some tips and ideas on building a proactive safety program:

Safety Committee.  It all starts with this group.  Form your committee with disparate members of your staff.  I recommend using your HR Manager, someone from Accounting, a Production Manager, and at least one Line Employee, as the basis for the committee as you want to get different viewpoints and levels of involvement.  This group’s goal is going to be to develop a Comprehensive Safety Plan for the company that includes written policies and procedures, training, inspections, facility management, the Emergency Action Plan, and the overall company documentation effort.  Get a 3” three ring binder and start a Safety Notebook.  Tab off sections and document everything regarding the safety program within this notebook.   The Safety Committee should write, implement and enforce the company Safety Training.  Task oriented training is critical, but every employee should receive a “Basic” training package that includes instruction on MSDS sheets, the Emergency Action Plan, Lock-Out / Tag-Out, accident prevention and reporting, and simple things such as lifting a box properly.  Ideally this training should occur before the employee starts working their first day.

Inspections.  Your company should have regular safety inspections and document findings and resolution actions.  This is important, as you want to be able to show that you take safety seriously, and prove that you actively resolve challenges as they occur.  Have a simple audit in a checklist form and divide the items on the list by Daily, Weekly, Monthly, Quarterly, and Annual categories.  You may want to have different forms for different aspects of your business, such as Machinery, Training, Facility, & Staff.  The important thing is to build your forms and actively use them by following agreed upon company procedures.  It’s not about nit-picking and getting people in trouble – but rather taking care of business in a professional manner.    It’s also a good idea to bring in third party experts to inspect your facility and document their findings in the Safety Notebook.  Have the fire department or local utility come and inspect your facility.  Most of the time this is a free service and you just need to schedule it.  Resolve the challenges as necessary.  While we’re on the subject of inspections here are a few of the most common daily items that cause the most injuries in a shop:

  1. Trip hazards.  The biggest problem of all is the use of extension cords around the shop, as they cause the most injuries by far.   The use of extension cords is a daily fact of life in any shop…but you can use them safely.  Tape them down, cover them with a mat, or drop them down from the ceiling.  Have your manager’s to be constantly aware of this issue, and resolve this issue with effective training.
  2. Slip and falls.  As mentioned earlier, this can happen at any time.  Make sure if someone is cleaning the floor that proper safety awareness signs are displayed and they only clean small sections of the floor at a time.  Train your staff to not walk through the wet floor, walk around.  Many shops have inadequate draining, especially in the screen room.  If it’s too expensive to re-plumb the drain, at least paint the floor with non-skid paint or install safety traction mats that will allow staff to walk above the wet concrete.
  3. Leaning pallets.  A common shop problem is when staff members unload a pallet and then lean it on some nearby boxes to get it out of the way.  The pallet could injure someone if it fell, so train your staff to move empty pallets to designated areas in your shop and stack them flat.  This practice is not only safer, but it will de-clutter your shop and make it easier to move around.
  4. Not using Personal Protection Equipment.  This equipment is crucial to prevent accidents from occurring and future lawsuits in landing your lap.  Your employees MUST use vision protection for their eyes when dealing with chemicals (spray guns, screen cleaning, metal or wood fabrication, etc.)  Your employees MUST use respiratory equipment when dealing with chemicals that emit any mist, odor or potentially hazardous fumes.  Check your MSDS sheets.  Your employees MUST use hearing protection when there is any noise that could damage hearing (grinders, saws, screen room power washers, loud mechanical devices).  OSHA requires an analysis to determine if potentially hazardous tasks cannot be eliminated by use of another chemical or work practice method.  Appropriate equipment must be provided to your staff that is exposed to the problem.  Ensure your staff is trained about hazards, when safety equipment is required; and proper usage.  (including cleaning, maintaining and inspecting each safety item)  OSHA states that if you provide equipment, but don’t enforce its use 100% of the time it’s a serious violation.  This means that if you provide the safety goggles by the spray out station, but the worker doesn’t use them – it’s up to you to enforce this with disciplinary action.  Don’t take chances.

Documentation and Certification.  Good solid recordkeeping is important for any successful business operation, and this applies to the subject of safety as well.  Keeping your staff certified and trained to operate the equipment they use daily is crucial as well.  Have your HR Manager record all training and certification in each employee’s personnel folder.  Follow up and ensure that the OSHA 300 forms are properly filled out and displayed.

  1. The Safety Committee should create an Emergency Action Plan (EAP).  If you get audited by OSHA, they will review your plan to deal with fires, tornadoes, natural disasters, terrorism, chemical spills, even workplace violence.  Your plan should outline evacuation procedures, staging areas (where to meet so you know everyone is accounted for) and areas of refuge inside your building (where to go in case of a tornado). Have regular drills, at the very least for fires and tornadoes, twice a year.  Document everything in your Safety Notebook.  You should post maps around your building with clearly defined exit directions for each location.  Remember, the person looking at this map at the time of an emergency may not be an employee of your company.
  2. MSDS or Material Safety Data Sheets.   If you haven’t already done so for your shop, you need to pull all the documentation for every chemical used in your company and place it in one accessible notebook.  Download MSDS sheets online, as your supplier companies are regularly requested for them.  “All chemicals” means everything including cleaners such as Windex, which can be harmful if ingested.  Ideally, you have a “Right to Know Center” in your shop and this is a good place to have the MSDS notebook too.  All staff should have mandatory MSDS training annually, with documentation including their signature, in their employee file.
  3. Hazard Communication.  (Or Hazcom by OSHA).  This requires container labeling with the content information, but you can’t just simply scribble “Acetone” on a bottle with marker.  You need to use the proper identification and provide the health warning, if any, for the contents.  Use labels or stickers that you can purchase on rolls that tie into the information found on MSDS sheets.  Use these for all secondary containers as well (meaning you filled up a jug).  The primary container (meaning the drum or bottle that the chemical came from) must include the name and address of the manufacturer and target organs must be identified, with the chemical name and health warning.
  4. OSHA 300 or 301 Forms.  All injuries must be recorded and at the beginning of each year and a summarization of the injuries should be displayed on the OSHA 300A form next to your OSHA Safety Poster.  (this is usually found in the break room or the Right To Know Center)  The basic rule of thumb is when determining a recordable injury is to ask “did the injury require medical treatment beyond basic first aid?”  If the answer is yes, and it was the result of a workplace injury then the injury must be recorded.  For more information go to http://www.osha300online.com/.

In conclusion, if you promote a culture of safety awareness by proactively resolving issues, having an effective safety committee or safety manager, and documenting all of your company’s efforts with this issue your company will be better prepared.  Take the time to build your program, and be constantly vigilant and focused on identifying areas of opportunity for improvement.  All it takes is one ill-timed laugh.

You Have To Get Involved

The 2012 Visual Impressions walk team for the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” event in Milwaukee, WI.

The old adage “Life is what you make it” is true.  You can’t just sit on the sidelines and wait for something to happen, or for someone else to resolve the challenges.  It’s better, and more worthwhile to jump in, do your best, and try to make a difference.

I’ve always been a big believer is trying to find ways to help people.  Sometimes it’s just a moment of your time, and lending support through some words of encouragement when they need it the most.  Other times it’s through volunteer work or helping fundraise for philanthropy.

Yesterday I participated in the American Cancer Society’s “Making Strides Against Breast Cancer” walk here in Milwaukee.  I was one of about ten thousand people participating.  What was really encouraging was seeing the support for other people along the way.  Several times you could see a woman, obviously recovering from a recent medical challenge walking slowly along with dozens of people walking beside her.  That lifts my spirit and reaffirms my faith in humanity.  (Please click here to find an event near you http://makingstrides.acsevents.org/site/PageServer?pagename=MSABC_FY13_FindAnEvent)

Our Visual Impressions walk team raised $5,532 for ACS and we were happy to do it.  Of all the teams we were the sixth best in the city.  Some of our team members were better at fundraising than others, but that’s not the point.  The point is that everyone made and effort and it went towards a great cause.

See how you can get involved around you.  The feeling you get from being a part of something will make it all worthwhile.  Trust me on this one.

Trust – The Ultimate Five Letter Word

Whatever happened to TRUST in American society and business?  Long ago, a man’s word was his bond.  Businesses valued their customers and supply chain partners.  Trust was earned with a simple handshake.

A simplistic and naïve point of view, sure…  Would we all be better served if people focused on building trust in their everyday relationships and interactions?  In my view, the answer is a resounding “Hell Yes”.

I consistently see too many people shoot towards short term gains, and pass right by long term ideals.  It’s sad really.  Everyone always wonders “why” and “what happened” to American businesses.  From my perspective, they’ve lost the ability to hire and maintain a trustworthy staff.  It’s a rare occasion when someone in a business really makes you feel special and that they value your time, and more importantly your money.

It’s not all bad.  Some companies will go to great lengths to keep your trust, as when the makers of Tylenol removed their product off the shelves in the United States after the tampering scandal.  They quickly self-imposed the recall and then invented their security systems to keep their product safe before restocking the shelves.  That’s big.

Compare that to how BP has bungled the Gulf Oil spill disaster, and then posting record profits the next quarter while the entire economy of the Gulf region still suffers.  I for one will drive right by a BP on the way to another gas station, even if their marquee sign posts higher gas prices.  That’s big too.

To me, earning trust is just common sense:

  1. Do what you say you are going to do.  If you make a promise keep it.  Even if it’s hard or inconvenient.  Do it.
  2. Be honest.
  3. Give.  Give your time, your love, your support, your thoughts, your efforts, your emotions, your participation, yourself.  Don’t worry about the payback, or “what’s in it for me”.
  4. Have empathy for others.  Especially if they work for you.  You don’t manage robots…
  5. Trust isn’t about money.  Money doesn’t buy trust, nor should it.
  6. Do the right thing.
  7. Lastly, trust is earned – not given.  The more trust you desire, the harder you have to work for it.  Put your time in.

I’m lucky to have some great people in my life that I trust.  Sure, I’ve faltered and done some regrettable things; who hasn’t?  I’m always working on gaining more trust.  It’s the currency that I want in my corner when the chips are down and I need to spend it.

Trust me on this…

How Do I Do It?

People that know me are aware that I’m blessed/cursed with an insatiable curiosity with learning something new.  I’m always reading a book, a blog, someone’s post or Twitter feed.  Like a worker bee bringing pollen back to the hive, I gather new ideas and try to glean some new edge from the noise.  I’m constantly being asked what app I’m using or blog/book I’m reading.  I thought it might be fun to jot down some of my favorites and explain, from my perspective, the value that I find in them and maybe how I’m using each.  I’m always bumping into something new, so this will be an outdated list probably too soon, but maybe someone can use it as a way to sharpen their own sword.  These are in no particular order…

  1.  LinkedIn.  I’m a big LI freak and I’ll admit it.  I find it constantly intellectually stimulating and encouraging in connecting with other professionals in one online space.  If Facebook is for “friends”, then LinkedIn is for “professional friends”.  If you aren’t connected with me on LinkedIn already, check out my profile here http://www.linkedin.com/in/marshallatkinson.  While most users on LI are just adding connections, or simply posting a profile and forgetting about this tool; I’m actively using it to grow my professional connections, introduce myself, gain business and sales, share ideas, share my ideas and knowledge, and use it as a resource to learn about others.  The best value for me is to keep the “Top of Mind” with the people that I’m connected with, so when they need some t-shirts printed, or a design created they will think of me.  You never know who will be reviewing your profile, or what they are looking for so I have mine chocked full of content.  Here are a few tips on using LinkedIn:
    1. Fully fill out your profile.  The best ones have some information on what that person does for a living and describes somehow how connecting with that person can be a value to another.  You should include how to contact you – both e-mail and phone.  I see so many people not post this information, and it’s vital.  After all, that’s the reason for having a LinkedIn account – for the connections and potential business, right?  I constantly get contacted from someone from LinkedIn because my information is listed, and you should too.
    2. Join some groups and be an active member.  I try to either ask or answer at least one question a week in one of the groups that I’ve joined on LinkedIn.  This has led to some interesting debates on subjects, wonderful working answers to a challenge I’ve posted, and most importantly of all – some business opportunities.
    3. Connect with everyone.  This is a networking group.  I don’t pre-judge anyone, as I’m looking for my next opportunity or referral.  Maybe that person won’t need my services, but his associate might.
    4. Connect your Twitter feed.  This helps keep your presence on the status update, so if anyone is looking at their LinkedIn page, you’ll look productive and as a contributor.  Of course, if you regularly Tweet nonsense about picking up your kids, or how that ref just blew the call you might want to reconsider.  (or have a professional Twitter account, and one for you personally)
    5. Post a picture.  There’s lots of debate about this, but from my perspective I like to see someone’s face on there.  I’ve met a few of my connections in person, long after I’ve connected and it’s great to check their profile before meeting them in person to help find them in a crowd at an event.  This should be a professional looking head shot, not one of you gunning down a shot of tequila.
    6. Use LinkedIn for research.  Shortly after you hand me your business card I’m going to type in your name on LinkedIn and see if you have a profile posted.  I do this for a number of reasons, but the main one is to make sure that I’m solidifying my connection to you and I stay in front of the pack.  I’ve learned some very interesting things along the way in doing this practice, and sometimes I’ve discovered something on a profile that will strengthen this new relationship or close a sale.  Of course if you don’t have a LinkedIn profile as you don’t have an account this will come up empty.  It always seems to me like there’s a hole online for that person…and that is a little disappointing.
    7. Twitter.  (Follow me at @atkinsontshirt)  I’ve only been using Twitter since August of 2011.  I’m late to the party, but I’ve grown to learn and understand its power.  Previously my comprehension of Twitter was that it was only for posting some smarmy attempt at wit; or some other inane comment that probably nobody wanted to read.  After reading multiple business success articles and books, I opened my account and started Tweeting to the world.  It’s been a challenge, and I often hate the 140 character limit, but now it’s an everyday part of my business arsenal.  Why?  Well, for one I like sharing things.  Articles, books, ideas, whatever.  Twitter is a perfect outlet for that.  I don’t care if you read it or not, I’m putting it out there as whatever I’m posting is something I found interesting.  Twitter is also the perfect medium for marketing something about you or your company.  For Twitter, here are some points you should consider:
      1. Be polite.  Give others credit for a post and say Thank You for a re-Tweet.  There are some important social etiquette rules for Twitter, and if you adhere to them you’ll gain followers and influence.  Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.
      2. Make it interesting.  In my opinion the most valuable Tweets are ones that contain something that someone thought interesting or helpful.  Read an article on robots?  Great!  Share it.  Found some inspiring photos of Kenya?  Great!  Share it.  Incredibly hung-over?  Who cares?  Post it on Facebook.  I’m ignoring those.
      3. I have a loose formula of for every twenty or so Tweets I’ll post something about my company or something personal.  The rest is divided up between sharing things I’ve encountered online, and re-Tweeting someone else’s post.  I don’t want my Twitter feed to be all about me, me, me, me…but I do want others to have the opportunity to read something me once in a while.  So far, that’s been working well.
      4. Re-Tweeting, or abbreviated by RT.  If someone posts something that I find relevant, chances are I’ll repost it.  I do it the right way, by using the RT function.  Some people don’t, as they want to be seen as the originators of that thought, but I think this is wrong.  Also, I’ve seen multiple people post the same link with a few RT’ing it, but there’s always one clown that doesn’t.  To me, this makes them look plastic and fake, and lose credibility.
      5. Buffer.  This is my number one Twitter app.  It’s free and I can’t live without it.  This schedules my Twitter feed for multiple days out.  The advantage?  Recently a business associate commented to me that he was impressed by the fact that I’m always posting online and sharing information that he found valuable.  He wondered how I get any work done, since I’m always posting something.  The secret is this Buffer app.  Once or twice a week I fill up my Buffer feed and schedule when my Tweets will be posted.  I can add to the feed at any time, and I always know what’s coming up.  I’m not “always” online – it just appears that way.  My goal for keeping “Top of Mind” works by using this app.
        1. There is also a great analytics tool, where I can see exactly how many people click on any link that I post on Twitter.  In this way, I can see what articles are more popular than others.  I can then tailor my content to post more items that people are interested in, adding to my credibility and usefulness to be connected or following me.
        2. You can also schedule your LinkedIn and Facebook feed with Buffer too.  They just came out with this and I’ve experimented a little bit with this feature.  Since my Twitter feed is connected to LinkedIn already, I mainly don’t use that tool for that.
        3. You can schedule your Tweets to post as many times during the day as you want, and at any particular time.  I’ve experimented with one, two, three and four posts a day…and currently I’m doing three.  Morning, lunch and end of the work day times.  The times that I post may vary, see SocialBro below.
        4. SocialBro.  As unbelievably cool as Buffer is, it doesn’t do everything.  SocialBro is a great analytical tool for understanding your Twitter feed and the people you are connected with online.  You can see who’s recently unfollowed you, your influence and some cool stats about your followers.  However, the number one item I use SocialBro for is the tool that allows you to measure the exact times of the day that you should be Tweeting, based on your current followers – when they are using Twitter.  I run this analytic tool once a week and adjust my times accordingly.
        5. HootSuite.  I started using this free app to help me with my Twitter feed before I started using Buffer.  It still works great, but I really only use it now for reviewing my incoming Twitter feed, and then only sparingly.  I find now that HootSuite is too cluttered visually, but I do still like it all one place.  I usually find things I might want to RT using HootSuite.
        6. WordPress.  (http://atkinsontshirt.blog/)  If you are reading this you are using my latest experiment – the WordPress blog.  Granted, folks have been using WordPress for some time now and I’m not breaking any new ground…but this is new for me.  I found building this blog and posting my thoughts incredibly easy.  If you aren’t writing a blog and posting your thoughts on whatever you are passionate about, what are you waiting for?  Trust me, if I can do this you can too.
        7. Klout.  (www.klout.com) This free app measures your social influence on a scale of 1 to 100, with 100 being the best.  I’m not sure how this works, and there’s been plenty of debate over whether measuring social influence not only matters but how it should be measured.  About once a week I check my score and it’s always been going up, so I’m using that as an indication that I must be doing something right.  At the time of this article my score is at 45.26.  Celebrities are somewhere between 60 and 80.  Industry gurus are around there too.  Most of the people I’m connected with are between 10 and 30.  Do they have this wrong?  I don’t know, but it’s interesting.
        8. Pinterest.  (http://pinterest.com/atkinsontshirt/) I wrote a blog article about Pinterest previously (http://atkinsontshirt.blog/2012/02/04/how-your-art-staff-can-use-pintrest-to-an-advantage/) and since then I’ve learned a few other cool things about using Pinterest.
          1. You can collaborate with other people.  This is really fun.  Two or more people can share and Pin things to this board and have a visual conversation about something.  My wife and I are experimenting with a family themed board, but I could see this as a great way for companies to share ideas with their customers, employees to share ideas or thoughts, even teachers and students to share ideas…the possibilities are endless.  What could you share?
          2. I’m posting blog links and videos.  This is a wonderful tool, and has led to actually more exposure for this blog as I’ve posted it on my board and now people are following it through Pinterest (if you are reading this because of this link, I’d like to know!!)
          3. It’s not just women using Pinterest.  More and more guys are posting, so for every Pin that features a new way to paint your nails, bake some muffins, or wear a dress – there’s one for sports, muddy jeeps, women, alcohol, or other man-centric thought.
          4. The incredibly quick re-Pinning or Liking of a Pin is mind-blowing.  My wife Pinned a fun drink recipe and over 500 people re-Pinned it in under an hour.  By the next day it was over 1000.  I haven’t had that level of success yet, but I did Pin a video link on Sustainability at 5:30 am and 14 people either liked it or re-Pinned it in under a minute.  I’m not sure what’s driving this behavior, but the visual content of the Pin is the number one factor for having others to share it.  Boring image?  You’ll get nada.  Visually stimulating and exciting?  Goes viral in seconds.  While this may prove to be the next MySpace…currently it’s so loaded with possibilities and enthusiasm you need to be a part of it.
          5. Information.  I like a bunch of websites, blogs and spaces online to cull out my content.  Here are a few, in no particular order:
            1. Ted.  (www.ted.com)  This is the world-famous video lecture website dedicated to expanding the influence of new ideas.  Every video there is some revolutionary idea on something that will absolutely get your brain going.  I love it.  If you haven’t watched a Ted video before, you are missing out on something unique and worthwhile.  Trust me on this one.
            2. Social Media Examiner.  (http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/)  Want to learn “How to Do It” with social media, this is a great resource for learning.  The experts at this site keep the ideas coming and in no-time you’ll be up to speed with the latest developments with building your online presence.  I’ve learned a lot from these guys and you will too.
            3. Leadership Freak.  (http://leadershipfreak.wordpress.com/)  Dan Rockwell’s daily blog.  Every day’s post is 300 words or less and always something useful.  I repost his blog articles all the time, and share with my staff constantly.  The man is a genius at distilling down one idea into something that you can create and use as an action plan for change.
            4. John Spence.  (http://johnspence.com/)  John is one of the top business minds in the world, and the author of one of my favorite business books “Awesomely Simple”.  He speaks about continuous improvement and engaging your staff.  He always has great content, and I devour everything he posts immediately.  I’ve recommended his books numerous times and have organized a few staff meeting around some of his ideas.
            5. T-shirt Forums.  (http://www.t-shirtforums.com/)  Hey, I’m in the apparel industry and I’ve gravitated to this site somehow.  Rodney Blackwell does a great job of keeping the posts relevant and organized.  I like to read posts from other people in my industry, and I’ll chime in on a topic or two if I can help.  My online name here is atkinsonconsult, so if you see a post there it’s from me.
            6. Screen Print Group.  (http://screenprint-group.socialgo.com/)  This is industry guru Bill Hood’s forum, and where all the top minds in the apparel industry go to share ideas, tips, and mentor each other in developing successful companies.  If you are a t-shirt printer and not part of this group, you are missing out on a valuable resource.  I’ll admit that I read more than I post…  This should be mandatory for all production managers and owners.
            7. SGIA.  The Specialty Graphic Imaging Association. (www.sgia.org)  This is my number one resource for guidance on legal regulations, HR related issues, webinars, and other methods of developing a successful company culture at an apparel decorating firm.  Want to write a job description?  Learn how to implement a safety program?  What are the facts with the Consumer Product Safety Information Act of 2008?  Here’s where you go.
            8. Twitter.  Yep, Twitter again.  People post links to all kinds of stuff every single minute of the day.  If they are sharing something even remotely interesting I’ll click on the link and read what they think is valuable content.  Sometimes I’ll share it, sometimes not.  I gotta’ keep my edge somehow you know.
            9. LinkedIn.  Since I mentioned Twitter, I have to mention LinkedIn again.  People share information in the groups that I belong to, and I’ll use that post to learn something new.  That’s one of the hidden gems of using LinkedIn, and it keeps me on my toes.  I belong to 50 groups (the maximum) and continually read the feed from each one.  I have a lot of interests, from continuous improvement to sports…so this is a good information feed as people are sharing the content that they find valuable.

Ok, so if you’ve read down to this point on this blog congratulations!  You must be interested in growing and learning.  I love to share information too, so if you have an idea on something that works for you let’s trade or network and grow together.  You can e-mail me at matkinson4804@gmail.com.  Thanks for reading!!