9 Core Skills Every Apparel Decorator Should Master

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When I go to trade shows or industry networking events, I’m constantly amazed at the completely different stories from people about how they got into this industry.  It’s one of my favorite questions to ask, as it reveals so much about the other person and where they are on their journey.  Some have a business background and started their shop because of an opportunity.  Some, like me, have an art background and got involved because it gave them a paycheck to go along with using their creative skills.  At the end of the discussion though, you find that everyone lacks something and we’re all searching to fill in that gap.  Great business people aren’t really good artists.  Creative people are often not very skilled in business.  Then there’s the actual craft of learning to print or embroider.  Below, I’ve ranked the top 9 core skills that I think every shop should work towards mastering, and maybe a tip or two along the way too.  If I left something out, or you don’t like my rankings – leave a comment!!  Participation is a good thing.

  1. Communication.  That’s right; I’m not ranking “skills as a printer” or “skills as an embroiderer” number one.  Here’s why.  I asked my 9 year old son the other day why he had two ears and only one mouth.  His response was classic for him, “so you can turn your head to listen while eating a cookie”.  Almost right.  As I’m sure everyone knows the old adage is “so you can listen twice as much as you speak”.  Effective communication in your shop by your entire staff is the number one skill that you should constantly focus on developing.  This is outward, customer facing; as well as throughout your shop with your staff.  Information has been, and always will be the key to success.  Most of us (sadly including me) aren’t really listening all the time; they are just waiting for the opportunity to reply.  Communication in your shop includes how you handle everyday tasks, but also how you write an e-mail, talk on the phone, hold a meeting, and build a work order.  Obtaining all of the correct information from your customer, and then processing it effectively so that it travels through your company on the work order is imperative for everyone to do their jobs correctly. Tip: For more discussion on work order skills – read this – Blueprint for Success: Your Work Order 
  2. Skills as a Printer/Embroider.  Yep, it’s number two.  Although many will argue it should be number one, for shop success Communication has to top it, as there are so many other facets and people involved than just printing/embroidering.  Still, at number two it ranks high on the list and importance.  This is all about craftsmanship.  Probably the most wonderful thing about the decorated apparel industry is the mixture of art and science for business.  You have to do things correctly in each step along the way in order to have your final production run come out consistently perfect.  That takes a tremendous amount of effort in developing those skills.  Standardizing how your shop operates, training your staff, and developing the core production skills will be the main drivers for success.  I see all too often printers/embroiderers accepting jobs that are beyond their skill level, reaching out on the internet forums for help at the midnight hour.  Think you might have to print on a 2-ply jacket, turn a CMYK job, run a puff embroidered hat, or print over hoodie seams?  Spend some time researching, attending a trade show how-to seminar, or just mess around with it in your shop and learn how.  Take some notes.  Keep a journal or log book and record what you did, what worked, and what didn’t.  Build a recipe for success that you can come back to six months later when someone requests something out of your norm.  By then, maybe you are an expert; or at least skilled enough to know if you can do the job or not.  Keep pushing the envelope with your skills, and insist on excellence and quality on your shop floor.  Regardless of your decoration method, the key is to keep improving, training your staff, and learning!
  3. Business or Marketing Plan.  I talk or e-mail a good number of shops all over the world these days.  Some have challenges that relate to their sales.  All want more business coming in, and are looking for a magic bullet to make that happen.  The first question I ask is always “Have you written a business plan?”  Surprisingly few have.  A good business plan is a living document (it can change!!) that outlines your company, your customers and set some obtainable goals for the next three to five years.  Who are your ideal customers?  How are you going to reach them?  Who is your competition?  What are your company strengths?  Weaknesses?  The business plan aims your company in the right direction and sets the course of your actions.  Instead of shot-gunning your efforts all over the place, the business plan can help guide your efforts with better precision as you will have the direction you need to work on achieving goals you have set.  A marketing plan is similar, but outlines the communication and branding efforts for your company to achieve your established business goals.  The value in spending your time and effort in writing these plans is that they give you the tools and direction to aggressively target your core customers and bring business in, rather than passively waiting for orders to trickle into your company.  Ready, Fire, Aim usually doesn’t work.  So, if you are reading this and you haven’t written a business plan and set some goals; what are you waiting for?  Do yourself (and your company) a favor and grab a cup of coffee and get busy!!
  4. Sound Business Decisions – Pricing.  I talk to a lot of shops, and read on the forums, regarding companies taking orders that aren’t priced to be profitable jobs.  “I’ll charge less now and increase the pricing on the client later”.  Be careful of what you give away too.  Some shops give their art, screens or some other item away for free. This strategy ultimately doesn’t always work, as when you try to bump up the price they will just go elsewhere.  Instead, have a rock solid methodology on your pricing and build your stable of clients that are based on your value proposition and don’t revolve around nickel and diming you to death.  You want to be around ten years from now right?  Be competitive, but your value proposition is what will drive your success.  Tip: for a more in depth look at this discussion read this – Race to the Bottom: Pricing Wars 
  5. Training.  The bedrock of running a successful business with employees is developing your core skills with a training program.  By hiring people with great attitudes, you can develop their skills over time by giving them the opportunity to grow and learn on the job.  This makes for a happier workforce, and a stronger company.  Key tasks within your business should have at least three people that know how to do something.  This could be quoting an order, separating an art file, digitizing a logo, registering screens on press, or shipping an order, etc.  You can’t have your entire business dependent on it coming down to the fact that if “Fred” (insert your key employees name here) is sick or on vacation that job can’t be produced today.  Tribal knowledge that is centered on skills can bring your company to a standstill.  A better plan is to list the top ten or twenty things each core skill that is needed in your company.  How do you do “x”?  Take pictures or screenshots.  Build a guidebook.  Use this as the key expectations for handling tasks successfully in each of your departments.  Give employees the opportunity to learn different tasks.  Tip: for a more in depth look at cross training read this – Why Cross Training is Critical for Your Shop 
  6. Counting & Keeping Track of Inventory.  We do a lot with math every day, mostly in multiples of twelve.  In receiving and in production, make sure the quantities add up to what they are supposed to be several times along the way. (Calculators are allowed! It’s ok…).  At a minimum your receiving team should count and verify everything the same day the goods come in.  Checked against the packing slip and your internal work order, every item on the job should be accounted for before anything is staged in production.  Any challenges should be reported immediately for action by the account rep or salesperson.  In production, the goods should be verified to be 100% complete before running the job.  During production, your crews should count and check off from the work order as shirts are being produced to verify that your quantities match up.  At the end of the run, all of the numbers should add up and be consistently the same.  Misprints and defective shirts during the run should be culled out and reported on the job too.  Why insist on perfect counting?  This is an easy question to answer from a pure economic standpoint.  Just think of each shirt as dollars instead of garments.  Would you misplace a box of money?  Smaller shops look at this problem and may not comprehend why it even exists…but the larger your shop grows, the more people that touch things along the way, the larger your schedule and stress increases.  Insist on excellence along the way.
  7. Creative Artwork.  A great art team can define a shop and send huge waves of business your way.  Most of your clients are not artists, and they are going to rely on you to provide them with artwork and ideas.  You need to wow them.  Finding, obtaining, and harnessing this creative talent can be a great thing for your company.  Unfortunately, learning the skills needed to design and separate artwork for this industry can take some time to develop.  They don’t teach simulated process separations in design school; it’s all on the job training.  Your art team should reflect the market that you serve, and understand and follow design trends and techniques.  Remember, production friendly art is always a good thing.  Some shops are known for their art, and have such a unique style or perfection with their work that people will come to them to use that skill.  Want more business?  Find a great art staff and pay them well.  Can’t afford to have artists on the payroll yet?  Find a network of great freelancers to use.  Unless you are a shirt distributor, shipping blank inventory isn’t part of the business model for most companies.  You are being judged on your ability to design, separate, digitize and create the most fantastic and wonderful art you can every day.  Tip: If you are new to this industry you might want to check out this article – Creating Art for t-shirts – Common Rookie Mistakes Defined 
  8. Continuous Improvement.  One core skill to possess is the desire to get better and constantly tweak how your shop operates.  This can be a people training initiative, centering some thought on workflow efficiency, or automating a task with some new equipment.  Every project that you start, finish and master will champion your efforts to improve your business.  Highly successful shops are always learning or developing something in order to obtain a competitive edge.  Think about your shop.  How many projects do you have right now, where you are trying something out?  A new chemical, ink, emulsion, process, technique…whatever.  The journey that matters is trying to find new ways that are better or cheaper.  This is hard work.  It requires teamwork, communication, leadership and brain power.  There is a lot of failure along the way too, and that’s important as that is where the learning comes in.  It’s ok to fail.  Keep trying, and eventually you will succeed!!  Also, this is where attending a trade show, taking a class, listening to your ink sales rep, posting a question on an internet forum or group, or using a consultant to resolve a challenge, can really pay off.  Other people have traveled down the same road you are traveling now.  How did they do it?  All it takes is a question.  Are you ready for the answer?  For more information read this: How to Increase Efficiency & Maximize Workflow
  9. Sustainability.  Yep, here I go again on this topic.  Why do I always talk about sustainability, and why should it be a core skill that every shop should master?  Besides being the right thing to do for health or environmental reasons, the main reason is purely financial.  Starting your sustainability journey will be the best choice you can make today to start lowering your operating costs.  Every shop uses energy.  Every shop uses materials.  Every shop can recycle.  We are essentially manufacturers, as we have production and use commodities to make things and ship orders.  This is an easy thing to talk about, but harder in reality as it takes work, thought, time and actual leadership to complete.  Do you want to make more money at the end of the year?  A sustainability program is an effective tool to lower your operating costs.  To get started, get a committee together in your shop and brainstorm on what would be a few easy projects to score some quick touchdowns.  Get an energy audit from your local utility, start a recycling program, look to see if you can reduce some of your materials you consume, maybe even invest in new equipment that will operate more efficiently and with less cost.  Depending on your geographic area, there is grant money available or low interest loans that you can qualify for if you investigate them.  I highly recommend that you look into getting third party certified by the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) –   Tip: for a more in depth look at sustainability read this article – Why a Sustainability Program Makes Economic Sense for Your Shop

So, did I cover everything that would make your list?  What did I miss?  Feel free to comment and let’s have a discussion!!  Want to see how I run Visual Impressions?  Check out our Pinterest board Behind the Curtain at a T-shirt Shop

Promoting Sustainability for T-shirt Shops – 2014 and Beyond

ATKINSON SPEAKING SUSTAINABILITY 3This has been a big week for me.  Let’s recap and then get to some information that you can use to improve your business.

On Wednesday I was elected to the Board of Directors for the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership at their annual meeting in Chicago.  (www.sgppartnership.org)  As someone who has successfully navigated two large t-shirt printing shops through the maze of third party audits and certification, it’s apparent that I’m all in on how sustainability can be an incredibly positive idea for businesses (not to mention margin builder).   I’m extremely honored and proud to serve on the board and represent the apparel decorating industry…I’m still smiling about it!  These guys rock!!

On Friday I helped the 6th annual Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council Conference by serving on an expert panel entitled “The Profit in Sustainability” in one of their morning breakout sessions.  (http://www.wisconsinsustainability.com/annual-conference/)  This was a wonderful event hosted by Lands’ End in Dodgeville, Wisconsin on their beautiful campus.  (Yes, we did the tour – very impressive)  The conference was dedicated to how all businesses in Wisconsin should be pursuing sustainable choices, and there was plenty of discussion on how, where and why.  One thing that became very obvious is that companies are using their sustainability programs as a competitive advantage to gain market share more frequently than ever before.  There is an expectation now that companies should be sustainable, and if you are not something is wrong.  It is a differentiator for sales choices.

So let’s share what I discussed in my session, “The Profit in Sustainability”.  In a nutshell I reviewed the process from starting our sustainability program at Visual Impressions when I started there in late 2011, some areas of focus, and our current direction today.  We keep tabs on basically four cost items: Our Energy (Electricity, Natural Gas, Water, & Propane), our Courier (We use a courier service for local deliveries to our clients), our Ink and Consumables (Ink, emulsion, chemicals, boxes, and other necessary supplies), and our Trash.

2011 (Baseline year – before starting anything) = cost per imprint $0.12

$530,450.72 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 4,407,767 impressions

2012 (Sustainability program started) = cost per imprint $0.08

$443,263.03 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 5,193,543 impressions

2013 (YTD with two weeks left) = cost per imprint $0.065

$360,386.08 (Energy + Courier + Ink & Consumables + Trash) spent to produce 5,495,984 impressions

We started our recycling program in March and to date have recycled 24.9 tons of cardboard, plastic, paper & metal

As you can easily see, our hard cost normalized by the work performed drops, while we are actually getting busier.  This entire effort goes straight to the bottom line.  So what are we doing that you are not?  Here are a few things that I highly recommend:

  1. Start a Sustainability Committee with your staff and get going!  Discuss what you can do, divide up the work, set due dates on a calendar, and get some momentum started by taking some first steps.  Make it fun, and set some clear expectations and goals.
  2. Get an Energy Audit.  Your local utility will come out (usually for free) and examine your building and give you a grocery list of things you can do to conserve energy.  This will have immediate payback if you take their advice.
  3. Examine how you operate in your shop.  Your workflow, your purchasing decisions, the Cost of Poor Quality, virtually every facet of your shop can have an effect on your bottom line.  Sustainability isn’t a buzzword about saving trees, it’s about doing things better and more responsibly.   Two words: Continuous Improvement.
  4. Fix or replace broken or problematic equipment.  Upgrade if you can.  New technology operates faster, more efficiently, and often with less energy than older models.  Sure, that old piece of junk is paid for…but there is a cost to keeping it too.  How many more impressions, printed at less cost could you obtain with newer equipment?
  5. Talk to your vendors.  What choices can they give you to operate more sustainably and at less cost?
  6. Check out the Sustainable Green Printing Partnership (SGP) for guidance and best industry practices for developing your Sustainability Program and the benefits of obtaining certification.  www.sgppartnership.org

If you want more detail and a step by step on how we did it a Visual Impressions you can sign up for my talk at ISS Long Beach 2014 “Sustainability: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle AND Lower Your Operation Expenses” on Friday, January 17, 8:30 to 10:00 am.  It’s an hour and a half discussion jam-packed with tips, photos, suggestions and helpful ideas.  Come and learn and then walk the show!  Click here to register: http://tinyurl.com/loms9eu

As always, you can always feel free to use me as a resource if you need some advice, mentoring or as a consultant.  Reach out to me at matkinson4804@gmail.com.  Also, I’d love for you to leave a comment below on what you are doing in your shop, any new products or techniques that you are using, or any question on sustainability that you might have!

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!!