How to build a printing business in a digital world

| 21 June 2016

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People who work in print find themselves in a constant state of flux and perplexity. Overhaul my business? Stick with what I know? And then, to move swiftly into the realm of the philosophical: is print dying? Luckily, the future of the printing industry isn’t as type and dried as all that.

Now would be the time to breathe a sigh of relief – because print isn’t dying. Like any adept industry, it’s simply evolving and adapting. And so can you. Here are some considerations to help you steer your printing ship on the unpredictable digital ocean.

Force yourself to innovate
Coca-Cola partnered with HP to produce bespoke printed bottles. Nutella wowed their already loyal fan base with on-demand personalised Nutella tags. Although these are major players on a world stage, the idea is the same wherever you are: without a point of difference, you’ll just be another print shop. Customers aren’t as loyal as they used to be, and if you aren’t innovating, you’re going to struggle.

Differentiate yourself with something truly unique – whether it’s personalised iPhone covers, printed and delivered to the customer, textile printing, large-scale backdrops or decals, or custom lamp shades – find something interesting and executable, and you’ll have elevated yourself from the rest.

Invest when the time’s right
Although it’s crucial to constantly innovate, be careful of a huge capital outlay that could come back to bite. Spending hundreds of thousands of Rands on a piece of equipment that sits dormant for a year is just bad business sense. And buying an astronomically-priced super-high-tech machine and expecting it to revive your business is about as useful as having a baby to save your marriage. In short, the one is not causally linked to the other.

Before you go investing in a state-of-the-art piece of equipment, rent one. See if there’s enough of a demand, then improve your fleet and buy the necessary equipment when the time is right, and you have the capital to do so. Don’t be afraid of sharing equipment with another outlet – it could work in both your favour. Be agile in your approach to embracing new technology and services.

Make yourself known
There was a time when everyone knew their local printing shop and could rattle off directions to an out-of-towner – maybe even advise them to ‘ask for Larry’ because he’d ‘do a great job’. That time is not now. These days, printing businesses have to market themselves – as the quickest, the most affordable, and the most professional.

Make your location known and push your services – even if it’s through digital advertising that’s carefully targeted at publishers, agencies or individuals in your area. If you can set up an online order service, even better.

Digitise processes
If there’s one area of a print company – small and large – where technology can seriously boost returns, it’s in workflow management. Workflow and processes are key to controlling costs by saving time and enhancing productivity. And in the same way you change up your service offering according to what works best, you should adopt the same agile approach to your internal processes.

If possible, digitise your processes to keep track of jobs and to ensure data isn’t lost. This might also mean you can scale down on man-power, which is the biggest expense in any company. Experiment with and find a digital management solution that works for your business, and make sure everyone is on board and expertly trained in using it.