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Develop Your Plan for a Profitable Year

If your sign business activity last year did not create happiness, excitement and massive profits for you and your family, then let’s have a look at how a few simple things can make a difference this year.

By Mark Roberts

Every business owner must develop seven key habits for business success. The absence of any one of these habits can be costly--if not fatal--to your sign business. When you become competent and capable in each of these areas, you'll be able to accomplish extraordinary results, far faster and easier than any of your competitors.

2008 Sign Price Manual from

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  • Plan thoroughly
    The first requirement for sign business success is your ability to develop the habit of planning. Planning is done before you leave home in the morning. Better yet, you should have begun your plan the previous day before you left your shop. You must map out your day and adhere to your plan, or you’ll be disappointed when you look back on the year. Learn to discipline yourself and make those daily “game plans”!

    Let’s say you are the captain of a commercial airliner. You have an assignment to take your passengers from Miami to Honolulu. A flight plan has been created, weather reports have been read, and your passengers are present and accounted for. You pull the plane onto the runway, bring it to rotation speed, it lifts off the runway and you are airborne.

    About thirty minutes into the flight, one of the flight attendants enters the cockpit and informs you that one of the passengers have never seen Oklahoma City. She wants to know if you could possibly land in Oklahoma City so this passenger may see the sights. How ridiculous does this sound? Of course it’s a ridiculous request; however, many days in our sign companies we are faced with similar; albeit not as drastic, requests to deviate from our daily course. Deviations can cost us thousands of wasted dollars every year. We must develop a system to keep us on track with our daily activities to maximize our happiness and our profits.

    There is a "Six P" acronym that says, "Proper Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance." As a rule, the first 20 percent of the time you spend developing complete plans will save you 80 percent of the time later in achieving the business goals you've set for this year, and your future years as well.

    Ask yourself “what exactly is my product or service”? What types of signs and informational products am I producing? Am I thrilled, motivated and excited to be making these signs? Am I simply going through the motions without the proper attitude and spirit of a winner? Perhaps it’s a combination of both scenarios.

    Our goals this year is to increase our thrills and excitement of quality projects that pique our interest and decrease the incidence of low interest and low profit projects involving difficult and lower budget customers. We must face the facts that there are numerous time wasting, low budget sign prospects that must be sent to our competition. Trying to serve each and every prospect that inquires about our signs will lead to burnout and a lower quality of life, which is something we must avoid at all cost.

    Ask yourself this important question: “Who are my ideal customers”? You have created your list of customers by the work you have become known for. Your reputation as a sign industry professional is on the line daily, and is graded by others as they view your products in the marketplace. Occasionally you will agree to provide a sign product for a customer who is not an ideal candidate for a long - term relationship. We all make mistakes, and I make this one several times per year. None of us are perfect, but we approach perfection by limiting our time and efforts to those customers who are truly worthy of our products, and are willing to pay our prices, and recognizing very quickly which customers to avoid.

    Why does your customer buy your signs? I hope it’s not because you have the lowest prices in town. Our goal is to establish a level of quality of signs we are proud of, and a level of pricing that makes sense for our long-term financial goals. Not everyone wants “museum quality” signs, and not many want the “quick and dirty” signs either. There is a happy medium we must work within to serve the customers we are anxious to serve.

    What is my customer’s definition of value? Surely our customers occasionally shop our prices, so why do they still buy their signs from us? Are we the lowest priced sign company in town, or does our level of quality match the level of desire of our customers? Everyone has certain tastes, requirements, expectations, and budgets. Sure, everyone wants the “best quality” and the “best value”, but at what price? This is why we offer a range of prices for a range of products. Getting too wide in price range, and offering too many sign products will soon overwhelm us, causing more stress that it’s worth.

    The quickest way to business prosperity and happiness is our ability to recognize the things we do best and to take that knowledge and seek out those customers who desire that level of quality in their sign products. What is it that makes your sign products or services superior to that of your competitors? Is it obvious?

    As time marches on, the overall quality of signage will continue to increase, due to the new production tools and techniques we have at our fingertips. Take a look at the latest sign magazines and see the ads for the inkjet machines. Look how the prices have dropped over the years, and notice how many “inkjet produced” signs are seen in our markets. A few are outstanding, many are impressive, and a number of these sign projects are poor ­ which is what we would expect. What we need to realize is the fact that the younger sign professionals entering the market have taken the time to master the key software programs that will allow them to design and output these large format jobs.

    Sign Elements Vehicle Templates

    Again, some of these jobs are incredible and some are too busy and confusing that they are actual sign failures. The question is will our products ­ regardless of how they are produced keep up with the desires and demands of our paying customers?

    Have you ever wondered why a prospective customer does not buy? Step back and analyze this scenario. Perhaps the customer wants a lower priced sign product that you aren’t willing to offer. Maybe the customer sees your product at a different level than you do. There is also the chance that your customer simply does not have enough money to pay for a sign at the level of quality you are producing. Can, or will you make a compromise to close the sale? At what cost and to whom will this compromise effect?

    We should all have price ranges that fall within certain price categories; however, no matter what the ranges are, there will always be prospects that will not buy because we are completely out of their price range. This happens all the time; however, if it frequently happens to you, then it may be time to reassess your product offering to your market.

    You can create particular sign products for a given market niche, or you can create products for a wide range of customers. This is your decision. Perhaps your local market will not support your unique level of sign products. If that is the case, try marketing your signs over the Internet to a world-wide audience of potential customers. Make the signs of your dreams, place them in crates and ship them to those anxious customers who appreciate your level of quality and service.

    What value does my prospect perceive in buying from my competitor? Do we have a clue as to what our competition offers? Have we even entered the places of business of our competitors? In order to play on an even “playing field” we must know what the opposition is doing, how they are doing it, and how well they are doing it. So, how do we accomplish our “fact finding” mission? Easy…we just pick a time to visit the facilities of each and every one of our competitors. Yikes…you mean we should actually meet our competition face-to face? Absolutely! The reasons for doing so all add up to better business for everyone concerned.

    Talking “shop” with our competitors will reveal some key information we can use to increase our own level of success. Perhaps we see some advantages we have over our competition, and maybe we’ll see a few things we should be doing that our competition is already doing. We can all learn from each other. We can also form working relationships that can become mutually beneficial and lucrative for both parties. Perhaps there are sign products we produce that can be resold by our competitor resulting in nice profits for everyone.

    Perhaps our competitor will make certain sign products for us, quicker and at a more competitive price than those we are currently buying from other sources. We’ll never know unless we pay those visits to each and every competitor. Be aware that not every competitor will roll out the welcome mat. Some of our competition could be territorial and less than hospitable. If that is the case, you have still accomplished a goal that tells you to “keep your distance” from that competitor. We must know as much about our local competition as we can, so we can run a tighter ship for ourselves.

    Let’s say you have lost some good projects to one of your local competitors. How did this happen? How did your prospect make the choice to bypass your offer and buy from your competitor? Was it quality, price or delivery? Was it presentation, confidence, proof of ability? How can we avoid this scenario in the future? Well, we can and we can’t! The factors surrounding a sign purchase are numerous, and the underlying motive for a customer to buy a sign is their belief that they are receiving the maximum benefit offered by the sign at the most reasonable price they can negotiate. The lower priced signs have less wiggle room, and a lower profit margin.

    The higher end signs have some room to negotiate, but at what cost to us? What are our long-range goals for our business? Do we want high volume at low profit margins? Do we want to make high end products for a small group of clients? Where do we fit into our own market? This is a question that we must continually ask ourselves to make sure we are staying happy, motivated and full of new ideas to benefit our customers and clients. We must have a plan, we must work our plan and we must quickly make changes to our plans if they are no longer working.

    Step One: Attracting your ideal clients
    What will convince my customer to buy from me, rather than from my competitor? That’s easy. You must be able to paint such a nice picture of success for your customer that they already see the dollars rolling in as a result of buying their new sign from you. Why else would they buy a sign from you in the first place? Most of our signs we produce are “revenue generating” signs for our customers, meaning they are advertising their business, or they are offering something for sale. Non-revenue generating signs are simply informational, and do not carry the “advertising value” that commands higher prices. Our customers get excited when their business revenues increase, and who wouldn’t?

    Don’t we all get excited when we experience more businesses with more profit rolling in? Extra profits can fund those needs for newer equipment, updating our facilities, or taking that well needed vacation. All business owners want more business and we must paint the picture of increased business for each and every one of our prospective and established customers.

    Once you've asked and answered these questions, the next stage of planning is to set specific targets for sales and profitability. You must determine the exact people, money, advertising, marketing, administration service people, and facilities you will require in order to achieve your goals.

    Step Two: Get organized
    Once you've developed a complete 2007 plan for your sign business, you must then develop the habit of organizing the people and resources you need before you begin. In the military, there is a saying, "Amateurs talk strategy, but professionals talk logistics." It's absolutely essential that you determine every ingredient you'll need before you begin the new business year and bring them together so they're ready to go when you hang up than new 2007 calendar.

    Step Three: Find the right people
    Hire the right people to help you achieve your sign business goals. Fully 95 percent of your success as an entrepreneur and future sign industry mogul will be determined by the quality of the people you recruit to work with you. The fact is the best companies have the best people. Delegate shop duties wisely and make sure you are receiving the level of help you are paying for. If not, increase the training, work hand-in-hand with the employee to make sure they understand what you are expecting, and then make sure they produce the level of quality your company is known for.

    Step Four: Delegate
    The fourth habit you need to develop for sign business success is proper delegation. You must develop the ability to delegate the right task to the right person in the right way. The inability to delegate effectively can be the cause of failure or underperformance of the individual and could even bring about failure of the business.

    When delegating a task, be sure you're always informed as to the status of the work. Be sure the other person knows what is to be done, and when, and to what standard. Your job is then to make sure he or she has the time, tools, and talent to successfully complete the project. The more important the job, the more often you should check on the progress.

    As a sign company owner, you must identify the two or three things that you do that contribute the most value to your company and then delegate the rest. You must learn to think in terms of "getting things done through others" rather than trying to do them yourself. It's the only way you can leverage and multiply your special skills and abilities.

    Step Five: Check everything
    The fifth requirement for your sign business success is for you to develop the habit of proper supervision. You must set up a system to monitor the projects and make sure everything is being done as agreed upon. The rule is, "inspect what you expect."

    Once you've delegated a task to the right person in the right way, it's essential that you monitor the performance of the task and make sure it's done on schedule and to your required level of quality. You, the sign company owner, is still responsible for the ultimate results of the delegated tasks. You must stay on top of it, because if you don’t, your assistants will assume their tasks are not important, and they may lower their own level of commitment to the project at hand. This scenario will definitely cost your company in lost revenue due to re-makes and the lowering of your reputation in your market. People notice and people talk, so make sure your workers know the level of quality you demand in your products.

    Step Six: Measure what gets done
    The sixth practice of successful sign company owners is the habit of measuring performance. You must set specific, measurable standards and score cards for the results you require. You have to set specific timelines and deadlines to make sure you "achieve your numbers" on schedule. Everyone who's expected to carry out an assignment must know the targets he or she is aiming at, how successful performance will be measured, and when the expected results are due.

    Step Seven: Communicate
    The seventh habit for sign business success is the habit of sharing your information regularly and accurately. Your family needs to know the stability of the business. They need to know if your major clients are stable, and they need to know your plans for increasing your market share. Your staff needs to know the status and the future plans for your company.

    People in your sign business have a desire to know and understand what is going on around them in relation to their work. The more thoroughly and accurately you share the details and situation of your business, the happier they'll be, resulting in the best results you and your sign business will get. Sounds like a great plan to me!

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