Starting off in business is always hard. Surviving is even harder, especially in the decorated apparel business. So how do you go from start-up success to the next level? Eventually you'll have to get more customers, bigger and better equipment, and even more employees. Each step can put you into a bigger group and can be either a wonderful experience or a vast plateau full of land mines. Here are some thoughts on the rungs waiting for you on the ladder of success:
Pay Your Bills. You won't survive long if you don't treat your vendors and employees correctly, and being fiscally responsible is the key. Don't think it matters when you pay? Trust me, your vendors know and can look it up at the drop of a hat. You are going to need more ink, more shirts and more electricity. Your employees need to get paid. Be sure to get good financial advice and to hire an accountant to help with your books.
It's Not About Price. While it is certainly easier to drop your pants and just charge the lowest amount you possibly can to seal the deal on orders, you won't survive long with that strategy. Instead focus on your value proposition. A value proposition is what you bring to the table that differentiates you from the competition. This could be many things, such as your skill as a printer, amazing artwork, free delivery, faster turn times, or even post-production capabilities. Think things through and market your strengths.
Partner with Others. Scaling your business can find success with partnering with other businesses in your area. Collaborate with a marketing firm, resort, hotel, sporting complex, music venue, restaurant, embroidery shop, or educational institution. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to network and stick your hand out and introduce yourself. What would be mutually beneficial to both parties? Do some testing and come to an agreement.
Constantly Learn. There are terrific opportunities for educating yourself in this industry if you are just open to it. Trade shows, industry forum groups, videos and webinars are constantly being held all around you. Take a few and improve your skill level. Pay attention when shopping and take notes when you see something you like. Ask yourself "How did they do that?" Take it back to your shop and try to replicate it with your style and imagery. Make popular techniques work for you and grow your business.
Fail. That's right, I said fail. You are going to make mistakes. It's ok. The sooner you accept that and find that you can learn from this and it's a natural part of growth; the sooner you will reach your potential. You know all those shops that win all the awards at the trade show competitions? At one point they didn't know what they were doing either. They've made thousands of mistakes, and probably just as many ugly prints, learning their craft. Learn from everything you do and get better every day.
Be Yourself. While it's wonderful that you might have heroes to emulate, and certain imagery or styles are easy to copy, at a certain point you need to establish your own creative voice in the industry. Make your mark. Be sincere and distinctive in your approach to the industry. What's great about the decorated apparel industry is that there is room for everyone. Shops that have the greatest success though, are the ones that find their niche and blossom in their own unique style. Find yours.
Trust Others. You can't do this alone. Get help and guidance from other people. The bigger the network of friends, advisors, staff, and mentors that you cultivate for your business the better your company will become. Seek out advice. It is ok to not understand or know something...but not ok to remain ignorant. You have to be open to the opportunity for help. People won't do it unless you accept their grace.
Do Good Work. Don't accept mediocrity. Insist on excellence in all facets of the game. From how to you interact with people on the phone; to how you accept payment for services rendered and all things in between. Be the best you can be. This industry is unique in that it is a combination of art, science and manufacturing. You could be the best artist on the planet, but if you can't unlock the secret of getting your creative vision from the computer onto the shirt it doesn't matter. Invest the time to learn to do this with perfection.
Be Customer Service Focused. There is a great Maya Angelou quote that I always think applies to customer service, "I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Want to grow your business? Make more people remember how you made them feel. Do you make them feel that they aren't valued when you push past their due dates? Do you make them feel that you don't care about them when you argue with them about something? Or, are you on the opposite end of the spectrum and would go out of your way to complete a small order, or do something extra for your customers?
Say Thank You. A Lot. Your mother was always right. Say thanks when someone helps you with something or buys something from you. Be sincere. This is how you get others to help you again, or buy from you again as they know you appreciate them. It doesn't take much time, but it can make all the difference.
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