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Celebrate Being Small

Marketing for the Smaller Print Business

By Steve Aranoff & Robert FitzPatrick

Many of the small print businesses we know are the most creative marketers in the world. They celebrate being small by focusing on the inherent advantages they have due to their size and maneuverability—such as quick decision making, grassroots marketing, and a very personal sales approach. They can quickly size up a customer’s needs and provide innovative approaches to fulfilling them, or find unique niche products that nobody else locally has thought to provide. By using these attributes to advantage, your print business can thrive when competing with, or doing business with, a much larger organization.

While this advice may appear intuitive to some, reviewing some concise ways to achieve uniqueness and re-applying them to your own situation can bring new opportunities. So, here are a few additional recommendations, beyond personal creativity, that you should follow to make your marketing and sales efforts more effective.

Know what you do and do it well.
The days of the graphic arts supermarkets have long since gone. Even the largest manufacturers and distributors have learned that you cannot be everything to everyone. Every business has a specialty; the challenge is finding that specialty or unique aspect and building your business around it. For printers, it is even more important. Using your equipment to its fullest capacity before buying new capabilities can pay off big.

The reality is that smaller companies can thrive by offering goods and services that big competitors simply do not provide. The same is true for smaller printers. They can think quickly, and are not encumbered with standards and history in determining how to best meet a unique customer’s needs.

When it comes to marketing, think outside the box.
Look for different ways to reach your target audience. Larger businesses often have the budget to market themselves using traditional means like television, radio, and the Internet, as well as print. Smaller businesses often don’t have the budget so they have to find other ways to reach their target audience. There are lots of opportunities to help. For example, a local tour company targeting cruise ship passengers could do well with a customized short run brochure tailored to a specific cruise sailing. They could hire someone to wait outside the cruise ship port with these brochures, handing them out to passengers as they disembark. By knowing what your

potential customers do, you can help them to develop new print marketing ideas based around today’s technology capabilities for shorter and more creative runs. Guerrilla marketing—as it is often called—is one of the most effective grassroots marketing techniques and can have a positive impact on your, and your customers’ small business bottom lines.

Give your customers a positive experience.
It is a common belief that larger businesses don’t really care about their customers. Big printers are often viewed as profit driven entities that only care about achieving their bottom line profitability. Small print businesses can use this to their advantage by providing exceptional customer service and focusing on providing personal services wherever possible. If you take the time to learn your customers’ names, and their business model, you will make them feel welcome and well understood whenever they do business with you.

Keep customers happy and they’ll come back for more.
Once you have attracted a new customer, consider the small cost of keeping them happy versus the much larger cost of attracting a new one.

In most cases, a new customer can cost three times more than the cost of keeping one, without requiring a new learning curve, as well. Communicate with your customers through a newsletter or a regular mailing. Accept ideas from them and communicate back to the customer base. Show that you care to get feedback and suggestions. And, if you have the ability to target your customer’s particular needs, then having a personalized message in the communication can be even more effective.

Business relationships are based on trust.
It seems that everywhere you turn there is a news story about corporate corruption, scandal, or fraud. Small companies are just as likely to fall victim to these types of ethical issues as large companies. Consider creating a code of ethics for your company and promoting it both internally and externally. Put your ethical beliefs in writing and post them on the wall. Remember that an ethical business is good business. The most important thing that we have going forward is our integrity. If we lose it, the word spreads fast, and people remember.

Mixing businesses is a recipe for success.
No company, no matter how large, can afford to do everything themselves any more. It is also possible that your potential customer may also need something from another business to make some new promotional/printing idea work. Why not look for another local business that offers complimentary but non-competing products or services to improve your offering, or to show that you understand your customer’s needs. Using the example of a customized brochure for a tour company, perhaps a local restaurant could be suggested, where the customer might get a discount and the tour company would get a spiff for bringing small groups for meals at the end of a tour? The restaurant might be happy for the regular business the tour company could provide and you would be helping a prospective customer to provide a new service that is differentiable from their competitors.

When it comes to business, first impressions count.
Your brand and identity are your customers’ first impression of you. Encourage a high level of professionalism and overall behavior for your business. What does your lobby look like? Do you set reasonable standards for dress and encourage a tidy, well organized work environment? A print store or dealership that looks well stocked, clean, and organized will give customers a sense of comfort knowing that the business is well managed and professional. Polite employees are also more likely to be positively remembered.

Will that be cash or check?
If you are a cash- or check-only business, you may want to consider accepting credit and debit cards. Many small businesses believe that this is a difficult and expensive proposition. In most cases this is no longer true. There are many providers now who offer relatively inexpensive solutions. One printer supplier of consumable parts recently indicated a 25 percent increase in business when he went from fax/telephone ordering with checks, to Web site ordering with credit/debit cards. Taking credit allows for quick and easy customer decisions without waiting for accounting activity to back it up. The above increase in business is a good summary of the possibilities you can add for growth from existing customers, as well as better support for newer ones.

Everyone loves a party.
You like to think that your company is unique. If your company provides a unique experience or product, you have the opportunity to provide your customers with a sense of community. Consider setting up a show and tell program where your customers can learn more about your capabilities and product availability. If possible, hold an open house or an information session in your plant. The more your customers identify you as a source of truthful information, and new business opportunities, the more trust they will have for you and confidence in the products you can print or otherwise provide for them.

Be good to your community and the community will be good to you.
Just as with larger businesses, all small businesses are and should be an important part of their community. Small businesses rely on the community for their hires and buying, and they mostly sell locally. In many cases, especially in smaller communities, smaller and family-owned businesses are the life blood and economic drivers in their locality. As more and more people move to urban centers, the convenience and unique buying opportunities of local shopping is becoming more important. This shift from suburban to urban living is revitalizing the growth of specialty small businesses. Printers should play a large part in this changing urban opportunity. If you look to your community for inspiration and growth opportunities, as the community grows, its needs will change and so your business opportunities should continue to grow with them.

In many regions small businesses have a huge impact on the economy and employ more people than big businesses. Take a moment to celebrate the impact your business has on the local economy and keep working on making your small print related business the best business it can be to your old, new, and future customer base.

Oct2007, Digital Output

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