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3 Things Every Screen Printer Should Do Right Now

Setting your business up for online success, and more.

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ONE OF THE MOST influential marketing authors, Jay Conrad Levinson, wrote a book in 1984 called Guerilla Marketing. This book and the term it coined became extremely popular (over 21 million books sold in 62 languages), and these methods and strategies are now widely studied as ways to generate marketing results when financial or other resources are very limited. These concepts may also succeed in situations where there are other factors that compress or limit an ability to generate leads (such as restrictions on travel or face-to-face business meetings).

In a recent screen printing group discussion, several guerilla marketing ideas were mentioned as: “Three things that every screen printer should be doing immediately.” Part of the rationale for this lies in the fact that, lately, many printers are feeling a suppression in business from a variety of factors. These difficulties make it important to act quickly to keep the flow of orders coming in. One member suggested that one way to address tough situations like this is to test ideas quickly, see if there are any positive outcomes, and then rapidly magnify or pivot as needed.

The three ideas from the discussion were: start selling yourself online, start creating an audience on Instagram, and start a referral program right now.

NOTE: Before breaking down the details for these ideas, every business should consider any marketing advice carefully, and make decisions for their company based on their own, specific situation. No marketing ideas are right for everyone, and before executing any marketing concepts, a business should have a clear understanding so they accept any and all responsibilities for the results.

The first idea is one that tends to be criticized because it sounds so obvious:

Three Things Every Screen Printer Should Do Right Now

1. Start Selling Yourself (and Your Company) Online, Right Now!

Before everyone rolls their eyes and tunes out, take a second, serious look at that statement and think about what the key part of the idea is. The verb or action, which is the term “selling,” means more than just having an online shopping cart.

The core concept is that a printer should not only be online and actively trying to sell products and/or services, but they should also consider the process of online selling as an absolute, ongoing necessity that they commit resources to. Many, if not the majority, of printers probably now have some ecommerce options. With the shift of a large portion of sales going online due to the pandemic, it has accelerated the need to be flexible and dedicated to achieving proficiency at online selling.

If you’re a printer that hasn’t started online selling, or even if you already have an ecommerce buying option for customers, it can still be an effective step to look at what you do best offline (what are your ideal customers, services, and products from both a profitability and stability standpoint) and then see which of your top products and services has the easiest route to convert into online sales. The idea is to intersect the product or service with the least resistance to quickly test in online sales, and then isolate one or two with long-term potential for your business.

A foundational habit that aids in online success is taking each online process and then applying three steps at regular intervals: test, revise, and repeat. The goal is to keep testing everything on a regular basis, and try to get slightly better at each step in the process without over managing it. The online business is never one that can be ignored or it will fade out slowly. A simple way to think about it is to compare your website to a traditional, retail storefront. In a retail situation you have drive-by traffic (similar to search engine results), so you need to get traffic’s attention to let them know where you are and what you do. Then, when they stop into your shop (like visiting your website) you’ll want to answer their questions, and guide them to your products and services in a clear, professional manner that inspires trust. When they leave, you’ll ask them to “come back soon” (add them to your email list).

You should also include your image in the online store experience. This may seem unappealing depending on your personality, but it’s an essential part of creating a strong following. The reality of today’s online marketplace is that people are searching for honest, hard-working people who have a connection with their audience and always take care of their customers. People want to buy from other people, not from faceless corporations, portals, or online forms, so show a little more of your personality and best work. If you let your visitors know about some of your successes, your company’s style and mission, and even how you overcame some challenges, you could be rewarded with loyal clients who want to buy from you specifically instead of shopping around for the lowest price.

Having a robust channel of online sales from loyal customers can literally be a life-saving income stream for a decorator when times get hard, so don’t wait to start selling online.

Three Things Every Screen Printer Should Do Right Now

2. Start Creating An Audience on Instagram Right Now!

There’s always an argument as to which platform is the right one to spend time on. Some are committed to Facebook, others live on Instagram, and many are moving to TikTok. But what everyone agrees on is that you should be taking audience building seriously on at least one platform.

Creating an online audience isn’t about followers as much as it is about “fans.” Obviously, people will need to see what you do, and be interested enough to want to continue to see it often. The real goal though, is to build a core group of community-minded people who see your company for the essence of what it brings to each order. Being yourself and sharing what your company does can be a scary prospect, so it pays to invest and study others in your industry who already do this very well. Take the time to learn what you need to know to create your own image on these platforms and then engage with people in a respectful and generous way to build a reputation.

If you’re not very tech savvy or you’re opposed to using social media, but you would still like to reap the benefits, see if you can find someone who is good at posting and engaging. Then you can encourage or invest a small amount of income to have that coworker or family member assist you. The key is to be consistent, and to let people who enjoy it be the ones who help. It will often come through to the audience if the person posting is doing it as a chore, so try to make it fun, or find someone who really likes it.

As with all social media, there’s a balance between spending time on creating and engaging with your audience and wasting time when you could be working. It doesn’t make sense to spend hours arguing on Twitter instead of printing orders. The goal is to utilize the platforms to expand your reach, without bleeding too much time, money, or effort in the process. Learn how to quickly create engaging posts, and the basics of how to interact in a positive way, and you could be rewarded with a significant influx of fans who want to order from you just because of what you’re sharing.

Three Things Every Screen Printer Should Do Right Now

Most of your new customers are based on referrals from current customers, so start a referral program.

3. Create a Referral Program Right Now!

The majority of the screen printing group respondents said they get most of their customers as referrals from other customers, yet I got the sense that “asking” for referrals would damage this process, like poisoning a well. Some printers had done referral programs for limited times here and there, but only one was consistent. The striking thing was when this specific printer mentioned the results achieved from their program (business up 40 percent over six months!), it was enough that everyone in the group agreed they should start a program right away.

There are many methods for creating a referral program. The essence of it is to ask in some form (physical card, email, online DM, etc.) for a loyal customer to recommend other clients to you. Often, a reward can be supplied to the referring customer. It’s a good idea to consider what method of referral program you’re comfortable with, and what’s easiest for you to manage from a tech standpoint.

One of the most influential variables in the referral process could be timing, according to the group. Asking for a referral may be best when a customer is feeling great about the work you’ve done. This may indicate that you should ask for referrals right when you drop off an order, or contact a client shortly after they should have received a shipment. If they’re happy and excited in that moment, they’re more likely to refer you quickly and sometimes give you a contact immediately.

An additional consideration was counter-intuitive. Some indicated that using an upfront reward system seemed to be slightly less effective than a “thank you” reward system, and that trying to get clients to refer other customers by offering them a gift was slightly less effective than asking them to help as a good will gesture. The better method appears to be this: When they refer someone, find an appropriate gift (such as an order discount or a unique product just for them) and share it as a thank you. Loyal customers enjoy the feeling of doing something good without the known prize motivation. Then, when they receive the gift afterward it provides additional motivation to speak well of your company.

Using just one, or even all three of these ideas to help build interest in your business could be integral to surviving economic downturns, as well as aid in diversifying lead generation while you maximize the business you already have. Building a strong online community, through ecommerce selling, social media engagement, and referral programs are great ideas you can do right now to grow your business.

Thomas Trimingham has been helping screen printers for more than 25 years as an industry consultant, artist, and high-end separator, and author of more than 175 articles. He currently is the director of marketing for M&R Printing Equipment. For more information or to comment on this article, email Thomas at [email protected]

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