From crunching numbers to networking and problem solving, Marshall Atkinson explains how to get the best out of your business

In the last two weeks, I’ve probably talked to 200 shop owners or more. I’ve chatted with these folks and have either answered their questions or asked my own. It occurred to me that there were some common nuggets in there that I could share. Here are the things I’ve found myself repeating a few times over these last few weeks…

1. Get your money upfront All of it. Cash is king and when you secure 100% of the money for the order, you are in the best financial position for your business.

2. Have a business plan A huge percentage of shop owners don’t have one. Do you? A business plan allows you to focus your efforts on the best target for your sales.

3. Use a calendar to plan Your business-owner brain needs to be six-to-eight weeks ahead or more. Christmas marketing and relationships are planned and built in August. January sales are planned in October. The reason why your marketing and sales lag behind is usually because it’s all last minute and unfocused.

4. Be a hunter, not an oyster Hunters purposely track and bag their target. Oysters sit on the bottom of the ocean and wait for their food to drop by. Only hunters have sales growth.

5. Strengthen your bench Often, your next embroidery machine operator, screen-printer or DTG printer is already working for you. Train your staff now to replace these key positions so you’re not left in the lurch when your current operator decides to go somewhere else. This is called bench strength.

6. Network with others in the industry You really should be going to at least one trade show and one other educational event per year. If you go, attend the networking events and introduce yourself.

 7.You need a business team outside of your shop They should include an accountant, a lawyer, and a business coach. I would also have a good electrician and a decent plumber on that list too.

8. Screen printers are in the screen making business If you can’t prepare your screens with craftsmanship, don’t expect good prints.

9. Use the right tools Invest in the proper tools for this industry. Learn how to use them.

10. Step outside your comfort zone You should be trying scary stuff constantly. This is how you grow.

11. Self promotion Always carry business cards and a sample promotional kit that shows off your shop. Business cards are in your wallet or purse, sample kits are in the boot of your car. You never know who you are going to meet or when. Be prepared.

12. Double-check everything Double-check things, especially your processes to see if they are working. One good example is how you quote. Give everyone that quotes two or three example jobs to price out. Does everyone’s maths line up with the right answer?

13. Talk to your customers on an ongoing basis Ask them questions about their business and industry. You want to understand where they are going and what problems they have. Help them solve those problems.

14. Don’t be an order taker Be a problem solver. Order takers are commodity-based. This is a price-sensitive way of looking at something. Problem solving has more value and you can charge more.

15. Follow up with people Even if you don’t know the answer fully. Let them know what’s going on and your progress. Radio silence gives customers the wrong impression.

16. Marketing to staff You have to market your shop for employees, just like you do customers. Why would anyone want to work for you? With your hiring process, what are you signalling to them? Always use a pay range and a well-written job description.

17. Use video more It’s estimated that over 80% of internet traffic is going to be video by 2021. Are you comfortable with video yet? Learn this medium and start using it to your advantage.

18. Draw the line Remember, “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate”. You can source back to any problem you are having and I’ll bet that somewhere in there you’re not drawing the line and holding people accountable as you should. Quit talking about it and insist on excellence.

19. Engineer for success Engineer your shop so it is really hard to screw something up. Remove friction points. Make things simple to understand. Use pictures, colours or numbers to identify things. When things are built so a three-year-old or a German Shepard can comprehend what to do, you’ve got it.

20. Manage your reputation Your reputation is everything. It’s hard to build, but easy to lose.

21. Focus on the shipping date The most important part of the information on a work order is the ship date. This signals to everyone in the building when that job has to leave the building. It should be ready the day before. Each department works backward from that. There is no excuse for being late on your schedule. Fix it.

22. Elevate performance Your leadership and management teams’ number one priority is to elevate the performance of the staff working under them. Their goal is to make things easier for their crew, so they can execute their jobs with perfection. With this in mind, look at how you are leading your staff. Are you doing everything you can, on an ongoing basis, to help your workers perform?

23. Know your numbers You have to know your numbers. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. This is true for every aspect of your business. For example, if you don’t absolutely know what it costs you to decorate a shirt, how can you calculate your profit margin?

24. Find your niche There are riches in the niches – don’t try to be all things to all customers. Narrow your focus and excel in a few areas. Go where others have not travelled yet.

25. Know what your time is worth As an owner, if you can find someone to do a task that you don’t want to do, don’t know how to do, or don’t have time to do… then that is money well spent. Work on your business, not in your business.

Marshall Atkinson is a production and efficiency expert for the decorated apparel industry, and the owner of Atkinson Consulting and co-founder of Shirt Lab, a sales and marketing education company, with Tom Rauen. He focuses on operational efficiency, continuous improvement, workflow strategy, business planning, employee motivation, management and sustainability.