The Ultimate Summer To-Do List for Your Screen-Printing Shop

Some shop owners think summer is when things slow down. Other shops use these three months to tune up their marketing, sales and workflows so they have a competitive advantage heading into fall. What’s your plan?

This is a good time to jumpstart your plans, after the wild pandemic ride we’ve had. You’re also in good company. Right now, 64% of entrepreneurs and SMBs say their businesses can survive more than a year under current business conditions, as the wave of shutdowns and bankruptcies finally ease after COVID-19, a CNBC and SurveyMonkey Small Business Survey shows. That percentage is rising, up from 55% in the first quarter. The survey also found that 34% think current business conditions are good and poised for growth.

We asked a bevy of experts what smart SMBs do during the slower months to rev their business up for the fall. From starting to use video in your social media to planning your holiday sales campaigns to revamping your getting-paid policies, check out our ideas for the ultimate shop summer to-do list of bottom-line-boosting strategies to get on your calendar now.

1. Review your business plan.

When you take a look at your current plan, consider whether there are up to three things you can do differently in the second of the year to boost your bottom line, deliver extreme value to your customers or improve your profitability in other ways. If you’re trying to come back from the brink, focus on the situation that’s the most business critical or needs to change immediately.

“Are you planning your fall and Christmas sales now? It may seem weird to talk about Santa Claus in July, but if you spend an hour a week putting your content together, you’ll be done by the end of August.” Marshall Atkinson, Atkinson Consulting

Marshall Atkinson, business consultant at Atkinson Consulting and Shirt Lab Tribe, advises shop owners to look six to eight weeks out. “There’s another layer to summer 2021, with things opening up again,” he says. “If you shifted to working with customers in another industry, what happens when your other customers return? If you’re 20 times busier than you were, do you have plans to increase your staff or streamline your workflows?”

Also consider opportunities, challenges and how you stack up against your competitors. “Reviewing your business plan will help you figure out what new products or decoration processes you want to promote for the fall,” says Howard Potter, CEO of Utica, NY-based A&P Master Images. “Where will these new services have the greatest opportunities? Do you need to train staff more or hire more staff to add this? Can you figure out any weak points in your current processes and create an improvement plan?”

2. Integrate videos into your marketing strategy.

“With the COVID-19 pandemic, SMB owners realized the value in producing content,” says Jason Penza, creative director and senior editor in NJ-based Glasstown Productions. “Videos are a great marketing tool because they allow you to ‘virtually’ capture your products, services and business. They also allow shop owners to connect to their audience in a compelling and emotional way, since we’re captivated by stories.”

“A lot of companies are giving hiring bonuses or retention bonuses as staffers start.” David Epstein, Intelligent Staffing Company

Penza points out that if you have marketing dollars to spend, it does make good business sense to invest in a video production company that understands story, emotion, on-video talent, script writing, scheduling, lighting, set design, wardrobe choices, audio complications, camera settings and positioning, and of course, video editing, graphics and music selection.We’re constantly problem solving on productions to give the client the absolute best product possible, which is why I believe that filmmaking is 95% problem solving, 4% luck, and 1% skill,” he says.

And shooting videos in the summer makes sense, Penza points out, because you can get a perfect natural background and the sun’s positioned higher in the sky, so lighting your videos is easier. If you plan to shoot your own videos, here are some tips:

  • If you’re capturing video on your phone, hold it horizontally.
  • Make sure the largest light source on your set is facing the person or products you’re recording. Translation: Don’t film toward the sun.
  • Make sure it’s as quiet as possible when on-camera people are speaking, since microphones can pick up a lot more than you think.

Tip: Your shop offers lots of opportunities for great videos, from showing how you screen print a shirt to a staffer sharing great marketing tips. People love quick videos that entertain and give business-building ideas. This video from our Prime Line factory showing a custom tumbler being created is a great example. It was shot on a phone and took about 10 seconds to make.

3. Commit to using social media marketing.

Penza watches his SMB clients fall off the social media consistency train all too often. “Social media platforms like Facebook or YouTube love consistency,” he says. “The more you post, the more they’ll push it out, especially in the summer months. People are out and about in warmer weather, but they’re always on social media.”


Tip: Put aside some time to create good content to push out on a semi-regular schedule, including videos. “Take this time to learn how to create good content, use it, and then profit from it,” Penza says. Click here to visit our Digital Lounge. Thousands of options for fresh Customer content updated daily.

4. Cross-train your staff, including managers.

With many shops running with much leaner teams than in the past, now’s the time to cross-train your staff. “You may have a limbo period where a lot more work starts coming in, and you haven’t hired the additional staff to help,” Atkinson says. “It’s important to consider promoting a manager from within who can oversee an extra shift on Saturday or overtime while you work on hiring.”

Atkinson notes that many of the shops he works with are scrambling to hire new screen-printing or embroidery managers right now. “That’s why having an in-house manager training program to promote from within is so key,” he says. “This also makes sense because if your regular managers go on vacation or take sick time, you need someone to fill in who won’t miss a beat.” 

Tip: This is also a great time of year to create or update your employee handbook with your shop policies so your team knows what’s expected of them, along with what benefits and resources you offer. You can find online templates to get started, and then you can ask an HR professional to review it for you, if you don’t have someone in-house. Include policies about vacation time, sick time, attendance, disciplinary measures, harassment, discrimination and drug use.

5. If you’re hiring now, offer sign-on incentives.

Summer’s usually when people take time off, and post-pandemic travel numbers are surging. “A lot of business owners are facing the unknown right now, with unemployment benefits and insurance unknowns,” says David Epstein, president and co-founder of Intelligent Staffing Company. “That’s why many companies are giving hiring or retention bonuses as people come on board.”

However, many employers are feeling bullish about hiring, with 44% posting open jobs and 21% planning to increase their employment numbers, according to Statista.com

Epstein’s suggestion if you’re thinking about expanding your team in the early fall? “Don’t let the summer months tick by,” he says. “No one ever starts hiring early enough.”

6. Stay in touch with your customers.

Business growth activities should always include a top-of-mind and follow-up initiatives. “The simple and routine act of being familiar will build trust between your shop and your customers,” says David P. Leta, marketing manager and word-of-mouth expert at The Business Image. “These can be as simple as appearing at a networking events, giving public acknowledgements, sending unique and desirable advertising promotions, giving referrals and leads, and sending invitations to special events, webinars, and workshops.”

Tip: Don’t treat the summer months like it’s a school year and now you’re on break. “A mistake SMBs make is thinking their marketing efforts can wait until September,” Leta says. “They treat their marketing messaging like they’re on vacation. In a way, your marketing should be on auto-pilot with scheduled social posts and emails. That way, you literally can take a vacation and have all the touches to maintain your presence.”

Leta says it doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive to stay top of mind with your customers. “It’s just got to be routine and consistent, and sometimes a little unexpected,” he says.

7. Review your financial status.

During the last year, many shops dipped into their six months-worth of savings to stay afloat. “If you had that money in place to use, that’s great,” Atkinson says. “You know what it takes to run your business and weather a storm. If you touched that money, or never had it, it’s time to put it back in place.”

This is a great time to schedule a meeting with your accountant to take your financial health temperature and review your plan for the rest of the year. That meet-up should include your revenue outlook, any plans you have to make a big equipment or software purchase, whether you can hire staffers, and what your taxes will look at at the end of Q3 and Q4.

8. Change up how your clients pay you.

To keep cash flow strong, Atkinson advises his shop clients to get 100% payment upfront. “It’s time to throw the 50% upfront, 50% later payment option out the window,” he says. “It’s simple: Don’t provide an artwork mockup or sample until you get paid.”

Videos are a great marketing tool because they allow you to ‘virtually’ capture your products, services and business. They also allow shop owners to connect to their audience in a compelling and emotional way.” Jason Penza, Glasstown Productions

While the pay-in-full upfront model can feel scary if you’re not used to it, consumers are used to paying this way and will most likely comply with your new rules. Give them plenty of notice about your new policies, and post them in your shop, on your website and even include a line at the end of your emails. “If you have an account where they can’t pay upfront for some reason, make sure you get a proof of payment before you start the job,” Atkinson says.

After you’ve reviewed your financial status and policies, the summer month is also a good time to:

  • Prune your client list. “Remember, the top 80% give you 20% of your business,” Atkinson says. “It may be time to refer some of your list to another shop.”
  • Raise your minimums. “Focus on bringing in higher-margin jobs that are more time- and cost-efficient,” he says.
  • Raise your prices. “The cost of everything has gone up, including cotton and inks,” Atkinson says. “You should review your prices every year, but especially this one.”

9. Give your shop a production makeover.

Since your shop operates in a production-focused environment, your setup should be optimized to fit that flow. Atkinson works with shop owners to figure out gaps in their process, and it can range from how your shop is set up to your production processes to how you train your employees.

“If you look at what you do every day, regardless of decoration method, every job on the schedule is completely different,” Atkinson says. “What connects them is the processes you have in place to easily produce these orders with precision. In your shop, the reason you’ve been struggling with keeping an accurate production schedule could be the clarity in which you create, implement, standardize, train and hold employees accountable, all of the processes needed to complete the work.”

You can bring in an expert to help you audit your shop. However, you can also take a cursory look at where your machines and work stations are placed, if they make sense for your production flow, and if there are ways to optimize them. Ultimately, you’d define how stations should be arranged, and then have employees return them to their optimal positions (and clean them) daily. “This effort should include the ergonomics of your workspaces as well,” Potter says. “Your team can also deep clean your equipment and double-check all of your stock.”


10. Give your website a fresh eye.

Does your website reflect what your clients in the next or new normal want from you? This is a good time to do a website audit, whether you do it internally, hire a consultant or do a little bit of both. 

Here are some things to look at:

  • Is your site showing up in internet searches? If not, you may want to see if your SEO is up to speed. 
  • How does your site “look”? When you refresh your site copy and images, you’ll excite your prospects and wake up “frequent visitors.” When you make these changes, your site will appear higher up in search engine results.
  • Do you have an ecommerce component? If you’re like most shops, you saw ecommerce grow over the last year. If you sell online, are there ways to make the experience simpler and faster for your customers? If you don’t have an ecommerce mechanism, now’s the time to create one. You can look at online store creators specifically for this industry, from InkSoft, Printavo, OrderMyGear, DecoNetwork and Spirit Sale.

    Also, if you’re not offering online stores for your clients, the summer is a good time to launch one and see how you can build them out for more customers. (In fact, some shops have made it an additional revenue stream by building and fulfilling stores for each client they bring on board.)
  • How does your site display on mobile devices? Look at your mobile site with a critical eye and make tweaks. If you don’t have a mobile site, it’s time to create one. There are lots of affordable web developers who can help here.
  • How fast does your site load? You can use a tool like GTmetrix to get a site “grade” and see where you can make improvements. Again, a good web developer can help you make these tweaks.

11. Plan your Q3 and Q4 promotions.

“Are you planning your fall and Christmas sales now?” Atkinson says. “It may seem weird to talk about Santa Claus in July, but if you spend an hour a week putting your content together, you’ll be done by the end of August.”

Atkinson says that shops often wait till after Halloween to start their holiday sales planning. “When you see Christmas trees at Home Depot and you haven’t formulated your Black Friday offer or our monogram stocking program, you’re behind the eight ball,” he says. “Summer’s the best time to do this, and you’ll never feel rushed.”

12. Print new uniform shirts for your employees.

When things slow down in July, it’s a great time to create new artwork and print fresh shirts for your team. However, Atkinson recommends creating really unique artwork and then using a more unique (or new to you) decorating method like discharge printing, high-density printing or multimedia. “I’m a big believer that if you don’t have shirts for your employees, you’re missing out because you need to wear what you’re selling,” he says. “Too many shops don’t spend time printing for themselves.”

13. Thank your employees for their hard work.

Besides the winter holiday season, summer is the best time to say thank you to your employees. “I tell shop owners to do an outdoor cookout for their employees, and to cook the food themselves,” he says. “Food is love, so you’re showing how much you appreciate them by cooking for them.”

Tip: You can also stock your shop with a cooler or fridge of Gatorade and popsicles. “Just think about how you can make it fun to work at your shop instead of just printing T-shirts,” Atkinson says.

What to do today

If you’re planning to sit down and make a summer to-do list for your shop, you’re already ahead of the game. Besides tackling some of the items on our list, check in with your management team to see what opportunities and challenges you see for your business in the last two quarters of the year.

Ask:

1. What goals can we set for the second six months of the year? This can be breaking into a new niche, hitting a higher sales goal or adding a new decoration process.
2. How can we reverse engineer that goal by month by month? For example, if you start in July, where will you end up in late December?
3. What tasks can we put on our team’s calendar each month (and week) to hit this goal? After you’ve figured out which team members can help work down your goals, break down your monthly tasks into weekly ones that you assign to your team. Make sure you give each person enough time to complete their tasks especially if they’re in addition to their existing work.
4. How are we doing? Review your monthly tasks, results and goals to see where you’re winning and where you might need to make tweaks for improvements.

Lots of business owners are ready to hit the ground running the second half of 2021, and the summer is a great time to decide what to focus on to poise your shop for major success.


#ABDecoratingTip
Whether you’re a new or experienced shop owner, it’s important to document everything. “Be really specific about what your customer wants and expects from you,” says Gillian Allen, owner and designer at The Cats Pajamas USA.  “However, also be sure that your customer fully understands your needs and expectations too.” That includes submitting or approving artwork on time, sticking to your payment schedule, understanding your refund policy and more.

Shawn LaFave, president and chief branding officer at North Georgia Promotions, agrees with the “documenting everything” strategy. “Use strike-off sheets for everything you produce in-house,” he says. “That way, you can record ‘who,’ ‘what,’ ‘why,’ ‘when,’ ‘where’ and everything else you’d need to do a reorder on those items in the future. Being diligent about this saves time and confusion, and definitely will save money in the mistakes that your team won’t make.”

SHOP alphabroder USA,  alphabroder CANADA and Prime Line BRANDS TO FIND PRODUCTS OF THE MOMENT.

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