Top 5 reasons NOT to start a sign company

DontDoItYou are creative.  You love colors and enjoy building things with your hands.  You have a great eye for design and you want to start a business.  Hey, why not a sign shop?

Instead of talking about the awesome perks of starting your own sign business let’s talk about why you shouldn’t. You heard me right, here are the 5 reasons you shouldn’t start a sign shop.

Number 1:

Starting a sign company is NOT easy.  This is NOT a “job” environment where you get to wander in around 9, take coffee breaks, a long lunch and clock-out right at 5.  Perhaps, one day, if you work hard enough, if you build a solid & stable company you can have that.  As of right now, you will need to have a lot of time and effort to invest in learning ALL aspects of building a sign business. It will not be easy.  If you aren’t ready for several years of steady, reliable, back-breaking, often-unnoticed work then perhaps this industry isn’t for you.  DON’T start a sign shop.

Number 2:

You think you already know it all.  Guess what?  After almost 30 years as a sign guy I have learned that I don’t know much of anything.  That’s right, 30 years of effort, and the only thing I have realized is how much more I really have to learn.  Owning a business of any sort is a continuous quest for more knowledge and experience.  As Albert Einstein said “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.”  If you think you already have it licked, you should NOT start a sign company.

Number 3:

Your family and your friends DO NOT CARE.  Your family will support you and your true friends will wish you luck but, at the end of the day, they don’t really understand the realities of owning a business.  Before, to them, you were just mom/dad, you were just buddy/pal, you were just brother/sister… now, you are a strange new animal that they have only read about.  This breed called Entrepreneur or Business Owner is an alien species that is talked about in hushed tones and is just as often envied as admired.  Your current circle simply does not have a frame of reference for your new role so, in effect, they are incapable of caring.  If you can’t handle this you should NOT start a sign business.

Number 4:

Freedom is NOT free.  The end goal, at least for me, is to have a business that allows me the freedom to do what I want, when I want to do it.  To a great degree I have accomplished that goal by working extremely hard, developing good clients, maintaining strict control over my cash-flow and keeping good staff in place to ensure projects run smoothly.  You will notice; however, that attaining my freedom did not come without a price.  Many, many, late nights and many, many difficult decisions along with many, many more grey hairs have been the least of the costs.  The goal is attainable but if you think you can do it easily and free… DON’T start a sign company.

Number 5:

Money is a necessary thing and talking about money is absolutely critical.  I know it seems stupid to bring up something so simple but you would be amazed to know how often this is a problem.  Fear of asking for the sale.  Fear of asking for a deposit.  Fear of asking to be paid when the job is done or when the sign is delivered.  Fear of following-up on an unpaid invoice (don’t get me started).  Ultimately, your entire sign shop runs on the life-blood of money, cash-flow, profit & loss… No money = no company really, really fast.  If talking about, or asking for, money is an issue for you then DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT START A SIGN SHOP.

Perhaps you think this is harsh. Perhaps you are right. I do know one thing though, I wouldn’t change the decision to start my own shop for the world. Of course that’s just me and you are not me. I had the passion to be my own boss, the drive to do the difficult things and the continuing desire to quest for even more freedom. Do you?

Finally, here is a little experiment for you. If you know someone who already has a sign company send them a link to this article. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts that this hits pretty close to home for them as well. Remember, DON’T start a sign shop.

Wrap Installer Kit

Wrap Installation Tools

Wrap Installation Tools

The professional wrap installer’s kit can contain an amazing array of tools and items. One wrapper’s kit might be tight and streamlined while another wrapper might have every possible tool under the sun. We all have our methods and we all have our preferred setup so this is, by no means, a comprehensive list. With this in mind, please check out a typical professional wrap installer’s basic kit.

1. ScotchBlue Painter’s Tape, Advanced Multi-Surface, 1.41-Inch by 60-Yard: 1.5″ rolls of this tape are perfect for holding graphics during a dry-fit while also removing cleanly.

2. Rolle-Pro: An excellent roller tool designed for fast channel / rivet work. The Rolle-Pro also doubles as a surface roller.
3. Stanley 33-525 25-Foot-by-1-Inch PowerLock Tape Rule with Blade Armor: An absolute must for any wrap installer.
4. Lisle 81200 Plastic Chisel Scraper Set: This is a plastic based, handled chisel for removing vehicle emblems without damaging paint.
5. 3M L Roller: a specialty tool from 3M to help lay graphics properly into various grooves and channels.
6. WrapCut Pro tape: this a specialty mono-filament tape designed to precisely place film cuts without risking a knife blade damaging the paint.
7. Scissors: Self explanatory but primary used to do rough cuts of film & liner prior to installation.
8. Lil’ Chizler: A plastic chisel tool designed to help remove graphics without paint damage.
9. Stabilo / Staedtler Pencils: Water based marking pencils used for all sorts of placement applications. Easily cleaned without staining the surface though the red ones can stain quickly if not removed promptly.
10. Sealit! Pen: A clear edge sealer in an easy pen applicator. The Sealit! pen helps secure potentially problematic edges and provides more protection for seam edges.
11. 70% Isopropyl Alcohol: This all-around cleaning solvent is very common for the final surface cleaning prior to installation. Can be purchased at any WalMart, CVS, WalGreens, Kroger location.
12. BAFX Products (TM) – Non Contact – Infrared (IR) Thermometer (-58F – +1,022F) – W/ Pointer Sight – BATTERY INCLUDED!: A hand-held laser thermometer used to confirm that the film has been properly heated for final post-heating.
13. 6 PACK OLFA 9mm Stainless Steel Auto-Lock Professional Graphics Knife SVR-2: a handy flat blade with snap off points for fast trimming
14. Elmers/X-Acto X3036 Axent Knife with Cap, Red: a sharp angled razor blade for small detailed trimming, radius and smooth curves.
15. Wrap Glove: a lint free glove enabling a wrapper to work with film without contaminating the adhesive.
16. Squeegees: Various scratch resistant squeegees in various sizes for various applications
17. Bernzomatic TS8000 – High Intensity Trigger Start Torch: Hand-held heat source for fast & controlled graphics heat. A firm grasp of the techniques and application of a torch are vitally critical.

All of this, of course, is just one opinion for a basic wrap installers kit.  There are myriad of other tools available.  Professional wrap installers all over the world will have all sorts of tricks and techniques requiring additional specialty tools.  At the end of the day; however, it is not the tools that make a wrapper but the skill, determination and attention to detail that sets a novice apart from a pro.  The perfect tool in the hands of an amateur will be trumped every time by the simplest tool in the hands of a trained professional.

Published with permission of – Copyright 2014

Professional Wrap Installer… Why not do it yourself?

(Re-published with permission from – 2014)

What?! Those national wrap installers charge WAY too much! This can’t be too hard. It’s just sticky vinyl. I can do this.

Look, despite our natural skepticism of other’s skills and firm belief in our own abilities, there are multiple reasons why wrap installation professionals ARE considered professionals. Let us count the ways…

1. Experience: The high-end professional wrap installers have spent thousands of hours practicing their skills. They have handled miles of vinyl. They have run hundreds of thousands of strokes with various squeegees and tools. They have pulled, pushed, tightened and relaxed untold amounts of films. In short, this doesn’t happen overnight nor by accident. A professional wrap installer has put in an immense amount of time to make it look just that easy.

2. Knowledge: Your average skilled professional wrap installer can tell within 2 two strokes if the film is laying correctly. He or she can tell instantly, by touch, if the film is laminated or not. They can immediately smell if a print has been laminated too quickly and whether or not this will cause extra aggression in the adhesive tac. They know which way the seams should go, how they should line up and where to position them for the best finished look. How do you correct an alignment issue? How do you position a bumper section? How do you correctly trim body panel seams? What is the proper angle to wrap a door handle? Disassemble the side mirrors… tail lights…? There are a multitude of ways to mess up a wrap install and a professional installer has a huge jump on knowing just what they are.

3. Certifications: There are multiple certification systems available in the wrap industry. The best ones focus on experience, accountability and skill. The UASG – United Application Standards Group for example, requires that an applicant be able to prove at least three years of wrap installations before they are allowed to apply for certification. This guideline, combined with an actual shop inspection, in-process project observations and verification of business accountability, makes sure a shop is ready before they are even allowed to test. The test itself consists of two days of intense hands-on, skill and specific project testing along with written practices, techniques and material knowledge assessments. All-in-all it makes for a very comprehensive testing system. Another excellent certification is the PDAA – Master Certified system which places a heavy focus on overall film knowledge and proper install techniques for a variety of film options. Proper surface preparation all the way to correct finishing techniques for wrap longevity are tested and covered under the PDAA system. These certification systems work hard to prove their competence.

4. Tools: Did you know that national wrap installation professionals have spent many hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, on EACH set of specialized tools for their crews? The professional wrap installer has spent a lot of time and money purchasing specific blades, rollers and holders, tapes, squeegees and a variety of other specialized tools that are designed to make sure the wrap is done correctly. These guys aren’t walking into a project with an x-acto knife and vinyl squeegee folks. They take their job seriously and have invested heavily in the tools of their trade.

Just like a veteran woodcarver can make his knives move through oak like butter, and a martial arts master can make his spinning jump kick look effortless, a professional wrapper can make his job look easy. BUT, it all comes as a result of tireless practice and endless dedication to perfecting their skills. THIS is why you go with the professional wrap installer.


See the original article here:

Free Vinyl Ready clipart files

Hello all and welcome back to Today I do not have any hidden web gems or sales increasing marketing ideas BUT I am pleased to talk a little bit about our growing library of totally custom & original vinyl ready clipart images. A lot of you have been real appreciative of the vinyl ready art that was provided to us by Plotter Art™ Originals Collection and have found this resource practical & useful. As a result we have been slowly building additional images for our own library and posting free versions online that you can easily vectorize on your own or you can download the vinyl ready art for a very low price. So far the library has a myriad of categories including… Cats, Women, Children, Wild Animals, Airplanes / Helicopters, Cars and Athletes

There are additional categories in the works and the artwork will be added to the webpage as the group is complete and ready for you all to enjoy. As for the other categories we are doing, please take a look at the main clipart page for the list. Also, please feel free to e-mail in and suggest any additional categories or subjects that think might be useful to the other sign shops who visit.

The artwork itself is original work and is unique to the the design world should you decide to use it. You can feel comfortable that the images you use from here have not been added to some huge , one million images, clipart disk. In addition, all of the vector files are setup specifically for vinyl plotters / cutters and are ready to go with any design… no overlapping shapes, no super ragged edges and no double layers.

Good Luck & Take a step. (why do I sign-off this way?)

Author: Tim Evans
Copyright 2009 – All rights reserved. Do not reproduce or redistribute without express written permission.

Sign Companies and the Yellow Pages mental block

Take a moment here and think about the information you absorbed last month. What kind of books did you read? What websites did you visit? What magazines did you pick up? Are most of your friends in the sign industry like you? I hate to tell you this but, if the majority of your information, ideas and concepts come from the Sign Industry, you are in danger of getting stuck in an industry mental block.

Real quick, go grab your local Yellow Pages and look at your sign shop’s ad… what do you see here? Let me guess… you have your logo (obviously unique and distinctive), your phone number, a list of sign products that you provide and an offer to “Call for a FREE quote”. Now take a look at the other ads… notice any similarities?
Are you simply repeating what everyone else in your market is saying? How are you being distinctive or memorable? Why should ANYBODY choose your sign company over the others in this media?

In his book author Dan Kennedy calls this phenomenon “industry incest” and describes it as a circle of individuals who are constantly looking at each other (their competition) for marketing ideas, strategies, advertising concepts and ways of doing business. The result is a constantly dumbed down and homogenized marketing approach which is ultimately useless to the consumer. Think about it, if it is useless to the consumer, who needs useful information to buy, then it is a pointless marketing approach.

Now think about this situation with you as a potential customer. You have just opened the Yellow Pages looking for a sign shop and there you see ABC Signs, Joe’s Signs, Acme Signs and Julie’s Sign Design (along with 50 others) all saying the same thing. Sure Joe has a cool logo with an extra color and Acme’s ad is bigger than the others but in reality they are all giving you the same information. Everyone is claiming to make thirty types of signs and you can call anyone of them to get a quote. How do you know who offers the best customer service? Which one can make your sign buying experience easy? Who is the best choice? Which sign company is the best fit for your business and what you are trying to accomplish? Will any of these sign shop’s sales staff hound you to death as soon as you contact them? Who really knows their stuff? Who stands out…?

So the sign companies who see the need to stand out know they have to do something. They take a look at
the other ads (industry incest again) and figure out the most obvious way to be different. They go bigger to get better placement in the book and to look bigger than the competition. This approach is effective but at a huge cost, literally. Bigger ads cost more money. Extra colors cost more money. Adding a special effect or using photos cost more money. It is not uncommon for sign shops to be spending thousands per month on their Yellow Pages ads just to stand out. It is also very common for those same sign companies to have NO idea, when asked, if their Yellow Pages advertising is effective and how effective it is (of course this IS effective for someone… the phone book ad reps).

Some radical thoughts… What would happen if you took a step back and considered doing something different. Heck, what if you did the exact opposite of what everyone else is doing? What would happen if you went smaller, one color & simplified? What if you differentiated yourself simply by changing your message? Is it possible to get a much larger return on your Yellow Pages investment at the same time as you decrease your monthly bill? What if you used your ad space to focus on promoting the one product you are exceptional at or make the most net profit with? How about using your ad space to promote your own Free Sign Planner in order to focus and pre-qualify potential prospects?

Let me encourage you to really think outside the box (to use a old cliche) and get creative with your upcoming marketing efforts. Look around at the competition and figure out ways to do things different to get better results. Experiment, try radical approaches, innovate and change your perspective. Above all have fun and remember that you started your sign business to make a life… NOT for it to BE your life.

Good Luck & Take a step. (why do I sign-off this way?)

Sign Shop uses an iPhone to showcase work

Hello all and welcome to the latest post on The Sign Expert .com. It has been a while since the last article but let’s get right into it shall we?

To put it simply, I have been doing some experimenting with shooting some video and utilizing YouTube. The goal here is to work on ways to bring you more information and practical ideas that might help you with your sign company. I believe that using YouTube (and some creative thinking) we can all make and release movies to a select audience in oder to communicate a plethora of common sense ideas and concepts. While I don’t claim to be Martin Scorsese, I hope to at least be able to provide even more good content for you.

So, with no further hype, here is a short video that shows how you can use your iphone to always have an interactive portfolio with you to show clients…

Why the Sign Expert?

This web site is designed to do one thing… provide Practical Help for Sign Professionals. You love the sign industry! You believe that your sign shop offers a valuable service and/or product. You believe that your signs effectively help your clients grow and attract business. You believe that the sign industry offers the best opportunities to combine creativity & hands-on results… and you came to the right place!

The beautiful thing about owning a sign company is that it allows a level of freedom that few people ever get a chance to enjoy in this life. There is freedom to create, design, meet people, travel the world, enjoy consistent
profits, take vacations and, most importantly, the freedom to LIVE your life.

You DO have the time to live your life right? …spend time with family and friends? …go on an exotic trip in a far away land? …use your sign shop profits to invest in another passion? …heck, just make money at all? These questions are all rhetorical or course. I know that you DON’T have the time, resources, or freedom to do much (if any) of these things. I know because I spent 18 years of my life doing exactly the same thing that you are doing now.

BUT… I figured out how to change this cycle and I hope to share these tools with you.

Here are some examples of how your sign business CAN run…

I currently spend 30 hrs a week working IN my business and the rest of my time working ON my business. On top of that, I am taking definite steps to cut even that 30 hours down more… and still increase the revenue!

I don’t do unprofitable jobs… ever.

I have traveled to Buenos Aires Argentina, London England, El Salvador, New York City, Las Vegas etc. for exciting, fun projects… and there’s MORE on the way.

I only accept the clients I WANT TO WORK WITH and I only
take the projects I WANT TO DO. I enjoy the work again.

I don’t cold-call, I never have a need to cold-call and I, flat out, REFUSE to Cold-Call!… and so can you.

I provide my clients with TOP NOTCH SERVICE and EXTENSIVE PROJECT UPDATES that they rave about! … all in a fraction of the time it used to take.

I can access all of my e-mail, voice mail, jobs, designs and information from ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD. Nothing keeps me from enjoying some time off.

Are things looking a little rough at your shop?

If you are reading this blog then chances are good that you own or run a small sign shop. If you DO run your own shop then you probably have been paying a little more attention to the news lately. If you HAVE been listening, reading or watching the news then you might just be a little concerned about how our great American economy is going right now…

Well, I’m here to tell you that, even if things are looking a little rough at your shop, life is still good and you still have an immense amount of control over your business. But wait, you might say, I just lost two great clients who went bankrupt and have a serious amount in Accounts Receivables that I might never collect on…

First, even though you don’t want to hear it, I assure you that there are plenty of other sign company’s that are in the same boat as you. A lot of businesses are starting to feel a pinch and many are beginning to get worried, but it’s OK. Remember, you started your sign shop and built it by using your talents, a lot of hard work, creative marketing and good business sense. Like I said before, you do have control over your sign shop and you can use that control to weather any storm you might be going thru to come out safe and sound.

Perhaps you have started to experience some of these issues…

  1. Sales are down (not many walk-ins or phone calls lately).
  2. Your Accounts Receivables are starting to back up and you are owed some serious money from historically reliable and good clients (big warning sign).
  3. You have lost good customers who have gone out of business.
  4. You are starting to get behind with your own suppliers.
  5. You are getting a little worried about meeting the next payroll (or paying yourself)

Just don’t panic. Despite these problems, there are some things you can do to keep things together. Just like you built your business with some blood, sweat & tears, you can also fortify and make your sign business even stronger in the current economic situation. If you are able to look at these types of issues as opportunities to improve your business then you are halfway there…

  1. Sales: Increase your marketing activities and be pro-active in generating sales opportunities. While other sign shops in your area are getting scared and cutting their marketing and advertising to save money, you can take the opportunity to earn a larger share of the market. Freshen up your sign, change the wrap on your truck, get more involved in your networking groups etc. By dedicating some time and effort to pumping up your sales volume you can more than make up for potential revenue losses.
  2. Past Due Projects: Do not, I repeat… DO NOT, just let your Receivables slip by in the hope that you will eventually get paid. Again, be proactive here and stay on top of any late or overdue payments from your clients. Last year I wrote an article titled “Are You A Sign Company or A Bank?” which should serve as a reminder that your cash flow is critical to the survival of your sign shop. Take a good hard look at your cash flow and get that money moving. If you don’t absolutely have to extend credit… then don’t. Call your customers who are behind on payments and gently remind them that terms you agreed to are not being kept. Encourage them to get caught up right away and, if necessary, offer a 1% discount if they pay that day. Be creative but get paid.
  3. Firing Clients: Review your clients and consider eliminating those who are more trouble than profit. If you have clients that require constant hand-holding, are always trying to rush last minute projects thru production, are never happy despite signing the final design proof… I could go on & on here… then give serious consideration to cutting them loose. By culling the time & money leeches, you can refocus your efforts on working with profitable and worthwhile clients. Just like that you can be working less hours, doing more profitable projects and having a heck of a lot more fun in the process.
  4. Creative Staffing: Take a good hard look at your existing staff and their hours. With a little bit of effort you can come up with some creative staffing solutions that can save your company significant money and keep the books much healthier. Consider putting some staff on 4 – 10 hour days to get more done in a shorter time frame (and everyone likes 3 day weekends). How about utilizing part-timers only when you need them rather than keeping 70% useful full-timers on staff? Can you outsource some of your popular products and sell more of them? Now you can enjoy higher sales but no increase in labor costs…

Be encouraged and get to work. Things are not that bad and there is a world of opportunity out there for a sign pro to stay strong and continue growing even in rough times.

Announcing – The Sign Expert .com site re-design

I am going to keep this entry short & sweet as the website is currently undergoing a redesign. My sincere thanks go out to those readers who have been helpful in providing suggestions, insights and ideas for use here on The Sign Expert .com I am currently incorporating some of those suggestions into the newly designed site in an effort improve navigation and readability to visitors. Please check out the new home page and click around to see some of the changes as they come online.

Additional thanks go out to those who have generously sent in their PayPal donations and have expressed their gratitude for the information and resources offered here on Your money will be used to continue to expand and improve the site in order to keep this available to all.

Signs and the Art of Zen

Oh, the curse of the modern sign professional… the economy is up… the economy is down. Sales are up… nope, sales are down. The vinyl for Bob’s project didn’t come in on time. That rush print has head strikes 90% into the job… No matter what, sometimes it just never seems to stop and the pressure keeps on building… and building… and BUILDING…

You know, sometimes us sign folk just need to sit back and relax.

While do I spend quite a bit of time here writing about how to reduce stress, build a sign business and generally try to make things easier for others, I deal with these stress factors just like everyone else.
Personally, after a particularly rough few weeks, it occurred to me to look for some kind of useful relaxation techniques or inspiring stories online. I spent quite a bit on time searching thru various websites, online articles and blogs without finding anything particularly interesting. Then I came across an interesting link titled 20 Ways to Eliminate Stress From Your Life posted on the blog.

The short version of the list by author Leo Babauta includes such items as…

Identify Stressors
Eliminate Unnecessary Commitments
Avoid Difficult People
Simplify Life
Slow Down
Quit Work

… and plenty of other little tidbits made this specific article a great read and useful in many ways.

After getting hooked by Mr. Babauta’s initial article, I made a point of skimming thru his site to check out the other types of subjects he writes about. What I discovered was a great online blog that is well organized with a wealth of ideas for developing his Zen Habits. There are many posts about home, health, organization, finance and happiness as well as many more subjects that I feel are practical for the modern sign professional.

Short and to the point… check out ZenHabits and brighten your day.