Keep your sign shop profitable

Let’s face facts here folks, we all own a sign business to make money, to make a life for ourselves and to make a life for our families. To be more specific, we want to make a profit which “should” lead to these things.
Now, many would immediately argue that it’s more important to be designing art, or how much they love the crafting of their particular signage specialty, but facts are facts. How much “design freedom” do you really have if you can’t pay the bills? How much “family life” do you have when you need to work 60-80 hours a week keeping all of your customers happy? No matter what philosophy you subscribe to, no matter what political ideas you
might hold, there is one irrefutable fact in this world… money is important.

Now, you should notice that I’m NOT saying that money is ALL important. I personally believe that money is not even in the top five of my most important things (I’ll write about that another time). So, while money is not the most important thing in life, I think we would all agree that having enough money does make running a business a whole lot easier.
So, now that we have established that we need to make money and be profitable…. how do we accomplish this in our sign companies? Here is a list if things I consider to be of critical importance in a profitable sign business (in no particular order).

  1. Establish your “working overhead”. Basically, this is finding out exactly how much money it takes to run your shop everyday. You need to sit down and figure out ALL of the things that are pulling money out of your business. Make sure that you cover the basics like rent / mortgage, salaries, materials, leases, etc. but don’t forget items like taxes, insurance, utilities, cell phones, magazine subscriptions etc.
  2. Establish the value of your “shop time”, “design time” and “install time”. You will notice that the common element here is TIME. It is amazing how many sign shops sell themselves (and their company) short when it comes to our time. In my shop, Time is the most important indicator of my value & profitability in almost everything. Always remember, you are a Sign Professional and your experience is the most important asset you have. Once you realize that your time is valuable then it becomes infinitely easier to sell profitably.
  3. Don’t try to be everything to everyone. Bill Cosby is credited with saying “I don’t know if I can tell you how to succeed, but a sure way to fail is to try to please everyone,”. The best way to make sure that you have a profitable sign shop is to make sure you are selling profitable jobs. No matter how large or small your sign company is, you will only be profitable in specific services or products. So, find out what makes you the most money, focus on selling more of it and stop trying to please everyone.
  4. Learn to say “no” How many of us are constantly taking on jobs just because a customer asks? I have learned over the years that it is perfectly alright to tell someone “no”. (I have also learned that it best to have a solution ready for them when you do turn their project down). My regular spiel goes like this… “thank you very much for thinking of us for this project but this is not something we typically do. I do; however, have the name and number of XYZ company who should be able to help you out”. I have found that most clients will be appreciative of your honesty, for not wasting their time and for providing a viable alternative.
  5. Deliver KILLER customer service. I am a firm believer in delivering top-notch customer service to all of my clients. How many sign shops have the luxury and pleasure of hearing their clients rave about great it was to work with you? The way I see it, if I have pinpointed my clients, attracted the types of jobs I want and regularly profit from these projects then my customers deserve a remarkable experience. Check out the latest client (Alley Cat Games and Comics) who enjoyed the experience of working with us so much that they made sure to include us in their own blog… Alley Cat Games & Comics.

All things considered, our sign companies (and our lives) all move better when we are actually making money. I encourage you to take a second look at your sign shop and find out if you are truly profitable.