Take a Step … (and no, I’m not telling you to step off)

Confucius is credited with the saying “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. While most us us have heard this before, and many have relegated it to cliche status, it does not change the underlying truth of the words. No matter what we do in life (or business) it all starts with that first step, and then we take another, and then another… eventually we do hit the thousand mile mark.

This website took its first step in October 2007 with the dream of providing the sign community at large with a useful, free, easy to use online resource. More specifically, this web site was started with a desire to help other sign shops along the difficult & challenging road of building a successful business. With that in mind, TheSignExpert.com took its first step, and then another and yet another until now we are here, almost a year later. I personally feel (of course I may be biased) that we have come along way towards building a useful and consistently growing resource for all of you.

As the site grew and more ideas came to fruition, information was added like How To Start A Sign Business and a whole collection of Sign Calculators to help visitors get quick prices for common sign products. You can now download a Free Sign Buying Guide to help you sell more signs and grab a collection of Free Sign Company Forms to help you get more organized. You now have a growing collection of vector ready clipart / vinyl ready clipart / plotter ready clipart that is being created and, of course, this blog that is published with articles and ideas for anyone who wishes to read them.

All of this has been built for you to use because, lets face it, this is not an easy industry to be in. The sign industry is not as simple as pecking away at a keyboard making cool designs to stick on a car nor is it a route to easy money. Here in the real world you have all have found that hard work, dedication to your craft and top notch design skills are simply not a guarantee of profits or success (despite a lot of opinions otherwise). What you have found is that those who are willing to continue learning about running a sign business AS a business usually set themselves apart and have a much higher chance of making it work.

This website was created for you.

You want to create a successful sign business and you want to be profitable, happy and respected business person your market. You want pertinent and useful information to help you succeed and you are convinced that you CAN succeed. Guess what, I am convinced you can succeed as well.

All of your goals can be achieved by taking just one step at a time, so in the words of the wise Confucius…

Take a step!

Think your sign shop is the BEST?

Did you know that the vast majority of clients do NOT buy your signs because they think you are the best? That’s right folks, you heard it here first, people are not motivated to buy just because you are (or say you are) the best sign shop in town. I realize that this is a shocking (and to some, insulting) statement but that does not change the fact… sorry.

Honestly, I never really thought about this personally and always assumed that my clients came to me solely because of our great reputation and superior products. We regularly enjoy excellent referrals from happy clients and love it when someone tells us… “Joe from ABC told me you guys are great… “ I mean, if people are telling us this, and they order signs, and they tell their friends about us then it MUST be because we are good right?

Come on, it’s just common sense, who would ever willingly go to a bad supplier? Who would intentionally use the guy on the other side of town when you KNOW he just doesn’t make signs as well as you do? … of course, somehow, the guy on the other side of town IS getting work and people ARE walking into their shop instead of yours…

Something to think about isn’t it?

This particular phenomenon came to mind recently after reading a very interesting book entitled “You, Inc” that I found at my local Barnes & Nobles. The book discussed all aspects of personal branding but also devotes a section to how we, as humans, make buying decisions. What all of the research has proven is that we very rarely EVER make a decision based on logical criteria (such as Acme Signs is the best sign shop around). No, we make the vast majority of our purchases based on…. wait for it… almost there… Feelings & Emotion. What?! Yes, we constantly make decisions based on instinct, emotion, or feelings about the purchase and THEN justify spending the money by using the “facts”.

Think about the last time you headed into the store looking for a coffee maker. Did you research all of the available brands, check out the various features of each model and verify the consumer reports? No, you simply looked for one that matched your price range and then selected the one that matched your kitchen or looked cool. You “assumed” that all of the coffee makers in that price range were essentially the same. You “assumed” that there was little or no difference in features, quality etc and made your decision… whether or not your “assumption” was true or not. You made your decision based on an emotion.

Guess what? Potential clients all over the world are all doing the exact same thing when they start looking for a sign company. The first thing that an individual does is assume that if a sign shop is in business that they must be a professional. In their opinion, there are plenty of sign companies out there that are skilled and competent so that factor becomes, in their mind, a non-issue. Now I can already hear the screams of frustration coming from you… I know that there are all sorts of warning signs to let people know that Joe Blow’s sign business is just horrible. I mean, how could they fail to notice that Joe Blow can’t design worth anything? How could they not see that Joe’s vinyl signs start to peel after 6 months or Joe’s blanks are never cut square? The simple fact is, they DONT know, and have no problem having Joe makes their signs for them. They will probably even stay with Joe for years despite any number of problems as long as Joe is able to deliver just one thing to them…

A Feeling… whether that is emotional fulfillment, a feeling of importance or a personal connection. All of the research shows that people do business based on fundamental emotions. People always prefer to do business based on a personal relationship. They want to feel important. They want to feel needed and vital to you and your company. They want to feel… wanted. Remember the old saying “It’s not what you know but who you know”? That’s relationships folks.

So, what are you doing to make sure your clients feel wanted? What are you doing to fulfill their fundamental need to feel important and vital? What are you doing to make an immediate connection with new potential clients coming in? Do you ever offer a “Best Customer Ever” discount, send a personal note or simply say Thank You?

I guarantee, if you spend a little time delivering on this one thing then you will rarely, ever lose a client to a competitor. Remember, providing true value is not just limited to your hand crafted, premium signs.

Good Luck!

Is your sign business working for money or creating wealth?

Is my sign business working for money or creating wealth? Right about now you are saying… huh?

Did you know that there is a major difference between working for money and actually working to create wealth? More importantly, not only is there a difference between the two concepts but that difference will determine how you will live your life in the future. Did you know that a decision to work for money rather than wealth will ultimately keep you trapped in a life of fear, anger and frustration wondering why your shop never seems to provide the life you dreamed of?

So, the logical question here is what is the difference between working for money and working for wealth?

You are working for money if…

  1. Your income stops when you stop working or, in other words, your income is directly linked to how much work you do.
  2. Your primary concern is making a “paycheck”.
  3. Your sign shop closed tomorrow you would be quickly broke. It has been said that the average family is only three paychecks away from financial disaster.
  4. Your sole source of money is determined by how many signs you can sell & produce (whether individually or your whole company).
  5. You are only concerned with how much you can make next week or next month. If things are looking tough then your only solution is to sell and make more signs.
  6. You are more concerned with what your money can purchase rather than how your money can create more money. (If you have the “keeping up with the Jones syndrome”).
  7. You constantly have more month at the end of the money.

You are working for WEALTH if…

  1. You are willing to make the sacrifices today for the benefits next week, next month or next year.
  2. You understand that Profits are better than Wages.
  3. You are building long-term income thru a solid & systematized sign company. In other words, your sign business continues to run and generate an income for you regardless if you are there actually selling or making signs.
  4. You have taken the time to learn about alternative methods of generating income. This is for those of you who are taking steps to build income thru investing in real estate, purchasing rental properties, building a network marketing business or acquiring paper assets.
  5. You prefer (and actively work to build) automated income sources rather than being limited to what you can personally produce. You look for mechanisms that can generate income 24 hours a day / 7 days a week.
  6. You understand the importance of acquiring true assets (these actively put money IN your pocket) rather than buying liabilities.

In my opinion, if you are working in your sign shop just to pay bills, buy a new car or provide the means to buy the next big house then you are doing yourself a huge disservice. You have simply exchanged having a job (working for someone else) with owning a job (working for yourself). Owning and running your own sign business gives you a powerful device to aggressively generate money. This money can be the seeds that allow you to build other assets which can, in turn, create even more money for you.

Why would you waste such an opportunity to begin to build true wealth for the temporary pleasure of spending the money now? Why would you sacrifice the potential of gaining a financial freedom that few ever attain?

You CAN do it and you CAN begin to work for it now. Learn, read, ask questions and grow! Open your mind and begin to explore a world of business and financial education that you have never seen before.

Good Luck!

Cheap Signs are here to stay.

To hear a lot of sign professionals talk (maybe you are one of them) there is an ongoing problem with the people who want “cheap signs”. According to these sign folks, “everyone is only concerned with price” and there is a lot of frustration with clients who only seem to care about getting the cheapest thing they can find regardless of whether it is a good product or solution for their actual needs.


FACT: Some clients understand the VALUE of excellent customer service, quality design, competent work and a responsive vendor. They want to get a great product and the peace of mind associated with dealing with a good reputable shop. These clients appreciate this type of product & service and are willing to pay premium prices to get it.

FACT: Other clients are only focused on the price. They do not care that the design is a cookie-cutter template, the print fades in six months or that the wrap is tenting and peeling off within a year. Oh, they will complain and bad mouth the company who provided the service but turn right around and make the same decision (based solely on price) again & again. It is not that are not learning from their “mistake” but, rather, they are deliberately & intentionally choosing price over value.

So, the question here for everyone is this… What type of customer do you want or, more importantly, what type of customer are you attracting?

Consider that there is money to be made with BOTH types of clients depending on your shop’s setup. If you have incredibly low overhead, an ability to purchase materials in large discounted lots, have inexpensive labor or are willing to use marginal materials then you CAN make a killing on offering low priced signs & wraps. There is obviously a market for this work so you can intentionally market your sign shop to capture this revenue.

At the same time, at the other end of the spectrum, there are those clients that abhor the thought of buying “cost-cutter” graphics. These clients want personalized service, top notch design and high quality products. Usually these are the folks who have no problem paying premium prices because they appreciate the value of the product. Don’t forget, there is always a segment of the market that makes it a matter of pride to buy the best they can find, regardless of cost. Consider those who buy 20,000 thread count (slight exaggeration) bed sheets when a nice set of bed sheets from JC Penny’s will work just as well. How about the individuals who spend $250,000.00 on a high sports car when a $50,000.00 car will still get them from point A to point B.

There is always a market for our signs and wraps but WE have to determine what market we are going for. Every-time we talk to a new person we communicate what type of clients we want by how we dress, how we speak and what we actually say. Every-time we advertise we are sending a call out to potential clients by the designs we use and the message in our ad copy. What fonts & colors are we using? Are we focusing our message on design? Do we put more focus on customer-service and quality? Does our marketing message simply call for those who are looking for the $19.95 special? What message are we sending out to our market area? Only we can know if we are actively (or accidently) looking for the price shoppers or have tailored our marketing message to appeal to the value / quality conscious.

So, in my opinion, it does us no good to complain about the low-ballers as they will ALWAYS be there to service the “price conscious” market segment. Those customers are there, they still want their signs & wraps and they still would rather pay $100 for lower quality & service rather than $500 for the improved solution, better design and best materials. This is an inevitable fact of life and will never change… period.

You have to decide…

Do you want the customers who are only concerned with price? If so, give them what they want and figure out the best way to make the profit margins you need to remain a viable sign company. Be aware; however, that being the lowest around is ultimately a loosing battle because there is always someone who can do it cheaper.

Would you rather have the customer who are focused on design & quality solutions? If this is you then tailor your shop to communicate to this market make sure that you are also making good profits and providing a valuable service. In this scenario be aware that developing this type of customer base requires much more time & effort up front to build. The return on your investment can take longer to see but is ultimately (in my opinion) much more profitable and stable for the long run.

Regardless of your particular “business vision”, the question is yours to answer as you see fit…

Good Luck!

Online Marketing for your Sign Business

Have you thought about what goes into marketing your sign business online? If you are reading this post then you are already an active member of the online community. Having access to the internet gives you power and through that power you might have found your way to this site through a link from a similar site. Maybe you followed a link from an e-mail you received or perhaps a trusted colleague told you about us. Chances are; however, that you found The Sign Expert .com thru a search engine like Google, Yahoo or MSN Search. If so, then you are witnessing the benefits of having an online marketing company that helps me improve the rankings of the web site on the big search engines.

To back up a bit, for years now we have seen more and more sign companies building their own web sites. I have seen simple text only sites (which desperately need to be updated or removed) and I have also seen incredibly complex and beautifully designed sites that do an excellent job of showcasing that particular sign shop’s capabilities. Of course there are sign supply web sites, sign equipment web sites, online forums / chat rooms as well as sign industry resources and governing bodies like the ISA (International Sign Association).

Regardless of what type of web site you have, I’m sure you would love to get more visibility for it. You can send out cards and brochures or you can list your website in your Yellow Pages ad. Of course you can tell all of your customers that you have a new site up and maybe offer them an incentive to take some time to visit the site. (posting their new sign project and linking to their page is always a welcome gesture).

What I find most often; however, is that few sign companies see much traffic at all to their site and even fewer see any sort of conversion of visitors to actual sales. (I personally enjoy closing 78% of my sales generated from my online leads but that’s another article) After a few months the web site gets abandoned and is rarely visited or updated… THIS DOES NOT HAVE TO BE!

If you are a sign company that is serious about increasing your online visibility and improving your rankings in search engines like Google then I have a recommendation for you. Find an online company that specializes in getting your site listed with all of the search engines and then works to consistently increase your rankings in order to drive traffic to your site. I would recommend that you take a look at Axandra who can help you get top 10 rankings on Google & Yahoo with a excellent track record. So, jump right in and get started on improving those rankings.

Think about how many more contacts you can make and signs you can sell if you can just get targeted local customers coming to your web site. Hopefully you have read some of the other posts and have begun to work on learning about advertising your sign company and the value of offering free sign information to potential clients. As you begin to absorb this information and, more importantly, begin to apply it to your own sign business then you will begin to see promising and profitable improvements!

Focus on Giving and the Getting will come

Uh oh… here she comes… that lady from the local kid’s charity who is always wanting a free banner. She comes in, without fail, every year and asks for a banner to promote the current youth activity event…

The question at this point is what feelings are running through your chest? Do you have warm pleasant emotions because you know you are helping a good cause or did your stomach just tighten up because you don’t like people who always want something for free?

Regardless of your previous experiences and current views it is important to point out a few benefits of a sign shop helping out a charity. Consider the fact that we, as an industry, have a unique opportunity to help all sorts of local groups, charities, churches and other deserving organizations. Our specialized skills in creating effective and pertinent advertising products can go a long way towards helping a honorable cause. We can contribute a fraction of time and effort, provide valuable signage and become instrumental in possibly helping the next musical prodigy, finding a cure for cancer or simply helping someone provide a meal for a soul in need.

In the real world; however, we simply cannot be the “go-to shop” for every worthy cause in town. If we spent all of that time and money on everyone’s charity project we would quickly be out of business and broke. While it is nice to help, we do need to set some boundaries for ourselves and our local hopefuls. Here are a few questions to consider before agreeing to help…

  1. Does this cause have special significance for you or your shop?
  2. Will helping this cause create any undue stress in your shop?
  3. Will this project cause another, paying client’s project, to be delayed?
  4. Is this individual genuinely involved with the charity or just looking for a free handout?
  5. Is there any gratitude or is your help simply taken for granted?
  6. Will your charity work be spread around town until every cause shows up on your doorstep expecting the same service?

These are all legitimate concerns and, in order to make sure we can continue to support those local causes, we have to make sure we stay profitable. As long as we are conducting our sign business AS a business we will find the time & means to help deserving causes. At the same time, as soon as that individual becomes demanding or expectant or feels entitled to our help, the assistance stops.

I personally believe that it is every sign shop’s responsibility to be an active and participatory member of their community. Whether you get involved with local chamber events, donate some banners to a local fund raising event, contribute money or simply devote some time to work a booth, anything can and will help.

If we all spend some time on giving we WILL start to see the getting.

Signs sold through networking

Do you realize that most of your profitable customers, best associates, and most consistent advocates of your sign business come from your personal network?

Think about it…

Who are the people who most often tell their friends about the cool wrap you did for their new truck.

Who constantly tells the story of the time you came thru with a last minute banner that brought in thousands of dollars during a weekend sales blowout?

How did you find and hire your longest and most reliable employees?

Chances are, all of these things happened through the direct intervention of your personal network of friends, family and business associates.

So, if all of these good things can happen due to your personal network, why are you not building it even further? I know, I know,… you are too busy, there is too much work going on, you have to quote this project or build that sign. There are 20 designs that still need to be done…

Of course, here’s the rub… those situations came about as you actively built your network and those situations WILL dissipate as your networks begin to feel neglected or mistreated.

So what do you do? If you wish to continue a good thriving sign business, you will devote some time to continue building your networks. Here are some suggestions…

  1. Join a networking group: These are groups that are dedicated specifically to the idea that businesses grow when connected with each other. I personally use BNI but there are other types available.
  2. Join a local Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanas, Rotary etc.
  3. Set aside a time, every week, to invite someone to breakfast or lunch. Use the time to catch up or get to know a new person. Talk, share build relationships and focus your attentions on how you can help them.

By taking the time, on a consistent basis, to expand your circle or friends and contacts you will provide yourself with an every growing group of people that help you grow your sign business.

Now Hiring – Must Have a Clue

Today I am siting at a an excellent little place named Bistro 412 located at 412 Main Street in Park City, Utah. What in the world am I doing in Utah you might ask, to which I would reply… none of your business. Of course I would then remember that you are reading this blog and it is my job to write about interesting things for the small sign shop owner. So I’m sorry for my bad attitude.

All right, what exactly am I doing here in Park City, Utah? Well, I am currently working on a project in Salt Lake City, Utah which is only about 30 miles away from Park City. Since I love movies, and I was so close, I thought it would be fun to go take a look at the place that hosts the world famous Sundance Film Festival. Every year Sundance attracts famous celebrities, film makers, agents & innocent bystanders to Park City to take a look at the new upcoming films and rising talent in the movie industry. From a practical viewpoint, this is an excellent place to see and be seen by those interested in breaking into show business.

So, what does this have to do with owning or running a small sign business?

Well I”ll tell you, just keep your pants on!

As I sit here considering the importance of the Sundance Film Festival to the movie industry, I got to thinking about the ways that we, as a small sign shop, find our own up and coming talent. How does a small sign shop typically find their rising new stars? What is the best way to locate and hire talented designers, production staff, sales professionals etc? To tell you the truth, I have no idea what the “best” way is but I do have a list of good ideas for you.

1. Local Trade or High School: This can be an excellent way to find some local enthusiastic part-time / beginner help for a sign shop that just needs someone who can quickly learn the basics of sign production and installs. Of course, this type of help is generally inexperienced but their potential interest in the sign & graphics field can more than make up for training required. If you find the right individual, you can guide their personal development and train up an excellent and loyal associate.

2. Newspaper Ad: This is generally a pretty expensive prospect as well as being a short term advertising opportunity. If you don’t find someone within a week or two your money has just been wasted. On the plus side, if you write your ad right and DO get lucky, then it is possible to find an local individual with exactly the right qualifications for your shop.

3. Craigslist: This is turning into an excellent way to put out online ads for specific positions for your sign shop. If you are in a market large enough to have its own Craigslist site then the opportunity to post FREE “Now Hiring” ads is a win-win for a small sign business. Just navigate to the “Jobs” section on the main page and look down until you find the right category you wish to post in. I guarantee you will find the perfect description whether you need sales staff, a designer or channel letter fabricator (skilled trade / craft). The down side for this medium is that you can have a tendency to get a whole bunch of unrelated applicants who did not take the time to read the qualifications you might have listed. Regardless, the worldwide exposure combined with the fact that its FREE makes Craigslist worth a shot.

4. Trade Forums / Websites: There are several sign industry websites available that offer free online job postings. After signing up (for free) you are able to post openings on SignWeb.com, SignIndustry.com, or Signs101.com for starters. These online resources are excellent for locating experienced sign industry professionals but I have noticed that you can run into problems with inquiries coming from all over the country.

So, while we still don’t have a sign industry equivalent of the Sundance Film Festival, there is a wide range of talent finding resources available to the sign industry. When you find yourself in need of good quality help give these options a try and find your own super star.

Running a sign shop is NOT passive income.

Yes, owning and running a sign shop is NOT Passive income! Some of you might know what I’m talking about and some of you think I have lost my mind… that’s OK, I’ll explain,

Essentially, Passive income describes earnings received on a regular basis with little effort required to maintain the income flow. Yes, there ARE ways that people can make money while no longer actively participating in the product, work or service.

The most common examples are…

  • Royalties from a patent
  • Royalties from publishing a book
  • Royalties from writing a song
  • Earnings from rental properties
  • Earnings from a Network Marketing business
  • Earnings from developing / licensing a business system
  • Earnings from a business that does not require direct involvement by the owner (systems and employees ensure the work continues)
  • Revenue generated from online advertisers who advertise on your site

So, if a passive income business can generate money even when I’m not participating then what is my sign shop? First and foremost, it is an Active Income business. If I stop making signs then I stop getting paid. For most of us, this is an uncomfortable fact. If I lose my sign business to a natural disaster, a killer lawsuit, or an act of God… then I stop getting paid.

I don’t know about you but I don’t particularly like that idea.

So, we know passive income is good but what is the downside? Why doesn’t everyone have a nice passive income business going?

CONS: The downside is that, like any business model, you have to educate yourself on how to build such a business. This requires a large amount of upfront time, effort, and work to get it going. If you look back at the list of examples, you will realize that every one of these Passive Income examples absolutely demands an upfront cost. If you are prepared to pay the price in time, effort and dedication then you CAN build passive income.

PROS: Now, the upside is a pretty attractive one. Once you have devoted your resources to building one, two or more passive income streams then you should start to see some nice benefits….

  1. Minimal time/ effort needed to maintain the income stream(s)
  2. Earn more by progressively doing less
  3. Freedom to decide your own work schedule and location
  4. Give yourself a raise anytime by creating another income stream. Once you have learned the skills needed to create such income then you can do it again and again whenever you need to.
  5. No limit to the wealth you can create with enough ingenuity and creativity.

Personally, I have joined a Network Marketing business called Monavie because I am willing to sacrifice some time, effort and money in order to grow another passive income stream. I hope you will make the effort as well.

Congrats!… your life is about to change

If you are reading this blog then the odds are you are in the sign industry. If so, a big congratulations are in order… you have taken the step that most never even reach. You took the chance and got in the game.

There are many individuals in this world who talk about starting a business. The number is considerably lower for those who take the first step in educating themselves about business in general. The number is drastically reduced even further for those who take active steps towards starting a specific service or business. You; however, have actually started a sign business. Nice.

Regardless of how you came to this point in your life, you are here with a wonderful opportunity to learn incredible things. Whether you have been in the sign industry for 20 years and have decided to strike out on your own OR you have recently purchased your first plotter. You have jumped into the world of business and your perception will forever be changed.

Here are my top 5 list of how starting a sign business can change your life.

1.You will experience, first hand, the laws of supply & demand. Capitalism at its best and worst and the laws of an open marketplace.

2.You will learn how money actually works in the real world. The most critical thing you will learn about finances is that they are nothing like what your school, friends and family all think they know.
3.You will learn about a variety of subjects that, working for someone else, you never needed to know. Taxes, law, marketing, sales, product development… you might even need to learn how to scrub toilets, tac weld an iron plate or make your own screen printing screens… you never know.
4.You will begin to realize that you now are the master of your own destiny. Whether you succeed or fail, the only person ultimately responsible is you. That can be a scary or exhilarating thought.
5.Once you begin to generate some success and additional capital, you can now begin to look for additional business opportunities that were never available to you before. Have you ever wanted to start in Real Estate, or start an online business? How about getting involved in a Network Marketing opportunity (highly recommended for sales training as well as building residual income streams)?

Your life will never be the same and you should be thrilled at the possibilities.

Once you learn the skills of business you can explore a world of opportunity.

Once you master the skills of selling… you can write your own ticket for the rest of your life.