The JOY of signs… what’s yours?

Speaking strictly for myself, I really like making signs. I like the creative aspect of concept and design. I revel in the hands-on experience of cutting & painting the blank, shaping the accents, producing the vinyl graphics or laying in some gorgeous gold leaf. I REALLY like seeing that final sign going up on my client’s building or watching their eyes light up when that van wrap rolls around the corner for the first time…

Now that I think of it, I LOVE making signs!


I have noticed over the last few years that I have been steadily moving away from the pleasure of being a “sign guy” into the role of being a sign business professional. What used to be a normal day of making signs has turned into a normal day of running a sign business. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still love what I do. I get a great amount of pleasure from all the new things I learn everyday as my sign and graphics company continues to grow… just sometimes I miss the “good old days” of paint & brush (I know that sounds crazy but there it is).

So what I have been wondering is… what sign related things did you (or do you still do) that bring you sheer joy in your sign business? What can you just work on and never even notice time pass? What types of projects make you get up, hours later with sore knees and back, and just grin for the fun of it?

I’m genuinely curious and would love to hear your thoughts so please click this link to go to the question as it is posted on the forum at Sign up, introduce yourself, if you haven’t already, and share with the wider sign community.

How do you price your signs?

How do you price the signs for your sign shop? What variables do you use to make sure you are making the proper amount of profit? Do you just use sign pricing software and not worry about the details? Do you KNOW how much profit you need to make in order to, not only stay in business, but also make it worthwhile to continue?

When it comes to estimating a custom sign project there are many different variables and pricing methods to consider. The pricing theories range from a “gut feeling” to “time & materials formulas” all the way up to in-depth analysis of sign company overhead, materials, labor, profit margins and perceived value.

BUT… none of these methods will do you much good unless you know what your true costs of doing business are. To be truly profitable, a sign business needs to know it’s expenses…

Fixed expenses (overhead): These are things you pay for even if you never sell a sign (ouch). Think of how much do you pay each month in rent, insurance, electric, phone & internet, loans & leases (vehicles, cash advances, equipment), labor, benefits etc.

Variable expenses: These are items that are directly related to producing whatever signs you make. Think of your materials, substrates, vinyl, ink, laminates, install hardware, subcontracted products etc.

So, as you begin to really get a handle on YOUR sign business (and how profitable you want to be) I have begun adding some very simple sign price calculators to in order to help.

Here is a list of the calculators that are available and a couple that I am currently working on…

Go to the calculators

Did you ask for a referral?

Today you just completed a killer new sign project. It has your best logo designs, coolest color combinations and the finished install looks great. You’re happy with the final sign and the customer is just thrilled at how great it all looks just in time for the grand opening.

So, what do you do now?

If you are like most sign business owners or sign sales then you do what comes naturally…
get your final sign-off, collect the balance of the money due (you DID get a deposit), shake hands and head off to the next item for the day.

Guess what… you just wasted your number one chance for a great referral!

Whether you are involved in a small “mom and pop” sign business, a large national sign franchise chain or a big commercial sign company then you know how valuable referrals are. Think about it and consider what is easier…. cold-calling a new business or selling a fun new sign project to someone who has just heard a glowing testimonial for your company? Yes, the referral sale is almost a slam dunk!

So, if we all agree that referrals are important then what can you do to get MORE referrals for your sign business?

1.ASK for a referral
2.ASK for a referral
3.ASK for a referral

OK, I’m done being sarcastic BUT I am being serious about asking for that referral. What better time to get a excellent recommendation than to ask right when your client is the happiest? You just completed their project (We will assume that you did an excellent job and were pleasant to work with) and they should be more than happy to sing your praises. To “Strike while the iron is hot” is very applicable to this situation. Once the initial pleasure and excitement has worn off (about 20 minutes for a busy business owner) your chances of getting the best recommendation dwindles quickly.

So what exactly what should you ask for? How about…

1.Who do you know that could benefit from talking to me about their sign project, new business sign, new logo design etc.
2.Would you be willing to write a brief testimonial for our company (on letterhead) about your experience with us?
3.Would you be willing to mention us in your company blog?
4.Would it be OK if used your name & company as a reference for other interested prospects?

It’s not really that hard and, I know, that if you develop the habit of simply asking for the referral you will see your sales rise dramatically this year. So, go on, ask for the referral and watch your sign business grow.

Don’t sell a sign without asking questions!

Ever had a customer walk into your sign business and tell you exactly what she wanted? I know it’s rare but sometimes it does happen…

…“Hi, my name is Tammy and I want a 4’x8’ white banner with red letters in the Clarendon typestyle. The name of my business is Tammy’s Hairdressing so I want that real big at the top and then add these 47 things that I do in list along the bottom… how much is that going to be and when can I pick it up…?” At this point, you could simply go for the easy sale, look her in the eye, give the standard 4’x8’ banner price and let her know she can get it on Thursday. You could…

Of course you could also walk into your doctor’s office, tell him you have a headache and your stomach hurts with small twinges of pain in your right side. This trained and “professional” doctor could just start writing a prescription for you, take your insurance information, send you out the door and collect an easy check. Yes, I know, that just doesn’t sound right does it?

Well of course we all know that no doctor would ever start offering solutions without first asking questions, and I say, neither should you. In order to be considered a sign professional, I would venture the opinion that you need to know enough about signs to “ask the right questions”. Every customer is different and every project can different. The colors, typestyles and aesthetic
look that might be perfect for Joe’s Hardware might also be the absolutely wrong thing for The 27th National Bank down on Main Street. It is your duty and responsibility to educate yourself to the point where you know the differences and can clearly and effectively communicate your recommendations to the client. Simply and bluntly put, I believe that this simple concept very quickly separates the “hack” sign shops from the truly professional ones.

Which one are you? Have you really thought about it? What kind of questions might be good to ask about a new project?

Here are some starters….

1.Get a name and full contact info first: this is easy to forget at the end of the conversation and besides, it makes it easier to build trust when you can quickly refresh your memory and use their first name.
2.Do they already have artwork, a logo or brand?
3.What colors do they like AND dislike? Do these colors actually support the intended use?
4.Spend some time to ask about their intended use: Is it for a long term main sign? A short term event? A special sale or just some cool graphics for their car?
5.Where is the sign / graphics supposed to be viewed? From 100 feet away at 65 MPH or 3 feet away in a car show?
6.Have they actually done any research on their desired type of sign?

This last one is a big one for me and I usually don’t waste much more time on the client who has not considered this part of the process. Once I hear “I don’t know, that’s why I came to you” I shift out of Specific Project Mode and go into General Information Mode. This is where my Sign Buying Guide comes in very handy. This easy to navigate information booklet provides the prospect with simple information on types of signs, benefits of each sign type and general budget amounts. The resource is provided free of charge, no obligation and the prospect is encouraged to look it over. 80% of the time this approach has eliminated tire-kickers from wasting my time and, even more importantly, it has helped close the deal on countless fun and profitable projects.

Feel free to download each one of the pages in the Sign Buying Guide and use them in your own sign business.

Design or profit – why do sign companies have to choose?

I personally believe that sign companies, in general, do a horrible job of promoting the value of their designs. Now, I include myself in this statement so don’t get your panties in an uproar…

By the “value of their designs” I am referring to the same value that any reputable graphic artist, marketing designer, advertising agency or design firm regularly places on their products. A good Graphic Designer can easily command $1,000+ for a well thought out, cleverly executed and
visually appealing logo design. And that does not even include additional design work for brochures, cards, letterhead, annual reports, print ads, packaging, web sites and a whole plethora of other “visual communications” products.

So what do these talented artists and designers have that we don’t? How about the firmly entrenched belief in the value of good design (and it’s profit potential). It is really that simple. We all know that good design communicates effectively. Good design can influence political campaigns and educate children. Good design can draw out emotions as well as sell you something you didn’t even know you wanted… Hey, wait a minute, don’t signs do all of these things too?

Yes, signs CAN do all of these things (and more!) if they are designed well. So, if you are a talented and competent sign designer, why aren’t you reaping the same rewards (and profits) that the Graphics Artists, Designers and Agencies are enjoying? Easy, as sign professionals, we have a tendency to focus on the “product” we make (namely signs) and forget about the value we are providing to the customer. We get so caught up in the sign itself that we never communicate the value of the creative concept, the innovative idea, the effectiveness of the design…

In short, we do it to ourselves so, honestly, can we really get angry at the client who “disrespects” our design offerings when we never placed a value on them in the first place? Is is their fault that they assumed your designs were free when you let them walk out the door with them? Did you put your copyright stamp on them? Did you charge a design fee? Did you do anything to protect your intellectual property? Did you communicate, at any time, the value of what you are providing to them and what benefit it will bring to them? As an example… If a man hands you a drawing, and neglects to tell you that it is an original Van Gogh… can you be blamed for not valuing it any more that just another piece of paper with scribbles on it?

… something to think about the next time a prospect walks into your sign business “just looking for some ideas” for their new sign. If they truly want a good design then remember that you don’t have to choose between design or profit. Communicate the value of both your design AND the sign itself and enjoy the rewards of both.

Are you a sign company or a bank…?

About now you are probably wondering, what in the world is this guy talking about?! I have a sign business or course, not a bank… what a moron…

OK, now that you have that out of your system (and, no, I’m not offended) we can take a nice hard look at whether or not you ARE a bank. Here is the question that is the most obvious, What is the primary purpose of a bank? If you think that the bank’s primary purpose is to protect your money in a savings account then (buzzz) – wrong. If you think that the bank exists so you can have an ATM card, process credit cards or write checks… you’re getting warmer.

Believe it or not, the money that you have in the bank is actually a liability to that bank. From a purely business standpoint, they have to protect that savings account, maintain it and insure it.
All of that activity requires money and resources from the bank in addition to the “interest” they pay you. So, think about it, is that savings (or checking) account a benefit to you or is it really a means to get you “in the door”? No matter what your banker tells you, the bank is in business to make money. What is one way the bank makes money? Well, they loan it out and collect compound interest on it for long periods of time (business loans, personal loans, mortgages etc.). Without going into the nitty gritty numbers let me tell you that the power of compound interest, in the hands of the lender, is very large indeed.

So, if the bank is in business to loan money in order to make money… why are you loaning money and not making a cent? OK, OK, you’ve figured it out, the whole question was a trick but by now you should be thinking hard about where you could possibly be loaning out money.

How times have you let a sign leave your shop without collecting your money?

How many times have you agreed to 30, 60 or 90 day terms in order to get the sale?

Heck, how many times have you offered terms to a client just assuming that it was necessary or “the cost of doing business”?

Look, bluntly put, every time you allow your goods and services to leave the shop without collecting your payment… you are lending YOUR money to the customer. With your generous contribution they are now reaping the benefit of your sign, your vehicle wrap or your logo design and they don’t even have to pay you for 60 days. SO, in essence, their business grows and makes money with the great new look while you finance it… what a great deal for them! To add insult to injury, not only are you financing their purchase for 60 days but you aren’t even collecting interest on the money (even the bank will pay you 3% to let your money sit with them).

If you want to take steps to regain control of your sign company’s profits and future then you might want to consider taking these steps…

  1. Insist on 50% deposits for new orders: Getting a deposit on an order does more than just improve your cashflow. Among other things, getting money up front also provides incentive for the client to participate and communicate in a timely fashion & encourages them to pick up the sign quickly when it’s done.
  2. Collect the “balance upon completion”: Make sure your clients know that your sign does not get installed, delivered, or picked up unless the amount due is paid for. Sometimes it is good to remind a fussy customer that they can’t get their car fixed, buy groceries, purchase a new TV or pick up their laundry without paying. Why should their sign be any different?
  3. IF terms are a necessity then negotiate for the bare minimum: Forget 30 / 60 / 90 days… The longest line of credit extended at my shop is 7 days. That’s just enough time to get my money into the next check run and everything keeps moving along just fine.

Remember, you already paid for the materials, the labor, rent, utilities etc. so get your money now. You deserve it.

The absolute BEST way to increase sales!

Sometimes those of us in the sign industry struggle with lagging sales. This is a truth no matter what type of sign business you own and there are few things that can easily solve the problem… but there is one (and it’s practically free)!

Think for a few minutes about your customers. I’m sure you have a wide variety of industries, personality types and purchasing habits represented here. Joe might be coming to you to get his trucks lettered for the 18th time or Susan might be opening her third store and needs just your
brand of design skills. There is a site sign install scheduled for Friday and there are 14 banners going out to 8 different clients due by next Monday. Yes, there is definitely variety in the sign company but, hey, that’s why we love it right?

Alright, here’s the good stuff… everyone of those examples has one thing in common.

  1. They all come to you for their sign / graphics needs
  2. They rely on your ability to provide a valuable and beneficial product
  3. They trust your judgement
  4. They are a willing audience

So, how can we leverage these personal relationships and INCREASE those sales? It’s real simple… Ask. It is a know fact that it is much easier to sell to existing clients than constantly look for new ones. Read on…

Think about it, when was the last time you went out your way to contact your clients? What kind of results could you get if you took advantage of those contacts to send out a personal message to each one of them letting them know about the latest cool sign project you completed? How would you contact them… phone, fax, e-mail, direct mail?

This is the challenge… send us an e-mail with your craziest ideas, no holds barred, stretch the mind and “think outside the box” concepts. As the ideas come in we will look them over and compile a top 10 list (with proper acknowledgments of course) of the ideas we like the most. The list will be posted for the benefit of all.

Double your sign business income

This question was recently posted on a sign forum website. I thought was a very valid and common thought that most of us have from time to time. The original comment and question has been edited a bit but essentially it was… “I have been working SOLO for 10 years with yearly sales of 150k and a profit about 45k. If I hire 2 employees and double my sales, at the end of the year I will probably make as much as now. My question is how can I double my income?…”

The answer to this very honest question was as follows…

My suggestion would be to step back and evaluate exactly what you want to accomplish here.

IF you simply want to double your personal income then there are other ways than to simply add employees.

If you have never heard of the 80/20 rule then basically it states that 80% of the money generally comes from 20% of the people. In Sign Shop terms… 80% of your profits are probably coming from 20% of your clients. Inversely, 80% of your current clients are probably just as draining on your time, resources and energy as the other 20% BUT without contributing much to your profits. Chances are, you can already picture in your mind who these clients are.

To take advantage of the 80/20 rule try these steps…

  1. Identify where most of your profits are coming from by specific products, customer segment, geographic location etc.
  2. Identify additional & duplicate customers to add to these profitable ones. For example… If you make most of your money selling banners to schools then focus time and effort on adding some more schools to your customer base.
  3. Begin to cut out the 80% of your customers who do not meet your profitability standards by sending their work to other shops or simply firing them… Yes, you can fire customers.
    As you work through this process (and it does take time) you will begin to see your workloads decrease and your profits increase. You will find that this is an excellent way to improve your personal income while simultaneously regaining control of your workflow

Do you own a sign business or a job?

You own or run a sign shop so you have, what the government calls, a small business. BUT do you actually own a business or do you own a job?

A few years ago I read several books written by Robert Kiyosaki. Mr. Kiyosaki is most commonly known for his book Rich Dad Poor Dad but he went on to write (and sponsor) a whole series of “Rich Dad” books as well as founding an organization dedicated to Financial Education. Mr Kiyosaki’s books and theories have sparked quite a bit of controversy and you can find die hard fans as well as rabid detractors all over the internet.

Regardless I how I personally feel about the books I did find one of Mr. Kiyosaki’s concepts intriguing. Robert Kiyosaki has an interesting and very pointed definition of the difference
between being self employed and owning a business. It was very easy to take this definition and apply it to owning a sign company….
My paraphrased and translated definition… If you were to leave your sign shop, for one year, with limited or no contact with it’s employees, customers, systems or organization what would happen? If your sign company would fail and disappear then you are self-employed and you own a job. If your sign shop would continue to survive and, even better, to thrive… then YOU own a business.
Wow,… based on that definition I found that I was not real happy with what I thought was a successful sign business. It was plainly obvious to me that if I was not out there selling the signs, designing the signs, making the signs and doing all of the fun administrative tasks that come with running a sign shop then my “sign company” would probably be dead in 6 months. I really did not like that realization and resolved to make some changes…
Change, it seems, is sometimes difficult and often damaging. After beginning to actively take better control of my sign shop and it’s growth I found I needed to make some tough choices. I have learned to say no and I have learned to be creative in building systems and forms for my sign business in several areas. Some clients were gently released and more profitable clients have been found and developed. Change might be difficult but, man, am I glad I did.
I have not fully succeeded in my goal of owning a sign business (as defined by Mr. Kiyosaki) but I AM much further along than when I started. As of this writing I CAN take off for an extended period of time and know the shop is moving along just fine. I CAN take trips to New York, Las Vegas and Argentina and know that my sign company is still making me money. I CAN spend time working ON my sign shop and not just IN my sign shop.

So… do you own a sign business or…?

Is your sign worth anything?

Now that I have your attention you should be thinking about that question. If you are having trouble selling your signs and services then you might be inadvertently communicating that your signs are NOT worth the money you want to charge.

Do you really believe that the sign you made will help your clients? Do you really believe that the designs you develop will improve their branding and help them establish a solid place in the marketplace? Do the signs you produce make the customer money? Heck, if you can prove that your signs have increased business for other businesses then you can almost write
your own ticket. (That was a hint to get some solid testimonials from your happy clients)
If you DO believe in your signs then STOP worrying about trying to close the sale with that new prospect who balks at spending a lousy $500 on their new business sign. For Pete’s sake… they want to sell $100,000 homes and seem to have trouble realizing that your sign is paid for a hundred times over if they sell just 1 house! (ok, ok, I’m calm now)

Now, if you are able to realize, and communicate, the VALUE of your signs then you will start to see your sales rates go up. If you start promoting the VALUE and BENEFIT of your signs then you begin to attract like minded customers… I guarantee it.

Remember, your signs are not a commodity. Stop playing that game and sell the VALUE of what you provide.