Andy Clayton, director of Printing.com
Andy Clayton manages two stores - Newark and Lincoln - within the Printing.com empire. Jasper fires some questions at Andy about how his two branches stand out from the crowd in an overcrowded printing market and Andy reveals his strategy about opportunities for using social media to communicate with and attract local customers.
Can you give us a quick overview of printing.com?
At printing.com we provide fast full colour print and design services to businesses. We work on projects small and large, from the print of a business card through to a complete re-brand including logos and all printed material. We are part of a franchise so have the benefit of the backing of a much larger organisation whilst being a small business ourselves, so we understand the issues that our clients have. Although we have a number of large clients, the vast majority are SME’s - many of whom have less than 5 employees - so we act as their design and print expert.
Printing is a very competitive market. How do you stand out from the crowd?
It certainly is, we have a couple of great benefits that differentiate us from others in the market place – firstly we have fixed prices, this makes it a lot easier for our clients to plan their marketing spend and it also saves them waiting for a quote. Although other web based printers have fixed prices, there are very few printers with a local presence that can boast this.
The second point is that we have guaranteed turnarounds with a promise of ‘on time or on us’. Like our prices, the turnarounds are visible on our website so businesses can plan ahead knowing exactly how long the print will take. Many of our popular products take just 3 working days.
Locally we are also extremely focused on providing excellent customer service and provide a point of knowledgeable advice for businesses that aren’t sure of the direction they want to go in with their marketing; we were recognised for this when we won the Best Customer Service category in the Newark Business Awards at the end of 2009.
You do more than just printing; you are helping with design as well. With all the design software available for everybody, is that still a useful service?
This is an issue that we come across on a daily basis when provided with artwork from clients. It is great that more and more design based software is available in the market place as it helps move design forward and into the thoughts of businesses, however it does not replace the skills of a trained designer. Design isn’t about knowing which buttons to press, it’s about creating the mood, delivering the message and making the sale.
Unfortunately we find that bad design can do an awful lot of harm and it can take a long time to rebuild the reputation of a business following it, as they say you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. We receive a number of ‘home made designs’ each week where it is obvious that no thought has gone into why certain elements are there, they often have forgotten the purpose of design is the make the marketing work and not to make things look pretty.
What common mistakes do small businesses make when it comes to their printing needs?
The most common mistake is leaving things until the last minute. This is normally due to the business not having a marketing plan. We deal with both new businesses and well established businesses neither of which have a plan for marketing, but it is vital that they plan a strategy each year so that they can monitor what they are doing, how much it is costing and what is working.
The lack of planning often leads to disjointed marketing that lacks thought, and this results in them rushing jobs through and not making the most of the print and design. We receive jobs every week where business are attending an event and have not arranged suitable marketing. If they had planned ahead then they would be able to talk to us at the start of the year so we can work with them to fully maximise their return on investment on print and design.
What role is social media taking in your business?
We find that the use of social media for business is a growing part of our marketing mix. In the last year we have seriously upped our usage and now have active business accounts on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and a printing advice blog on blogger. It fits in well with the other activities we do and has helped us re-affirm current relationships and also develop brand new contacts whilst reinforcing our knowledge as a brand.
It is important that small businesses see that social media is a very useful tool but only if it is used in the correct way. It is great for creating interactions with clients, prospects and suppliers but it is essential not to use it only as a direct way of selling or else it will turn people straight off. This is not to say that work won’t follow as we can trace that we have gained clients directly from our @LincolnPrinting Twitter account.
Do you think online marketing tools are important for your business?
Absolutely, we recognise the way that marketing is constantly changing and we adapt our marketing plan regularly to include new technologies and online tools. The prime example is our use of twitter - it allows us to keep regular contact with like-minded businesses and make connections through an online presence that can then be linked directly with other tools such as our website and blogs, all of which can be updated at the touch of a button. The great benefit of online marketing is that the message you give can be changed instantly. It is still important, however, to utilise a broad range of marketing tools including both online and offline marketing mediums, especially as some customers and businesses are not versed in the online world!
What advice would you give start-ups and small businesses if they want to design and produce their printing products?
The best advice I would give is to never forget your target market. Everything you produce, from your logo through all your promotional material should be designed with them in mind. It is not about what you like as a business owner, it is the prospective readers who you are trying to entice. Everything from the fonts, colours, images and materials you use will give off a certain perception and appeal to a specific market, therefore make sure that everything you use marries up to the preferences of your market. If you are not sure then ask and get professional design and print advice.