This article was originally published in Graphics Pro Magazine, April 2020 Edition, pg 18-19. Graphics Pro owns the rights to the content and images, with permission to republish on Stitchitintl.com. The original article can be accessed here: Is Your Business Stuck?
By Jennifer Cox, NNEP President
Many embroidery businesses are stuck. You have made it through the startup phase, and it seems likely that your business will survive. But you are struggling to evolve, grow, and increase your gross sales and net profits.
How do you get unstuck? That is the BIG question! To accelerate and continue the growth of your business, consider pursuing the following.
Nearly every single embroidery and apparel decoration professional that I know will work for anyone and everyone. I get it. It would be insane to not take in work that falls into your lap. Other than those jobs, where are you looking for new business and customers? Here is where alignment comes into play. Look back at the past three, six, or even 12 months. What jobs were great for your business? What jobs were the most profitable? Once you identify good jobs, then look at the next level of information. What kinds of businesses placed these orders with you? If one of your best jobs was for a company in the construction business, it is time to reach out to all the other construction businesses in the area. Look at the great orders, and then figure out how to replicate them or align with that market and go at it consistently. Odds are better than average that other businesses in that same market will have needs for similar kinds of products.
Many business owners do not actively think about the growth of their business. To do things in such a way so that it causes growth, you must have the intention to grow and the discipline to do what is necessary. In large degree, this comes down to process. Growth requires efficiency. Efficiency requires discipline; the ability to replicate a product or generate new business day after day. The idea of discipline applies even to how you price your orders. When you discount every order, or every quote is on the low side, “so that you will get the business,” you are not going to grow. When you do not do anything to bring in new business from your current customers or to bring in business from new customers, you are not going to grow. Having the discipline to work on marketing your business is as important as having the discipline to keep the machines running day after day.
What is the likelihood that you are going to meet your second quarter sales goal? That question assumes that you have a second quarter goal. Business owners that know and study their numbers can and do grow their businesses. They know where they stand, and they know what they need to do in order to hit the next benchmark. You can set any number of goals for your business, such as gross sales, number of orders run, number of pieces run, actual sewing hours, and margin of errors. If you have no idea what any of those numbers are in your business, now would be the time to decide what you want to track. Depending on your bookkeeping, you may be able to go back and look at the numbers from previous years to see what the gross sales were per month and quarter. This is an excellent time to look for anomalies, where the numbers are decidedly higher or lower for some reason. When the sales numbers are higher, that could indicate the opportunity to reach back out to that customer to see what they might need. See what orders came through during that time period and then reach out to that customer again.
Owning a business is a marathon, not a sprint. In our industry, we sprint plenty when an order deadline is looming, but the ability to keep going as a business requires endurance. Acknowledge the wins, no matter if you are alone in your business or if you have staff. When you finish the last piece of a big job, give yourself an “attaboy.” It could be in the form of a pizza party at the end of the day, a box of donuts the next morning, or even something as simple as promising yourself an evening with no work. If you have staff, take the time to check in with them occasionally, as a person, not just as their boss. Are they doing OK? And if you hear that things are not OK, if there is something that you can do about it, help them. If they are dealing with health issues with a family member, can you give them some leeway with their time off? If a family member is looking for a job, can you let them order clothing at cost to help their budget stretch farther right now? Just keep in mind that whatever you offer to one person, you will need to be willing and able to offer to others when appropriate. In the long run, acknowledging your successes and keeping your team happy with the celebration of daily victories is how you keep on keeping on. That is what endurance looks like.
When you deliberately apply these concepts to your business, you can generate growth to move your business upwards. Not only that, you can reduce the chances that you will get stuck again in the future. Once you have a mindset that keeps you moving forward, there is no reason to slow down. Every new job from that customer base you are actively building will propel you forward. Every day that you do something to bring in new business will propel you forward. Every day that you check your numbers and then do something to hit your goals will propel you forward. And every day that you show and give your best effort will propel your business forward. Many business owners do not do these things, and they will remain where they are, stuck in the same place, year after year. Meanwhile, your business will grow and keep growing.
Jennifer Cox is one of the founders and serves as president of the National Network of Embroidery Professionals (NNEP), an organization that supports embroidery and apparel decoration professionals with programs and services designed to increase profitability and production. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.