Who would say no to free money? Well, printers, it seems. Despite the availability of government freebies, grants and incentives for business development, training, sales skills, lean manufacturing and carbon management, the uptake in our industry is dismally low.
Plenty of assistance comes from Industry Minister Greg Combet’s Enterprise Connect agency and AusIndustry, which have been established to help small and medium-sized businesses. Enterprise Connect and AusIndustry operate as the government’s service delivery arms.
Enterprise Connect has been running since 2008 and it has the full backing of the peak industry body, the Printing Industries Association of Australia (PIAA), which has been encouraging printers to take it up. Last year, Enterprise Connect even went as far as setting up a printing and publishing industries support network to try and get more printers in. It hasn’t really happened.
The service offers a free health check for businesses, followed by specialist advice in a range of areas, Unfortunately only 185 printers, fewer than 5% of all the printers in Australia, have gone to Enterprise Connect. Printers can also get funding, some of it dollar for dollar for up to $20,000, to tackle issues such as lean manufacturing, training and carbon management. And some of the money comes from outright grants, all paid for by the government.
Why are so few printers turning to Enterprise Connect or AusIndustry? One reason might have something to do with the eligibility criteria. With Enterprise Connect, printers in Melbourne, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane need a turnover of between $2 million and $100 million, while those in regional areas need a turnover of $1.5 million to $100 million. That said, there is nothing stopping smaller printers with a lower turnover pooling together and making a joint application. Under the rules, the business with the higher turnover would be the lead partner.
Hagop Tchamkertenian, the PIAA’s national manager for policy and government affairs, says some smaller operators might be put off by the amount of time and resources required to fill in application forms and ensure everything fits the bill. “If you’re running a small business, you don’t have that luxury.”
Nonetheless, he recommends printers look at it carefully. Even if they just opt for comprehensive review of their business where experts pore over the accounts and identify strengths, weaknesses and areas of potential growth, it’s worth the investment. It comes at no charge, expect the time to apply.
“They are getting two to three days of consulting, which costs tens of thousands of dollars, all paid for by the taxpayer,” Tchamkertenian says.
One example is Sydney-based printer Digitalpress. An Enterprise Connect consultant came in and conducted SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis on the company.
He suggested its owner, Theo Pettaras, get a marketing plan. He also recommended a clear strategic direction. Following that conversation, Pettaras set up a cash flow management system and streamlined the accounting process, He also developed a detailed business plan setting out the strategy and marketing.
“Enterprise Connect gives you a consultant, although they don’t have to be experienced in printing –and it’s probably better that they’re not. They can look at it very objective. They ask questions. They might not be relevant at all but for every 10, there might be two or three that really hit the nail on the head and that are quite thought provoking. That’s what it enabled us to do,” says Pettaras.
He says this sort of stuff is crucial for any small business owner.
“They gave me the opportunity to step outside the business and to look at it from outside in. The most fundamental thing is that small business owners like myself are entrenched in all aspects of the business, from sales to business development to marketing, accounting, occupational health and safety. We wear so many caps that it’s very hard to focus on any one thing.
“The consultation initially is at no cost and that’s like a discovery session where they get to learn more about us and what we do. Then they work out some packages that are available and whether they are suitable.
“What they will do is match it dollar for dollar. It’s $20,000 and they will contribute $10,000,” says Pettaras.
There’s a feeling that printers are put off because they worry this kind of process will sap precious resources. How much of time did it take up at Digitalpress?
“It wasn’t time consuming at all and the outcomes you can get from it are significant,” he says. “It’s time well worth investing in. It didn’t require a lot of our staff time. There were a number of hours that were required for questions and answers, but apart from that, not really much time at all.”
He says there should be no problem opening the books to them. “You have to be extremely transparent. It was no problem at all. If you are not prepared to expose yourself and show your true operation, then you’re only cheating yourself anyway,” he says.
“That wasn’t an issue whatsoever; these people act with the highest integrity. They might act for other printing companies but it’s a given that they act in the best interests of the client they are dealing with at the time and in true confidence.”
Focus on grants
Another well connected company is Focus Press in South Strathfield, Sydney. In November, the company landed a $445,000 grant to reduce emissions as part of AusIndustry’s Clean Technology Investment Program.
Focus Press has also saved more than $500,000 in energy costs and tripled its turnover through Enterprise Connect and NSW initiative Sustainability Advantage.
David Fuller, managing director of Focus Press, has proved to be a canny operator when it comes to securing government investment. The biggest coup was a $6.1 million grant from AusIndustry to establish a new “state-of-the-art” printing facility that will employ up to 190 people in the Illawarra region. Fuller says companies need to tap into these networks. He attends Enterprise Connect groups and picks up information about what’s available. Fuller found out about all the above grants by attending Enterprise Connect regional meetings.
“If anyone is interested in looking at what grants are available, you really have to engage people and start going to these meetings, there is a lot to be gained from it.”
Prografica chief executive Kerim El Gabaili says getting consultants in after the initial consultation is worth it. It gets the owner to look at their business differently. “It forces you to work on your business rather than just in it.”
El Gabaili says this helped reposition his business as one that offers value-added services. These kinds of services set printers apart in today’s market, he adds. Prografica’s value-added portfolio includes web-to-print services, wide-format, website development, graphic design and multi-channel marketing, along with, of course, offset print and digital print.
Enterprise Connect showed the company a new way of thinking, very different from the traditional printing business model.
“We are looking at how to improve productivity, what to do for marketing, how to encourage staff to be more engaged and how to reward salespeople. We are thinking how to become more innovative and how to reposition business in the 21st century to be relevant,” says El Gabaili.
“It’s a completely different mindset to traditional jobbing and printing and that whole range of stuff that we are familiar with.”
The company was already heading down this direction but bringing in consultants gave it more rigour. Cashflow was tightened up, strategic and marketing plans were put into place, he says.
“We ended up employing a sales consultant who ran sales meetings for us and it was 50% funded by Enterprise Connect.”
That cost $8,000 with Enterprise Connect putting in $4,000 and the company paying the balance.
“What they do is send a consultant who sits with you, goes through the business, the planning, the vision and then looks through all your paperwork and makes recommendations. We are always looking for an opportunity to improve and they also provide a $20,000 grant for you to utilise to bring in experts.
“They will do a report on your business, they will give you a range of recommendations and then you can go out and get people to help you implement the recommendations. They gave us a list of who they recommended, I had some in mind but it’s up to you.”
All this was funded 50:50. But was it time consuming? “With the time you invest, there is truly a return in that investment,” says El Gabaili.
“I would recommend it to any other printer and I often do. It is as time consuming as it needs to be. It might have been two whole days but it’s one of those things where you cannot afford not to
do it. You make it up somewhere else.”
Was there any sort of secret tricks to learn or code? Only transparency, he says. “You just have to be transparent and show your books. We don’t have that problem because we have nothing to hide. After picking your brain, they come back with their view of what you should be considering.”
He suspects many printers don’t take the opportunity because they are locked into old ways of operating. “They come off the back of an industry that was very secretive and competitive where no one helped each other. It was a lone wolf industry whereas now the industry has become a team where everybody tries to help each other. If you come from the mindset from 10-15 years ago where everyone was out for themselves, you can see why they were not prepared to share.”
Lack of awareness
Scott Telfer, managing director of Southern Colour NSW, says he believes that many printers are missing out on government support simply because they don’t know about it. This is despite the work of the PIAA to promote the opportunities.
“My view is that many printers aren’t aware of what is available in regards to training funds and funds for development of your business.
“You’ve got to keep your eyes open and see what’s out there and ask if you have need for that. For example, next year the printing industry is running some courses and I have already applied for one of my operations people to do a course. Now it has to go off and be assessed; it’s dollar-for-dollar funding. I’m happy to do that if it means one of my staff gets trained. It’s a cost-effective way of doing it.”
There are also outright grants. “We have grants for lean manufacturing and we’ve also got grants from Enterprise Connect for one of my senior executives to do a Mt Eliza Executive Course. In some cases, it is dollar-for-dollar; in other cases, it’s not dollar-for-dollar. In some cases,
it’s a grant. In the case of Mt Eliza, we don’t have to contribute to that at all.”
Telfer says that getting assistance in lean manufacturing has been a huge boost for the St Leonards-based company and any time invested has paid off. “It’s a long, 18-month program
so it’s commitment from the company as well. Maybe it’s not a monetary commitment but certainly with time that we have to commit hours to the program every second week.
“You have production staff on the floor stopping work for an hour or so every second week in the middle of your production day, so there is a commitment there from the business, time-wise and cost-wise. But if the government is prepared to do it, so should we because if we don’t take it up then the government won’t offer it to us.
“It’s a short-term loss but you get a better long-term gain from better efficiencies in your factory and manufacturing site. There may be some short-term pain and you might wish some days you’re not doing it because you have to get something out, but it’s more about the long-term gain.”
Telfer says the only other investment in time is checking out the AusIndustry site, the Enterprise Connect site and the PIAA site to see what’s going down. That takes hardly any time at all.
“It’s not time-consuming, you just click on the webpage to see what’s there. Researching might take a few hours.”
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