Life is tough for printers. In a contracting industry where the technology is changing all the time, the burden of responsibility can be a heavy weight to carry. Printing is an industry where 80 per cent of businesses are run by owner operators. It can be a lonely space.
Where do they get their ideas, support, encouragement, business management guidance and friendship from in a constantly changing business environment?
Many turn to coaches, others find mentors. There are courses they can do or they can turn to directors on their company board for advice. They can set up an advisory board. It all depends on how much advice is needed, but there are a few options.
Just as a sporting coach pushes an athlete to achieve peak performance and provides support when they are exhausted, and just as the sports coach shows the athlete tactics that their competition doesn’t anticipate, a business coach does similar things, focused on building a successful business.
But how does a print business owner / operator track down a coach that has credibility, integrity and who will provide the valuable input.
Ashley Thomson, a coach from Tenfold Coaching in Melbourne, has worked with several businesses in the printing industry, particularly in the franchise groups like Minuteman Press, Snap Printing, Kwik Kopy.
He says there are different ways to track down a coach. “Typically most people find a coach these days either researching on the internet, or through referral,’’ Thomson says. “Coaching has got to that point now where most people know someone who is being coached or has been coached. Often when they say they need some outside help, most people’s first port of call is ‘My mate used to know a friend of his who was in the building game being coached, I might ring him up and see if I can get the name of the coach.’ ”
How does the person know they have a good coach? What sort of criteria should they use to select them?
Thomson says: “The number one criteria is you have to like the person who is coaching you because you are going to go through thick and thin with them, you will ride the highs and go to the lows, so you actually have to like that person.
“Number two, you’ve got to make sure that person has experience in coaching. Not necessarily experience in your industry, but they need to have built up some general all-round business experience and they might have strengths in area you need.”
A good coach could cost anywhere between $1000 and $5000 a month. There are also coaching programs groups. They cost less.
Thomson says mentors generally would be people the printer would trust. These can be successful business people, or even one’s lawyer or accountant. Generally, they are not paid.
Alternatively they can go to mentoring agencies where there is a small fee. At Small Business Mentoring Service, or SBMS http://www.sbms.org.au/ there are fees of $100 for one session, $190 for two sessions, $255 for three sessions and $320 for four. Every session after that costs $80. Mentoring programs are also available through the Department of Industry.
Thomson says they could go to courses too but they need to be careful. “A lot of people go to courses, get all geed up and come back and don’t necessarily implement. It’s a matter of knowing how good you are at applying such knowledge to make sure you get the most out of it,” he says.
Again the prices vary from a few hundred dollars to $5000 for a Rogen course.
For bigger printers getting advice from a board of directors is also a good idea. “It depends what size they are. For small businesses, non-executive directors might be pie in the sky for them but generally I find that when a business gets to a certain turnover, then it’s good to look for a board of advisers or something along those lines,’’ he says.
He says getting any sort of support is critical for printers. “The biggest challenge for the printing industry that I was always dealing with was the technology was moving so fast and often you find people who just don’t know what direction to turn to. In printing if you don’t keep up or buy the right equipment or head off in the right direction, you could be gone in two years’ time,’’ he says.
“The industry is operationally focused and all about getting the next job out and taking the next order. They can lose sight of the fact that the industry has changed over the last six months and they didn’t see it.
“That’s when they need someone externally.”
Coach Brian Maguire from Absolute Clarity says printers are difficult to coach, they tend to be more set in their ways.
“Without being judgemental, I would find them less teachable than other groups,’’ Maguire says.
He says printers should look at networking through such groups as BNI International http://www.bni.com.au/, which creates referrals and networking opportunities. Maguire says it’s ideal for the industry.
“BNI works really well for people who have a high volume, low ticket price transaction. Printing is perfect for that and they can do very well out of that,’’ he says.
He says most of his work has come from referrals.
“I’ve had one inquiry on my website that led to four clients in Canberra over the past year.”
The most important thing printers should look for, he says, is the coach’s resume.
“For a business coach, the resume is far more important than the certification. If you are going to have someone coach your business, they need to have some customer scars, they need to have been a small business.”
He says ideally, coaches should not have had much exposure to the printing industry.
“I would certainly see that as not a plus because there is a danger that if you come from the industry that you become a consultant providing solutions whereas with a coach, the recognition is that it is the business owner that is the expert. For the coach it’s about the ability to discern what’s going on, the ability to answer any questions, the ability to create a safe environment for the owner.”
Ideally, the coach could also help them manage the financials, something many printers struggle with.
“A lot of business owners don’t have enough knowledge of the balance sheets and profit and loss accounts,’’ Maguire says. “My own view is that a business coach who has an accounting background adds another domain.”
Coaching, he says, is about “going on the journey with them and helping them get the breakthroughs and get to the next level.”
If nothing else, it creates accountability. The printer might have many plans but never get around to them. When they work with a coach, they are under obligation to deliver.
He says part of that accountability also comes from creating a board of directors, or an advisory board.
“Forming a board is a good idea for small business owners, or it could be an advisory board,’’ he says. “With a non-executive director, they have to sign on a register with ASIC. That may or may not be necessary for a small business but an advisory board would be good.
“Small businesses don’t have that accountability step and that’s what stops many from growing.”
How much would it cost to pay non-exec directors? “For a business under $20m turnover, which is most printers, if someone is just sitting in a board meeting once a month, it might be $1000-$2000 a month. It depends on the size of the business,’’ he says.
Maguire says printers can track down potential directors through outfits like the Australian Institute of Company Directors or TEC. They could also have their own trusted advisors, like their accountant and or lawyer on the board.
Printing Industries Association chief executive Bill Healey says the PIAA is already offering webinars for printers in areas like managing debt, cloud tech and marketing. The PIAA also has tools on its website covering areas like software, energy, superannuation, marketing, environment and finances. It also runs courses on leadership and marketing.
It also recently received a grant to assist businesses reviewing their operations. “We have received funding to help businesses review their process,’’ he says. “We have tools on our web site to help people do their own strategic planning but this new process will do it in a guided way and show them where the industry sits on key indicators. People will be able to use benchmarks to compare their performance against competitors.”
Blair Carris from Carris Printing at Tullamarine relies a lot on his directors for support and ideas.
“Generally a couple of people sit on the board so we get a range of different opinions and we go with that,’’ Carris says. “I don’t generally make the decisions by myself.”
Carris says he makes a point of seeking advice from others. “We print every job we can so if there is anything I can’t produce or be involved in I will send them to a company I highly respect and I will get advice from the owner of that business because he knows I am in no competition towards him,’’ he says.
“Also, there are paper merchants as well I’ve dealt with over a long period of time and I’ve bounced ideas off them.”
But much of his support and ideas, and for that matter a lot of his business, comes from his networks. He has developed his networks strategically, drawing his contacts from his activities involving the AFL and horse racing.
“I am in a lot of networking groups. I am involved in four or five networking groups that I either pay money for or align with through breakfasts and lunches,’’ he says.
“I would be the only printer in the business networking events which is good for me you also drum a lot of business doing that. You would be surprised that there aren’t any printers going to networking events.”
None of the businesses in these networks are from the printing industry. But the people there are always there to give their support and to bounce ideas off.
“Generally with these groups, I will only try to associate myself with successful companies or guys who are very rich,’’ he says. Blair Carris is convinced that rubs off on his business.
Melanie McCartney, a director at Cartwheel Printing Solutions out at Randwick has plans to go into coaching herself, as a value-add to her business. “Maybe not so much for printers, but for small business because I understand how tough it is and there’s not necessarily a lot of support for people to ask questions,’’ McCartney says.
“Eventually I want to do speeches and peaking tours and become more of a coach myself.”
She says it’s something the industry needs.
“The main problem with printers is there is a lot of outdated thinking, they are afraid to embrace the digital age,’’ she says. “It’s an old model that needs to be not only refreshed but rebuilt. There is no point dragging your heels Harvey Norman style, you’ve got to embrace it and innovate.”
She has a point. But to do that printers have to develop their own support networks. There is no formula for it, every business has to find its own way. Some will do it through a coach, others through a mentor. Some print owners will rely on directors, while others will build networks or go out to do courses. Whatever option they take, they will discover they’re not on their own.
COACHING CASE STUDY – Valley Edge Design
Rocky Cassantini, who owns Valley Edge Design in Brisbane, says hiring a coach was a terrific investment. He applied for a government grant for the coaching and he was referred to a company called Shirlaws. It cost $40,000 and the government provided $20,000 of that.
“They helped me in the last year and inspired me to look past the things that I’m doing, to look forward to what is a better way of running this business or what is a better way to make it more profitable and it actually got me fired up,’’ Cassantini says.
“I was given two coaches and it meant three hour meetings once a month or every couple of weeks, to discuss how we were going to take the next step, and what we were going to do to be able to create more time and money within our business.
“They see it from a different place. It was just their general business acumen coming through.
He says the coaches had a lot of expertise. “The coaches I had were very much entrepreneurs in their own right, one was a CEO of company and one was an entrepreneur who did lots of business abroad.”
He says finding a coach could be crucial for printers. “It’s not a matter of starting a business and all of a sudden you can run a business,’’ he says. “There are a lot of things you have to be aware of. There’s the accounting side of the business, making sure you have the right policies and procedures in place, the staff, the product lines and there are easy distribution streams.”
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