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Wagging the Dog

Wagging the Dog

For those of you left standing, 2009 was quite the challenge (understatement alert). For most of us, the past year felt like we were the violently wagged tail at the mercy of the big dog with the spiked black leather collar. It’s never good to be on the tail end of things. 

But there are actions you can take to turn the tables and be the one wagging the dog in 2010. Keep in mind that as the first quarter develops, you’ll need to be mentally sharp, physically and emotionally strong, fiscally responsible, and strategically bold. What follows are my own top 10 actions you can take to get your business in shape for the beginning of the new decade. And if you’re looking for even more suggestions, you can turn to this month’s “Business + Management” column on page 16, where Marty McGhie has provided his list for 2010.

Master of your tech destiny
One, channel yourself in a different direction: Stop watching the local and network news. It’s depressing and confusing. Especially avoid cable-channel political punditry. Imagine that Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann can transmit H1N1 through your TV screen. Join NPR. Listen to the stories from their website on your schedule. Pick segments that will bring you joy to listen to. Pick a newspaper you like and register or subscribe online. Only read the stories that are beneficial and inspiring. This is your assignment: Say this mantra, “I am only going to spend my finite pool of energy and time on those things I can control.”

Two, it’s face time: Schedule a face-to-face meeting with the people outside your company who can make a difference in your business this year. You can begin with your banker, the owner or major decision maker at each of your key vendors, and any sub-contractors or strategic allies. It might not be a bad idea to invite a competitor or two that you can stand to be in the same room with. For those people located in your city or town, invite them to a meeting at your plant. Where appropriate, lay out your plans and expectations. Let them know that you are all in this boat, and by ensuring that the relationships are mutually rewarding, everyone can prosper.

For those of you who question meeting with your competitors, here’s my rationale: In this downturn, most of us have let our inventories fall to the lowest levels we can remember. The same is true with our vendors. Competitors have saved our bacon and we theirs. From simple things, such as loaning ink and media, to actually completing the printing or finishing on a job when a competitor’s equipment was down. It was good karma for everyone involved in 2009, and I recommend it for 2010 and beyond.

Three, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts: Form at least one new strategic alliance this year. An ally can allow you to produce a product or service that you can’t on your own. Do you do dye sub, but can’t sew a garment? Can’t print wider than 3.2 meters and need a print 5 meters with no seam? I rest my case.

Four, become the master of your own tech destiny: If a tech isn’t stationed in your city or town, send your most proficient technical guy or gal to be trained by the company that built your most important piece of equipment. If you have to wait even 24 hours for a tech to show up and fix your gear, you have lost time that you’ll never recover—and it could mean the difference between keeping a client or losing them. Consult with the manufacturer on what spare parts are cost effective to keep in stock. This investment will pay dividends for years to come.

Five, circle the wagons and all hands on deck: Your staff is your team. You have to play well together to win. Even if you are the star, you can’t do it by yourself. Get everyone together—I mean everyone, not just managers—and talk candidly about the months to come. If you have a really big company, you might first do this by departments. Developing a company-wide vision and mission and creating an esprit de corps improves your chances of success.

That vision thing
Six, be the Terminator: Task all of your managers to make an objective assessment of each employee. Make your own notes. This may sound cruel, but the reality is we are in a time of double-digit unemployment. It’s an employer’s market. If there was ever a time to lower your tolerance level for less than stellar performance and attitude, this is it. Occasionally, we will get someone who is functionally poison to the team. With any under-performing employees, we believe in constructive feedback and a chance to prove themselves worthy of a job. If they can’t become an asset, though, we have become quicker to show them the door. There has never been a better pool of competent and appreciative people just dying for a good job.

Seven, fall back in love with the planet: This may sound like strange advice during the tail-end of a recession. However, it will become a competitive advantage. Come up with a plan to sell at least two truly green products. Look around your plant and see if there is some way to make your building more energy efficient. Shut down stuff, turn off lights you don’t need. Call the power company and ask for an audit (it’s free).

Eight, it’s that vision thing: Use your imagination to look for markets not normally served by large- and grand-format digital printing. We have some projects and products for 2010 that are so far outside the box that I’m not sure we can find our way back in.

Nine, you’re not married to what you sell: Re-evaluate your product line. Are there things you do that have become so price marginalized that they don’t make sense to continue? Try to eliminate products that are no longer profitable unless you can justify it for a strategic reason. Spend your time, money, and energy chasing only the good business.

Ten, get down and give me ten: Begin a mental and physical-fitness program for you and your key employees. Motivate all of your employees if you can. It’s surprising how easy it is to reduce stress, increase energy, and generally improve the quality of your life. And it’s not just about working out. Plan quality time as if it were mission critical, because it is. Dedicate time to family, friends, and a favorite activity. Health is worth working for.

Making a commitment
Commit yourself to being physically as well as mentally prepared for the challenges of the year ahead. It certainly doesn’t hurt that you will feel better and live longer as a result of this type of commitment. As you read this, it may be a bit too late for your personal New Year’s resolution, but it’s never too late to get your business into shape.

Craig Miller is president of Pictographics (www.pictographics.net) in Las Vegas, a large-format-graphics service bureau that excels in digitally dyed textiles, wall coverings, and custom applications.

 

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