So, some time ago, I'm sitting in my office with my Business Development Director and the topic turns to profits.
"Our margins are razor thin and getting worse." "We have spent so much money between acquisitions and rebranding that the well is about to run dry." "How are we going to remedy the situation?"
I didn't want to scare him, but I needed to put all the cards on the table. Heck, I hired him to help me keep the ship on course. He didn't blink. He understood right away.
We were a commodity seller of printing and mailing services evolving into a full-service professional marketing solution provider. And, though we had honed our look and message, we had yet to complete the transformation.
The change in the printing and mailing industry had been coming for some time, and the various professional associations advising printers had identified the need for value-added services. Advice is cheap, goes the old adage. Although this time it was not only correct, it was right on the money.
The internet printing marketplace has eroded margins for printed materials, making it more and more difficult for local printers to compete. This was very much like what the big box stores did to neighborhood and downtown businesses. However, the printing big boxes are online. Online marketers also abound, coming in all shapes and sizes further muddying the waters.
Fortunately, as the industry changed dramatically, we listened and changed too. If not, we would have died.
Now, our commodities have been integrated into our new mission. In house, we have all the services needed for the comprehensive marketing and PR campaigns we develop for our clients, including graphic design, copywriting, lists, finishing, fulfillment, SEO, PPC, e-mail campaigns, analysis, and let's not forget - printing and mailing. Our ability to offer the full package of services will enable our business to survive the industry's dramatic changes.
The conversations with customers and prospects are infinitely more complex and important than "What color ink do you want to print" or "Are you mailing First Class or Standard?" Strategizing, goal setting, media mix and countless other aspects of marketing must all be worked into a comprehensive plan in order to achieve the desired result for each customer.
Because we now can bring higher levels of expertise to the table under one roof, we have taken our company out of the commodity business. We have become our clients' partners, coming up with and executing effective, efficient and economical solutions to their marketing challenges.
Our new role, has changed our company at its core -- not only in our clients' eyes, but in actuality. All departments are called upon for input. Each creative and management person is aware of the elements of every client's campaign and participates in its execution, making sure all the touch points are carried out within the overall project guidelines -- very different from when all we did was put ink on paper and stuff envelopes.
The lesson for business owners of all types is to heed the collective wisdom of those industry groups you belong to, be open to the need that your company is a growing, breathing entity and requires perpetual freshness to remain relevant. But most of all, know where your company is from a practical, unemotional viewpoint so that you can be the driving force in identifying the transformations that are necessary to remain viable, healthy and profitable.
This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.