Every business innovates, solves problems and employs people. We are resilient and COVID-19 will not change that fact. Nevertheless, recovery from the pandemic will be highly irregular and uneven, requiring frequent pivots as the fluid print marketplace evolves to a new normal.
Consider the hundreds of business decisions that your customers make every day. Different buyers with differing problems, finances, markets and more. No two decisions alike. Wouldn’t it be nice if their decisions were predictable, just as they were four months ago?
The reality is that each customer will decide on their own how to reopen or ramp up. Every business will evaluate its markets and customers first. They will appraise their finances. They will determine whether and how many of their staff can return to work. Or if their business must close.
The velocity at which we left that predictable “normal” behind is unprecedented. The result is a “new normal” that is a constantly fluctuating environment, driven by seen and unseen factors near and far. The new normal will change again and again, sometimes on a daily basis.
Here are five tips for pivoting to your new normal:
Communicate: Personally connect with your employees, customers and suppliers – be there for them. Connect by talking with them in person or on a call, not email. Empathize with them by asking how they are doing and what they need. Your likelihood of successfully managing through the crisis is magnified by actively connecting.
Peter Wensberg is president of AMI Graphics, a large format print manufacturer specializing in the design, print, production, and installation of sports facility, event, commercial, and retail signage nationwide. He notes that states have recognized printing companies are essential businesses. “You have to take that and run with it,” according to Wensberg, by letting customers and prospects know you are in business and are able to pivot.
Wensberg advises “starting to do the research on alternative offerings right away, don’t hesitate.” While new adjacent product lines are definitely possible, simply helping clients create new content could bring new business. For example, AMI Graphics has seen a shift in the messaging on its customers’ flags and banners away from event messages to simple, bold statements such as “We Are Open For Curbside Delivery.” The result solves a new customer need and AMI makes a sale.
Educate: Now is a great opportunity for many companies using inkjet presses to train their staff, if you are able to carry them on the payroll. Educating your staff involves two types of students, those who already use prepress software, inkjet presses and finishing equipment and those who have not used some or all of them.
For the former, as work allows, provide additional training on the software and hardware. Let them experiment with the tools and try their hands at redesigning or improving the processes that you use in production. For the latter, now is the time to help them learn more about inkjet printing, using your own staff as teachers. Encourage these folks to not simply learn about inkjet processes but to also rethink they ways in which they do their current jobs. The goal is to enable your staff to be more productive, able to achieve even higher quality and flexible enough to pivot as the market and their jobs evolve.
Anticipate: No doubt this is the hardest of the five tips, one that requires close, personal communication. No matter who you served in January or February, your customers’ markets have changed. Many have closed, many are limping along, and others have as much or more business now.
The worldwide COVID-19 crisis means your customers have varying needs right now – needs that are very different than just three months ago. And they may not know what they will need next week. Bill Farquharson recommends speaking with customers now. “Remember,” he says, “you are calling someone a month or so away from the finish line of this coronavirus crisis. The goal of this call is to learn from the client how they are going to drive revenue quickly and to speak with them about how you can help through your various programs, products, and services.”
Recognize that your programs, products and services have – indeed, must – change to reflect the new normal. The flexibility and openness to new ideas that comes from educating your staff will contribute to new ways of meeting your customers’ requirements as they come out of the crisis.
Model: I’m talking about your business model, the one you had as 2020 began. If you didn’t have one, no worries. I want you to rip up the old business model. You need to pivot.
Tearing apart a business model is not the same as throwing everything you used to do out the window. Rather, create a new business model that defines what you do well and builds on that. Create a new value proposition that leverages your current capabilities with what you learned of your customers’ needs. Ask yourself if there are new customers, new services and new distribution channels to pursue. What particular existing strengths are especially appropriate for the new normal?
AMI Graphic’s Wensberg has a view of the nationwide printing marketplace. He notes that some printing companies are doing tremendously well, even overwhelmed in some cases. The result is, as he puts it, “a tremendous opportunity to build bridges with your competitors.” One way is by reaching out to help another printing company that is unable to fulfill its orders, as AMI has, and offering to do work as an unidentified trade supplier. In other words, a new business model that incorporates a new marketing channel.
Finance: By now you have been scrutinizing your finances, looking for ways to reduce spending. You have likely cut marketing, sales and operations costs while renegotiating material costs, payables and leases, etc. Maybe you have asked lenders for additional funding and taken advantage of government programs to support businesses.
The important point is not to trade off revenue growth at the expense of proper cash management. If anything, focus more on cash management, not only for your near term survival but also to have funds available to pivot your products and services to what your existing and new customers need now.
Repeat: As I said at the outset, the new normal is a constantly fluctuating environment. For months to come your markets will change weekly, if not daily. Some things will blindside you – an unforeseen spike in COVID-19 cases, a shortage of food this summer because farmers are dumping ripe crops that cannot be picked today, and who-knows-what.
Be prepared to repeat the process over and over again: Communicate, Anticipate, Model and Finance. You don’t have the luxury of annual and five-year plans that inevitably miss the mark.
For additional advice from printing industry leaders including Mike Graff, President and CEO of Sandy Alexander, Gina Danner, CEO of NextPage and Jon Budington, CEO of More Vang, visit the COVID-19 support page on WhatTheyThink!