Using the SMART System for Setting Realistic Goals

March 15th, 2010

I recently came across an excellent discussion on goal setting. The process is to set SMART goals —

Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-based.

Specific means each goal is precise in its definition. An example would be be increase monthly revenue by $10,000 and gross margins by 3%. A general goal like “improve cash flow” is not specific enough. When you are precise, it is much easier to determine exactly what steps are necessary to achieve the outcome.

Measurable - I call this “As evidenced by.” I want to know exactly how I will be measuring the improvements I’m shooting for. If you can’t define how to measure your progress, you won’t be able to achieve the goal.

Attainable is exactly what it means, you can reasonably achieve what you set out to do. One of the biggest problems I see with goal setting is putting objectives out that can’t reasonably be met. Here is an example. You best month in business was a big stretch for everyone. There was a bunch of overtime and some mistakes, but not too bad. You monthly sales were roughly twice what an average month is.

Now. using this information, you set a goal where the monthly volume is 10%- 15% higher than your very best month. This could very well be an unrealistic goal for many different reasons. The biggest of which is personnel. Your trained employees were stretched to the max and were beginning to make mistakes due to the shear volume and from being tired. This is an example of unsustainable business volume. In order to keep it going, and grow it, you would need more new people.

The introduction of new people will actually slow your production down before you can get it to ramp up. Then there is the impact on your cash flow. Increasing business too quickly is one of the main ways you can crash a company. You’ll run out of working capital before you run out of work. In other words, you’ll burn up before you collect the receivables you’re due.

A more realistic goal and attainable goal would be to use the trailing 13 month average as the basis for improvement. To get this number, you add up 13 months and divide by 13. This approach takes seasonality out of the equation as well as any really good or really bad months. Set a goal of increasing this number by 15% - 25% over the next year. To track your progress, add each new month’s sales to the previous 12 months sales and divide by 13. That will show you how your average is tracking on a volume adjusted basis.

Relevant - This is harder to dial in on. I see companies setting goals all the time that are not relevant. This means, attaining the goal won’t necessarily improve the business. A good example of a suspect relevant goal would be to purchase a specific piece of new equipment, like an auto press. This goal in and of itself is not relevant until you determine all the other changes that will take place when you have this new capacity. You will need more screens, more people, bigger orders, perhaps more space, and certainly more working capital when you invest in automation. Young companies don’t recognized this and are often shocked at the impact of achieving their goal. Often this shocking revelation is not a good thing.

An example of a relevant goal would be to focus on increasing gross margin and cash flow before increasing production capacity. If you do set a goal for purchasing new equipment, be sure to look at all the things that will change when you have this new capability.

Time-Based Give it a hard completion date. Without a deadline, it simply won’t happen. Here is how I set time based goals. I set my goal objective. I then break it down into specific steps, stages, or events to get there. I put the time I needed to accomplish each step next to the step. I add up all the times and that will give me the absolute bare bones minimum to achieve it.

I look at that time, and then I double it. So if the total process is going to take 4.5 months, I double it to 9 months. I then look at the time I have assigned for each step and I double those times as well. Each step now becomes a milestone I can chart on my calendar. I determine my start day and then add each milestone deadline to the calendar based on the amount of time it takes to accomplish it.

I use an electronic calendar that allows me to filter events so I can have a tone of things going on, but each view is unique to the kinds of activities I’m working on. I find I get a lot more done this way and my colleagues and associates are always commenting on how much I can achieve in the time I have.

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Beginning the Planning Process - FOCUS

January 13th, 2010

Planning and goal setting begins with focus. Unless you have a laser guided vision of where you want to end up, you’ll never get there. It’s not all that important to know the details of how you’re going to get there. It is important to know where you’re going.

When I talk about focus, I’m concerned with the areas that are most important to us. This includes our customers, markets, distribution channels, technology, and people. If you try and plan without considering all these related areas, you’re bound to end up frustrated with a set of poor results. This leads me to one of the biggest goalsetting mistakes common to all most all of us.

It’s common to over estimate our goals. Be bold, but be realistic. You need some kind of reference point and a basis for making your assumptions. You can’t just say, “we’re gong to be a $20 million company by the end of 2010 when last year’s sales were only $500,000 and you have 2 employees. There are exceptions to this, but in general, being realistic is a big part.

Where I see the big focus challenge (myself included) is in being spread too thin over too many different areas. A good friend and mentor of mine recently told me, in his “down home” style, “Remember who brung ya to the dance.” By this he was telling me to focus on the customers, markets, etc that have made our success in the past possible. It’s far easier to expand business with someone you’re already doing business with than to abandon them and go running for the next biggest and greatest thing.

While we’re on the subject of focus, my wise friend also counseled me to stop “swinging for the fences all the time.” He was advising me to spend more of my time on work we would be certain of attaining and not spend too much time on speculative monster accounts. It’s ok to have some of that in your mix, but the stability of your company and your sales lies in diversification and with a customer base that appreciates what you do for them on a daily basis.

It’s much easier to please small to medium accounts than it is to cater to the whims of that big elephant. If you displease them or fail to deliver, you’re in big trouble when they leave. You aren’t nearly as exposed with more smaller accounts.

Look closely at all the key areas necessary to grow your business. Really drill down and look at how much capacity for growth you really have. This means knowing exactly who is going to be doing the work or how you’re going to pay for it. All of us are working thin after the last year. If you really want to grow, but can’t support that growth, there’s no point in driving forward.

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Great Ideas on Using LinkedIn

January 4th, 2010

I’m a huge believer in LinkedIn and other social media sites. They are, without a doubt, the next generation way to build our businesses. Today, I wanted to offer a guest blog post by Jim Gibson, publisher of Online Media Today. Jim’s blog post has created a great discussion in the Inbound Marketing Group on LinkedIn and I wanted to share it with you today. If you’re new to LinkedIn or want to get more out of using it, here are some great ideas. Enjoy.

By Jim Gibson - Publishing Partner, Online Media Today

Ten Tips When Using LinkedIn!

LinkedIn Tip #1: Have a Plan

Decide what you want to accomplish before you start. LinkedIn, like other business oriented social networking sites, offer a number of ways to generate the results you are after. Want to present your company? Looking for a job? Network with like-minded professionals? Need an answer? Want to establish yourself as a thought leader in your space? Each of these approaches present excellent opportunities to leverage professional online networks but make sure your plan is solid before you start.

LinkedIn Tip #2: Make Your Profile Easy to Digest

Tell your story but keep it brief. Short, pithy, sentences are more likely to be read than lengthy paragraphs. It’s like an elevator pitch (explained in less than 1 minute). Use bullet points. Readers often scan content and bullets help to highlight your successes. Provide details of your work history and make sure to highlight your special skills. Above all, make sure to check for proper grammar. Make sure to use important keywords when describing your professional experiences as these can help others find you more easily. And before you post your profile, read it aloud to yourself to hear how it sounds or better yet, ask a colleague to read it and tell you what they think.

LinkedIn Tip #3 – Your Profile Photo

You must have a picture! But make sure it’s a good one and shows you in a professional light. This is not the time to be too cutesy. Don’t upload the picture you took at your last toga party. For women, this is not the time to strike that sexy pose. Choose a professional and friendly picture that demonstrates your real personality yet shows you are here for business.

LinkedIn Tip #4: Give (and ask for) Recommendations
If you want recommendations on your profile, be prepared to ask for them. Look at those you are connected to and offer recommendations to those who deserve them. Make them short and to the point and be sure to include specific accomplishments – don’t be too general. The more genuine the recommendation you give, the more likely it is to be returned. Rule of thumb: if someone gives you a recommendation, thank them first then return the favor!

LinkedIn Tip #5: Join Groups

Be a contributor. Generate posts and respond to discussions. Group interactions provide you and your company great exposure. Check out other member profiles and follow their discussions. This is a great way to identify valuable contacts and network in meaningful ways.

LinkedIn Tip #6: Be the first to comment!

Clearly, it’s important to engage and interact with your audience. This helps to establish you as a valued contributor and can lead to more meaningful connections. But what most people do is look for posts that already have lots of comments and, only then, do they add theirs to the mix. The common thought, naturally being, posting where there are lots of people = lots more visibility.

Don’t get me wrong - that’s cool. But the important thing here is to support the post originator and there’s nothing cooler than to give that first (note: quality) acknowledgement. People post on social sites in order to get feedback and hate it when a post goes virtually unnoticed. The first one to post is a welcome sight (Ahhh.. someone noticed!) and helps to foster a new relationship with the person who started the discussion in the first place! This is the true meaning of social networking - one on one. But, by building relationships intelligently, one on ones ultimately lead to one on many.

Don’t be afraid to be the first to post a comment. A good post originator will thank you, appreciate you and most of all notice you. It’s done this way in real world social settings so why not acknowledge its effectiveness in the virtual world as well.

LinkedIn Tip #7: Connect with Thought LeadersFind those considered leaders in your industry. Search by company to find the people who are true influencers and follow what they are doing. Research who your industry leaders are through existing trade publications and find them on LinkedIn. If they are and we share a contact I know well, reach out through the contact for an introduction.

LinkedIn Tip #8 – Selecting Groups

Search groups using industry keywords and related topics
Look at the groups of industry leaders, subject matter experts and top executives
Look at groups your connections are members of
Use pertinent Q&A category and ask what groups people belong to
Pose the question in your current groups: “What other groups do you find useful?”

LinkedIn Tip #9 – Use the Search Feature

Using the “Search function on your LinkedIn home page (upper right), you can “search” on People, Jobs, Companies, Answers, Inbox and Groups.

If you move to the right of the search box and click on “Advanced,” you can search on keywords, name, company (current and past), geographic location, industry, job title (current and past), school, groups, by language, by the interest of those being searched, when they joined LinkedIn, those in or out of your network, and by relevance – and any combination of the above.

Find the companies you want to do business with and the people you need to meet at those companies. With over 50,000,000 business professionals registered, your search results can pay big dividends

LinkedIn Tip #10: Use Applications

LinkedIn has teamed up with some of the Internet’s premier companies to offer registered users access to new applications that enable you to collaborate on projects, get key insights, and present your work to your audience in interactive ways. Have a Power Point presentation you want to share? Install the free SlideShare app and instantly share your presentation to a wider audience. Need to brainstorm with your team on a new idea? Load Huddle Workspaces on your profile and instantly collaborate with your colleagues. There are many apps to choose from and several are showcased at: http://learn.linkedin.com/apps/.

Planning for 2010 and Beyond

January 2nd, 2010

The first week of the New Year is always a special time for me. it’s when I sit down and try to objectively look at what happened in the previous year and plan for the coming year. For almost everyone 2009 was a train wreck of a year. The wheels came off and most companies are lucky to still be around. So, looking back for me was mostly painful. The only thing we can do is suck it up and keep moving forward. There aren’t going to be any quick fixes and fast turnarounds.

Planning is going to be the theme for January. Over the next month I’ll be blogging about how to set the course for your 2010 Business Plan so you can be as profitable and productive as possible. Here are some beginning thoughts to help you get started with your planning.

1) Focus, focus, focus. When I look back on ‘09, the single biggest thing I see was the disorganized, random, chaos of reaction. When things don’t go as planned, we react. Too often that reaction is unfocused and relevant to the event at hand. Our actions don’t fit into a bigger plan, so we aren’t nearly as efficient as we’d like to be. It is more or less like sticking your finger in the dike to stop the leak. It may fix the immediate, but it does nothing to address the bigger problem of why the dam is leaking in the first place.

Focus means selecting a course of action and sticking with it. You don’t have to get it all right, but you do need to concentrate on the desired outcome and fix on that. We can make minor corrections along the way, but don’t be tempted to make radical changes in midcourse.

2) Know what the outcome of your efforts is supposed to look like. Are you trying to add new customers? Increase sales? Increase frequency of sales? All of the above? Clearly define what your expected outcome is so you’ll know if you are on track or off course. Have Plan B, C, and D in place if you’re ahead of schedule, behind schedule, or on schedule. With alternatives in place, and a clear idea of the result you’re looking for, it makes it much easier to stay on target for your goals. This will help you avoid wholesale course direction changes that can stall your momentum and dilute your efforts. And it can help you from wasting time on nonproductive diversions.

3) Understand the difference between planning and action. The plan is the framework to achieve your results. It is strategic and should result in increased stability and soundness. The tactics or actions are how you’re going to get there. We tend to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy.

4) From Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Leaders, “Begin with the End in Mind.” Define your ending point or year end goal for 2010 and begin piecing the parts together.

Over the next month, I’ll be concentrating on the planning process so by Feburary 1st, you’ll have a workable plan in place for you.

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Who Should You Be Doing Business With?

December 7th, 2009

Throughout the year I look at who we’ve been doing business with and how their orders compare. We use the traditional approach (Paretto 80/20) that shows us a relatively small number of customers account for the majority of our orders and profit. When I apply this approach it’s easy to see who is taking up most of our time and to compare if they are generating sufficient order size to make it worth our while. About a year ago we did this and were shocked to find one customer accounted for 66% of our press time, but they only accounted for 18% of our revenue. What does this mean?

When something this extreme becomes evident, I have to ask myself, “how did I allow this to happen?” The answer is not always an easy one. In this case, we were doing such a good job, the client kept feeding us more and more of their work. We were not their only vendor, but we were one of the only ones that could do their most demanding work. Over a period of about a year, we saw a shift in the mix of orders coming to us. They became more and more technical, while at the same time the order size was getting smaller and smaller. We found ourselves in the position of spending two to three times the production run time in set-up (registration and color adjustment.) So, for every hour of running time, we would have two to three hours of set-up. That was horrible to be sure, but it got worse.

Since the customer was sending us more and more work, they demanded greater price concessions due the volume of their orders. We quickly found ourselves in a position of having to agree to lower overall prices while their order size diminished (supposedly due to the economy) and more difficult work. There was no way we could recover the set up time over the run length and before we knew it, we were in big trouble. This was only compounded when they started to stretch out their payments to us, further impacting our ability to run the business. Overall, a very bad situation.

There are many lessons here. Number one, don’t get caught being asleep at the wheel. This is a perfect example of being so busy being busy that you don’t realize what’s gong on until it is too late. We all want to be responsive to our customers, but business is a two way street. If you can’t be profitable, AND get paid within a reasonable time, you mind as well not do the work.

Second, know what your ideal customer profile is and try to exceed it. When order sizes shrink, so must the set-up and changeover time. You need to know what the smallest size order you can do will be. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself being suckered into doing runs of 12 pieces with a 7 color front and an 8 color back. Suckered may not be the right word, more like coerced. There are a million justifications for having to do really short runs, but we all have to stand firm, or have a policy in place to account for these kinds of situations.

Third, compare the profile of each of your current customers with that of your ideal customer. If you don’t have enough ideal clients, you need a plan to fill the pipeline with new prospects so you can mirgrate away from the time consuming, profit robbing, customers you currently have.

This last year has been generally awful for most printers I talk with. While the economy seems to be getting better, it is still fragile at best. At the very least, we are coming into the slow time of the year and we all need to be especially mindful of these kinds of situations so we don’t accidently find ourselves in big trouble even though we seem to be busy.

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Friday the 13th - Superstitions

November 13th, 2009

Today is Friday the 13th, the third time it’s happened in 2009. A few of us were talking about it this morning and the topic of superstitions came up. It’s amazing how many people believe in them. It got me thinking how many superstitions we follow in our business. Most of them for no real reason other than this is what we’ve been led to believe to be true.

A superstition is really nothing more than an unexplained belief. Why do people believe that walking under a ladder or breaking a mirror brings bad luck? I’m sure if we researched each one we’d find some interesting stories, but no hard truth. Where I see superstitions at work is in the technical side of the business.

Most of the experienced printers in this industry got their chops by working their way up through the ranks. They started at the bottom and got promoted along the way as others were fired or left. Many of them have no formal printing education other than what they read in the trade press or learn at trade shows and conventions or from traveling company reps.

A common situation is to take this knowledge at face value, never questioning or challenging it. I call this “Tribal Knowledge” as it is passed down by word-of-mouth over the years. Each time it’s passed, something is added, deleted, or communicated incorrectly. After two or three generations it’s often difficult to justify what is being passed on as truth.

In all the time I’ve been involved in the industry, it still amazes me how often something we’ve been hammered on as “the way to do it” actually turns out to be the exact opposite of what we really need to be doing. I think a there are a couple of reasons for this.

The first one is that the knowledge may have been knowingly passed off as wrong to begin with. This often happens when a rep visits a shop and watches something innovative being done. When asked about it, the business owner fabricates a response he knows isn’t correct because he wants to throw the competition off track. The rep takes this information and willingly scatters it along his way, where it gets changed and tweaked each time it’s passed on. The original source passes the bad technique because they want to preserve their “trade secrets.”

Secondly, we have basic ignorance of how things work. Many of our production workers are true blue collar employees. They may only have a high school education, and often times they don’t even have that. Screen printing is full of these kind of workers. Nothing wrong with it, it’s just the way it is. The problem comes when they don’t have enough education to think about what is being told to them. They can reason why something should or should not work. There have been many, many times where someone, trying to be helpful, has passed on a technique or method with authority (this is how it’s done.)

When challenged as to why this works, they buckle. They can’t explain it and they usually will revert to citing where they saw it being done or who told it to them. In either case, we’re not getting the whole story. It is this blind faith that whatever is passed on is right that gets me. Simply asking why it works or how it works is all that’s necessary. If you can’t get a good, believable answer, I’d immediately be suspect.

What does all this mean? Simply, question everything. Look at your own business and see if you can find things you’re doing because “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Ask yourself if there’s a better way. There almost always is.

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Back from New Orleans

October 12th, 2009

The SGIA Show is done. It was my 30th show since 1976. The only ones I missed were 2001 cancelled by 9/11, 2005 cancelled by hurricane Katrina (also in NO), and Minneapolis in 2004. I missed Minneapolis due to a scheduling conflict with a client in Italy.

I used to really look forward to SGIA. It was the biggest show of the year and it was where all the latest technology was unveiled. It was also home to the best printing awards program in the industry. There was always plenty of buzz and it was generally four days of nonstop go-go-go.

The show is still huge, but not quite as big as days gone by. I think the economy and changes in the industry, as well as changes with tradeshows in general have taken a toll. People don’t like to travel. It’s expensive and a big hassle anymore. Manufacturers, especially the equipment companies face a huge expense to get the production machines in for just a few days.

The biggest change has been in the complexion of the show. Ten years ago there were a smattering of digital ink jet companies. The industry was dominated by companies with a long history in screen print. That’s all changed now. Huge companies like HP, Efi, Agfa, and the like now dominate the floor space. There are at least a dozen high end ink jet printers in the $1 Million - $3 Million range. Vehicle wraps are all the rage. It’s a different game now.

As for textile garment screen printing, the show is a shadow of itself. I would say 75% of the exhibit space was directly or indirectly related to digital printing. Of the remaining 25%, only a fraction was solely focused on garments. Most of those companies were actually local distributors with reps from the main supplier companies in their booths. Not exactly what most of us had in mind. The companies that were exhibiting equipment for textile decorating were, guess what, digital DirectToGarment.

Gone are the days of ballrooms packed with 700 people for a seminar. Knowledge is so easily available now. The educational program that used to be foundational, is only a shadow of itself. The content of the seminars and workshops is as good as ever, but the attendance is a different story.

We’re watching the evolution of technologies. There really isn’t anything we can do to stop it, nor should we. Survival of companies traditionally focused on screen printing will depend on their ability to adapt to new technologies, but more importantly to connect and remain relevant to their customers and markets. This includes suppliers as well as printers.

The sources and channels of where we get our information are changing too. The close relationships between associations and industry press don’t seem to be as important. Search and the Internet have replaced the press release. There are still reviews out here, but they’re different now.

I know one thing for sure, the quality of the information is much more suspect because there’s no editorial review. Anyone and anybody can throw out a piece and the public will take it at face value. There are no credentials. Anyone and everyone can declare themselves an expert and nobody seems to even notice.

The one thing you can’t really replace is the ability to actually meet face-to-face with colleagues. The networking, for me, is the number one priority. In fact, I think I spent a total of 6 hours over the three days on the show floor. The rest of the time was spent outside the convention center with client and vendor meetings. The evenings as well were full of meetings. As long as the show acts as a central gathering point, it will continue to have real value.

We certainly live in interesting times. I wonder what all this is going to look like in a couple of more years?

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New Orleans SGIA This Week

October 4th, 2009

Just wanted to let everyone know I will be in New Orleans this week for the SGIA Show. This has traditionally been the biggest tradeshow of the year for screen printers, but not necessarily for textile screen printers. It is where all the newest technology is released or shown for the first time.

I love New Orleans for a number of reasons. For one, it was the very first show I ever attended in 1976. I was still in college, a senior at the time, and I skipped my midterms, took the economy redeye on Delta from LA, and promptly ran out of money the second day I was there. I was so motivated by the show I really wasn’t all that concerned about eating. For most of the week I lived off the free hors d’oeuvres in the hospitality suites. It wasn’t very glamourous, but I knew I needed to be there and I was going to do anything I could to make it happen.

This is my 30th SGIA show. I missed the 2001 Show, cancelled due to 9/11 and the 2005 Show cancelled due to hurricane Katrina. In fact, this is the first time the show has been back since the hurricane and I’m glad it is back.

This year the show is one day shorter than typical, running from Wednesday Oct 7 until 3 pm on Friday Oct 9th. Some of the biggest names in the textile area have decided not to show, and this is a shame. I can understand the double whammy of a shorter show and the generally dismal economy. It’s simply too much to overcome. That being said, SGIA is still going to be a worthwhile and meaningful show.

If you are in New Orleans, I would love to meet up and talk with anyone who has been to the site over the last year or so and chat. I’m always looking for opinions and ideas on how to make the blog better and more relevant to all of you.

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Migrating Your Products and Services Beyond Being a Commodity.

August 18th, 2009

No matter how hard we try, it seems overcoming the stereotype of being the “t shirt guy” is an impossible objective. The perception of being a t shirt company or vendor in the marketplace is huge. Just trying to get your customers to understand what you really do is a challenge. As I was thinking about this, some things began to occur to me.

My first thought was that the perception is reality. No matter how we see ourselves, customer perception of what we do is the real reality. They’re branding or labeling us with this perception. It’s up to us to fulfill that label, or somehow overcome it. Part of this labeling process is the commoditization of what we do. “You’re just another t shirt guy” is tough to overcome as it puts all t shirt printers into a giant group where everyone and every product looks the same. As I’ve said in the past, if you get caught in this trap, the only differentiator is price. That’s a losing game.

Your avenue out of this perception is to provide a logical path. Start with your position the same as everyone else. You can make or beat the lowest price in the market as the starting point. It really does not matter because our intention is to use this as a starting point for the conversation, that’s it. We have no intention for selling shirts for the lowest price in the market.

The key is to have a series of upgrades, steps, or levels. If you’re starting off with a cheap 5.4 oz cotton shirt, the next step up is a 6.0z with better graphics and special effects inks (high density, reflective, gel, etc.) Still not expensive, but something to compare with. Follow this with a more fashionable style like an American Apparel body or a 100% Certified Organic body with waterbase printing. Now you have much more margin and a clear choice that does not fit the stereotype. You’ve navigated away from a commodity to something beyond.

In order to make this transition it’s also important to give the reason why behind the upgrade. The reason why for the point of entry garment is all about being the cheapest, that’s it. It’s where it is because it fits the profile of the commodity. The fashion body is “hip” or cool, and the organic T is good for the environment. The more compelling you can make the story that leads up to the next level, the better chance you have of making the migration.

What you’re after is comparison. If you don’t have higher priced alternatives, you have nothing to compare against and the low end price gets pegged. Offering alternatives with a reason why behind them breaks the link to a commodity and frees you to move up to a higher sales price and higher margin.

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Connecting with Your Niche

August 14th, 2009

A niche is nothing more than an area of special interest. One of the very first things you can do to improve your business is to move away from being a generalist that does anything for anybody. When you target your efforts to a specific specialty, you move away from a commodity product or service to one of uniqueness. This specialization is the mechanism for increasing your profits. Today I thought I would share some of the elements necessary to make a niche effort successful.

When selecting a niche it really helps that it be something you are personally interested in. The higher your interest, the easier it is for you to become excited and engaged. This is one of the keys. Enthusiasm sells. It’s contagious. I’ve seen mediocre product sold very successfully in specialty niches simply because the company or site was enthusiastic about what they were offering.

Your role here is to connect. The more authentic and genuine you are, the more believable
you’ll be. Printed apparel in a niche area should reflect the look and feel of that market. The automotive racing and motorcycle niches have their own typical look. Likewise for major sports events. Fun runs, triathalons, and marathons (half and full) have their own look as well. You don’t have to try and reinvent the wheel for your niche. Look at closely related areas and see if you can identify a specific signature style.

Specialization usually means you know more about that area than the average supplier. The more you can incorporate the style of your market, the more you will sell. For instance, if you are selling to outdoor festivals, make it a standard practice to fold and bag all retail product. This keeps the inventory clean and protected and is a definite added value.

Talk to many different people in your area. These can be customers, other vendors, or participants and spectators. Find out from them what’s important, what they’re looking for. Ask them what’s missing or what would make for a better experience. You may be surprised at the answers. Be on the lookout for opportunities for you to partner with others selling into the niche. You can often piggyback onto their efforts to increase your credibility and reach.

Success in niche marketing comes down to three things: Market knowledge, passion or enthusiasm, and connection to the market. When you combine these three elements, you have a recipe for success and profit.

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