One common excuse used in the decorated apparel industry regarding why something doesn’t happen is that “There isn’t enough time.” A better approach is to start with the idea that you are going to build the airplane while flying it.

That is to say, learn and develop your business as you go.

Starting is always the hardest part. Which is why so often it is postponed.

Need a marketing plan? “I’ll do that tomorrow.”

Tackle organizing that messy inventory area? “We’ll get to that when we slow down.”

Work out a better sales engine? “That’s going to have to wait until next quarter.”

Figure out a training program for our employees and managers? “Uh…”

Get Your Tools Together

Instead of constantly postponing the things deep down in your gut you know you need to be doing, jump in and get started. Remember, “Perfection is the enemy of progress.”

The first step to build your plane while flying it will be to gather the tools you’ll need to work on the project. Don’t worry about actually doing the work yet. Just assemble everything you’ll need to carry out the task. That’s satisfying in itself to a certain degree.

For the examples listed above, let’s look at what tools you might need:


With a marketing plan, getting an actual calendar would be my first tool. Then, assembling a list of events, big customer orders, holidays, and anything that is remotely possible that you need to know about for a date. Put those on the calendar for each month. Make them a repeatable item, so that next year they show up too. (Do the work once!)


Over in that disaster area you call inventory, come armed with a clipboard, a pen, and some paper.  The first tool you’ll really need is a sketch of the area.  Take a look at the floor and shelving space.  Now consider how everything should fit.  As Abraham Lincoln once famously stated, “If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four sharpening the ax.”

Outline what you need to do to get that zone in tip-top shape.


For sales, the key tool to use is data. You don’t need a hammer, you need a spreadsheet with numbers. How accessible is the historical data for your shop? Start pulling data and see how much you can segment.

Can you get monthly, weekly or daily numbers? What about a breakdown by salesperson or CSR staff member? Could you pull data on your top customers? How far back will your data go?

What you want to do is data mine your top customers. The best and most profitable orders. The jobs you love running. For sales, define what that looks like as specific as possible.

That becomes your sales target for the future. Write it out.


The tool to reach for in building a training program is a skills inventory. What do your people know how to do, and how proficient are they in it?

Knowing where the weakest link in the chain lies, will help determine what you need to do to strengthen it.

A good method for this is to use a spreadsheet. List all the core tasks your staff should know. List that down the left-hand edge of the worksheet. Across the top, write out all of your staff member names.

Then, with the intersecting worksheet grid, rate each employee on the core tasks from 0-10. Zero means they don’t know anything, a ten means they can teach it to someone else.

If you want to build a great training program, this is a good first step as you have a benchmark for all of the key skills in the building.

Take That First Step

The founder of Taoism, Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu famously said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” That holds true in whatever important need you have too.

In your shop, you have thousands of things going on simultaneously. Don’t let the thought of making things perfect prevent you from starting.

So, if you have your tools already (mentioned above)…that’s really already the first step taken. You just didn’t know it.

Actually starting working on something is step two. Hey, it’s progress already! Woohoo!


You already have the calendar set up and ready. So the next step is to do something.

This could be to create a social media template that you can use to easily drop images, text, or something into so that everything you post is branded how to best reflect your shop. Taking a moment to create a template makes things easier to push for action.

That template idea can also work with a MailChimp campaign or even a short video that you might use to show off a technique in your shop. Again, do a small amount of work to make things easier for next time.

All it takes is to create the first post. Then save that as a template. You can always tweak it.


Now that you have the “map” of the area, the work is to rearrange it for best effect. That’s the next step, but depending on how crazy it is, it can be daunting.

Break that up into a few chunks. Schedule 30-minute or an hour forays into the area on multiple days. Instead of spending all day, or worse, all weekend, working on cleaning up the area and counting, divide up the chore into segments helps focus the labor.

Begin with the end in mind. But begin.


Now that you have the tools and data collected you can see what your top 20% profitable orders have been over the last few years. What types of customers or channels have they been historically focused on?

Don’t worry about trying to appeal to the jobs that aren’t as profitable. Your effort should be concentrated on repeating what has been working the best.

So the next logical step is to make that sales process as frictionless as possible.

How fast do you think your shop would grow if you took the top 20% of the orders from the last few years and cloned them by a factor of ten? That’s your new target market.

The good news is that we have a tool to use to make that top 20% sticky to your shop. (yep, shameless plug)


Now that you have the skills inventory complete, what strikes you as the most needed skill that you are lacking? You probably already guessed it, but what you didn’t know is that a few people are already over halfway there in learning it.

Next steps would be to schedule that training activity to get them to complete that skill instruction. I like to keep training segments short. 30-minutes at most. In a busy decorated apparel shop, this length of time usually works best as it focuses the activity and can be squeezed into the week easily.

Put it on the calendar. “On Wednesday at 2:00, Mary learns to coat screens”.

Once she has mastered that skill, update your Skills Inventory spreadsheet. Keep scheduling the training and build your team’s capabilities.

Build Momentum

Projects come to completion when there is momentum. It’s easy to keep things going when you are constantly doing them.

Take one step. Then another. Shortly after that, you’ve handled that chore twenty or more times if you keep at it.

This is how you build your plane while you are flying it. You simply keep working at it. Nothing happens usually in large chunks. Instead, it is the accumulation of a lot of effort. All those steps you’ve taken.

You have to face towards the future. Running shops properly in this business requires an on-purpose mental attitude. Develop that attitude and culture first.


“If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door.” – Milton Berle

“You build on failure. You use it as a stepping stone. Close the door on the past. You don’t try to forget the mistakes, but you don’t dwell on it. You don’t let it have any of your energy, or any of your time, or any of your space.” – Johnny Cash

“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” – Issac Newton


Production Manager Tool

From day one, we’ve been devoted to making InkSoft the most useful tool for printing and customization professionals across the industry. While thousands of users are growing their businesses with InkSoft Stores and the Design Studio, we know we still have a lot of work to do to help print shops run more efficiently.

The next big step is a production management tool. We want to bring InkSoft full circle by providing a powerful way for you to streamline production and communication, ultimately boosting profitability and reducing costly mistakes. Not to mention, solving the challenges outlined in this article.