As a kid were you ever afraid of the dark? I know I was.

In fact, for several years I thought that something lived under my bed. True fact: I would take a running leap from the doorway and sail across the room in the air and land on the bed. I didn’t want any hairy arms and claws grabbing my ankles if I got too close.

But during the day, when there was plenty of light, I knew there wasn’t anything under there that could hurt me.

It was only when things got dark, did the terror level increase.


It was the unknown. If you can’t see it, your imagination runs rampant.

By the way, mine works overtime.

In business, owners have their own version of night terrors too. Because they don’t have first-hand knowledge of something they tend to doubt things will work. It’s like being afraid of the dark.

We don’t know if something will work or not, so it’s like the vicious, imaginary monster under the bed.

For this article, I want to shed some light on what scares decorators the most and see if we can’t ease some collective fears.

Don’t Stick to the Script

First, let’s tackle one unknown which is that you are locked into only decorating apparel. Sure, I’ll bet over the years you’ve handled some tote bag orders or even some beer cozies.

That’s not what I’m talking about.

Look around you. What opportunities are right in front of you that you maybe have been ignoring.

Shops sometimes are always competing over the same market. The fear is that there is only so much to go around, so to get more sales, prices drop. Being afraid of missing out on sales drives business owners to make decisions that are not in their best interests.

But what if there was another way?

Could you use your creative energy to decorate on something other than apparel? What industries or businesses do you have connections with right now? That guy in the Chamber of Commerce Leadership group, or the lead soprano in the choir that owns that interior design studio? Maybe an event planner, or start-up business?

Think about all the products other than the traditional stuff that you could possibly add your creative flair and build a business.

Chairs, grill covers, padfolios, pillows, industrial equipment, pet beds…the list is probably endless.

Just don’t do t-shirts. Push out something unexpected. Don’t be afraid to dream up something new.

Think about how you could corner the market in your area with the new idea and use a dedicated online store to launch your idea.

Don’t Be Afraid to Fail

The status quo is comfortable. We know where we are.

Improving things and trying something different? That might ruin everything we’ve built. So nothing happens.

John D. Rockefeller said, “Don’t be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.”

This holds true in your shop as well.

This might mean you need to hire a better artist or learn a new decoration technique. How much more business could you bring in if you updated your webpage, or started a more robust marketing campaign?

You will never know unless you start.

And here’s the secret. You are going to be awful at it. Mistakes are going to be made. It’s ok. Incredibly talented, super famous people at one point didn’t know anything either. They were beginners.

So break some stuff. Ruin some shirts. Create a mess.

In that disaster in front of you is the creative spark that is going to push your good to great. Don’t be afraid to take that first shaky step.

Don’t Be Afraid to Be Authentic

It is human nature to conform.

We always want other people to like us and think positively about us as people. In your business, this holds true too. However, it’s a little harder because the company is an entity, not a person.

To stand out from the crowd, your company needs to find it’s mojo. It’s funk. The silliness. Whatever way you can express your shop that feels right.

This shows up in the shop shirts you create for your staff. With how you decorate the walls in the building or the art that is outside in the garden. It’s the fact that you put a pack of Pop Rocks in the boxes when you ship. The “spirit animal” you use for your shop logo.

Get some personality to your business.

This is what attracts people. The fact that they can identify with the GoPro camera video taken from the head of your shop dog as he wanders through production.

You don’t have to be “corporate”. Don’t be afraid to show your humanity.

Go beyond the boring vanilla.

Especially in your social media and branding.

Don’t Be Afraid to Cross-Sell

Your existing customers are a gold mine that is often left untapped.

While we are always scouring the earth for new customers, how much focus are you giving anyone that has bought from you previously?

Probably not much.

For most shops, the focus with marketing is generally with the potential new customer. “They need to know who we are and what we can do”, flavors a lot of the outgoing messaging.

While that’s great, and you definitely should be doing that, your current customers are 3-8 times more likely to buy from you than someone else.

Let’s say your shop does both screen-printing and embroidery. Do some research. How many of your screen-printing customers have ever had anything embroidered with you?

They may not even know you do that.

In fact, I’ll bet one or two customers have even said during a shop tour. “Oh, I didn’t know you could embroider golf shirts.”

Try this:

If you haven’t already, create a MailChimp account and load all of your customer’s information from the past several years into a mailing list. That’s the general list that you will use for broad announcements and campaigns. Now, take that and segment it into decoration methods. Screen-printing, embroidery, direct to garment, or whatever you have. Some customers will have only one, others might have all of them.

Now, for those that have ordered screen-printed goods create a marketing campaign and educate them on your embroidery services. Take them behind the scenes in how you digitize logos, hoop the shirts, and run the jobs. Show the care you give the work after it’s sewn in your trimming area. Capture someone steaming out the hoop marks and talk about why that’s important. Illustrate your quality with some close-up shots of difficult designs or tiny lettering.

Don’t be afraid to include your authentic style in your marketing. Make it fun!

The goal is to educate your current customers and demonstrate your value. If you can, get other customers to talk about your awesomeness.

Then, do the same thing for other selling opportunities. Promotional items, screen-printing, fundraising, heat press applications…whatever you can dream up.

Educate and elevate the conversation.

Don’t Be Afraid to Test New Products

Our industry dreams up new products constantly.

Different styles and colors of garments. New inks. Different techniques.

But what are these new product ideas really? They are incredible sales gifts handed to you.

Yet, most shops ignore them.

Here’s what I mean:

Let’s say a shirt manufacturer launches a new style with some new colors. This happens practically every year.

Order a few of these in. Give them to your creative team. What can we do with these? Brainstorm and come up with a few ideas and pick the best one. Decorate the shirts.

Use them in your marketing campaign. New shirts! Just arrived! Film your team working on this new product and create another marketing campaign like a mentioned earlier. Create a compelling call to action for the new shirts style.

People respond well to new ideas. Especially if you are demonstrating how it can be used, and sparking an idea for your customer in the process.

Spark an idea and give your customers a reason to place a new order.

Don’t Be Afraid To Talk To Your Customers

You want to know what they are thinking.

Are they happy with your company? That’s a primary concern of course, but it goes beyond that.

To dig deep and understand your customers you have to know their pain points. What problem are they looking to solve?

Remember, this can change.

Have you ever had a long-term customer and they suddenly drop you because they have a new management team in place? You have been servicing this account wonderfully for years. Now, new decision makers are in and they are making changes. They want to make their mark and prove what they can do. Without understanding what the new leadership is about, is it any wonder you are shut out and they find another resource?

Relationships matter in business. Don’t be afraid to communicate.

Every time they speak to you, there should be some value to it. Don’t waste their time with the “just wanted to touch base” call.

Have a purpose.

Better, bring some value to the call with new information or ideas. “Hey, have you ever thought about doing your logo in rhinestones? We could do a sample…”

Think constantly what your customers might be interested in.

Don’t Be Afraid To Spy On Your Customers

No, it’s not stalking. It’s research.

Be sure to follow all of your customers on social media. This is a fantastic tool to find out what your core customers are thinking about and value.

They will show you that they just bought a new building and are expanding their business. Congratulations! New employees are coming. You should help with their uniforming or company store program.

Maybe they post shots of them doing after work fun activities for bonding and morale purposes. I’ll bet they might want some branded apparel for next quarter’s event.

Mary in the office just had a baby! Contact their HR director and see if they want to do an order for a corporate onesie program.

You can also tell if something is off in your relationship too. Maybe they had a corporate charity walk or Habitat for Humanity day. They post group photos of their team participating, but your shop didn’t do the apparel. Time to dive in and find out why!

What else are you missing?

Another tip to share is that you can take note what channels your best customers use and are active participants.

Twitter? Facebook? Instagram? LinkedIn?

Also, note what time of day, and what type of post do they comment, like or share. This can help you dial in your own marketing to reflect what your best customers are doing so you are in alignment.

Lastly, Don’t Be Afraid To Say Thank You

Do you appreciate your customers?

Of course.

Here’s the question: Do they know that?

Does your customer appreciation come across as insincere as a flight attendant when you get off a plane?  “Thankyoubuhbyenow”

Keep your customers sticky to you. I don’t have to tell you how competitive this industry can get.

Loyalty is tough.

Be sure you are sincerely communicating your overwhelming appreciation to your customers. Give them so much tremendous value that they not only crave what you do but recommend your shop to their peers.

That’s how you know you are doing it right. When your customers are singing your praises, and driving more customers to your door.

When that happens, you know they are locked in. But in the meantime, be sure to say those two sweet-sounding words.

Thank You!


“I am not afraid. I was born to do this.” – Joan of Arc

“A lot of people are afraid of heights. Not me, I’m afraid of widths.” – Steven Wright

“I am not afraid of storms, as I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Louise May Alcott


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.