Below is an excerpt from my book, “Made to Make It: A Guide To Screen Printing Success.” Learn helpful tips and tricks on how to run a screen printing business.
As a screen printer, there’s probably going to be some overlap between your sales and marketing channels—which is part of why we didn’t dig too deeply into WHERE to sell in the previous chapter. For example, if you don’t have a physical storefront, you may use Etsy as a channel not just to market your products, but also to sell them. If you’ve been thoughtful in building your customer profiles, you probably already have a good idea of what their “watering holes” are, or where to find them.
Choosing the right marketing channel mix for your company is entirely dependent on your niche, and the preferences of the customers you’re selling to. If you haven’t put a lot of time into marketing yet, because you’ve been busy growing your business, now is an excellent opportunity to survey the customers you already have to get a better sense of the right communication channels and style for their needs. There are great, free tools you can use to do just this, including Google Forms (linked to your Google profile) and SurveyMonkey.
We’ll talk about your marketing options in order of magnitude, from those that are the easiest, fastest and least expensive to use; to those that are more complicated, or perhaps a bigger investment. I recommend that you focus on one or two to start, then expand as you become more comfortable (and successful)!
Online Resale Programs
The fastest way you can start marketing and selling products as a screen printer is through online channels like Etsy.com, which specialize in selling handmade goods for both wholesalers and end users. For just $.20 you can open a store on Etsy and get access to over 26 million active buyers. Etsy provides all the tools, infrastructure, marketing, payment management, and access to their community. In return, you pay Etsy a 3% transaction fee and a 3.5% + $.25 payment processing fee. Not bad for what you get!
You can create a store on Etsy, and use it not just to market and sell your products, but also to gather customer feedback via reviews. And you can manage that store using their online platform and mobile application for sellers. They also offer access to more than 11,000 wholesale buyers for a marginal $100 setup price plus a 3.5% transaction fee.
Of course, Etsy is just one marketplace you can consider. There’s also eBay, Amazon, and so on. Choose what works for you (and your customers).
Once you’ve got a store of any kind, whether it’s on a site like Etsy, or you’ve built your own website (more on that next), it’s time to drive traffic to it! As a screen printer, you’re selling a visual product. Photo sharing social site Instagram is custom made for businesses like yours. According to a study by Curalate, people interact with brands on Instagram 58 times more than they do on Facebook and 120 times more than on Twitter! Creating an Instagram profile (with a link to your store in the bio) is a great way for you to create brand awareness; build a fanbase; interact with potential customers; gather feedback; show off your best work; promote sales with images featuring your URL and coupon code; and more. Once you get the hang of it, Instagram can be a great (and free) marketing tool! You can even embed a feed of your Instagram images in your website to keep your online content fresh and exciting.
And don’t forget Facebook. If you’re a small business, Facebook could end up being your best friend. Set up a Facebook page for your business for free; invite your contacts, and start sharing content. Post photos and updates easily, and share them with groups of contacts. Want to attract some new followers? You can either “boost” a post, or create an ad, using Facebook’s targeting tools (here’s where those customer profiles come in handy!) to dial in exactly who sees it. Use Page Insights to see what’s working and what’s not. Take the opportunity whenever you can to drive potential customers from Facebook to your online store — whether it’s with an organic post to your followers, or a paid ad. Consider seasonal promotions, like around Christmas time. The possibilities are endless really. There’s also Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube (Ryonet’s 2nd most popular channel). Need a tool to manage all your social media posts and conversations with fans? Check out the free app (and online platform) Hootsuite.
At the beginning of this book, we talked about tools you’d need to run your business, and briefly covered online payment solutions, like Shopify and Square that also offer website templates. But there are other options beyond those. If you haven’t built a website yet, this should be the first step in your marketing strategy. Don’t be scared; you don’t need to be a web coder anymore to build a gorgeous site! There are many platforms that make it super easy to create a sleek, modern site in a matter of hours. Yes, I said hours! Platforms like Squarespace give you all the tools you need to design and host your website and online store for a reasonable monthly or annual fee. They even offer shopping and payment processing capabilities, as well as analytics so you can see who’s visiting your site and where they’re coming from. While Ryonet’s website needs have grown beyond what makes sense to manage with Squarespace or something similar, our website is our #1 marketing tool.
Besides giving you a dedicated space to build your brand, a website also provides you with the ability to boost where you appear in search results via two methods referred to as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). In the most basic of terms—SEO is a way of helping Google (and customers) find your site, using specific keywords. For example, if you were to purchase the URL, Ryonet.com, your site would be the first thing that shows up when a customer types “Ryonet” in Google’s search bar. For what it’s worth, Facebook Pages help with your search rankings too!
SEO isn’t limited to your URL or your company name of course. You can “optimize” your site to show up in search results for things like “discharge screen printing,” like Ryonet customer Forward Printing. And the best part, is you’re not limited to optimizing the content on your main website pages, you can attach a blog to your site—which you can use not just for SEO, but also for thought leadership opportunities!
“As a young company, organic SEO was very important for us. Our budget was pretty small, so we needed to get grassroots about driving traffic to our site. This was around the time that the yellow pages were going the way of the dinosaur, and we’re glad we got on the digital bandwagon pretty quick to get our name out there.”
– Dan Corcoran, Co-founder of Forward Printing
SEM is the other side of that coin. It’s basically the paid version of SEO. You know when you type something in the Google search bar and you see results (and a map of businesses) right at the top of your results? What about those ads on the right? Those are delivered by Google AdWords, Google’s SEM solution. If you’re just getting started, and your site hasn’t been up very long—AdWords is a good option to get your site in front of customers looking for products and services like yours. Many website hosting companies, like Squarespace will bundle in some AdWords credit with your subscription just to get you going. AdWords lets you target your demographic, set your budget, and even offers a Keyword Planner, as well as analytics.
I’ve mentioned Ryonet.com and our YouTube channel as two of our most popular marketing tools, can you guess what the third is? That’s right, it’s email marketing! Over the years, we’ve built a pretty good database of customers, and we love interacting directly with them. Don’t let the size of your customer list dissuade you. Even if you only have 100 names on it, sending direct communications to your clients (and prospects) about seasonal promos or exciting company news is a great way to keep your business front of mind! If you’re just getting started with email marketing, MailChimp is a simple, yet professional tool, you can use for free.
As you grow your business, they offer some paid tiers with added functionality. Constant Contact is another option. You may even get to a size where you’re considering all-in-one marketing automation solutions like Hubspot to manage all your inbound marketing. At Ryonet, we use Marketo which is a more advanced system and allows us to dial drips and campaigns by customer segments. We love it!
We’re not going to spend a bunch of time on event marketing here—but it’s absolutely worth a discussion. Depending on your niche, live events might be an expeditious way to market and sell your products! Specialize in printing t-shirts for corporate giveaways? How about you attend a trade show targeted at event marketing professionals (Inception-style! An event for event people!) Print concert tees? How about a music festival? Niche in printing shirts for brewing companies? Do live printing at a brew fest! The act of printing live is a great marketing tool, which can also turn a healthy profit.
Pirate Ninja Print Shop prints and sells their products on the spot at local festivals and markets. It’s a great avenue for them to show and share their Rockford pride, while also exposing potential customers to their garments and printing solutions. They also host print parties, educational seminars, and movie nights. Being active in their local community has enabled them to grow and succeed without even having a website.
I mentioned we’d be talking about your marketing mix in orders of magnitude (and difficulty/expense). Traditional advertising is another arrow in your quiver. That said, it can be costly, so it’s probably more appropriate for larger companies looking to increase their market reach or deepen their penetration. You’ve got print advertising options (magazine and newspaper ad placement); radio spots; Out-Of-Home (OOH) items like billboards; and even TV ads at your disposal — limited only by your budget. Ryonet customer Custom Ink uses traditional advertising methods to support their enterprise operation, with great results.
“Besides digital, TV ads are our most effective marketing tactic. Our goal is to get to the point where people associate screen printing with Custom Ink, based on the strength of our advertising. Just like how they associate the whole category of tissue with Kleenex.”
-Marc Katz, Founder of Custom Ink
Can You Track its Effectiveness
In 2016, Ryonet drastically expanded our trade show marketing presence. Why? Even though we always felt trade shows were good for business, because of their high expense and the difficulty of analyzing ROI, we couldn’t prove that they were. So instead of thinking about expansion, we were always looking for ways to cut back on our trade show budget.
In 2015, after building over two years of better data in NetSuite, we finally had the ability to see that trade shows were effective! In fact, we were getting an 8X gross revenue return on our investment! That means that, for every $10,000 we spent on a trade show, we were collecting $80,000 of revenue directly attributable to that activity. This data gave us the justification we needed to increase our budget. At the same time, we finally had the ability to look at trends related to each show over time to see where adjustments were needed.
What gets measured gets managed. If you don’t know how to measure it, you can’t manage it effectively, so you shouldn’t waste time or effort doing it.
Do Your Customers Frequent it
Are your customers using that channel? Seems like a no-brainer, right? But still, you have to ask yourself, do your customers interact where you’re hoping to engage? As mentioned before, several online marketplaces, social media channels, and so on offer not just targeted advertising, but also analytics capabilities.
What you discover might be surprising. Pinterest, for example, never took off for us because our ideal customer profile (print shop owners) trends male, while Pinterest trends female. On the flipside, Instagram has been wildly successful for us. Like Pinterest, Instagram is highly visual but used more proportionally by both men and woman. We now have over 20,000 followers (and growing) on Instagram.
Keep a close eye on the performance of your programs and campaigns. Are you getting the response you were seeking? And is it coming from the right people?
Are you Allocating the Right Amount of Money to Each Channel
You don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket. In 2014, Ryonet signed on with SkyMall for a marketing push in their airline catalogs. It was a big expense for us, but we thought it would be a great way to introduce the public to our DIY Screen Printing gift ideas over the holidays. Well, in 2014, SkyMall, after 30 years, went belly up. It was almost a total loss for Ryonet and drastically limited our holiday spend for the DIY kits because of it. We knew it was an expensive gamble, but we did it anyway. Lesson learned.
How Combative and Competitive is the Channel
If your competition (and everyone else) is marketing on the channel, it’s going to be tough to capture your customer’s attention. It is better to be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond.
Take selling screen printing supplies online, for example. With Ryonet’s screen printing. com dominating search results, it would be pretty hard at this point for a new entrant to compete. Over the years, many brick-and-mortar suppliers have tried to make a go of it online but found it too challenging and expensive to counter our web presence and fully dialed-in campaign strategy. They found themselves wasting copious amounts of money just to end up way lower in search rankings. Most that are still selling online have targeted their strategy to their local market for improved results.
Now that you know what channels you’re going to target let’s talk about campaigns. Marketing campaigns engage the customer and initiate the selling process. They can be long-term or short-term and should cater directly to your market niche. When building your campaigns, keep it simple, especially if you’re just getting started in your marketing efforts. Give yourself the opportunity to get a little experience and gather some key learnings, before breaking the bank.
Here’s a simple outline we use at Ryonet, to get you going:
Like what you read? Get more great business tips on running a screen printing business from my book, “Made to Make It: A Guide To Screen Printing Success.”