Monday, August 29, 2016

Business to Business: Do You Qualify?

In my last blog article, I talked about keys to a good business deal: commitment and reality. Customers need to be committed to marketing, and realistic about what is required to accomplish their goal.

Understanding those characteristics is part of the business relationship known as qualifying. It’s what we do with each other in a transaction: You qualify me to see if I can provide the product or service you need, and I qualify you to make sure that you’re committed to doing what it takes, and spending what it takes, to get the job done.

Often, when a customer comes to us, they are dealing with an urgent problem or concern. Their attention is on the immediate situation. What we try to do is focus on the big picture and determine the underlying problem that needs to be solved. It’s long-term thinking, instead of short-term.

Occasionally, a short-term solution is all that’s necessary—like when a political candidate needs yard signs, for example. They put them out, people vote, and that’s that. Usually, however, long-term thinking is needed. There’s no point in starting a project unless we’re both committed to going all the way with it. And “all the way” might mean more than you’ve imagined. On the other hand, sometimes it may mean less. That’s why we’re here—to help you consider all the angles, all the possibilities.

As a businessman, I’m not paid to think the way you think. It’s my job to try to see things that you don’t, and to bring solutions to the table that you haven’t thought of.

Isn’t it that way with everything? No matter which vendor you’re dealing with, you expect them to come to you with innovative ideas and creative solutions. You qualify them to see if they have what it takes to make you more efficient and cost-effective.

It’s what makes free enterprise such a powerful thing. The best companies are the ones that consistently do great work, at a fair price, while exceeding expectations. The best companies are the ones that qualify to do business with you.

So when I say we qualify one another, it’s a good thing. We kick the tires, so to speak. Take the relationship for a test drive. If we both have what it takes, we’ll end up doing great work together for a long time to come.

Mike Boyd is president of Creative Source, a Canton, Ohio sign company

Saturday, July 30, 2016

2 Keys to a Good Business Deal: Commitment and Reality

Sometimes, I catch customers off guard.

We’ll be having a conversation about a project, and inevitably they’ll ask, “What will that cost?” And I’ll reply, “What kind of budget do you have?”

That might sound naïve. After all, a sign is a sign. A display is a display. And they cost a certain amount, right? So I should just give them a quote and leave it at that.

But that’s not why I ask the question. The fact is, marketing requires commitment. There’s an old adage that says the surest way to spend too much on advertising is to not spend enough. You have to be willing to budget enough to get the job done properly.

Final numbers aren’t necessarily the issue. Commitment is. If someone describes an ambitious project to me, but is only willing to spend a fraction of what it will cost, we’ll end up too far apart no matter what I say. But if I’m given a realistic budget figure, I know that we can work together to get the job done right. I may give a little, or they may give a little—or both. But eventually, the objective is to complete the project to their satisfaction, at a price we can both live with.

That’s what business is all about, isn’t it? We’re traders, all of us. We exchange things of equal value—or should. Some people might think they can rip people off and get away with it, but in the end it catches up to them, one way or the other. It might be in lost business, or it might be in a damaged reputation. Meanwhile, they’ve hurt the other party, not helped them. And that will harm the customer’s ability to grow their business, which in turn is a detriment to the economy, not a benefit. Everyone loses.

So I ask about budgets right up front. It provides a basis for moving forward. If I hear a figure that’s realistic, I know we can work together. If not, I’ll suggest an alternative, and if that’s too expensive for their taste, then my advice is to try something different.

You have to be realistic, and honest. You can’t serve a customer any other way.

Mike Boyd is president of Creative Source, a Canton, Ohio sign company

Monday, April 18, 2016

Celebrating 20 Years: Relationships Make the Difference

Canton-Ohio-signs-banners-displays“What’s your twenty?”

That’s another way of saying, “Where are you?” And it’s a great question to ask as we celebrate our “twenty” – the 20th Anniversary of Creative Source.

We’ve come a long way in 20 years. Dave Hess and I started the company with three other associates in 1996. We had previously worked together in the marketing department at Camelot Music, once one of the world’s largest music retailers. Based in North Canton, Camelot and other retail music chains began to disappear in the 1990s as the industry scrambled to keep up with the digital age. Seeing the handwriting on the wall, a group of us struck out on our own to form Creative Source.

Since then, the world has been turned on its head by technology. When we opened our doors, the Internet was still a novelty. Most people didn’t own home computers to connect to it, let alone enjoy the convenience of smart phones and other mobile devices we take for granted today.

The music industry had experienced rapid change in the 1970s and '80s. Record albums and 45s gave way to 8-track tapes, then cassettes, and then CDs. Movies and TV shows moved from VHS tapes to Laser Discs to DVDs and Blu-ray. Today, it’s all about the Internet and apps.

In the sign industry, similar changes have occurred. I recall when we were at Camelot and desktop computing technology became available. We were told that we could have one computer for a department of five graphic artists. (Our IT department thought they were being generous when they gave us 2GB of server space!) The breakthrough came when we finally got five computers (one for each artist), each with 560MB of storage, along with a scanner and a black-and-white printer—all for $50,000. Systems that are infinitely more powerful today can be purchased for a fraction of that cost.

Over time that computer technology, combined with the speed of delivery available over the World Wide Web, reduced production times from weeks or even months to just days, and sometimes even hours.

(An early version of our logo)
Even as we’ve witnessed breathtaking technological progress over these past 20 years, we’ve been reminded that some things are timeless. I remember Paul David, the founder of Camelot, saying, “Success in business comes from offering a great product, providing outstanding service, and building strong relationships.”

Maybe that’s why our company is built as much on relationships as anything else. Sure, we’re experts in producing signs, banners, displays and large format printing for businesses of all sizes. But, more than that, we strive to be a unique and innovative resource center for good ideas. We get to know our customers and help them develop cost-effective marketing solutions. It’s a formula that has served us well.

As we celebrate 20 years in business, I want to extend my personal thanks to all those who have been a part of the journey. What began out of necessity has developed into a small but powerful example of the American Dream. We’re honored to be a part of the community and hope you’ll join us in 2016 as we celebrate this important milestone in our company’s history.

Mike Boyd is the president of Creative Source, a Canton, Ohio sign company.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Where's Your Resolve?

The new year is still pretty new, so…how are your resolutions coming along?

It’s only natural that we would feel optimistic at the beginning of another year. Once every 12 months we get a new beginning, a fresh start.

So we tell ourselves we’re going to do this, or that. We promise ourselves that this year will be a better year. And we jump in with both feet, ready to make it happen.

Within a few weeks, however, things change. Why?

If you’re anything like me, the pace of life at the end of the year is different. I’m not talking so much about our personal livesafter all, the holidays aren’t exactly a quiet time. I’m talking about our business lives. Things slow down noticeably in December. People take time off. You can’t reach customers. Billings take a break.

It’s something we plan for. “You can’t get ahold of anybody during the holidays,” we say. So what do we do? We start planning for the new year. We decide to do things better. We set goals.

To put it another way, we make resolutions. And that’s a good thing. Every business or success coach will agree you’ve got to fix the right goal in your mind before you can accomplish anything.

Except, January comes. Business picks up. People start calling. Orders come in. Expectations are high. And those goals that seemed so attainable when things were quiet just a few weeks earlier get put on the back burner. Hopes, dreams and new ideas get pushed aside by a little thing we call reality. As the saying goes, you go back to working in your business, instead of working on your business.

Don’t sweat it. It happens all the time, to all of us. Rather than give up and give in, however, why not take an hour or two, right now, to revisit those plans you made last month, and figure out how to pursue them?

Think about it: When you had some time to clear your mind and your desk, you came up with some pretty good ideas. You told yourself you were going to do something about them.

So, do something about them. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and set your resolve again—right now, today, while there’s still time.

You solved your problems once. Now it’s time to resolve them.

Here’s to a successful year!

MIKE BOYD is president of Creative Source, a Canton, Ohio sign company.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A 'Holiday Wish' for You and Your Brand

“Happy Holidays!”

Two simple words, but they pack a lot of meaning. At the end of the year, when our nerves are perhaps a little frayed and we might be wondering what is going on in this topsy-turvy world of ours, just the sound of that cheerful phrase can make us feel better.

canton-ohio-sign-companyAs much as we enjoy hearing those words, we also enjoy saying them to someone else. And, unlike other seasons of the year, we get to wish one another happy holidays for two or three weeks or more. When else during the calendar year do we get to experience so much friendliness and good cheer? And between total strangers, no less?

Branding isn’t quite that simple, but the idea is the same. What is it you’re trying to communicate to people? Can your message be conveyed with as much clarity and simplicity, while making people feel good about your product or service? Consider these can’t-miss slogans:

·         Just do it.
·         Have it your way.
·         Better ingredients, better pizza.
·         It’s finger-lickin’ good.
·         Melts in your mouth, not in your hands.

Those are just a few famous slogans we all recognize and can instantly associate with their respective brands. While your business may not lend itself to summarizing your brand in so few words, the lesson is clear: sometimes, less is more.

In our business at Creative Source, we regularly remind our clients that signs and banners are no place for long messages and lots of unnecessary words. It’s crucial to keep your message short and to the point. The shorter and more to the point, the better.

As a new year approaches, it’s a good time to think ahead to how you’ll spread the word about your company. What can you say to fill your customers and prospects with good cheer about your brand?

Whatever you come up with, keep it short, simple, and on point. Strive to make it memorable.

So...Happy Holidays. Happy New Year. And Happy Branding!

MIKE BOYD is president of Creative Source, a Canton, Ohio sign company.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Can't Create? Collaborate!

When we started Creative Source two decades ago, we came from a corporate marketing background. That experience helped us forge important relationships in the business community—not only with the creative directors and graphic designers at area advertising agencies, but also with our colleagues in other corporate marketing departments.

business-collaborationThat’s still an important ingredient to our business success today. We promote signs, displays and printing as our primary product line, and people come to us when they need those things. But over the years we’ve also said we offer creative marketing solutions—and we do that by working in collaboration with our clients, vendors, and marketing partners.

The key to coming up with those solutions is listening. Clients tell us what they want. Vendors tell us what they can do to help provide the products and services that will help us do our job better. And marketing partners—graphic designers, business consultants, PR pros and other communication experts—provide us with perspectives we might otherwise overlook. In other words, they make us better at what we do.

The old adage “two heads are better than one” is true. When you combine your talent and experience with that of others, it makes for more effective problem solving. Not only that, it energizes you and gets the creative juices flowing.

In the corporate world, management often promotes team-building as a way for staff members to be more effective. That’s collaboration. If it works internally, it stands to reason that it will work externally, too, when we team up with other businesses and industry professionals.

At one point in my career, I was content to go to work every day, disappear into my work area, and do my thing. I was comfortable with my surroundings and my responsibilities, and didn’t see the need to expand beyond that. Today, however, that concept makes me uncomfortable! In order to truly move forward, innovate, and be creative, it’s important to grow in knowledge and increase our capabilities.

The quickest path to greater achievement is through collaboration. If you’ve hit a creative roadblock in your thinking, try going outside of your comfort zone by seeking the input and advice of someone on the outside. You’ll expand your horizons and strengthen relationships in the business community that will enhance your productivity, both now and in the future.

MIKE BOYD is president of Creative Source. Clients looking for sign companies in Canton, Ohio and the surrounding region look to Mike and his staff for creative marketing solutions.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Through the Ups and Downs, Keep Moving Forward

Recently the U.S. stock market experienced another wild week. This time, the DOW Jones industrial average plunged more than 500 points in one day after news broke that the Chinese stock market had faltered and their economy had slowed.

Within days, however, U.S. stocks rebounded, and the market stabilized. Before it did, some began to wonder if we were in for the kind of crash that would return America to the days of the Great Depression.

A friend of mine asked me what I thought, and I was surprised by my answer—but not really. “I try not to think about it,” I said. And I meant it. Let me explain.

If there’s any one thing I’ve learned about business—any one thing that has become my mantra—it’s this: Keep your head down, and keep moving forward.

When times are good, don’t take them for granted. Keep moving forward. Likewise, when times get tough, don’t spend time worrying. Keep moving forward.

In my experience, that’s how things get done. Always be selling. Always be serving. Always be providing customers with a superior product at a fair price.

I’ve written before about the recession of 2008 and 2009, and how it nearly devastated our company. At one point, we lost 70 percent of our largest client’s business—not through anything we did, but simply because they thought they could save money by doing the work in-house.

We could have given up, and gone under. Instead, we adjusted the way we operated, and kept moving forward. Within three years we had more than replaced the business we’d lost.

There was no magic formula. We just kept selling. We kept moving forward. We kept believing that we could deliver what nobody else could. And it worked. Our business not only rebounded, it grew.

So, when the stock market dropped over fears of what was happening in China, and then rebounded and adjusted itself, we did what we always do; we kept moving forward.

Maybe it’s a little bold to say we ignored it completely. We’re only human, after all. But you can’t fault us for trying.

I like what one investment strategist said in the aftermath: Business fundamentals are more powerful than fear.

So control the things you can. Keep moving forward, always be selling, and always provide a superior product or service at a fair price.

It’ll get you through the tough times, and help you appreciate the good times, as well.

MIKE BOYD is president of Creative Source. Clients looking for sign companies in Canton, Ohio
and the surrounding region look to Mike and his staff for creative marketing solutions.