Springtime On The Deck…

One of the neat things about writing your own blog is that you can pretty much write about whatever you want – you don’t really answer to anyone! And while ...


It Takes A Concentrated Effort…

You often hear that one of the true benefits of being in business for yourself is that you get to be “your own boss.”Well those of us that actually do ...

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Content Marketing is More Than the Written Word…

There is a tremendous amount of buzz in the world of marketing now centered on the concept of “content. “Ultimately the idea is to share your knowledge on a given ...



Direct Mail Resurrected…

This is a thought I have had stewing in my mind for ...
Facebook Flowers

Spring is More Than a Season…

For almost all of us around the country, this has been a ...
Grateful Dead

Marketing and Music – An Odd Combination…

The fun thing – and also a challenging aspect, about writing an ...

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How to Make an Impact…

PRINT-PLUS-EMAIL-COVER In today’s world of marketing it is not enough just to put your name out there, you have to figure ways to stand out – to make an impact!

How you do this could be the subject of many discussions – the type of media you use, the message you convey, communicating the spirit and passion of your organization, etc. Today though I am going to key in on the value of print, and how a truly unique presentation can help engage the reader – peak their curiosity, tease their senses, and make an impression. A truly creative printed piece can make a difference in how your company, your product or your service is perceived and remembered.

To begin with, think of the paper that you specify for the printed piece. Do you look to use an uncoated sheet to match the images best, or a coated stock? Want to really stand out – how about a textured paper? There are a number of truly unique finishes such as; stippled, felt, laid, linen, metallic, Oxford cloth, wood grain and so many more. When used appropriately with the right images, they will intrigue the reader and stimulate their sense of touch. With a wide range of colors, you can also get creative. Studies have shown a greater response when stock colors are used as compared to plain white.

Other options to consider are enhancing a design with either foil stamping, or embossing - or you can even combine the two. Foils stand out from the printed image in a way that immediately attract attention. They can be the traditional metallic gold or silver, but in addition you can select a wide variety of holographic foils or different shades of colors. For embossing, or debossing as well, the tactile effect can add interest – although many times you might find the need to add a colored “hue” to help embellish the effect and make it more visible. Typically these options are a little more costly, but for the right design they can make a difference. Die-cutting a shape within your printed piece is another great way to show a difference.

There are also a wide variety of coatings that can be applied to the printed sheet. Whether as an overall coating such as a soft-touch, or combination of gloss/dull coatings, you can change the effect or visual appearance dramatically. It is interesting to see people pick up a seemingly plain brochure, but when they feel the softness of the finish, they repeatedly will rub the piece and comment on it to others – even pass it along, all because it is so different than a plain piece of paper! For added effects, try the use of a glitter coating to add some sparkle – or a raised spot UV coating. Readers will touch the raised image and then continue to hold the piece at different angles to see where the image starts and stops – only to stop and think “how cool is that!”

To engage other senses, consider the use of a scratch n sniff image – there are a wide range of stock scents such as flowers, fruits, foods and perfumes – we could even mix up a special scent to match something custom. There can also be heat activated coatings that will show images hidden underneath when rubbed or exposed to warm air. For a more simple way to hide a winning prize, the use of a common scratch-off will do the trick!

While doing something a little creative does add cost to the printed piece, often the value realized through increased response rates can more than pay for the technique used. In addition, the number of added touches received from your piece being passed around to others extends the impact even more!

To see live samples of what I have suggested here we have developed a creative piece called Print Plus… a journey - contact me to receive a copy to touch and feel yourself!

How can we help you stand out in a crowd?

What Have You Done For Me Lately…

stk22466btm  In this ultra competitive business environment that we all work in today, it is all too easy to make an assumption that all is well, when in reality your clients may be thinking… what have you done for me lately?

Let’s face it, over time we can all get used to doing the same thing for our customers – and it can even be a good thing! We can deliver the projects on time, respond to calls in a timely manner, prepare new quotes, provide accurate and timely billing, even make that call to say thanks on a fairly regular basis. But is that enough?

We all  go out of our way to impress new prospects, show them creative ideas, highlight our services, etc. But once we have them signed on as clients, we tend to concentrate more on the given task at hand – the most recent order. What we all forget is that our competitors are also out there looking for new business. There is a good chance that one of them is calling on a pretty important client of ours and doing their best to sell them just like we did before! This can often strike up the thought in the client’s mind about what value you as a vendor bring to them – whether it be about price, service or quality.

It is not easy as a supplier – even a trusted one over time, to genuinely keep up with all of these concerns. You may have been quite competitive at one time only to have new technology offer less expensive options. This will mean you have to now respond to potential inquiries from you client as to how you can be more competitive - are there other material vendors you can seek out or new equipment investments you can make? And then can you explain this in a way that does not appear that you had been “overcharging” all along? Likewise in service expectations – are there more streamlined ways to manage production or order entry now that you could offer? And of course quality can be a big part of any business relationship – no matter how good you are or what systems you have in place, there will likely be a time when your product is delivered at less than the client’s expectations – it happens! The key here though, is what you can do to a.) make it right and stand behind your mistake, and b.) what you will do in the future to ensure that it does not happen again.

Another key component of helping to bring value back to your relationship is to continue to bring new ideas, options or resources to your existing clients – just like you strived to do in the beginning! This can be difficult over time to keep coming up with new ideas, however this is also what can help keep you “fresh” in the marketplace. Can you sponsor surveys to find out the success of client’s work, can you offer educational seminars to enhance their knowledge, or how about writing educational “white papers” on relevant topics? Could you possibly offer new design possibilities or material options? Or how about customer focus groups, to learn more about what challenges they face or concerns they may have? These can all be great ways to not only offer more for your existing clients, but help to keep them engaged as well.

So what is that you have been doing for your clients lately?


Sports and Business #2…

stk136433rke   To continue on with the theme of sports vs. business, there really is much we can learn from the professional sports world. In so many ways, it is all about teamwork!

The most successful franchises indeed have all of the elements working together. It starts with the ownership that has a genuine commitment to making it all happen – which basically means they are willing to invest the money that it takes to continue to grow. This includes the stadium infrastructure and training facilities, just like business owners need to stay current with the equipment needed to remain technologically current. It also takes the money to invest in the employees – both the players and the staff to lead the players -coaches. This investment is definitely ongoing, not only with the initial hiring, but also in player development which is akin to encouraging and paying for continuing education, sales training, seminars, and conferences.

Successful franchises rely heavily on the head coach – the ultimate leader of the team, to teach, inspire, motivate and evaluate each of the individual players. To assist them they have a variety of assistant coaches – or as in business, department managers. Each of these assistants need to continually look at ways to improve performance. This could be in developing new plays, or processes in the business world, and making changes as needed to keep the whole team moving forward. It is the experience of these coaches that needs to be translated and communicated to each of the players. It is not enough to just have a “play book” on the shelf – rather they spend a tremendous amount of time in training camps looking to run plays, assign responsibilities, and practice - then keeping track of all the stats. This is the same in the business world too – we need to continually train our people, track the progress and hold them to standards - all with the idea of improvement. If we cannot consistently hit the quality or efficiency standards, then ultimately our clients will look elsewhere – just like the sports fan that chooses to support other teams when the results aren’t achieved on the field.

Then there are the players themselves – the employees on the production line. Okay, this might be more of a stretch in comparing them with some of the high paid, demanding athletes! None the less, these are the ones actually playing the game. With the right coaching and support from management, they will make the plays, hit the balls, score the goals. Over time, with the right players on the team and coaches to push while also holding them accountable, you will find a very passionate group of people who will drive themselves to achieve a common goal – winning a game, a divisional race, a championship, or business success! Everyone has to be on the same page, and “all in.” When one team player or employee lets you down, you need to find out why – is there something that you did not give them to do their job, or perhaps it just was not a good fit?

Teamwork is an ongoing challenge. Just when you think you are all set, things change – technology, people, spirit. Then the game starts all over again!

How is your team doing? What are the challenges you are facing? Are you giving them all they need to win?

Sports and Business – What’s the Connection…

78461030   This is a pretty busy sport’s weekend, especially if you are football fan – which I am! Although I do follow other sports, I will admit that I do not spend nearly as much time watching other sports as I do football – just do not find them as interesting.

So as I sit here today watching the playoffs evolve and then get tasked with writing my blog post, I got to thinking a little about how sports and business really have quite a bit in common. After all, the argument could be made that in reality sports is nothing more than big business! Sure we get hung up on who makes the playoffs and wins the big game – especially if it is our very own team, but let’s not forget that each season there are franchises that count on a budgeted amount of revenue from tickets sales, apparel sales, food and drink sales and even parking income to help fund the huge amount of player salaries that we read about every year. And don’t forget the income from television and radio as well!

To continue the analogies,  just as businesses are tasked with advertising and marketing, so too are your favorite sports team. They continually are out there promoting themselves across a wide variety of media – radio, television, print, social media, etc. The better job they do, and the more revenue they will generate – sound familiar? Of course they typically have a pretty strong budget to work with, but even more the reason they need to try to “knock it out of the ballpark” with a new campaign, and one that is typically very interactive with the fans. They will even team up with other businesses to offer co-marketing opportunities, such as those that provide giveaways at games or pay huge amounts of money to have a stadium named after them.

Another area that has a strong correlation to business is that of player personnel. While most of us in business could not even think about paying the type of salaries that sports teams do, none the less we also have similar personnel challenges. Fortunately most of our changes are not as public as those in sports, on the other hand, perhaps we could learn from them! Sports teams are continually evaluating talent. Who are the new draft picks that will make a difference, versus perhaps some players that have passed their prime? Do they have contracts that become excessive over time, when someone is not living up to the expectations? Do they make a trade for some one on another team? When a mistake is made, they hear about it, and the pressure is always on to make the right choices – we should be as diligent in business!

When a business does a good job, they will receive a testimonial. If they are continually doing well by their customers, they will build on this and grow. It will become a place that others want to work at.. a reputation will be built and they will truly become successful! The same can be said about the perennial champions in a given sport. Their fans will go crazy and paint their faces even to show support! They will flood the streets after a championship is won – just to celebrate and promote their favorite team. The enthusiasm and faithfulness is unbelievable! On the other hand, when a team loses – and regularly, then the fans are not bashful about letting them know – this just is not acceptable! Social media will go crazy with people offering their advice – the press will take every opportunity to evaluate the problems, and at the end of the year… the drop in ticket sales or revenue loss from apparel sales will make an impact and reinforce the need for change. Want an example of this? Just check out the Chicago Bears this last year!

What other similarities are their between sports and business? Who are your favorite teams?


It’s That Time Again…

87829410… that time again where we all start back at Zero! Yep, the start of the New Year is upon us and right after we all get to enjoy the spirit of the holidays with friends and family, we begin the business of building business.

For many of us we have the benefit of ongoing business relationships and perhaps even some contractual accounts. For others, each new month means literally starting from scratch. For all of us though, it is a given that we need to build on our past year’s history. Just because we may have enjoyed a good year does not ensure the same for the future, and in reality we need to be growing by 3 to 5 percent per year just to keep pace with increasing expenses. And likely this is not going to just come from raising our costs to clients – very few industries or market segments can increase year to year like the health insurance companies, and yet we all need to cover their increases!

I am optimistic that in 2015 we will all be able to see a stronger economic growth than even we had in the last year  and no doubt this will help us. None the less, seeking new clients and markets  will also be crucial to our success. Also, the way we look to engage these new potential clients will be critical – we cannot just knock on a door and suggest that we do blah, blah, blah! Rather we need to move on from responding to an existing need, and actually seek to create a potential solution to the challenges that the prospect may have. This process takes time and thought - a much longer sales cycle, but one that can also lead to a much stronger relationship – one that is not just built on price.

For some of us it will be a matter of working harder, and others it will be working smarter – trying to be more efficient and selective. If you are a one person show, everything will fall on you! For medium to large size companies, there may be a team involved. Either way though, the true measure of your success in the new year will be whether or not you were able to move forward and build on this year’s number. The company budget relies on this, your business associates are counting on it, and your own self-esteem is built from it – no pressure here!

So it is indeed time to get started… best of luck to us all!


Setting Goals…

dv560047   I will admit to having a hard time thinking about what to write today. Sometimes the topic comes right to me or I have it on my radar for a while – other times it can take a while. As I do often though, thinking about it on the treadmill during a workout can bring clarity. Interestingly though, it was not until about halfway through my run that it came to me – right as I was thinking I needed to step up my pace and perhaps go even further than my typical 2 1/2 miles. The goal I set was to complete a full 5K – or 3.1 miles – and then to try to top my last official time.

So there it was… the concept of setting goalsstriving for more than what we had done in the past.

This is actually a pretty good time to be thinking about this, as we draw near to the end of the year. Now that we see where we are finishing and what we will  have achieved, we can also start the planning process for what we can realistically do in the coming year. Of course it is important to push yourself a little bit too. If we get too comfortable with the status quo, then over time we find ourselves actually falling behind!

In some cases we have others that are setting the goals for us. Perhaps you report to a sales manager, or for nonprofits a board of directors that task the development director to achieve a certain amount of fundraising growth. If you are self-employed, then the task of setting goals can even be harder – you have to not only do the work, but in the end, hold yourself accountable. Wherever the goals come from though, often times a budget is set accordingly and then there are even more people who are counting on your performance.

A great source of inspiration for setting goals can come from others. It could be a number of self-motivational books by authors such as Tony Robbins, Zig Ziglar, Napoleon Hill, Dale Carnegie and many others. It can also be from industry consultants, such as one that I like to read on a regular basis – Bill Farquharson. Bill does weekly videos and sales tips that are short reads and typically very down to earth, easy to follow. A link to some of his work can be found at: http://www.piworld.com/channel/the-sales-challenge .

No matter where you seek out your inspiration though, the point is that you don’t need to go it alone. Once you set your goals, lean on others to help. And of course it is critical to track your progress throughout the year to maintain the momentum. Break down the goals into monthly or quarterly objectives, then be sure to celebrate as you meet the goals.

As for my inspirational run today – yes I did make the 5K and the time I set as a goal. Made me feel pretty good too!

What are your goals for the coming year?


A Time for Thanks…

88338936As I look back on this past Thanksgiving and the last couple of months in general, I have much to be thankful for. To be sure, this starts with family. My wife Julie offers me more support than you could know and puts up with my long hours at work – I am pretty sure I owe her big-time! My daughter Jenni has started a new career as a studio photographer and her creative talent will carry her far I am sure – this adventure takes me back to when I first started in business 33 some years ago! (Let me know if you need any family portraits :))  I am also thankful that I was able to spend some extended time with my parents this fall – both on a week-long vacation out to Colorado and then again with another visit a week later.

This past week Julie and I spent some time with our friends Patti and Steve that live out in Connecticut. As part of a tradition that has carried on for twenty years now, we get together and meet in some location across the country for a quick vacation and time to catch up with each other every other Thanksgiving. These trips have included Pennsylvania, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and this year in Memphis, Tennessee! A good time was had by all, and we got a chance to say hello to Elvis as well.

And then there is work, where I am very grateful to our many clients who have helped keep us very busy the past several months! In fact, I commonly refer to it as swamped busy – over 30% more than is our average in a month. This is very exciting to see this kind of growth, so thank you! This very much also leads to another group of people I am thankful for – our staff members! It is definitely a challenge to keep up with the daily deadlines, and especially when we have been down two employees in the past few weeks as well. Mike and Mary in our mailing and bindery departments have been stellar in their attention to workflow, and they have been assisted by Bob, Bill, Bob and Eva along with some great temporary workers as well. And while I know I have had a few long days, I believe Bob takes the ribbon for actually staying through all night once this past month!

Pam and Heather in our prepress department have been amazing in taking on the challenge of an additional workers load, and now that Dave has been hired to join them, he is getting to jump in feet first! Pat and Dave in our press department have likewise been up to the added workload of being down 1 person, and are doing a great job. Of course Hollie and Karen, along with a name from the past – Mary, have started the ball rolling with getting jobs into production, and then following up on all the details that often times change in mid-stream. Then Nancy and Ginny also feel the added workload from the additional business and need to stay on top of everything as well for client contact, billing and keeping track of many different postage balances!

All in all it has been a happy and busy Thanksgiving. I am indeed grateful for everyone that has been a part of it.

What is it you are thankful for?

Shifting Gears…

88319927  Over the course of the last year or so I have worked with several clients whose business is growing! Both in the for profit and nonprofit sector, these organizations have either been a part of a merger with others, or have expanded their sales and programs to reach more clients. To be sure, this is a pretty exciting trend, considering that almost all organizations have been in a state of either downsizing or just maintaining for many years now. I am also happy to say that our client’s growth has spurred some new business for us as well, which is really how a growing economy works – everyone benefitting from the increased demand of others.

With this shift though, comes new challenges. You need to find ways to streamline workflow to be able to manage the increased output, ideally without having to add new personnel. In order to make this happen, a definite mindset change must take place. It becomes critical to have everyone on the same page and recognizing the opportunity that the increased business could have. Yes it might be an overload for a while – overtime, added responsibilities, etc., but this can also be an invigorating change – a motivation to show your capabilities and commitment.

Or, when the time comes to add to the staffing, what will the role of the new individuals be? We might find that in reality we will need to alter some of the existing roles in order to accommodate the right individual. In addition, if you have had the need to hire new individuals as of late, you know that it is not necessarily easy to find the right person – and it will only get tougher in the near future! At some point wages will start edging higher, which is a trend that has not happened in a while (but many might argue is what is holding our economy back right now too).

Another area that will demand attention is that of updating equipment and facilities. During the recession it was not uncommon for most organizations to put a hold on investing in new equipment – but now, we may find ourselves struggling to keep up with cost of getting back to where we need to be! You certainly cannot upgrade everything all at once, so keying in on the priorities is critical. It also serves to show your staff and clients both that you are intent on maintaining the growth curve.

For many of us in business, the next several years will be much different. Shifting gears from just “hanging on,” to that of expansion. What we will find is that growth actually brings with it the same obstacles that reduction did – they just look different!

What challenges are you facing?


The Impact We have On Others…

I was at a donor reception this past week for the McHenry County Community Foundation, where I sit on the Board. During the evening one of the attendees that I did not know was talking with my wife Julie, and as he looked at her name tag he made note of the last name and asked if she knew of another person named Schildgen. Well in fact it was my dad – Bob Schildgen that he referenced, and upon being introduced to myself, Al Van Maren and I enjoyed a long conversation about his growing up and attending the high school – Maine East, where my father had taught and coached.

It really was very interesting to hear Al talk about his early years and what all he had done since then. He also very much relayed what an influence my father had been on him and his brother. You could just tell that this was a very special remembrance for him and that it was in fact a very important part of what all he had achieved in a very successful teaching career and as a business owner as well!

Going backwards from this chance meeting, to last weekend when I had the opportunity to give recognition to those who had influenced me during my time at Illinois State University (see my last blog post), I am struck by how so many of us are truly impacted by others. Obviously our parents have a great amount of influence on who we are and what we become. In addition to this, we also can credit the many teachers that guided us through our education – some more than others, and those who truly made a difference we tend to remember over time. Beyond these individuals, there are many others too – specific friends, siblings, and perhaps neighbors too.

There are also our first bosses or managers – some of whom helped shape our eventual career paths. I know I was impacted in this manner, and to bring this post around full circle, I would like to mention another individual – Tony Kurowski. Tony is an employee here at C L Graphics that started with us some 8 years ago – straight out of high school. Not only is Tony a great guy that is genuinely sincere and caring, but he has a strong work ethic and was willing to jump into just about anything – all for the sake of learning! Over time he chose to pursue an Associate degree at Rock Valley College where my wife Julie had the pleasure of teaching him, and then continued on learning new skills at our company.

Well it is with sadness that Tony came to me last week and announced that he was leaving us. He had a great opportunity to work at a larger company that would be able to offer him advancement and the chance to run larger presses. This was not an easy decision for him he suggested, and I know this to be true. I believe that myself and all the others at C L Graphics did have a big impact on Tony’s career, and for that I am thankful. Interestingly enough though, I also believe that Tony had a big impact on all of us as well – what goes around comes around!

Who has had an impact on your life, and then who have you been able to pay it forward to?


Going Back In Time…

RickRockyMt  A common saying I share with my wife is that “I don’t live in the past.” Much of that is based on always keying in on what I have to do next, and then some (or maybe most) is also based on that I have forgotten much of what we have done over the years :). This past week though, and the one coming up, very much have me going back to visit times gone by.

The past week was the opportunity to take my parents back to where they had lived in Estes Park, Colorado just after my father had retired from teaching. I know that they appreciated the chance to see their old house, to visit with relatives and a former neighbor, and to see how the city has changed over time, especially with a recent flood that has still had an impact on the homes, streets and river beds. For myself, it was also a time to revisit the area that I really enjoyed coming out to while they had lived there. Whether it was in the summer or winter, my wife and daughter and I had a great place to stay while we visited and also explored the magnificent parks, trails, mountains and fishing spots. The Rocky Mountain National Park really is a place I would recommend you make a point of visiting, and it felt good to be able to go back again!

Fast forward just a little, and on this coming Friday I will be traveling down to Illinois State University where I had gone to college back in the day (okay, I graduated in ’78). The occasion is my being inducted into the College of Applied Science & Technology “Hall of Fame.” I guess that if you do okay for yourself and achieve some good things over time, someone will make a point of recognizing your impact.  Not trying to minimize the award by any means, and the truth be told I am quite honored to receive this recognition! Illinois State was a great school and I know that not only the education, but even more importantly the impact that several of the faculty had on me had much to do with where I am at today. Over the past 35 years I have had the opportunity to be involved in Advisory Committees for the Graphic Arts program that was my main area of concentration, and to stay in contact with some of the faculty, although several of them have passed now.

All of us need to always strive to manage our futures - to continue to learn, meet new contacts and try new technologies. At the same time though,  it is also important to be able to reflect back on what has gotten you to where you are now – the people, places and events that have shaped who you are and what you like to do.

What are some of the times and places that you would like to revisit?



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