"When I was a kid," this old sign guy would tell me, "we didn't have different-sized shoes. We had one size. And it was a seven! And we liked it!
"We didn't have fancy computers. We used an abacus. We didn't print with inks, either. We mixed our saliva with good ol' dirt to make signs." I got my start in this business from that grumpy old sign guy. Now I fear I've become that cynical, distrustful old man.
Although I sometimes made fun of his grumbly views of the world, I'm beginning to see where the old coot was coming from. One of the amazing powers he exhibited was the keen ability to tell, by sight, if a customer was a "player."
I would take a meeting with a customer; at the end, I'd bring in my boss. Before the client was out the door, my boss's head would already be doing a nervous little rapid "no" shake with his lips pursed. In a real high-pitched, almost apologetic tone he would state, "He's not a player."
If the customer was really, really unplayer-like, my boss would repeat "he's not a player" four times, and then just throw his hand in the air almost as if to say, "What are all of us supposed to do with this guy?" Now that I have my own business, I feel the effects of giving energy and attention to non-players. I've amazed myself with the accuracy of my player-status predictions.
I can't really put my finger on what exactly makes a player, although knowledge of the industry appears crucial. But, it's more. It's about knowledge of the world. It's about professional talent at what they do. It's about a personality that demonstrates success and confidence. And, it's about being in a position to award you with lots of good, solid, well-financed work with a minimum of problems.
Ready to give this a whirl? Okay gang; let's take a look at some of my real-life situations coming in the front door and play, "Who's The Player?"
Scenario #1: A guy walks in with his mouth agape, as he stares at all the cool graphics and equipment. In his tightly clutched hand is a pretty photo of his little girl.
It's not a hard call. This guy's not a player.
Scenario #2: A woman calls the shop. She needs a sign for her new tattoo parlor. I'm not saying she hits the unplayer level in some circles; but as far as graphics-company requirements are concerned ... No. She's not a player. (I'll admit it. I met with her anyway).
Scenario #3: A suave-acting print broker (who just lost his previous job, by the way) comes in as an independent. He enters - perhaps with a sweater draped neatly over his shoulders - with a smile from ear to beautifully tanned ear.
With a smooth announcer's voice, I hear the pitch: "Ahhhhgheee, how's your world? I have a $40,000 job, but I need a couple of headers first." Guess what? I get the wrong size, and the headers need a redo despite several (and I mean several) pleas to the client to triple check the size and actually measure the frames himself.
What do you expect from someone who's just not a player? If nothing else, you'd have the Daily Double if you also figured out the $40,000 was complete bull.
Scenario #4: An established print broker brings you a job. He looks like a nice guy. He asks me good questions about my products, and the customer service we offer.
He wants everything perfect, but he is willing to pay a fair amount for it. He's been down the low-ball road; he got burned and looked like an idiot to his customers.
His artwork is good, his job is well-organized, and his P.O. includes everything we need to know about the job.
Go get this guy a beer. I think we might have a player on our hands. Scenario #5: A guy drives up in a Porsche, with what appears to be a seat full of giggles on the passenger side, to pick up some backlit directories. He appears to be fairly successful, and seems impressed with us.
Mmmmmmmmmm. Let's just calm down here. I act excited, but while not taking a full jump at the carrot, I say: "I'd love the opportunity to meet him. I think we could work a deal and save him money from what he's paying now (to my incompetent, over-priced, over-bureaucratized competitor)."
Well, I know I'm keeping you all in player suspense. The bottom line on this one is ... I just don't know yet. I've yet to pursue it; of all the things I need right now, doubling my business overnight just isn't one of them. (As soon as I get the Web site done, I'm sure I'll look into it.)
Other players you may want to align your business with are "connected people." I hate to admit it, but if people really like you, and they know other important people, your business will most-likely prosper from the relationship. (I still have to find redeemable qualities in people, though, to have any kind of relationship with them.)
There's another group of players you should seek out. They seem to make money at whatever they do; their businesses may look weird and disconnected, but they have a knack for entreprenuerism and are usually quite interesting. Even if they don't have a direct connection to graphics, they're still players worth networking with and knowing. In any case, take a look at the people coming in for business, and rate how much "player" is in your next customer.
Stephen Augustine owns and operates Eye Candy Graphics, a graphic design and digital printing shop in Denver. www.eyecandygraphics.com