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Printing Business Idea

Drive down the street and you’re likely to encounter at least one print shop. If you’re interested in learning how to start a printing business but concerned about competition, let me provide a personal perspective…

Working in Corporate America for over 15 years I used a lot of print shops. Typical jobs I would outsource included items such as employee business cards, promotional items (t-shirts, knick-knacks, trophies), software packaging and labeling, printed training materials and the like. As a customer, one of the biggest challenges I continued to face was quality control. I rarely found a printing business that would get my job right the first time.

Now, this issue may be due to the fact that the companies I worked for typically had a preferred printing vendor. With this exclusivity it might be easy for the printing business to become content and get sloppy or lazy. Nonetheless, I always felt that, despite the printing business competition, the way to differentiate oneself in the printing business was hard-core, fanatical customer service and quality control.

Starting A Printing Business

The key to starting a printing business is getting the right equipment, learning how to use the printing equipment, and finding customers (obviously!). The type of printing services your business will provide could include a combination of the following:

  • Printed materials (company newsletters, books, handbill flyers, posters)
  • Business and promotional cards
  • Business forms
  • Product packaging, labeling and package inserts
  • Screen printing for t-shirts and other promotional items
  • Stickers
  • Banners and signs
  • Document laminating

This list is obviously partial. Brainstorm some more on your own – check out websites of local print shops in your area to see what services they offer. Not only will this research help you understand the business better, you will also get a feeling for the types of services local customers are looking for.

If you’re new to the printing business, you really should talk with an existing printing business owner before buying your printing business equipment. Print shop equipment and supplies can get very expensive quickly so you will want to make sure you purchase the right equipment. Obviously the type and class of equipment you buy will depend on the customer market you choose to serve.

Having said that, here’s a list of the common printing business equipment and supplies you’ll need when starting a printing business:

  • At least two high volume commercial copiers (one must be color)
  • High quality printing press (and someone who knows how to use it)
  • Paper cutters and trimmers
  • Binding equipment and supplies
  • Laminating machine
  • Toner and ink
  • Press chemicals and cleaners
  • Paper
  • Storage cabinets and job carts
  • Computer system and network (Mac is fine as long as you know how to work with PC files)

Things To Consider In The Print Business

Starting a printing business from scratch will not be an easy endeavor. If you have no existing network of potential clients, you may want to consider purchasing an existing shop. This will cost you more money but at least you’ll have some existing clients. Research franchise opportunities as well – there are a few out there.

You’ll need to also carefully consider your competition. In this industry, there are a lot of competitors. How are you going to differentiate your business? If you’re just starting out, your best bet will probably be focusing on highly personalized customer service. You must have some kind of edge in this business or it will be very hard to keep afloat for very long.

You also need to carefully watch the digital direction for traditional printed media. Businesses are increasingly moving to digital over traditional paper to cut costs and be more environmentally sensitive. What impact will this continued trend have on your business? Is there a potential business opportunity here to help businesses convert their existing print assets to digital format? Make lemonade out of lemons, right?

Before you purchase your equipment, you’ll also need to carefully project the size and required turnaround time of potential jobs. You’ll want to buy machines with large enough capacity for your print projects – go too large, however, and you’ll run into capital constraints.

Expanding Your Print Shop

As your business takes hold and begins to flourish, you’ll obviously want to expand the services you offer. A couple of expansion ideas to think about could be:

  • Offer full service graphic design options for your customers
  • Provide digital design services including websites, electronic books, online training materials, etc.
  • Specialize in certain industries such as software development, real estate, or retail
  • Increase your capacity by buying more/larger machines, hiring employees and opening new shops
  • Provide online design and ordering services
  • Provide onsite shredding services

At the end of the day, it’s really your customers who will help you define your expansion roadmap. Spend as much time as possible with your customers to learn not only their existing needs but what their requirements might be over the next several years.

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