Within the scope of private business, capitalism, or what have you, it’s not only possible, but indeed necessary to construct deals in which both parties gain, in order to be truly successful.
Integrity, Honesty and Frankness
Business is nothing if not a series of relationships to the bohemian sole proprietor. In my central Screen Print business, I have roughly three dozen active accounts (a.k.a. customers). My ability to earn an income is dependent on successful navigation of those relationships. It may sound altruistic to pursue the win-win deal, but it’s really pragmatic. Simply, a happy client will recommend you to others. An unhappy one will spread the word that you suck. Take it from a guy who has had both experiences!
Integrity may mean that I suggest an order of 50 shirts to someone who initially says they want 500. My experience is that you shouldn’t over order on a design that doesn’t have a track record, or is not presold to some group, or is for some major concert, etc. If they get stuck with 450 shirts they have no use for, it may occur to them to blame me! If they buy 50 and sell 45, I have a new on-going client.
As for honesty, no need to spill your gut, but do keep your client informed of any information they need to know. Try to make quotes that cover all contingencies so there will be no surprise charges. If, for example, the client hands me an art file that I need to do two hours of work on, I call them right up and say, “This will cost another $130.00 in art time to produce the job.” Then, they have the chance to back out before I start the job. If they become contentious, I also have the opportunity to decline the job!
In case of a dispute, if you are straightforward and keep your client informed, you will be able to create a chronology of the facts of the deal to support your version of events. This can be a valuable tool in discussion and settlement of disputes. It’s good in court too, in the unfortunate event that it comes to that.
Pursuit of Quality
I’ve been in the T-Shirt printing game since I was an undergraduate in the late seventies (who knew that an easy way to earn beer and date money would turn into a “career”?).
Not a week goes by where I don’t learn something new about screen printing garments. It is a very simple technology, photographically based, that works swell for printing on fabric. But there is endless and infinite finesse (and technology) that can be brought to bear to make it work better.
As a kid, I got into the business as a low baller, (pricewise) which was appropriate. After awhile, it occurred to me that is was more satisfying to pursue the highest quality available, and that there is always a market for quality.
I had run a low tech water based ink shop for years, still the best approach for the low overhead start-up shop, and the perfect dorm room option. As the demand for multicolor printing on dark shirts increased, I began to farm out jobs to Dan O’Neill Custom Screen Printing. Most of what I have learned about quality printing comes from Dan, who is incapable of doing a bad job. I’ve since tooled up to do these jobs in-house, but Dan is still in business in San Leandro, California with my solid recommendation!
In terms of supporting the win-win deal, quality trumps everything. Everybody loves a job well done.
I charge a price slightly high end in my shop. I figure I am offering quality work and fast, friendly service. As a matter of self respect, I pay myself (and my printers) well. Ever do a job where you quoted too low? You were pissed off while you worked on it, right?
A lot of services, from screen printing to graphic design, will charge on the order of $75.00 an hour for labor (here in the S.F. Bay Area). Carpenters, muffler shops, etc. charge likewise. It’s a reasonable proposition, provided you do excellent work. To support equipment, office, promotion, insurance and other costs of doing business, figure out how much you need to make. Realize, you will spend some unbillable time doing accounting, promotion, or latte drinking, so figure you’ll be lucky to bill 20 – 25 hours a week. How much do you need to make? How much do you want to make? Do you have helpers? Contractors? How much do they get, and what do you charge for it?
By the way, if you are an illustrator or graphic designer, consider charging for usage rights rather than on an hourly basis. Be sure to retain copyright (ownership) of your work. Join the Graphic Artist’s Guild (http://www.gag.org/) and learn how to run your business. Do not accept work for hire contracts, where you essentially become an employee without benefits.
Copyright 2005 Steve Lafler, all rights reserved.