Build Your Business:

A New Year, A New Shop

January 11, 2016

Next Steps

Many decorated apparel shops get to a certain point in their existence and aren’t sure what to do next. It’s easy to look at the past and know whether or not things we’ve tried have worked out. The future? Holy cow, that’s a different matter altogether.

So how do you squeeze out the details from that hazy looking mess of “what could be” to determine the right choices to make? You could buy new equipment, expand your staff, get a bigger shop facility, cultivate customers, develop a social media plan, experiment with new techniques or even sell your business.

Instead of looking at the year ahead and trying to do everything, consider narrowing your plan to just one idea. So, in a nutshell, what’s the No. 1 thing that would have the most dramatic impact on your shop?

You may already know what this is, as it’s been nagging at you for some time now. These are usually “if only” statements. If only we had an embroidery machine. If only we had a second shift. If only we had a 10-color automatic. If only we knew how to print discharge. If only we had a bigger space. If only we had more sales. If only I knew what I was doing. If only we had a social media campaign.

So how do you go from an “if only” statement to successful, concrete results? You create an action plan. Remember: “A goal without a plan is only a wish.”

Below are a few tips to get you started and some ideas to help you create a SMART goal.


Sometimes you just have to do your homework. This involves getting as much information as you can pull together and study. Whatever you are interested in changing, there is a plethora of sources that can be vital resources for you.

This could be as easy as typing in a few search word phrases and seeing what bounces back online. However, if you want really solid information, it pays to ask experts who have traveled down that road before. Solid information can come from other shop owners or your supply chain. It’s ok to ask for help.

If you are looking at investing in new equipment, get the hard facts on the models and manufacturers you are interested in. Don’t just look at the price tag. Compare the size dimensions, electrical needs, warranty, and even if whether the manufacturer keeps parts on hand in case something breaks. Depending on how expensive the unit is, you may want to go see it in action. This could mean a field trip to a trade show or another decorator’s facility, if you can get in. Take a written list of questions so you don’t forget anything.

For skill upgrades, consider taking a class or bringing in an expert to show you how to do something. Nothing flattens out a learning curve like hands-on training with people who know what they’re doing.

Keep Detailed Notes

As you are thinking about what you want to do, make a lot of notes or even keep a spreadsheet.  List everything you need to do, and what you’ll need to do it. For bigger ideas, this could be an extensive list.

If you don’t have the answer, but at least know the question, make sure you write that question down so you can come back to it. Usually, the bigger the project the more questions you may have.

Refine Your Thoughts

As you complete your research, and fill up your notebook or spreadsheet with information, you may start to refine your thoughts about your goal. What was once a seemingly impossible task, just may have a foothold in reality.

This is especially true of more concrete goals, such as buying a piece of equipment or a new building, rather than a skill, such as learning to digitize or print CMYK. Your investigation into the project will yield the help needed to push your decision.

Set Your SMART Goals

A SMART goal is one that is Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic and Timely. Rather than just stating your idea, making sure your goal is SMART helps organize your action.

Specific means that you detail exactly what you are focused on doing. This way, there isn’t any room for generalities. For example, maybe you have decided you need a bigger space to operate your shop. Being specific will narrow the search down to a particular square footage, area, building type with required features (a loading dock, for example) and a certain budget.

Measurable is just that — the ability to quantify the goal. Can you measure it? Sometimes it will be a numeric fact, but it could be just a yes or no answer. For example, maybe your sales goal is to sell $30,000 per week. Measuring against that goal will deduce whether you achieved your goal or not. It’s important to keep track. Write down your results. Sometimes a spreadsheet is a great tool as it allows you to graph your results over time to show your work visually. Are you improving or not?

Achievable means that the goal is something you desire to change. The results from obtaining the goal will be worthwhile and make a difference, and you possess the ability to try. For example, maybe your goal is to learn how to print CMYK process art. This is something you can achieve and would make a difference in your shop.

Realistic is about being fair. It’s about setting your goals in reality. A small manual shop isn’t going to print $10,000,000 worth of apparel per year. To set a realistic goal, take a look at what you have achieved so far. Knowing that, if you stretch the numbers a bit what seems really possible? Goals should be slightly scary, but not ridiculous.

Timely is all about setting a deadline. When will the goal be achieved? To set your date, be fair and realistic. Maybe there’s a reason that the date should be set, or maybe you are just making it up. Either way, the purpose of the end date is to focus your attention and work backwards on what you need to do to achieve your goal by then. If your goal is a particular date, what needs to happen every month or every week before then? There could be a list of steps that need to be achieved in order for the final result to happen. Make sure you set and write down deadlines each individual task.

Setting SMART goals is a great way to make things happen and keep things on track. Remember, you aren’t a lone wolf. Get some help to achieve your goal. If you have some staff, delegate responsibility and actions to make the work easier.

Finally, don’t forget that anytime you work on continuous improvement projects that the work is a journey. You may stumble and hit some roadblocks. That’s okay. Failing often is part of the learning process. Keep at it, and when you finally achieve your goal be sure to have a celebration with your staff. You can do it!

Marshall Atkinson is the COO of Visual Impressions Inc., and Ink to the People, Milwaukee. He also is a Promo-Kitchen chef. For more information or to comment on this article, email Marshall at