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Category Archives: Business Development

Booming Business After Great Recession


“We’re growing, hiring, buying building, moving and blowing up our lit sign and fleet graphics segments,” wrote Jeff Thomas, co-owner with his wife, Kim, of Crossroad Sign in Lynnwood, Washington. He sent this email note in September last year, while negotiating for the purchase of a new building to house a second location for his business. Thomas is a baby boomer, with eight years of sign shop ownership under his belt. He represents the aspirations and acumen of an entire generation. The term “baby boomer” refers to Americans born between 1946–1964, when the United States experienced a marked, sustained rise in birth rates following the end of World War II. For those who chose to hang their shingle in the sign industry, a booming business now rewards their hard work.

As the fastest growing commercial sign company in three counties,” explains Thomas, “our team simply needed more space. This Mill Creek location just three blocks east of I-5 is super convenient and highly visible to clients in Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Shoreline, Mukilteo, Everett and Marysville.

When Thomas purchased his original sign shop in December of 2008, he was not thinking about the economic viability of this business in Washington. He also could not know of the devastation to follow for our national economy, labeled The Great Recession.

In October 2010, 16 months after the official end of the recession, the economy still had 5.4% fewer jobs than it did before the recession started. This was the slowest recovery in our nation’s history. For Thomas, like many entrepreneurs that chose to launch their businesses in 2008 or 2009, the path forward was a test of character and of the will to succeed.

Smart moves on the part of Thomas paid off: The company opened its new studio this year on 164th Avenue SW across from Martha Lake Park. The building was purchased last year by Jeff and Kim Thomas exclusively for use by Crossroad SIGN. After months of preparation, the official grand opening was held on Wednesday, March 28th, with local business leaders and elected officials in attendance.

Exponential Growth

The company also maintains a showroom on Main Street in Bothell, near where it was founded in 2002. After six consecutive years of growth, they are on an accelerated upswing.

Some of the smart moves made by Thomas include offering a valuable e-book to business professionals, as part of the grand opening strategy. “28 Ways to Make Your Business More Visible” is a free e-book available from Crossroad SIGN of Mill Creek and Bothell. The book illustrates how small business owners can stand out better in today’s busy marketplace. It is available free on the company’s website:

Across North America, sign professionals now talk of very brisk business – a reflection of the industry’s value and resilience. And in Snohomish County, Washington state, a rising tide of economic prosperity has been raising up entrepreneurship. 20% of the workforce is in manufacturing, the highest volume in Washington State.  Further support for the visual communications industry is the county’s technical workforce, which boasts the second highest concentration of technology workers in Washington State.

National Recognition

The President of Sign Biz, Inc., Teresa M Young, affirmed her belief in March this year that the one trait she has recognized in all successful entrepreneurs is “a default attitude of calm positivity.”  Young said this during the opening address for the Sign Biz International Convention in Florida. She also showed slides of Thomas’s new building and signage installation. “Jeff and Kim have earned the respect of not only the Sign Biz family, but also of his entire business community, staff and family, for what he has accomplished. We are inspired by our community of entrepreneurs, and this business story represents the aspirations of many. We congratulate Jeff and Team for their brilliant execution, growth, and positive contributions!”, added Young during her address.


Crossroad Sign

Crossroad SIGN provides business owners and property managers with design, permitting, installation and service for lighted signs, digital signs, car and truck wraps, banners, A-boards and other commercial signage. Tower crane signs were recently introduced. A third online division will open later this year.

For more information, contact Chris Eng at Crossroad Sign, 425-481-9411


Mustang Sign Group Achieves G7 Master Certification

Mustang Sign Group, a Sign Biz Member located in Kennewick, WA, has earned the G7 Master Qualification Seal demonstrating that the company uses the most modern technology.


What 2016 Means for 2017

Busiest December in recent history caps a high-growth year. Plenty of evidence points to six strong trends leading into 2017, ranging from value building strategies to differentiation by design. A look back at some of 2016 highlights finishes with some valuable takeaways in this article.


Onboarding in a Sign Shop

Onboarding, also known as organizational socialization, refers to the mechanism through which new employees acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective organizational members and insiders.

Thus states the official definition developed by HR gurus, and published by Wikipedia.  Most people think of onboarding as a one day or one week event, that commences with the new hire’s first day on the job.  But step back a moment, and note that there is great cost to bringing on a new employee, and you have to get it right. So attracting the right hire is actually step one. And that begins with your company’s image, brand, and promise to clients.

So what do employees want? A new survey of more than 600 employees, conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management found 72% of employees rank “respectful treatment of all employees at all levels” to be the most important factor in job satisfaction.

The other factors in the top 5 are trust between employees and senior management (64%); benefits (63%), compensation/pay (61%); and job security (59%). As for the actual work itself? It ranked No. 11.

unengaged-employees2Knowing that your company culture and respectful treatment from management are top priorities, we can begin. Fact: 46% of people will fail within the first 18 months of a new job mainly because of poor culture fit.  Before you let that little voice in the back of your head argue that you don’t want to coddle employees or treat them with kid gloves, remember this: When you give good treatment, you are actually keeping your costs down.

Why? Pay Attention: Thirty case studies taken from the 11 most-relevant research papers on the costs of employee turnover demonstrate that it costs businesses 100% – 300% of a worker’s salary to replace that worker. For businesses that experience high levels of turnover, this can add up to represent significant costs!  If, heaven forbid, you have five turnovers in one year, you just cost your business one entire team’s salaries for the year!

Now that we have your attention, let’s talk onboarding.  Fact: New employees are 69% more likely to stay more than three years if they’ve experienced a well-structured onboarding program.

new-hireYou have a workstation set up, a business card order form with title checked off, a pile of HR paperwork to be completed, and a tour of your shop and parking lot instructions. You’re ready for your new hire’s first day, right?  Um, not so fast.

That list of prep items is actually going to cover about an hour and a half.  So then what? Assign the New Employee Handbook as required reading for the rest of the day?   Lame. At least that is what your new hire may be thinking!  If you plan on maximizing the beneficial outcomes for your company as well as for this eager beaver you will see every day, you need to think in terms of a month of orientation. Yes, that is what our own schedule for new sign business owners presents, in a clearly laid out calendar covering four weeks of OTJ training.

Here are some examples for the first day:

  • Workstation prepared, phone, file drawer, clean chair, bulletin board and trash bin
  • Welcome gift – a great mug, a tape measure/ note pad / all in one, a welcome to the team signed by everyone else.
  • Scheduled meeting with all employees, to break the ice
  • Employment paperwork completed, position description reiterated, paydays, the week ahead
  • Tour of each piece of the business, how it fits together
  • Informal lunch with manager or bring in pizza for everyone and hold the informal meet and greet then.
  • Some downtime that first day
  • End of day Q&A, check in with the new hire for lingering questions, etc.

A simple plan of action for the weeks ahead will help you avoid assigning “busy work” to the new team member. We’ve all been there: Knowing that the newbie is not ready to “go it alone” we assign a safe task that will eat up some time until we can get to the next piece of training.

Many companies have a 90-day introductory period during which new employees are under assessment for their fit with the company, and their job performance. Though you likely intend to provide the feedback at the end of the 90-day period, it is wise to give 30-day and 60-day evaluations along the way. In addition, informal feedback daily is extremely important.

One of our new business owners – a first-time entrepreneur – explained the impact a new hire has on the existing team. He noted that it is not a new member of an existing team, but rather a new team that is created. Brand new. If you think of it this way, you can recognize the signs of the team being formed over that 90-day period, and you can help to guide its development.

Those reactions ranged from nervous, to insecure, to downright ill.

man-73339_640At the 2014 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition, the founders of Baudville spoke with many attendees about what it feels like to be a newbie. Those reactions ranged from nervous, to insecure, to downright ill. According to the stats, by the time your new employee has made it to the six-month mark, they have likely determined if they will stay long-term or not. So what you do beyond the 90-day mark matters.

Here’s the kicker: Retention rates for employees who are mentored are 72% higher than for those who are not mentored.

Hopefully this has given you a fresh perspective on the great onboarding process, and how this system can become a true representation of a great company culture. Spend a couple of days focusing your energy on developing a good strategy for new hires, and gain returns from this effort for years to come. sign-shop-team-members

We thank Sign Biz Members who contributed their experiences, and photo credits to Mustang Signs and SIGNWorks of Montery. We credit Roberta Chinsky Matuson for her insights published in Recognation. Roberta is known globally as The Talent Maximizer, and is the President of Matuson Consulting.


True Colors Come Shining Through ImageLife

Something that designing men have discovered is that a visual communications business fits their artistic sensibilities. That was the case for Michael Martini, a very successful corporate executive and chief bread-winner for his four kids – ages 6,8,11, and 12 – and for his wife, a woman who works hard at home to maintain the good life in Tennessee.  Michael, with a degree in Industrial Engineering and 27 years at a Fortune 500 company leading business segments, was a man that began to sense he was more than a cog in a machine. He kept seeing something more engaging outside the corporate box.

“I’ve always had a passion for good color, great logos and design. It started as simply appreciation for the power of images,” he explained. So early in 2014, Michael set out on a journey of exploration but kept his day job. He began exploring options, and discovered the sign industry’s depth, complexity and versatility. This was a business that could harness the vision that was beginning to take shape in Michael’s mind. The image of a business that served up graphics without limitations.

Immediately, like so many other would-be entrepreneurs, he recognized that he did not want to simply “wing it.” There is no guidebook, no map or set of instructions for any man or woman who one day wakes up, literally and figuratively, and wants to take on the challenge of business ownership. That is why research plays such a large role – especially early on – in the quest for a new business, and a model to follow.

In time, Michael found a solid partner with three decades of experience and the structure he envisioned for his business. He found Sign Biz, Inc. After extensive due diligence, a few months into his journey to entrepreneurship, he signed on the dotted line and boarded what would be a six month roller coaster ride of site selection, name selection, logo development, business plan tweaking and site build-out planning.

imagelife-sign-shop-interior-space-plan-color_480x299Years of strong managerial acumen came to bear, and as the weeks progressed, Michael brought his vision to life – ImageLife – a shining example of what a visual communications business can be. As he picked out colors for the walls of his new lease site, strenuously examining the pallets and using a Sherwin Williams online color rendering utility, his sense of purpose clarified. Image Life would be an extraordinary sign business, offering high-impact and even rare images for any wall, any surface, and any floor. The shop began to take shape as Michael trusted in his vision and direction. He attacked his mission statement with the same sense of purpose, until there was clarity. He knew he was in this business “because images impact life!”

His business opened officially in February of 2015, and his Grand Opening Celebration took place on April 1st. Since opening, the journey has continued to be rewarding. Michael won “Best in Show” in the Ace of Space competition judged in Las Vegas, NV at the Sign Biz International Convention just two months ago. See his winning entry here on YouTube for some true inspiration.

The authentic life of an entrepreneur is one that fulfills and challenges Michael, allowing him to build on his business experience while at the same time giving him the chance to celebrate what it means to let true colors shine through. Michael Martini can be reached at ImageLife Signs and Graphics, 921 8th Ave South, Nashville, TN. Phone: 615-970-6200.

Representatives from the  Nashville Chamber, Small Business Development Center, friends, family and current customers joined in the Grand Opening celebration on April 1, 2015.

Representatives from the Nashville Chamber, Small Business Development Center, friends, family and current customers joined in the Grand Opening celebration on April 1, 2015.


SEO Basics for Busy Business Owners

We are fortunate to have a veteran of web development on staff here, so this question, “What is SEO?” never had to be asked. But it should be asked. It is as important a question as “How are my customers finding me?” or “When should I hire a new employee?”  This is an article for busy business owners who want to be sure they understand the basics of SEO. It is important for every business owner, and SEO will continue to grow in value until it is “the water we swim in” and no “bad” websites ever show up in search! At the same time, we know you don’t have a lot of time to spend “cracking the books.” So, let’s cover the most important elements of SEO for you today. First of all, SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization.” This is exactly what it infers: A way to make your web real estate easier to find, and more desirable for search engines. The most widely used search engine is, by far, Google. So in reality, SEO should satisfy what Google wants. So what does Google want? According to Google’s quality guidelines, there are three overall factors. Here is the short version, so you can get back to work:

1) Design & Content – should be really valuable, good, hearty and satisfying information. Keep links to a modest number. Minimize the use of images to tell your story. Why avoid using images as a crutch? Because search engines don’t know what that image is “saying.” For those images, use an “alt” tag to convey that content.

What does Responsive Look Like2) Technical Guidelines – this can be pretty overwhelming for those that don’t build websites for a living. Here are the top priorities: A)  Make sure your site works in mobile devices. This is called a “responsive” website – meaning the top navigation links should probably fold up into a little accordian for the touch of a finger. Fonts should not shrink too far, but images should resize to fit the screen width. B) Clearly direct robots to keep away from pages that don’t contain the kind of content people would visit your site to find such as login pages, or archives. Direct the robots via a little text file loaded by FTP to the root of your website. This Wikipedia page has a wide variety of examples you can use as needed, plus instructions. C) Make sure your site loads fast. 40% of visitors abandon a website that takes more than three seconds to load! Test your site here.

3) Quality Guidelines – keeping this a clear and simple definition for all non-webmasters out there, what this boils down to is this: Build your site’s information for real people first, then consider search engines. In fact, Google offers a great piece of advice, as follows: “A good rule of thumb is whether you’d feel comfortable explaining what you’ve done to a website that competes with you, or to a Google employee. Another useful test is to ask, “Does this help my users? Would I do this if search engines didn’t exist?”

So that is in a nutshell what you need to think about. Focus on authenticity and transparency. Provide real and valuable information that really addresses a need of fellow humans. If you do this legitimately, Google will find you. You will be ranked appropriately, based on freshness of that information, the quality, the ease of your page to navigate, and understanding website basics.

Oh, and next article in this series, we will review, in layman terms, what SEO is NOT, and what will get you penalized. So, stay honest, my friends!


Corporate Insecurity? The Golden Handshake May Offer a Silver Lining

During the mass layoffs in 2001-2002, thousands of corporate and factory workers were in panic and fear of losing their jobs. But for self-employed business owners, it was just a matter of tightening the belt. Someone self-employed has built some “muscle” to weather income fluctuations. In fact, someone with a “regular” job may have had less income security than a successful self-employed professional. Entrepreneurs are better prepared for a recession, because they know what it takes to give their revenue a boost.

corporaterefugeeThe Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in April that both the unemployment rate (5.4 percent) and the number of unemployed persons (8.5 million) were essentially unchanged. Over the year, the unemployment rate and the number of unemployed persons were down by 0.8 percentage point and 1.1 million, respectively. Contrast this to 2009, when the overall unemployment rate rose to 9.5 percent of the labor force in June, the highest since 1982, when the rate peaked at 10.8 percent.

As the economic nosedive was occurs, self-employed professionals don’t waste any time. They vigorously promoted their services, expanded their network of contacts, created more sources of income, and invested in new courses. See Business Survey here.

With each recession, many professionals want to become independent, but may be too scared and have no idea where to start. We offer the guideposts. ~ Teresa M Young, President of Sign Biz, Inc.

How important are small businesses to the U.S. economy?
Small firms:
Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
Employ about half of all private sector employees.
Pay 43 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
Have generated 65 percent of net new jobs over the past 17 years.

We meet people like this every day – smart, hard-working professionals with years of experience, who are either too tired of working for another company, want to make more money, or want to take control of their own future,” explains Young. “They are, often “corporate refugees” — forced out on their own.”

These challenges have created opportunities for some, as they are forced to look outside the normal channels for their future careers. In this search, if they stumble upon the sign industry, they have an “aha” moment,” says Young.

“They look around, and suddenly notice a rich and diverse industry that appears boundless. If they want a solid and streamlined start to becoming a world-class visual communications company, we are the only business development company offering that. And, we have worked with these transplanted corporate executives for nearly three decades, and understand the personal nature of such a career change.”

signsofcrossroadYoung saw the need for educating and supporting such professionals as they researched enterprises and start-up opportunities. She launched a comprehensive corporate website back in 1994, and included a business plan tutorial. Today, the FTC, the Small Business Administration, and the Dept. of Commerce all report statistics about business success and failure rates. What is pointed out by these reports is how very little the public knows about why companies succeed, and why they fail. The Sign Biz website now features multiple studies and resources to education budding entrepreneurs.

“Unlike school, where training is measured at most in years, a career can be measured in decades. There is no equivalent to a college catalog listing required, recommended, and elective courses. Most people aren’t assigned a mentor, the working world equivalent of a college adviser. Very few people have a mentor who will promote and package their work for them. That’s where we can help. Sign Biz exists to provide aspiring entrepreneurs with knowledgeable business training, support and promotional opportunities for growing a business of their own,” she adds.

Sign Biz offers a full-service business development program for individuals entering the sign industry as entrepreneurs. The award winning program contributes to the unmatched success rate of their chain of sign companies. The education curriculum totals three weeks, and is complemented by a minimum of one week of home study, and a week of In-Store Training, plus more than 17 proprietary manuals and all equipment and extensive support services in perpetuity. For further information call (949) 234-0408 or (800) 633-5580.


A Business Coach

Having an experienced, knowledgeable, objective and skilled consultant/coach in your corner is invaluable in running a business. They will give you thoughtful, honest advice and council and they have a vested interest in having you succeed! How valuable is it to be able to have a 5-10 minute conversation with a knowledgeable person, who understands you and your business, and what you’re trying to accomplish, and get straight, honest feedback and advice? Priceless!


Selecting The Right Shop Location

It has long been stated that “location, location, location” is vital to the success of many – if not most – businesses. This is equally true for a professional sign shop that is newly established or in early growth phases, in particular, for those that offer digital print and cut vinyl products as a mainstay. Outgrowing the space? There’s research for that, too.


Dynamic Sign Seminar Moves the Needle

A popular seminar, The Digital Age: How Dynamic Signage Can Enhance Your Business, was presented by Teresa M. Young of LobbyPOP on Friday, June 13th, in Indianapolis at the NBM Show, and was sponsored by SAi. This 90-minute program was taped, and now appears on YouTube in its entirety, to help guide those who want to move into dynamic signage.


Sign Biz Conversion Program for Sign Shops and Printers is First Choice

(Kinston, NC)– After extensive research and with a laser-like focus on quality and reputation, one of North Carolina’s most respected printing companies selected Sign Biz, Inc. as the first choice partner for their foray into a full-service sign business. Scott Bowen, who with his brother Craig owns the 63-year-old business known throughout the region as Corporate Resources, saw the need to embrace signage as critical to the future of their company. Already with four divisions – OfficePlus, PrintPlus, CopyPlus and PromoPlus – adding SignsPlus was the next logical step.


West Mountain Sign Grand Opening is Picture Perfect

(San Jose, CA)– Kelly Yamanishi comes to the sign industry with over 20 years of high-tech marketing experience with a high-profile Silicon Valley corporation. With this experience, she brings an in depth understanding of complex project management, marketing communications, and many types of “corporate speak.” In short, she knows how to help her clients communicate effectively with both business and non-business audiences.


Review of Sign Industry Sustainability

(Dana Point, CA)– Sign Biz, Inc.’s President and CEO, Teresa M. Young, founder of the largest non-franchise sign chain in the US, was a featured contributor to Sign Builder Illustrated magazine’s coverage of sustainability in the sign industry. Young was dubbed “trend-caster” since her 2008 keynote address for the Sign Biz annual convention, “Road Signs of the Global Economy – Shift Happens” in which she predicted four “macro trends” that will increase demand for the fast-growing, green-conscious digital sign company, and reshape the way businesses and workers communicate and collaborate worldwide.


Sign Biz® Leadership Certified for Dynamic Signage

(Dana Point, CA)–A little more than two and a half years ago, the Digital Signage Experts Group (DSEG) premiered its Digital Signage Certified Experts course as a broad overview of the digital signage industry — and since then DSEG has certified over 8000 professionals in 62 countries with the Digital Signage Certified Expert (DSCE) program, and over 2000 people with the Digital Signage Display Experts (DSDE) program, according to DSEG board member Jonathan Brawn, a principal at Brawn Consulting.