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Maggie Harlow

6 Strategies for Sign Managers to Survive Whatever’s on the Way

In the face of our present uncertainty, staying nimble is the smart play.




CONSIDERING THE RECENT NEWS, a lot of unknowns lie ahead. Fear ripples through the marketplace and as a business owner it can be hard to know what to believe and what to prepare for. Staying nimble as a business is the most critical skill you can develop, as it allows you to deal with the inevitable of every market condition: change.

Many brilliant businesses fail because they aren’t willing to shift, pivot, test, innovate and learn something new. Maybe you’re not a business genius — I know I’m not — but if you stay nimble and ready to change, you’re more likely to survive whatever comes your way.

What does staying nimble look like? Here are a few strategies you can practice and employ as we finally bid farewell to election season and endure what looks like could be some “interesting times” coming up! Maybe choose a few to try for your business.

  • Keep your eye on the marketplace and adjust. Check in with your loyal customers, ask for feedback from new ones, and even price check the competition with the help of a friend. Stay curious and interested in what insights you can find and then make some changes. Don’t obsess — just make some modifications and then get back to work until next year.
  • The universe rewards imperfect action. Trying a new marketing approach? Building a training program? Developing an inventory system? Don’t seek perfection; start small and imperfect and deploy. Then test, adjust and grow! Often projects you want snowball into something big and complex before we get them “done” and then we lose steam. Go with imperfect action instead of perfect inaction.
  • What you resist, persist. I know many of us don’t like to try something new. We have had success in “our way” and change can represent extra effort, extra money and the possible waste of both. Your resistance is zapping extra energy from you! I invite you to set aside reservations you have about trying a new approach and embrace it instead. You might be surprised by what you learn.
  • Watch your data! There is so much news to read about the economy and what may be going on locally, nationally and globally — but your best news source is the data inside your business. Understand your numbers inside and out by tracking them regularly, including estimates, orders, completed orders and your key client activities. By looking at the data, you’ll know long before the ‘experts’ if your business climate is changing.
  • Fractional solutions. Instead of hiring additional full-time employees, consider fractional solutions that give you the ability to flex and adjust the volume of work. Part-time employees, gig economy, remote design services, outsourced marketing, virtual assistants, contract help and more are all available for you to use. Dial it up or dial it down! You can also build your business with fractional help and then hire full time when you really know you have the business to support it.
  • Peer support is golden. The loneliness of business ownership is very real. If you don’t have one, I encourage you to build your peer group of other business owners, whether in this industry or outside of it. I get my best ideas and the most powerful encouragement from those who are on the same wild ride I am. Whether a paid membership group, online forums or your own personal network, they all can stabilize your reactions to the experience!

We don’t know what is coming but we know something is always inevitably on the way. Try some new ways of being ready for whatever comes.

Editor’s Note: To download an Excel file of Maggie’s “Dashboard” internal data tracker from ST, May 2022, click here.




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The Sign Industry Podcast is a platform for every sign person out there — from the old-timers who bent neon and hand-lettered boats to those venturing into new technologies — we want to get their stories out for everyone to hear. Come join us and listen to stories, learn tricks or techniques, and get insights of what’s to come. We are the world’s second oldest profession. The folks who started the world’s oldest profession needed a sign.

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