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21 June 2021
Process Improvement



The UK print industry is in crisis. The rising cost of raw materials (paper and cardboard) coupled with the challenges caused by the pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding the impact of Brexit has left many print business with an existential concern for their short term economic viability.

With the global turnover of printing businesses dropping by almost 13% between 2019 and 2020, the short-term economic efficiency of UK printing businesses is now paramount to business survival.

In this blog, we’ll be exploring the means by which economic efficiencies can be found within UK print business without cutting labour resources – a short-sighted strategy during a time that many print businesses report struggling to access a skilled labour force.

Our suggestions for creating economic efficiencies will also ensure that when the time comes, your business is ready to scale rapidly.


Short-Term Survivability & Long-Term Scalability

The British Printing Industry Federation’s outlook survey highlighted that printing business owners had 3 key areas of concern.  The economic impact of the pandemic and the rise in paper and cardboard prices were both the joint top concerns by nearly half (48%) of the respondents.

Get Ahead of Your Competitors

Competitors pricing below cost was the third highest concern rated by 37% of those surveyed.  These concerns can be viewed as i) impactable or ii) non-impactable when determining how best to navigate your future barriers for survival.

With competitors pricing below cost, a price war will do little to keep your business afloat in the short to medium term.  Your marketing strategy needs to be shouting out much greater advantages to encourage your clients to buy from you, rather than turning to cheaper, lower quality alternatives.

Your competitors are equally impacted by these external economic influences, so the business owner who can play smarter for longer, by driving up efficiencies and productivity internally, will come out on top.

This may require pivoting your existing modus operandi from a low value/high volume, to a high value/low volume model, or moving away from the traditional paper printing to the new millennial trends towards wall murals, vehicle wraps, customized labels or packaging.

Scaling up your printing business requires more than adding the latest printing or finishing equipment. You must devote time and energy to recruiting multi-skilled employees to work across departments, identifying opportunities for growth, and marketing your business to the right prospects.

This leads nicely into the importance of documenting your processes and procedures – writing your very own business genetic code!


Design, Document & Comply

The Importance of Documented Procedures

Providing documented procedures of the work, systems and processes is one way of bringing new starters up to speed in a short space of time, and prevents knowledge leaking out of the business with each leaver.

Procedures and manuals can be quite daunting to put together initially, but once set up it’s a simple matter of updating them as changes are made, training and communicating them to all involved.


Competitive Advantage in Tendering and Quoting

When providing quotations, bidding or tendering you will stand out from the crowd, and gain competitive advantage, if you can present in writing the service levels that your clients can expect to receive, and demonstrate the quality standards of how you manage your business.

These will clearly communicate the quality of service your clients can consistently expect from you.


Increase On-Boarding Efficiency

In my e-book 20 Ways To Be More Productive, documented procedures are included as a way of achieving productivity in the workplace, especially when onboarding new staff, or promoting someone to supervisory or management positions.  Some new managers, or even new employees, are too proud or fearful to admit they don’t know what’s going on, which leads to the inevitable drop in productivity.

This is normally a short-term problem if clear procedure manuals are provided, robust management systems are in place and the manager is given a proper handover and supported induction period.


Increase Individual Productivity in The Workforce

The administrative processes that often go unnoticed in the back office are frequently the most manual, yet neglected when considering workflow improvements.  Taking the job or print file from receipt to delivery may not be as efficient as perceived.  Manual processes invite human error, production time hold-ups and delays, especially if employees are absent from work.  Automation, visibility and accountability are key to making sure workflow is streamlined.

In order to take that leap into the future, the behavioural aspects of your work flows will make the difference in the productivity levels of each of your team members – often the most costly overhead after capital expenditure. This could put you a step ahead of your competitors without compromising on quality.


ISO Accreditation or other Quality Certifications

There are fringe benefits to documenting your processes, systems and procedures. ISO Accreditation or other Quality Certifications require written statements of your business procedures in a transparent and auditable format. Get it right and you’ll be half way to achieving that accreditation.


Value of Business

If you decide to sell your business, your systems and processes procedures will add significant value to your business for prospective buyers, providing them a turnkey solution they can walk in and hit the road running.

Which Procedures to Document in the Printing Industry


1.     Customer Service Policy

Let the clients know in clear, plain English what the turnaround times will be for each stage of their order, and define the quality standards they can expect for their project.  Even if they haven’t mentioned or asked for it in their enquiry, you will stand out if you make a point of demonstrating that quality comes first.


2. Safety – is Paramount!

Health & Safety procedures are probably the one area where operating procedures are abundant in most companies.  Similarly to above, signs and notices in conspicuous positions around the work place can keep health and safety measures in the forefront of everyone’s mind.

TIP: Signs and notices soon become part of the furniture and ignored.  It’s a useful exercise to occasionally change the position, colour or design of the notices to make them stand out again.


3.     The Receipt and Storage of Raw Materials

There’s nothing worse than production managers planning in a client job only to find their materials haven’t been ordered, not yet delivered or can’t be found in the store room.  The buying, stock room and production functions must all be talking to each other regularly to ensure smooth running and prevent downtime, or delays to the turnaround times you’ve committed to the client.

These 3 areas of the operation should ideally have one single procedure to demonstrate they are all inextricably linked to each other, and can’t work as independent departments.


4.     Machine Use

Every team member involved in production must receive full and extensive training on how to use each machine safely and efficiently. Not just the basics of which knobs to press and screws to turn, but how the machine can be fine-tuned and the print process optimised to achieve best quality.

Pining a short checklist, infographic or laminated instruction plaque above the control unit where everyone can see it is a quick simple method to ensure the procedures are followed every time.  Regular refresh sessions should be held to check best practice is not falling by the wayside, causing quality or productivity to drop.


5.     Packing and Shipping

This is often where the most damage occurs, chiefly due to lack of due care and attention handling the finished product.  Different materials may require different packing techniques, and this may take a while for any one operator to acquire an adequate level of skill to prevent damage.

Again, instruction photos, aide memoirs, or laminated photo books kept on hand in the packing area, can work to keep peoples focus on the right methods.  New trainees should be shadowed by their supervisor or skilled senior team members asked to train and mentor them, until their competency levels have reached the high standards required.

As in other areas of the operations, it’s worth drawing up a flexibility chart as part of your standard procedures and training system, showing which operators have been trained in which skills.  This will highlight gaps where you may only have one or two operators trained in one activity or skill and where you need to train additional staff members in that area to give you maximum flexibility.

If only one person is skilled or trained in a specific activity or process, this is quite high risk to the business if they’re off sick, on holiday or at worst, resign.  Maximum flexibility is required to ensure you can deliver all of your products & services all the time, and are not constrained by staff availability.


6.    Software Shortcuts & Tips

With the print industry becoming increasingly digitalised, CAD based design, and CRM software driving the business at the front sales ends, getting the staff familiarised with the software will reap rewards in reducing admin time.  If not trained properly, employees often resort to clunky excel spreadsheets to patch over their uncertainty of the software, or inadequacies of the administration processes.


7.    Novel Issue Query Elevation

Printing often involves long print runs, with significant wastage occurring at the beginning and end of the print run, which incurs costs in machine running time, labour, and material costs – all of which the client will be paying for.  Any print company who can work on reducing the wastage in any or all of these will be ahead of the game in pricing the job.

Involve everyone from the front line operator, and production floor managers, feeding up their suggestions and ideas for novel ways of working to reduce the costs by introducing a formal feedback loop.  A written process for this communication process, where ideas and suggestions are regularly reviewed and implemented (where feasible), embeds it as part of the “company way” rather than a less efficient and sporadic chat over the coffee machine that probably won’t result in tangible action.


Managing Change

Company policies and procedures should define how information is created, managed, updated and archived in carefully mapped out computer drives. To avoid Information Chaos, as a business you need to decide what your system or process will be, map it out and document it in detail – then write the manual.

You can then use that manual to communicate and train each staff member involved in those workflows, making sure everyone understands the importance of the practice you want them to adopt.  Staff are more likely to comply with the best practices and achieve greater productivity more quickly if they feel some ownership towards them.

Check-in and monitor staff at regular intervals and do an audit every quarter, or half yearly, to keep your processes sanitized.  If the processes or systems change, which it should do if you’re continually looking for ways to improve and avoid chaos, that’s ideal – you just update the procedures accordingly and communicate the changes through a Tool Box Talk or monthly training update session.  Just keep the procedures fresh and up to date.


Access to the Data and Company Knowledge Base – Don’t let it get personal

A regular problem I witness is the down time or hidden delays caused by employees making information their own, rather than treating it as company property. You may be searching for your 2021 Sales Records in Joe’s laptop, but instead you find a folder called JOESTUFF full of dumped word documents, excel spreadsheets and other paraphernalia with no clear company naming format to easily find what you need.

This makes it impossible for anyone else in the process to find, if the employee is on holiday, off sick or even worse has left the company.  Sharing through cloud based software allows controlled access to those people who need it, and for one source document to be updated by multiple users at the same time, avoiding confusion caused by having infinite versions.


Redefine Your ‘Company Way’

Defining your Company Way, brings major benefits in laying down the DNA of your future business processes, systems, procedures and policies.  When designed to ensure standards and quality of service will be adopted uniformly throughout the business, new staff members will begin to deliver value more efficiently, and existing staff will be more sensitised to best practice.

Getting these documented in writing, or added to your company e-library, makes onboarding new employees quicker and stress free.  They will have a crib sheet guiding them through how to do the job, so you know it’ll be done to your preferred best practice, defining the “company way”, and avoiding you paying for a new recruit to reinvent the wheel.

Don’t think this has to stifle creativity.  If the team feel there are better and more productive ways of doing something, then they should be encouraged, and a forum created, for ideas to be nurtured.  The processes or procedures manuals can be updated and improved on as the jobs evolve and the business grows.

Without processes and procedures, individual employees tend to muddle their own way through, which may not be the most efficient, best quality and is not easy for someone else to pick up if they are on holiday, off sick, or leave the company.

Those businesses that don’t develop and document their processes and procedures are invariably the ones receiving countless customer complaints, have a burnt-out frustrated team, and a business owner who spends their life fire-fighting.

Don’t fall into that trap.  For a few weeks or months of putting in time and energy to apply yourself to designing how your business is going to operate, building the right job roles to deliver that model, and positioning yourself to manage and lead rather than do, you will reap the rewards.

Find your Escape Velocity and you can reach your strategic orbit the business needs you in, to deliver the long-term goals, achieve your financial aspirations, and the work-life balance you deserve.


The Shortcut to Defining Your Company Procedures

Alluxi is here to offer you support through these times of change, bringing a facts and figures approach to evolve your business and realise your goals.

As a first step towards identifying your current business challenges and evaluating where your future opportunities exist within your business, we invite you to complete the Alluxi Business Success Scorecard.

Take 10 minutes to respond to the scorecard and see how your business scores in 10 key areas.  You’ll be invited to book a follow-up Productivity to Profit Breakthrough Session to discuss the results in more detail, and identify how you can implement rapid and measurable improvements.

Click here to take the Alluxi Business Success Scorecard now