When opening the doors of my business, in June 1988, I had no clue what to expect, as far as growth; no special vision for where we might be in five or 10 years. My first order of business was just to stay in business, by making a profit.
This is “Music City USA,” and I was fresh out of rock ’n’ roll music, trying to get my feet back down to earth in the “real” world. I was also still sporting a head of long, blond hair and enough confidence to think I could just about leap tall buildings, bringing in customers for my new shop.
I had hardly finished setting up my first printing press—a well-used Hamada 600—when I headed out the door, looking more like Mick Jagger than the owner of a small business. I went to a large, nearby company where the manager was kind enough to visit with a budding entrepreneur. If he was suppressing laughter at my lion’s mane and glittery shirt, he didn’t give it away.
Handing him my brand new business card, I boldly asked for ALL of his company’s printing business. But, the man didn’t laugh, even then; he actually gave me a small printing job to start with. I was encouraged—my venture was bound for success!
Back at the shop, I knew we would have to deliver a quality product at a competitive rate, and ON TIME, to gain even a small foothold in the market. I must say, that went pretty smoothly for the first several years we were in business. We were three employees strong then.
Thinking I was some kind of Superman, I moved around the shop faster than a speeding bullet (well almost)—handling all the issues, being in several places at once—even with everyone tugging on my “cape,” asking me umpteen questions. I’d fly to the back of the shop to rescue our one pressman from his quality and technical press problems and, with my sure superpowers, I was able to hear the phones ringing above the roar of the press and our small Balm folder, spitting out our latest product.
Spinning on a dime, I’d put on my best Clark Kent face whenever the front door buzzer sounded, alerting me that a customer was entering our lair to make copies or send a fax. Remember being paid a dollar a page for sending a fax? Talk about ROI! Other Superpowers?
Back then, I wore more capes than the original X-Men—I was bookkeeper, salesperson, backup pressman, prepress operator, and bindery person. I also wrote up job orders, handled customer service, and made all the banking runs…while also acting as backup coach for my son’s baseball team (really, I was more of a “team mom”). I could go on, but that would be bragging! My Kryptonite Moment
After entering my fifth year in business, I could feel something happening. Was I losing my “superpowers?” Yes, reality was setting in! I began dropping balls and losing customer’s orders. My “X-ray” vision was missing printing errors that customers were beginning to catch.
And, apparently, after all those years of rock ’n’ roll in front of mega watt amplifiers on 10, my hearing was going. Not always hearing the front buzzer, customers needing service would finally come wandering around the back of our messy shop looking for ole “Superman”—the one with ink all over himself (and everything else).
My mental capacity to keep all systems functioning was slipping. We had no written systems, of course—not for this superhero—as I kept all that in my big head. Even the messy shop I just mentioned…well, “Didn’t ALL printing companies look like that? And who’s business was it, anyway?” I defended.
It seemed someone was beginning to slip Kryptonite in my morning coffee. Truth is, my “Kryptonite” was called GROWTH—and I could no longer keep up. I was NOT the man of steel, after all!
If we were going to continue growing, I knew something had to change! I guessed it was ME, and the way I ran my business.
I’m convinced—real growth only happens, “flying” at the speed of SYSTEMS!
All the super companies on the planet—including Toyota, McDonald’s, and Starbucks—operate using well-planned systems. Without such systems, there would be no real GROWTH for them either. They would have lost their power to compete long ago.
When I learned and used the power of systems, REAL growth happened in our company, also. No more flying by the seat of our pants.
I’ve taken off my cape and turned many of my duties over to Super System
(PDF). Twenty-five years later, I’m more convinced than ever.
Should you happen to see me somewhere, wearing a big red ‘S
’ on my shirt—you might guess what it stands for…
Did I mention—Great systems work!