On the top of every print business owner’s mind today is “how long will this economic pause last?” We don’t know, which makes it even more anxiety-producing. No print business can control how COVID-19 is going to play out or how long it’s going to take. The number one thing that every print business owner had control of is the preparedness of their business to face this temporary downturn.  

If you came into this downturn with tight cash flows, these coming weeks/months are going to be painful. You are going to be forced to make a lot of tough decisions in the short term that could have long-term impacts. If your print business entered into this economic pause with strategic reserves, you are probably looking at what you can do during this “pause” to come out of it in a better position. This “downtime” will be used as an opportunity for some to tackle strategic initiatives that have been starving for serious attention for years.

We have customers in both these positions.

The print business with reserves and an already allocated capital improvement budget for strategic software initiatives is pushing for acceleration on the software project during this pause. They are in a position to make this economic slowdown an opportunity to accelerate their progress in building differentiation through customer-facing software solutions. Key personnel in their business have more time for the deep work required to describe challenges and come up with the most innovative solutions.

The print business with no reserves is cutting back and risking the loss of key resources on the project because they have to drastically reduce spending to conserve the cash they have. Being strategic during this downturn is not an option; they are in survival mode. I have said this before: my definition of strategic is simply doing things before you have to—like building up a strategic reserve for times like these.

Strategic reserves make all the difference. Whatever position you came into this downturn in, we all have time to be strategic now so that when the economic engines fire back up, we show up better prepared for making up for the losses.

When I first started working with a personal financial planner, she wouldn’t discuss anything about investments until my family had three months of reserves in cash. When I started my business, that same financial planner required that I keep three months of reserves in cash for my business. This was very difficult to build up; it took a lot of discipline to put cash away for some unforeseeable reason. Well, that unforeseen reason is here, and reserves are the difference between having to panic or looking at this as an opportunity to get ahead.

If you have the opportunity to do some strategic “deep work” during this temporary economic downturn, your software systems are a great place to find important projects that will benefit you greatly when the economy comes back online. In a discussion with a labels and packaging printer today, they talked about the standardization and cleanup of data in their Print MIS. This project has been lingering for a decade, partially done and confusing to all because of its current inconsistent state. They are doubling down on this project during this “slow period” because the very people that are best suited to do this work are the ones they are paying full time to work from home right now.

Data cleansing is a tedious job that requires focused attention. It rarely gets any airtime in a busy manufacturing plant. Yet, messy data causes so many issues and so much time loss everyday. I watched a CSR at a very large printer scroll through a mess of Ship To addresses for one of their largest customers. There were several entries with ***DO NOT USE*** in front of them (one of my favorite things to see in software). I asked her how many times per week she places an order for this customer. Her answer was about 14. So 14 times per week, she’s scrolling through this mess looking for the right ship to address. If she spent 30 minutes during this downturn to research and clean up that list, she would save something like 15 minutes per week forever.

Another printer we’re working with is in the middle of a large accounting transition; they, too, are in a position to get this transition done during the downturn because it relies on remote expertise and deep, focused, uninterrupted work. COVID-19 is delivering the opportunity for uninterrupted work which is really precious, especially in busy manufacturing print businesses. The economy will eventually come back online; how will your print business be better off when it does?