4 ways to keep up with new materials, customers and ideas in the signage industry

Signage and digital print businesses should always try to keep up to date with the latest trends in the industry. During difficult trading conditions you may feel your time is better spent on maintaining business as usual – as much as possible – but any downtime you may experience could also be put to use in exploring the latest trends and technologies.

There are tips and tricks that you can use to expand your knowledge of the wider industry without it feeling too time-consuming or overwhelming. In the long run, they could benefit your business, your existing customer relationships and those with new or potential customers.

Here are four ways you can keep up to date with potential markets and ideas for innovative applications. They will also give you a better understanding of where you and your business currently stand in the industry and in the minds of your customers.

1. Sign up to newsletters

The easiest way to find industry news or updates on new products and applications is to have them sent straight to your email inbox or through your letter box. And organising this is as easy as it sounds.

Most of your dealers and suppliers will have newsletters, online content, blogs or product brochures that they send regularly to their databases. You can normally sign up through their websites or get in touch with your rep or contact at each company. Ask to be sent the latest editions, or to be added to their email database.
When you start receiving them, try to make time to read them thoroughly – and not just the sections that you think are relevant. More often than not, by reading everything you can get a wider view of options available and what businesses like yours are doing around the world. The more you read, the more dots you’ll be able to connect. This will help you to discover new business opportunities.

Ensure you follow relevant people on social media too. Things can move very fast in the business world and even on a 'normal' day you can discover fresh inspiration from Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Set aside just ten minutes every couple of days to read magazines, newsletters and social posts – whenever works best for you – or if your business is experiencing downtime perhaps dedicate an afternoon to doing research. Alternatively, delegate someone in your team who enjoys reading or researching, and give them the task of reporting back regularly – once a week or month – on the most relevant updates for your business.

Sign up to your customers' newsletters and follow them on social media too. This will give you another perspective on how your output is used and an invaluable insight into how they work. It may spark some ideas about potential new ways that you can help them.

2. Talk to your customers

It may seem obvious, but the easiest way to improve your business is to ask your customers whether the service you’re providing is what they are looking for. Take some time a few times a year to talk to all of them and discuss the business you do. If you have downtime it's possible that they have too, giving you both an opportunity to have a catch-up over the phone.
Ask your customers if they are aware of all of the services you provide and suggest ways how they could apply them to their business. And, in the same way, ask if there is anything that they have seen or would be interested in purchasing that you do not yet provide. It will help you to identify gaps or discover opportunities you hadn’t considered before.

3. Think outside your comfort zone

Too often, business owners become complacent by knowing what they are good at and sticking with it. To avoid this happening to you, try to think outside your comfort zone.
A really effective way of doing this is by learning more about industries outside your core markets. Read trade magazines and follow the major players on social media. For example, if you’re a specialist in soft signage, explore the vehicle industry to see the latest trends and possibilities in vinyl printing for vehicle wraps.
Again, you could nominate a person from your team for this research project. Getting the thoughts and opinions of the people who operate your machines or deal with your customers directly will add a whole new dimension to your thinking.

4. Study your own industry in depth

Devote some time each week to researching your competitors. Keep an eye on the services and products they’re providing, the offers and deals they’re running, how they’re marketing themselves and who they’re targeting. This will help you to tailor your offering more effectively and keep ahead of the game.
It is important to stay on top of the latest technology developments in your industry. Your favoured print and cut manufacturer may have released a software update or product enhancement that you were unaware of. Or they may have developed a brand-new solution that can produce better quality prints at a higher volume than your current device. Your vinyl supplier may now have a substrate more suitable for your exact requirements.
Keeping up to date with the small things will keep you ahead of your competition. Crucially, it will also give your current and potential customers the confidence that you are committed to providing them with the best possible product.