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So You Want To Start a Sign and Graphics Business

Discussion in 'Newbie Forum' started by Checkers, Nov 14, 2008.

  1. Checkers

    Checkers Very Active Member

    Jul 24, 2003
    Well, put on your helmet and crash pads and buckle up because you’re going to be in for one heck of a ride!

    The reasons are many and if you were to ask a business owner why he started his company, nearly every owner has a unique answer. When I pose this question to many of the people I meet, I’m told everything from “I enjoy the creative freedom and control over my art” to “nobody else would hire me”. However, when I read between the lines, I’ve noticed one underlying theme. All of these business owners wanted to gain control over their destiny while doing the work they enjoy the most.

    I’m sure that if you were to answer this same question, your answer would be unique too. So, the goal of me writing this and sharing my thoughts with you is to give you a better understanding of what it really takes to start and manage a profitable sign business.

    Do You Have What It Takes?
    There are no laws (yet) in this country that says you can’t enjoy your career. If you’re the creative type or really enjoy working in the industry, there is nothing wrong with starting a business to earn a living.

    However, starting any business requires a lot of dedication and determination. In addition, to be successful in this industry, you need to be outgoing, possess some people skills, mechanical ability, and you may need a lot of money. If you’re in a serious relationship or married, you’ll also need a very patient and understanding significant other too, because starting an running any small business can ruin your relationship.

    The Business of the Sign & Graphics Industry
    There are billions of dollars being spent in outdoor advertising industry (signs, vehicle graphics, etc) and billboards, signs and vehicle graphics are the major money makers. However, as a successful entrepreneur, you will realize that this work is only part of a much larger picture. As technology advances and markets change, you’ll notice that signs are everywhere and being presented in many new mediums. And the most important component of any of these mediums is they can not be ignored.

    While there is a lot of money to be made, you can loose a lot of money in this business too. The dream of getting rich running your own sign business is there. But, in most cases, this dream can not be further from the truth – no matter what you read or anyone tells you.

    Let’s face facts, making a sign is easy. However, the sign and graphics industry is extremely competitive. Just open your phone book and look at all the companies making signs and graphics. You’ll be competing against some highly skilled craftspeople with many years of experience and organizations with very deep pockets that can burry you in a moment and not blink an eye.

    In addition, this industry is highly regulated and controlled at many levels. Besides regulations from all levels of government regarding taxes, business licenses, etc, these regulatory bodies can tell you what types of signs you can make for your client, how big they can be and where they can be placed. Additionally, you also must abide by environmental restrictions and building codes and regulations too.

    So, even though you can pick up a plotter and some software for under $1,000 and call yourself a sign maker, the responsibilities and cost of owning and operating a business is a lot more than that.

    Where to Start
    So, if you think you’ll enjoy working in this business and want to make it your chosen career, you better make money at it. Because, once you start your own business, you are on your own. There is no boss or anyone else that is supporting you. You are responsible for everything that happens to you and your business, including paying all your bills to vendors, utilities and insurance company, while providing for yourself and family, living life and saving for retirement too.

    A failure to Plan is a Plan for Failure
    Your business plan is your first step in starting your successful business. It address all the aspects of starting and running a successful business – budgets, marketing, expenses, liability, employees, etc.

    A good plan will start with your personal needs and the business requirements.

    Starting with your personal requirements, you’ll need to know how much money you need to make from the business for you so you can live a comfortable lifestyle. Having or developing personal budget will help you here. Don’t forget the most important part of your personal budget, providing for your needs once you choose to retire from the business.

    Once you know what the business needs to do for you, you’ll need to work on building a business that provides for these needs. Your business plan will help you think through the business process and develop goals to help insure your business will be successful. However, good results are not guaranteed.

    Start-up costs are probably the most underestimated part of running a successful business. When you add up all the expenses of starting your own business, you might be in for a big surprise. If you’ve never been in a management position nor have experience running a business, you may be in for a HUGE surprise.

    These will include all of the costs relating to the start of the business; including but not limited to business registration and licensure, equipment acquisition, real estate acquisition, security deposits on facilities and utilities, insurance, inventory and, most importantly, operating capital.

    Developing a marketing plan and operating budget takes a lot of time and preparation too. Any oversight here will also lead you down the fast road to failure. But don’t fret; there is plenty of help available.

    Getting Help
    Starting a business is an experience in team building. Similar to competitive sports, you team needs to include many people who will have an effect on your bottom line. In addition to support from your friends and family, you’ll need well balanced support from your all-stars - attorney, accountant, banker, and insurance agent and, possibly others. These players probably will have a lot of influence on your business to insure that it will operate efficiently and effectively.

    There are many resources available to those who wish to start their own business. Some help may even be right in your own neighborhood, but you have to know where to look. In addition to government help from the U.S. Small Business Administration, you there are many low cost or free programs offered at the state, regional and local levels which offer business assistance and coaching. In addition, there are also private firms that will offer assistance too. A good place to start is www.SBA.gov.

    Don’t Get Discouraged
    Being a small business owner is not for everyone. Remember, if running a small business was easy, everyone would be doing it. But as I mentioned earlier, it’s a long and bumpy road to become a successful business. So, if you don’t have 3 to 5 years (or more) to invest to become a successful business, you may want to consider a different line of work.

    Additional Notes:
    Some information on the expenses directly related to starting and running a sign and graphics business are available here…
    [FONT=&quot]Overhead - A lesson in pricing - Signs101.com[/FONT]

    Comments are always welcome and appreciated.

  2. houseofgrafix

    houseofgrafix none

    Dec 27, 2007
    wall of text
  3. hoppers

    hoppers Member

    Dec 9, 2007
    Good tips, thanks. Im still in my early stages and I agree planning in the #1 thing to do to be sucessful.
  4. jiarby

    jiarby Major Contributor

    Feb 11, 2007
    There used to be these paper things called "BOOKS" that would have driven you crazy!
  5. Just Another Sign Guy

    Just Another Sign Guy Very Active Member

    Jun 19, 2004
    yeah good grief you wouldnt want to learn anything
  6. jcuminale

    jcuminale Member

    Jul 21, 2007
    great post

    :goodpost: spot on!, even after 13 years, it's good to review these things in principal... i never really had a business plan as i was thrown into my business with an opportunity i could not pass up.
    when asked what i wanted to do at various points throughout my 23 year sign career, the answer was always to own my own shop...without having been given the opportunity to partner with someone, i dont know that i ever would have achieved that goal through the path i was on. i am forever indebted to those who thrust me into that position and for their involvement in the events that had transpired leading to that faitful day.
    now thirteen years later, having moved beyond that original partnership, i often reflect on these types of postings and wonder how it could have happened otherwise.
    the difficulty is in trying to make up for some of those mis-steps now.
  7. coyote

    coyote Active Member

    Nov 13, 2007
    Baltimore MD
    I had just lost 3 sign painting jobs in a row, figured I was one of those people who just could not work for anyone else. My husband was a musician working at a cruddy optical job...so when our landlord told us he and his partners were starting a huge real estate/land operation and needed someone to do all their signs....and a friend had a big shop with a drive in bay available for cheap rent.....the stars aligned.

    I took a Small Business Association class so I could do the books and stuff like that, my hubbby quit his job and we just went for it. We did everything by hand back then, so there was no big up-front investment in equipment. Every time we got a job that warranted a new piece of equipment, we used the down payment to buy it. We starved for a few years, but eventually did well enough to buy aGerber 4B (first, of course) and a house (second) . The advent of the sign franchises did us in and we shifted the business to home and now only do work for a few select customers as a part time income. We had our shop for 15 years, so we beat the odds.

    It is possible to do a half-a##ed business plan like we did, but we didn't have a huge investment to pay off. I wouldn't try to do it now, but I'm not a sweet young thing like I was back then.
  8. TheSnowman

    TheSnowman Major Contributor

    Aug 28, 2007
    :ROFLMAO: BUT, lucky for us, they became on tape, and that was the end.
  9. gabagoo

    gabagoo Major Contributor

    Oct 10, 2006
    Vaughan, Ontario
    I somehow have a smile after reading that. Did you coimpose all that yourself or was that from a secondary source?

    You forgot to put in there somewhere that when you have your own business you can golf during business hours lol :)
  10. Kottwitz-Graphics

    Kottwitz-Graphics Very Active Member

    Sep 25, 2006
    Ridgely, MD
    Yeah, but the problem that I found was they were nariated by George Constanza...and this is the picture that he chose for the inside cover!!!




    Good post Checkers
  11. uneedasign

    uneedasign Active Member

    Jun 24, 2005
    Palm Desert CA
    As always you nailed it Checkers. I might add that 5 years ago today when I found this site I read all your posts. I took your advice in every one of those posts. So a delayed thank you. For all the new people,and we are still forever learning,listen to this man he has solid business experience. I look forward to your posts,and should add you should write a book. Running a business is hard work,and long hours. The truth of having a spouse who can be supportive is truth. There are great resources on line,as well as talking to other shop owners. Thanks for the good posts.

    Mrs. u
  12. Cadmn

    Cadmn Very Active Member

    Aug 19, 2005
    You forgot to put in there somewhere that when you have your own business you can golf during business hours lol :)[/quote]I love that statement I've had people say WOW your own bisuness, you can go fishing, play golf,watch all you want & when u want... My answer is yep & I can loose My behind & go bankrupt.. any time I choose to do the previous. :omg:
  13. xjeremyx

    xjeremyx New Member

    Jan 1, 2009
    i tried going to your overhead pricing post but it tells me i am not allowed? are you able to post it again or even somewhere else, i am interested in what you have to say.
  14. Fred Weiss

    Fred Weiss Merchant Member

    Sep 11, 2003
    Olympia, WA
    Perhaps you should consider a premium membership then. Here's a link to information about it.

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