Being a print service provider today means going along with the currents of demand. Printed products still have a role in modern business marketing and operations, but it is more of a niche than ever before. Learning exactly what your target audience is interested in and serving those needs has become a survival strategy. This is also simply good business sense – becoming the organization your consumers need you to be is the backbone of good service in any sector, not just the printing industry.

Technology, rather than being some monolithic enemy of print, has become one of the prime paths to evolution. Your organization can reach its customers more effectively by taking in and making use of IT innovations, whether that means opening a web-to-print portal or crunching numbers on behalf of your clients to make them into more effective marketers. Of course, evolution is a complex business, and you need to make sure your embrace of innovation doesn't harm your everyday operations.

Scaling with workflow in mind
Printing Impressions contributor Pat McGrew recently acknowledged that growth as a printer today often means expanding well beyond previously mastered modes of operation, not just in the amount of work the shop is performing, but in the multiple new types of processes it's asked to carry out. You may find your organization performing jobs never attempted before, potentially as a result of implementing web-to-print capabilities and reaching beyond the clientele you've accumulated through traditional lead nurturing.

Of course in the comparatively lean times of modern printing, gathering new clientele and different operational modes is a great victory – but what if this growth harms your ability to serve customers effectively? McGrew explained that sometimes jobs can slip through web-to-print channels that don't really fit your shop's capabilities, though ideally your solution's internal logic will keep most queries in line with what you offer.

Your ability to scale your business effectively will be largely determined by whether you're equipped to handle the kind of work that's coming through. McGrew noted that when a print shop accepts more work, but finds that the current ingrained workflow requires extra steps to accommodate the new assignments, time will be lost and the prospect of smooth scalability will fall by the wayside.

The two kinds of expansion McGrew described set out the parameters for an ideal print service provider workflow. What you're looking for is an ideal way to use your shop's resources. This means not having to stop and consider new work for excessive amounts of time. Therefore, you'll have to consider the breadth of job types you'll be offering when determining whether your present workflow is up to the task. It should be able to scale to accommodate future growth, whatever form that may take.

Always remember the customer
Undergoing that expansion is often, as McGrew explained, predicated on using a web-to-print portal. When it comes to offering such a interface to your customers, you'll likely evaluate several different solutions. WhatTheyThink contributor Jennifer Matt laid down a few hints for managing this process. Namely, you shouldn't be so quick to assume how your potential clientele will react to a new solution, especially based on your own feelings about the software.

Matt noted that in some cases where print service providers are hesitant to open the floodgates to their clients with a new web-to-print option, they reason that consumers won't want to use the software. That's a bold assertion, and one that shouldn't be made without putting yourself in the customer's shoes and considering whether it would be easier and faster. Clients today are digitally savvy and not in favor of wasting time – therefore, digital solutions may have more appeal than providers anticipate.

Of course, going from a strict direct communication model to having an online portal can expand print service providers into territory they're not comfortable with – see McGrew's point about workflows being unprepared to handle the breadth of new orders coming in – but seeing that as a reason to stay away from web-to-print options would be missing the moral of the story. In many cases, it could be preferable to please the customers and find a workflow to accommodate them than to shoo them away because they like convenience.

Changing relationships
Scaling up today often means becoming more adaptable as well as more productive. Companies that are ready to do that should be prepared at all levels – from their internal processes to their communication channels. As with so many elements of print today, prospects of expansion have not gone extinct, but they have evolved.