The Art of Time-Blocking: A Simple Tip to Revolutionize Your Productivity

time calendarMost people just aren’t that good at multitasking. Trying to remain focused (and organized) is one of the most significant time wasters, especially in the life of a business professional. When you try to do too many things at the same time, you become a “Jack of all Trades, Master of None.” Just when you’re trying to get work done on that big project, another email comes in that you have to respond to. You hop over to your email client and suddenly the phone is ringing, or you realize that you have to proof a new design before it heads out the door. It’s maddening.

Thankfully, there is a better way. By adopting the fine art of time-blocking, you may have just found the simple, yet effective technique you’ve been looking for to unlock a bold new era of productivity in both your personal and professional life.

What is Time-Blocking?

At its core, time-blocking is the idea that you should segment your day into clearly defined (and strictly adhered to) blocks of productivity. Organize the tasks you need to complete by category and set aside a specific amount of time for those categories each day.

If you feel like you’re spending an unfortunate amount of time responding to emails every day at the expense of everything else, set aside 9:00 am to 10:00 am every morning to just focus on emails. Devote every ounce of your attention to this one task and when it’s over, move onto the next one. Outside of the occasional emergency, don’t respond to emails for the rest of the day. Get it done, and then move on.

The Benefits

The beauty of time-blocking falls into two distinct categories. First, it’s an incredibly effective way to eliminate distraction. Instead of trying to divide your attention between ten little tasks, it’s almost like you’re tackling just one big one (i.e. emails, and nothing more). Not only do you get those initial tasks done faster, but the ultimate quality of your output is also much higher because you’re no longer trying to do too many things at once.

Next, time-blocking is also an excellent way to build up a strong sense of momentum that will carry you through the rest of your day. As you begin to move from block to block, you’ll constantly be surprised by just how much you’re getting done. This wave of productivity (not to mention the wave of euphoria) builds on itself, driving things home towards the finish line (and the end of the work day).

Success Comes When You Look Ahead

Another one of the keys to success regarding time-blocking is a little bit of forward thinking. This isn’t something you can make up on the fly. You need to consider the types of tasks you need to do each day and what you have to get done by week’s end. Look ahead a little bit and make a list of your top priorities. Then, separate those into categories and get down to business.

Remember, it’s important to be honest with yourself. Time-blocking won’t suddenly create an extra hour in your day, but it will help you make better use of the hours you already have. If you try to add too many things to your list to the point where it becomes unrealistic, you’ll end up working against your goal and not towards it. You’ll quickly begin to feel overwhelmed, which is something that you do not want.


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The One-Trick Pony Syndrome

One trick pony.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “a one-trick pony?”

Researchers believe the “one-trick pony” phrase comes from an entertainment background. According to research, the earliest reference was associated with circus ponies used to perform a trick or feat that impressed audiences. The ponies involved could do an amazing act, such as walking on their hind feet, but that was all they could do. Eventually, the audiences got bored with the show. In one version of the story, a pony had a dog partner that would ride on it. While the audience got sick of seeing the pony do the same thing every time the circus was in town, the dog gained fame because it learned and began to perform new tricks. In time, the dog became the star, and the pony was relegated to hauling circus carts.

Is Your Business A One-Trick Pony?

The moral of the story here is not to allow your business to get stuck on only one good thing. It’s tempting to think that if you have something good going, why ruin it? Well, over time that good thing will become less and less popular. The number of customers who want it will diminish and the business will have to start cutting prices to keep it attractive. Eventually, the product or service won’t sell at all.

Palm PDAs and Blackberry were both perfect examples of the one-trick pony mistake. They both had a really good product for a while, but both companies failed to upgrade and develop new products. Eventually, someone else did, and their customer base walked away. Those text screens on a Blackberry and similarly on a Palm PDA simply looked old and obsolete versus smartphones like the original Apple iPhone. The world had changed.

It’s Time to Diversify

Is your business riding the wave right now of a star pony? If so, now is the time to be looking for and generating a new path. Diversify into a new product or new service. Not only does it protect your business’ longevity, but multiple revenue streams from different customers will eventually offset each other when one of them starts to weaken.

Companies that map out their product/service life cycle and plan for eventual loss with replacement “ponies” are the firms that survive and grow. Don’t let all your energy, money, time, and effort go down the drain with a one-trick pony. Instead, use the initial success to be your springboard for the next one.


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3 Easy Time Management Tips: How to Create More Hours in a Day

Time Management
The one natural resource there never seems to be enough of is time. There are only so many hours in a day. You don’t need to wish that tomorrow will suddenly be a 35-hour day to get all of your work done. Instead, you need to start using a few small, yet critical, time management tips today to work smarter, not harder, with the hours that you DO have available to you. Here are three tips to get you started.

1) Learn How to Travel Productively

These days, a significant portion of your work probably isn’t taking place within the confines of your office. Whether it’s meetings with clients or unexpected personal issues, you likely find yourself stepping away from your desk more and more. The key to time management isn’t learning how to keep up with your obligations in spite of these sudden duties. It’s learning how to fit in work time around them.

Even if you don’t have a mobile tablet that you carry around with you wherever you go, it’s still easier than ever to work remotely. If you’re not already using a cloud-based file sharing service like Dropbox or iCloud, you need to start. Changing a document on your work computer makes those adjustments instantly available to every other device you have. Likewise, services like Dropbox for Business allow for real-time collaboration on files, letting people get together to work on a project even when they don’t have the time to literally “get together” at all.

Remember, the smartphone that you likely carry around with you is more powerful than the technology that NASA used to send men to the moon in the 1960s. There are hundreds of thousands of apps that are available in the iTunes and Google Play app stores right now for you to use to customize that device in any way you see fit. Stop thinking about it like a device that you merely use to send and receive calls and start looking at it as your office on-the-go.

2) Hold Better Meetings

Meetings are just a fact of life. But one of the many reasons why people tend to dread that weekly “catch-up” gathering is because they’re huge drains of productivity. The answer to this problem isn’t to stop holding meetings altogether; it’s to start holding better meetings.

Think long and hard about why you’re having a meeting. If it’s just to convey information, you could probably save everyone a lot of time and just send a lengthy email or inter-office memo instead. A meeting should always justify its existence. If it doesn’t, it needs to drop off the schedule. Likewise, plan out an agenda for your meeting ahead of time and stick with it. Make sure everyone who needs to contribute knows what is expected of them before you all walk into a room, giving everyone a chance to be as prepared as they need to be.

3) Get Organized and Stay That Way

Again, time management isn’t about finding more hours in a day; it’s about working smarter, not harder with the hours you already have. One study estimates that as much as thirty percent of our working time each day is spent looking for misplaced items. It stands to reason that if you never feel like you have enough time to get things done, the true issue might just be that you need to take a look around and organize your life more effectively.


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Learn How to Communicate on a Case-by-Case Basis for Better Results

Listening is important

To say that communication is important in the workplace is an understatement. This is true regardless of the type of business you’re running or even the industry you’re operating in. One study from McKinsey Global Institute found that not only does active communication bring people closer together in the workplace but in these types of situations productivity tends to improve between 20% and 25% on average.

At the same time, there is no “silver bullet” method to communication that will instantly get everyone on the same page. Only by looking to your employees as individuals, and playing to their own individual strengths and preferences, will you finally be able to see the communication gains that you so richly deserve.

Let the Employee Be Your Guide

Perhaps the most important thing for you to understand is that communication no longer means face-to-face conversations, -or at least it doesn’t exclusively. This is particularly the case regarding introverted employees, a staple at any organization.

Just because Ryan from Accounting doesn’t like to speak up in meetings doesn’t mean that he lacks communication skills. It just means that speaking in front of a group isn’t necessarily his forte. Instead of trying to force Ryan to adapt to your wishes, consider how Ryan would prefer to communicate.

Emails, memos, texting, one-on-one meetings, phone calls: these are all viable options regarding getting ideas across in the modern era. As a business leader, it’s not your job to get everyone to communicate the way you want to just because you prefer looking someone in the eyes when you tell them what they need to do next. It’s your job to make a note of the conditions that a person excels under and then do whatever you can to facilitate those needs whenever possible.

The Larger Implications of Communication

Consider the fact that according to one survey, an incredible 46% of employees said that they “rarely, if ever” leave a meeting knowing exactly what they’re supposed to do next. This is the danger of a “one size fits all” approach to communication. You end up becoming something of a “jack of all trades, master of none.”

One study revealed that 26% of employees think email is a major productivity killer. But when you reverse that, it means that 74% of employees think email is just fine. But it’s important not to create an “either/or” situation where one doesn’t have to exist. If you know that Robert is going to get the information he needs from an email, send away. If you know that Brenda is the type of employee who needs to sit down and talk out her next objective in person, be sure you make time for her in your schedule.

It’s up to you to find the right communication method that works for the individual so that everyone can be on the same page when it comes to contributing to the whole.

It’s important to remember that according to a recent Gallup poll, 70% of employees in the United States said that they just weren’t engaged in work anymore. Creating an environment of open and honest communication is one of the keys to combating this issue head on. But you must also remember that no two employees are created equally. An approach that works great for getting one employee to open up and become engaged in their work may be woefully inadequate for the next.

Only by making an effort to communicate on a case-by-case basis will you be able to generate a workplace where success is no longer a question of “if” but “when.”


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Outsourcing Employee Training – When does it make Sense?

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When you first started your company, you likely had some vision of what the customer experience would look like. Depending on your market, it could have looked something like the highly polished Front Desk staff of New York’s Plaza Hotel, or maybe the sarcastically surly wait staff of San Diego’s Dick’s Last Resort. Whatever the market, you definitely wanted to create a distinctive customer experience.

Fast-forward a few years… You’re standing off to the side of your restaurant/coffee bar/bookstore/clothing boutique and you realize, despite your best efforts at conveying your vision, your staff is just not “getting it.” If that’s the case and you want to distinguish your establishment, it may be time to bring in some training experts.

The big question is this: What makes more sense for your business – doing your training in-house or outsourcing your employee training?

Market Placement and Reach

Your decision on whether to insource or outsource your employee training is typically impacted by how many people you need to have trained. Is it a set number of people at exact intervals? Many businesses can take advantage of on-demand training to reduce costs and ensure your employees are trained quickly and properly by having an external provider handle the training function.

Additionally, if you have trainees located in geographically diverse locations, a vendor can easily take a classroom-learning module and create web-based training. This can be hosted in-house or remotely, depending upon your business needs.

Outsourcing Training May Cost Less

If you have full-time employees that are specifically dedicated to training your staff, it can be a costly endeavor. Many small and mid-sized companies just don’t have the monetary resources to dedicate man-hours to development, design, implementation, and evaluation of training for their employees. There’s also the management and tracking of these functions to think about.

Instead of hiring one or two employees dedicated solely to training, it may make more economic sense to use an outside organization to send your employees to before you let them loose with customers.

Risk Reduction

Training your employees is not just about creating that distinctive customer experience. You also want to ensure that your employees have the proper tools to do the job efficiently and safely. Think of training as a way to safeguard your business and reduce the risk of injury, loss, and (gasp!) lawsuits.

There are a host of web-based training programs out there addressing topics like proper money handling, OSHA safety, and dealing with difficult clients.

Access to Expertise

Training takes a specialized skill set. Vendors that specialize in training have the ability to create customizable training systems at a fraction of the cost of having them built in-house. The individuals that design, develop, and implement training are professionals that know how to transfer knowledge to a wide variety of learners.

The bottom line here is that these outside vendors are in the business of training. In-house training is hard to beat if you have the financial means and the ability to keep a steady stream of projects in the pipeline. However, if this is not the case, it may make sense to look to outside options for excellent employee training. However you choose to train your employees, taking the time to ensure your employees know their jobs well will mean your customers will thank you!


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When it Comes to Your Marketing Goals, Don’t Forget About Consumer Education

Customer needs analysis concept. Businessman analyze customers needs.

Whenever you begin to execute a marketing campaign, you’re usually trying to service a few key goals at the same time. One of your top priorities is most likely brand awareness – you don’t just want to get the word out about a product or service, but you’re also trying to position your company as an authority on a particular topic. You may also want to help inform your target audience about the product in question. One of the most important marketing goals that far too many people overlook until it’s too late, however, is consumer education. When it comes to your objectives, consumer education must ALWAYS be a top priority for a number of key reasons.

The Benefits of the Consumer Education Push

For marketers themselves, an increased emphasis on consumer education brings with it a host of different benefits that can’t be ignored. For starters, it allows you to take a deeper level of control over the narrative that you’re trying to tell than ever before. You’re essentially reframing the information that consumers are actively looking for in a much more positive way. Instead of making a declarative statement with your campaign like, “Here are all of the amazing and incredible features that my product or service has,” you get to instead take a decidedly less sales-oriented approach and offer advice like, “Here are the problems you have, here is why you have them, and here is how my product or service is the answer you’ve been looking for.”

Perhaps the biggest benefit of all to taking a consumer education approach to marketing, however, is that you’re no longer trying to convince your customers that your product or service is necessary. Instead, you get to essentially PROVE that it’s necessary and let your customer base come to the same conclusion on their own. This helps to deepen the sense of confidence that consumers get from your company, which almost always leads to loyalty sooner rather than later.

Transforming the Landscape

Another key thing to keep in mind about making consumer education one of your core marketing objectives has to do with the subtle ways in which you change the relationship between company and customer. With consumer education, marketing is no longer a passive approach. Instead, it’s decidedly active – consumers are no longer HEARING about your product or READING about it, they’re LEARNING about it. They’re engaged with your materials in a whole new way. It officially transforms the marketing experience into a two-way street by way of empowerment. Consumers will WANT to keep learning about what you have to say and what you have to offer, helping to increase penetration rates at the same time. The more satisfied with the marketing experience a consumer is, the more confident they ultimately are with the ways in which they spend your money. If you can turn the tide of the conversation in your direction through consumer education, you’re looking at a powerful opportunity that you can no longer afford to ignore.

These are just a few of the reasons why consumer education NEEDS to be one of your marketing goals at all times. Not only does it bring with it the added benefit of affecting consumer behavior in a positive way, but it also helps establish you and your organization as the authority on a particular topic that people are actively looking for.


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Social Media: American Idol for Small Businesses?

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For thirteen years, American Idol has entertained the country by bringing would-be singers to the center stage and giving them a fair shot at becoming the superstars they believe they can be. Countless people have auditioned before a panel of very strict judges. Out of the masses, one singer rises to the top to win each season. It’s from this show that popular stars such as Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood have found their way to fame.

For most of these stars, American Idol really changed the game. Without the nationwide audience and opportunity to get in front of the camera, many would have struggled to find their “big break.”

Most businesses can relate to this mentality. In the past, small businesses struggled to get their brands and names known within their community. The idea of finding a nationwide platform remained a pipe dream for the vast majority of companies. But just as American Idol has provided a new avenue for struggling singers, social media has changed the landscape for small businesses, too.

Social Media: A “Star” is Born

Social media offers small businesses the exposure they need to break out and become “stars” in their own right. With the rise of ecommerce, many companies can now do business with people thousands of miles away. Through Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Google+, and the rest of the common social media channels available to them, these businesses are getting their message out and building relationships with potential customers across the globe.

Learning the Ropes

Unfortunately, not every company that sets out on their journey is going to make it to the top. The singers who audition for American Idol cannot just walk up to the judges and tell them, “Hi, I’m a fantastic singer. All my friends say so. You need to give me a ticket to the next round.” Similarly, small businesses cannot just sign up for social media and expect customers to come pouring in to use their services. In both cases, people must sell their talents. The singers must prove to the judges that they have the skills needed to compete on the nationwide scale, and businesses must prove the same to their potential customers.

Rolling With the Punches

One of the factors that made American Idol so popular was the extremely harsh criticism that Simon Cowell famously dished out to nearly every competitor. Many people noted that while his words might even be described as cruel, they were rarely untrue. He said what many people thought but were too kind to say. It was the responsibility of each competitor, especially those who received his critique but remained on the show, to take what he said and learn from it before they sang again.

Many small businesses have quickly discovered that in social media few people feel much inhibition in making their opinions known. And some of those critiques would even make Simon Cowell blush. Learning how to respond to such criticism is an important skill to master. A key part of that response is deciding what feedback to take to heart and then making the changes needed to better serve customers.

Social media has given small businesses across the country the opportunity to reach clients in an unprecedented way. No longer are they confined to their local market, with distant hopes of one day striking it big. Just as American Idol has provided singers with a new way to showcase their talents, social media has done the same for companies looking to grow their customer base. Understanding how to take advantage of this opportunity and learn from it can make all the difference.


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Why Continuing Education is the Key to Career Advancement in More Ways Than One

Print It Plus Continuing Education
When many people reach a career milestone – be it getting a job with that great new company or even starting their own business – they often leave the concept of education behind. After all, they’ve already had a huge amount of schooling up to this point and they’ve succeeded in accomplishing what they set out to, so it probably isn’t even necessary anymore, right?

Wrong.

Career advancement is a journey that never ends and continuing education is one of the single, best ways to make this road the easiest one of you’ve ever traveled.

The Key to the Future Rests in the Present

Even if you’re completely satisfied with your current position and can’t imagine ever wanting to go someplace else, continuing education is still valuable for a number of different reasons. Think about your long-term career goals. Where do you see yourself in a year? In five years? In ten? Even though you’re satisfied today, there will still likely come a day where you begin looking for a change or what a little something “extra” out of your current situation. Continuing education not only makes it easier to ask for a raise within your current position, but it also makes you more attractive if the time comes where a management position opens up within your business that you might want to pursue.

Many experts agree that when hiring managers start to look at internal candidates for a new position, they actually grade on a tougher scale than if they were looking to fill a position from outside the company. At this point, a simple history of “hard work” and “dedication” isn’t necessarily going to cut it – their expectations are higher than that. They KNOW you’re a hard worker – it’s why you still have a job. A history of regular, continuing education says that you’ve taken your dedication to a new level and that you’re not only ready for new responsibilities, but you have the ethic and the skills to back up that claim.

It’s All About Perspective

The late, great comedian Garry Shandling was a firm believer in the idea that the minute you stop working to improve yourself either personally or professionally, it’s all over. He was the type of person who believed that his work was never done. There was ALWAYS something he could learn and ALWAYS some way he could improve the quality of the product he was putting out into the world. He deeply stood by these ideals, even though by any objective standard he perfected not only the sitcom but also the comedy television format with his HBO series (and he had the dozens of Emmy nominations to back that up). Yet still, it wasn’t enough.

Just like Shandling, the moment you feel you’ve learned it all and the moment you feel like you’ve reached the point where you can’t get better, you’ve lost a game that you never really understood in the first place.

This simple idea is perhaps the most important reason why continuing education is the key to career advancement, regardless of the type of industry you’re working in. It forces you to think about ways that you could be doing better and about the shortcomings in your daily life that you need to address. It keeps you moving forward, but it keeps you grounded at the same time. Continuing education doesn’t just make you a better employee on paper because you get to add a new certification or qualification to your resume – it makes you a better person, period.


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A Personal Touch Makes a Difference

tailored

Marketing is becoming increasingly personalized with the technology available to create templates for customization. More companies are looking for ways to personalize schwag, brochures, and online communications. It is easy to understand why customers love personalization because it means that they are getting noticed, and they can see their name in print or graphics.

Why is Personalization Popular?

While online and digital personalization is easy to implement with current technology and Print It Plus, it can also be used for face-to-face marketing. What is interesting is that people are willing to wait for items that are personalized for them. Personalizing communications are the first step in communicating and engaging with the customer. Companies such as Zazzle are making profits printing customized items using pre-configured templates that customers can fill in before they print. Personalization is the result of researching data and getting to know your customer. You can tailor projects and styles towards your customer after finding out what they want.

Often we like to think that items are personalized for us. Personalization reduces the appearance of information overload and helps us to think we are in control. We tend to focus our selective attention on items that are personalized for us from emails to clothing. When someone says your name, you focus attention on that person.

Personalization in the Non-Digital World

Beyond the electronic versions of personalization, you can see this trend on products in the marketplace. Snickers Bars have wrappers with tags such as confused and ornery; Coke cans are being printed with people’s names, and children’s clothing often has names imprinted. These products evoke an emotional reaction in buyers leading to repeat business and customer loyalty. Printers have a unique niche in this marketing avenue since they have been personalizing products for a long time.

Finding the Point of ROI

The point of personalization is to make a relevant connection with a customer. Then you can leverage the connection to drive more business.

Contact Print It Plus to find more ways to increase your business with personalization. Our experts have been working with personalization software and hardware for over a decade. We know how to get results!!

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Busy is a State of Mind; How to Stay Productive When You’re the Boss

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From a certain perspective, employees have it relatively easy. They don’t have a choice regarding what type of work they’re doing or when they’re doing it. Productivity is dictated not only by the company they work for but by the people they answer to. If they don’t have a spark of creative inspiration on their way to work one morning, that’s just too bad – the work needs to be done no matter what. This can be incredibly motivating from a certain perspective.

When you’re the boss, however, you aren’t quite so lucky.

When you’re the person in charge of steering the ship, there WILL be mornings where you don’t feel as creative as you need to be. There will be days where being productive seems impossible, regardless of how hard you try. If you want to be able to stay as creative and as productive as possible, even when you don’t have to answer to anybody but yourself, there are a few key things you’ll want to keep in mind.

It’s All About Momentum

Staying productive when you’re the boss may require you to think about things a bit differently from how you’re used to. One of the most valuable assets that you have on your side will be momentum, but unfortunately, that driving force isn’t just going to create itself.

Say you have a big task ahead of you that needs to be completed by a specified date. When you look at it as a single goal, it can understandably seem insurmountable – particularly if you have nobody to answer to but yourself. However, if you were to break it down into a number of smaller, more straightforward tasks, suddenly you’re building the type of momentum that will carry you far.

Start by making a list of all the more minor things you need to accomplish that will eventually add up to your singular large goal. It’s important that you don’t try to keep a record of this in your head – write it down on a piece of paper or in a word document on your computer. Doing so will help you visualize both what needs to be done, and the forward progress that you’re making. Turn every task less into something that needs to be done and more into a single problem that you need to solve. As you do, physically check each item off the list. The benefit of this method is that you can SEE how much you’re accomplishing, even if you haven’t technically completed that one larger goal yet. Every time you cross off another task, you’re building a little bit of momentum that will drive you forward to the next waypoint. Before you know it, all of those small individual items that seem insignificant by themselves will add up to the proverbial end zone that you were working towards in the first place. You’re not doing any more or less work – you’re just shifting the way you think about the task at hand when you don’t have anyone to look to for motivation other than yourself.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

Creativity is the same way. Instead of looking at something as a single, big task to be completed, be it a piece of creative material or a catchy new slogan for your business, look at it as a series of small puzzles to be solved. Visualize the amount of work to be done and the amount of progress you’ve made thus far. Before you know it your creative problem will be solved, even if you weren’t necessarily feeling creative yourself along the way.

For those days where creativity seems fruitless and remaining productive seems all but impossible, remember a very mere fact of the business world that you’ve likely forgotten. Even though you’re the boss, you DO have someone that you’re answering to, the client. Put yourself in the mindset of one of your employees – what would you tell them if they were supposed to turn in that big project but didn’t because they just weren’t “feeling creative enough”? You’d say “too bad – it’s too important, it needs to be done.” Because the work IS too important and it DOES need to be done. As the boss, it isn’t so much that you’re answering to someone (in this case, the client), but more that someone genuinely depends on you. It’s your job not to let them down in any way possible.

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