Freedom for the Self-Employed is an Illusion

A reader of  Talking Through My Hat, Mr. Greg Exelby from Bellingham, Washington, phoned me Monday to discuss some of my thoughts about beng a print broker. I don’t know how much help I was to him because the business is such a double edged sword. There is tremendous freedom in running your own business and being your own person, but actually a good print broker doesn’t really have much freedom. Instead of working for one boss, you now have many bosses to please. My wife complains that I am unable to take a vacation, if I ever get one, without the cell phone ringing. Freedom for the self-employed is an illusion. To be fair we didn’t discuss the freedom aspect during that phone call, but I should have told him.

We did discuss the difficulty in starting this type of business. The old saying, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door” is not true. It is more like, build a better mousetrap, figure out how to convince people that they need a better mousetrap, then sell, sell, sell until you are sick of selling.  Honestly it is sometimes a challenge to save a drowning man from drowning if you don’t first convince him of the advantages of not drowning.

Answer this question, “Who is the largest hamburger chain in the word?” If you didn’t say McDonald’s I’d be surprised. If you don’t know the brand McDonald’s you must be from the bush or under one year old. So why do they still advertise? Do you need to see another TV commercial to learn about McDonald’s. No, but for them to stay on top of the heap they have to keep telling us how terrific their burgers are. I’m not going to debate the value of the product, if marketed right and continuously anything will sell. It doesn’t have to be the better mousetrap. It’s all about marketing.

Greg sent me a promotional letter that he wrote and his resume.  He is representing himself as an International printing consultant . With over 30 years of technical and practical experience, he has the credentials. He is the real deal–the better mousetrap. Both Greg and I have witnessed customers befuddled at a press check, uneducated customers struggling with details, and customers who are clueless about the processes. Greg thought that those customers that need to use his expertise would understand the need and call him. Unfortunately, that is not the way it works. People don’t always know what is best for them, and they often don’t trust people who do know. There’s an old sales adage that says that people buy from friends. Thus becoming a friend is often more important than having the best solution or the best price. How does one become a trusted friend? It takes time, it takes patience, it takes effort. Hanging out one’s shingle isn’t enough.

To Greg and all the other Gregs out there I want to wish you luck. Becoming a print broker, printing consultant, or independent print buyer isn’t easy. It is as difficult a task as starting any business, but if you enter it as a business, and develop it on sound business practices, it can be very rewarding.

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