If you’ve been in the promotional products industry for very long at all, you’ve probably picked up on a trend: Your colleagues in this line of work were either born into it and shown the ropes by their family members, or they fell into promo by complete accident.
I’m the latter – a first generation American, the daughter of Caribbean-born parents from Trinidad and Tobago. They raised me in Brooklyn, New York, a long way from Houston, where I now live, or ePromos headquarters in Minnesota. I entered this industry by chance.
When I started my career at ePromos, I knew nothing of promotional products. I didn’t think anything of them except that they were free: the T-shirt you receive at a sporting event or the pen you use at the bank. I told myself that I would stay for six months and then get into something else.
Those six months have turned into 18 years and counting – the same length of time it takes for a baby to become an adult. I wasn’t born into promo, but you could say I’ve been raised by it. And just like your parents teach you common sense, this industry has taught me what I call the basics, which apply no matter how high you climb on your career ladder.
My knowledge of operations comes from years of working in the trenches. I’ve learned by osmosis mixed with being told no and a lot of trial and error. I worked my way up from an entry level role to a C-suite position, and along my journey I have learned and seen so many things. But I always come back to the basics. No matter how many books you read on management, at the core there are basics steps or tips that determine every outcome.
Let’s get back to the basics in running successful promo businesses. Here are five quick tips to achieve operational success.
1) Do The Work
Don’t skip steps in the process. Take time to do your research, vetting ideas and processes. Doing this will allow you to make better decisions that will directly affect what you are trying to accomplish. This preparation is essential to creating a solid plan. Slacking in this area can be costly and lead to the downfall of a project or process.
While working smarter rather than harder is commendable, executing the work remains paramount.
2) Listen And Solicit Feedback
Listen and trust people of tenure in the roles or positions closely tied to the process or plan. Solicit feedback and stay in constant communication. Involve all key players and eliminate silos. This will create understanding and alignment amongst the team. Alignment ensures all players are working in unison to accomplish the goal. Working in unison is a superpower often forgotten.
Having a team member out of alignment will derail what you are trying to accomplish. Having a pulse on the day-to-day and prevalent details will have you one step closer to securing a successful strategy.
It’s easier said than done, but always critical. Be clear about what you are wanting to accomplish. Set goals or milestones and be accountable.
Discipline will be notable, so you can avoid shiny things taking you off course or going down rabbit holes. It is easy to become overwhelmed, so execute each task in phases or steps. Break things down into bite size pieces, allowing a build up to completing the intended goals. It is important to know that the best plan can fall short, so be relentless and steadfast.
At this point you have done a sizable portion of the work. Too often, this is when fatigue kicks in. You have been working so hard that you neglect to measure the fruits of your labor, but the work is not over.
Retrospective meetings are important, but it’s also crucial to have tangible data to prove out and or support what you are trying to accomplish. You want to identify strength and areas of improvement. These calls outs will lead to better decision making that will enhance your success.
No matter the size of your company, you do not always need to break the bank to purchase tools to measure. Remember, it’s all about the basics. Re-use and recycle applies not only in sustainability, but in operations, too. Tap into the resources you already have in place. You will be surprised how many of your systems come with unused services apps or programs that can be taken advantage of. In addition, there are plenty of free tools online that can be tapped into.
5) Step And Repeat
Rome was not built in a day. Sometimes it takes more than one time for a process or task to stick. Do not get discouraged if what you laid out falls short the first time. Step and repeat – try and try again until you find a groove, and then watch what you have created bloom.
On top of their likelihood to increase your odds of success with any project or process, practicing these tips repeatedly will increase your own skill level, value and awareness. Operations is not a race but a marathon, and you will improve with time and practice.
If you can apply these tips, you are on your way to growth, scalability and operational success.
Marshall is the vice president of operations at distributor ePromos Promotional Products. A self-described “operations fanatic,” she originally joined the company as a pre-production coordinator in 2004.