Eliminate Waste with a Lean Business Model

“The most dangerous kind of waste is the waste we do not recognize.” 

– Shigeo Shingo

When you think of “running lean,” what comes to mind?

For many entrepreneurs, running lean means producing great results on a shoestring budget. Traditionally, being “lean” has meant doing more with less. Lean business models are all the rage, especially for start-ups or for small regional firms. But recently, the concept has expanded.

Today, a lean business model is a strategy that uses continuous planning and streamlined processes to address customer needs rapidly. Here is one working definition:

A lean business model is a business strategy that strives to eliminate waste in products and processes while satisfying customer wants. In doing so, the business will receive more positive customer returns (like increased sales and goodwill) while expanding profit margins.

Lean businesses are those that recognize inefficiencies, adapt quickly, and continually prototype new options to accommodate shifts in demand.

Lean Business Practices in Action

One real-life example of a lean business strategy comes from the automotive industry.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Japanese companies dominated American auto sales by becoming more customer-oriented. Responding to market demand, Japan produced several high-quality, low-cost vehicles that were assembled in the U.S. This appealed to a niche in the market while significantly reducing development time and operating costs. Sales boomed, and it took the better part of a decade for American manufacturers to regain this lost market share.

It’s easy to recognize the results of a winning approach, but what does a lean business model look like in practice? Here are three parameters to guide your thinking:

1. Make strategy the heart of your plan

Lean businesses are flexible, fast, and efficient.

Adaptable companies are those that can change tactics while keeping their strategy consistent. What (or why) does your unique business connect with your target markets? Keep this strategic focus consistent with staying intimately connected to your preferred buyers.

2. Track progress and focus on what works

Since lean business models respond quickly to shifting demand, your company must have an accurate pulse on what is working.

This may involve fast cycles of surveying customers, with corresponding numbers that are specific and measurable.

The most important part of tweaking a business model plan is your data. This includes regularly updated sales projections, detailed performance tasks, or timebound concept developments.

Lean businesses often find that monthly projections are essential, but trajectories beyond one year are usually a waste of time. The goal is not guessing “right,” but to generate probable results and to make course corrections as you go.

3. Revise and Review

Managing a lean business model isn’t something you do once, or even once a year. Like calorie counting, the key to staying lean is regular repetition over time.

In business, this means revising and tweaking your plan consistently, including a commitment to reward experimentation and to prioritize ideas based on their output. This can be painful. It may mean abandoning concepts you championed, or sacking projects you’ve invested months into. But isn’t that better than losing time and money in the long run?

Whether you like it or not, the only constant thing in life is change. Running a lean business requires an agile mindset, a humble attitude, and a willingness to learn as you go.

4 Modern Design Resources for Your Bag of Tricks

Looking for a few hacks to sharpen your designs?

By adding a few extra resources, the force of your talent can expand exponentially! And with new design tools being released regularly, the possibilities are limitless.

Everyone needs a few handy helps in their bag of trips. Check out these four modern design resources and up your game today!

Quick Design

Want to learn design?

Quick Design is a platform that lists free design courses available online. From 3D and animation to things like cryptocurrency and “ethical hacking,” you can select free courses for design based on your skill as either a beginner or an expert. Step-by-step practical resources are available to a wide range of 3D, CAD software, and other industry-oriented specialists.

As an additional benefit, you can follow other designers of your interest, which can help in networking or creative brainstorming.

unDraw

For quality illustrations that you can embed in your design on a moment’s notice, check out unDraw.

unDraw is an MIT licensed collection of quality open license images that can be dropped directly into your favorite design tool. These thoughtful, elegant, and functional SVG images can be downloaded and customized in three easy steps:

  • Browse or search to find illustrations you want to use for your design
  • Change the color to match your palette or through your asset colors later
  • Download the image to your clipboard and paste it wherever you want

unDraw images can be used for free in commercial or personal projects without worries, so drop some into your print pieces, mobile apps, or whatever you can create!

UI Sources

Inspiration regarding design “flow” can be hard to find.

Enter UI Sources.

Launched in 2018, UI Sources is a curated repository of motion design. To date, UI Sources catalogs around 500 interactions from apps that bring inspiration and strategic navigation options in everything from augmented reality, chatbots, in-app purchasing, and more.

UI Sources can help you with your own projects, giving you tools to analyze product flows and features and to get real design inspiration for your apps, web designs, or even big-picture schematic print designs. This resource is extensive and can be used by designers, developers, product packaging specialists, and entrepreneurs of all kinds.

Absurd Illustrations

What to play around a bit?

In a digital era, sometimes, we need to interact with something more human to make us appreciate both the beauty and the imperfection of something made by hand. Absurd.design is a project that comes with a set of downloadable, surrealist illustrations for articles, landing pages, marketing materials, and more.

High-quality images are available in a variety of formats. From here, you can craft a truly distinctive message with an illustration that’s available only to you.

Improve Your Workflow

Each designer has their own personal list of “aha” tools.

Check out these four goodies and share the love with your colleagues too. You’ll enjoy using them to increase efficiency and to dazzle your best clients!

Increase Conversions with 3 Headline Hooks

Do you ever wander through a library aisle you would normally avoid?

Perhaps you’re a fiction reader who ambles into the autobiography section. Surprisingly, a cover grabs your attention and you check out a book you’ve never heard of.

What was it that caused you to act? Just one short glimpse at the title.

That’s telling.

Fool-Proof Headline Formulas

Headlines matter. A lot.

Researchers estimate that in today’s content-saturated culture, only 8 out of 10 readers make it past the headline of most pieces. In 2016, an academic study of bit.ly links to BBC, CNN, Fox News, New York Times, and Huffington Post articles found that 59 percent of the links were never clicked.

And even if you do get readers past the front door, you still need to bring them to a point of purchase.

Which headlines best engage readers and maximize response? Here are three headline formulas to increase your conversions:

“The Best” List Headlines

Readers are selfish.

When they engage with content, they want something of value.

Think about it from your own perspective. What kind of “hacks” grab your attention? Weight loss? Easy savings? Life management tricks? Most people wish to avoid sifting through information, so “best” headlines offer fast and easy value.

Best list headlines use a formula like this: The __ Best Ways to Get ______

The trick to this headline is to be concrete in your wording and to ensure corresponding content backs up your claim. Here are three examples:

  • The 20 Best Ways to Make Money on a Side Hustle
  • The 12 Best Ways to Make the Most of Your Commute
  • The 8 Best Ways to Give a Non-Threatening Sales Pitch

Threat-of-Loss Headlines

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) is real. Just think of how tempting some phony clickbait ads can be!

FOMO headlines are a compelling motivator because they are time-sensitive and prompt vulnerability in the reader. As an entrepreneur, ask yourself these questions when crafting a threat-of-loss headline:

     — What damage or cost can my service help people avoid?

     — How will acting today save them money or inconvenience?

     — If they forget to respond, who might they disappoint?

FOMO headlines use this formula: You’ll Be _______ if You _____________

For example:

  • You’ll Kick Yourself if You Miss This Early Registration Discount
  • Your Wife Will Be Stranded if You Cut Corners on Seasonal Auto Maintenance
  • You’ll Lose $200 if You Delay Your Renewal

You can use threat-of-loss headlines for both serious and light-hearted topics, so have fun and be specific!

Curiosity Headlines

One of the best ways to grab readers is to engage curiosity to affect change.

People are painfully aware of their shortcomings, so arouse their need to educate themselves so they can avoid danger or uncertainty. Tell them how they’re wasting time, losing money, missing out on helpful technology, or unintentionally hurting someone.

Curiosity headlines use a formula like this: What You Don’t Know About _______ Can _______

For example:

  • Here’s What You Don’t Know About Electric Cars That Could Bust Your Budget
  • Here’s What You Don’t Know About SEO That Could Harm Your Business
  • Here’s How Grain-Free Dog Food Can Increase Canine Heart Disease

Write Powerful Headlines They Won’t Ignore

Dull headlines tell consumers your content will be just as lifeless.

Do you want to elevate your headlines from mediocre to marvelous? Use the threat of loss, curiosity, or sneak peeks at the “best” options to boost curiosity, grab readers, and move people to purchase.

7 Greetings to Use in Corporate Thanksgiving Cards

Want to make the holidays happier this year?

Showing gratitude through your year-end greetings takes some creativity and planning. Maybe this would be a good time for your business to break the mold when it comes to year-end tidings!

In 2016, Mayville Engineering Company, Inc (MEC) decided to amplify appreciation through an employee-empowered kindness campaign. In lieu of traditional greeting cards, MEC created a series of fun in-house GIFs for their employees to get them smiling.

In tandem, MEC sent “acts of kindness” prompts to spur a contagious rash of goodwill. These 25 acts of kindness included both personal and professional ideas, such as, “compliment someone to their boss,” or “donate a piece of clothing for every present you receive.” Employees were encouraged to share the love in and beyond the company and to share photos on its social channels using the hashtag #MECKindness.

Share a Simple Thank You

While you may not start a company-wide campaign, perhaps you could launch appreciation in action through corporate Thanksgiving cards.

A simple thank you goes a long way, and Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to say it. Why should you consider Thanksgiving greetings instead of a more traditional Christmas card? Here are three reasons:

To encourage holiday sales

Thanksgiving marks the beginning of a peak season (or planning for an upcoming business calendar) for many people.

While showing your gratitude in November, you’ll also strategically position your name at a time that customers are ready to buy. While expressing appreciation, your brand and products will receive top-of-mind awareness in a strategic season.

To surprise and delight clients

Customers love to associate with companies that have human qualities.

Thanksgiving greeting cards will bring an element of human contact that is intensified by this unexpected November gesture. Appreciation cards sent any time outside of Christmas are especially memorable, so avoid the December mailbox clutter and be the first to wish them well this season.

To build brand loyalty

When you care for your customers, not only do you improve the likelihood of repeat business, you create advocates who are loyal to your brand and determined to spread the goodwill about your service.

Take advantage of the concentrated attention you’ll receive outside the holiday rush and highlight reasons your brand is worth every penny!

7 Ideas for Your Thanksgiving Card

Need a little prose for your Thanksgiving cards? Here are seven phrases to inspire your designs:

1. May your table be filled with family and gratitude this season. Happy Thanksgiving!

2. All year long, but especially during this season, we’re grateful for incredible customers like you.

3. Though we’re thankful for all of our customers, you’re especially high on our list. Thank you for being a great customer and Happy Thanksgiving!

4. With appreciation for your business and your loyalty throughout the year. Best wishes for a Happy Thanksgiving!

5. It’s the perfect time of year to send our sincere thanks for your business. Happy Thanksgiving from our business to your home!

6. Sometimes in the rush of the day, we fail to say THANKS loud enough. So today – and this holiday season – we want to express our gratitude. Thank you for your patronage, partnership, and your commitment to crafting vibrant industries here in ____________.

7. At ____, we believe that relationships are our most valuable resource, and a vibrant local business community is something worth celebrating. Thank you for the privilege of doing business with you this year!

Get Started Today

Ready to get started? This season, we’ve got you covered when it comes to customer engagement. Call today to discuss a custom holiday card or to get your design up and running!

Get Ahead at Work by Busting These Bad Habits

Work and sleep are two of the most time-consuming things we do.

The average American will spend nearly 90,000 hours at work over a lifetime, so the way you approach your job can have a huge impact on your quality of being. As Annie Dillard famously said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Do you want your experience at work to be as happy and anxiety free as possible? If so, perhaps it’s time to put the scalpel to some of your less-than-desirable work habits.

Here are just a few ways bad choices might make your life more difficult at work.

Habits that Hurt You Personally

Skipping Breaks

Sometimes we think we’re too busy to take breaks or grab some fresh air.

But this simply isn’t true. Research shows productivity is highest when people work in “sprints” with frequent breaks (around 90 minutes with 15-minute rests).

Winging it on Mondays

Do you struggle to get down to business at the start of each week?

Devote part of Fridays to making a “start here” list for the following week so you can hit the ground running on Mondays.

Negative Attitudes

A recent CareerBuilder survey showed that 62% of employers say they are less likely to promote employees with a pessimistic attitude.

Avoid complaining (which comes across as unprofessional) or responding to suggestions with negative comments like “that won’t work,” or “I wouldn’t know where to start.”

Even when things go wrong, focus your energy on what you’ve learned rather than despising your situation.

Habits that Annoy Others

Eating Smelly or Loud Foods

While a small snack may be fine, avoid eating foods that are messy, noisy, or smelly to protect your reputation with co-workers. Top stink generators include reheated fish, raw onions, tuna, smelly cheese, and hard-boiled eggs.

Grooming at Your Desk

When you are distracted, do you tend to chew your nails, play with your hair, pick at your face, or pull food out of your teeth? What if the co-worker next to you did this? Yuck. Enough said!

Interrupting or Asking Too Many Questions

While a willingness to contribute can be great, often you may be repeatedly cutting off others without realizing it.

Interrupting is rude and shows a lack of self-control. Similarly, asking an abundance of abrupt questions can be draining or annoying to others. When you need further information, gather a list of questions and pose them in an organized, positive way so you are respectful of others’ time.

Habits that Harm Your Reputation

Using Work Time Improperly

Be honest: while at work, how often are you handling texts, personal e-mails, or private phone calls?

If you think others don’t notice, you’re wrong. While co-workers may tolerate this behavior, it will certainly hinder the respect or opportunities you receive in the future. Keep your personal life out of sight (perhaps tucking the phone away or on silent) and you will be more efficient and more valued.

Distraction or Delays

Why is texting while driving illegal?

Because it’s impossible to concentrate fully on two things at once. If you are jotting personal notes, sending e-mails, or galloping through the fields of your imagination during meetings, it sends an inconsiderate message and communicates a lack of integrity. Come to appointments on time and ready to focus.

Being Nosy or Political

While small talk goes a long way to build rapport with others, avoid uninvited personal inquiries or incessant curiosity that won’t let things go.

And remember, if certain topics are divisive in politics, they’ll be divisive at work. Keep conversations focused on work-related issues to avoid insulting others, hurting your professional image, or causing rifts in your company.

A Finish that Won’t Fade

Did you use Play-doh as a child?

Ever inadvertently leave your simple shapes to harden in the open air? Though your brittle pieces later crumbled, a simple finishing process would have sustained them for centuries. Ceramic firing transforms malleable clay into a rock-hard, durable substance. The additions of underglaze, luster, and around 930 degrees Fahrenheit can vitrify clay creations from goo to gorgeous, glass-like pieces that are impervious to water and time.

In ceramics and in print, the finishing process is nearly as important as the design itself. Finishing refers to the services applied to your print piece after the ink hits the paper. These can be added before or after the paper comes off the press, and examples of finishing services include aqueous or UV protection coatings, binding or collating, trimming or folding, stamping, laminating, perforating, mounting, or coatings like matte or satin varnishes.

Fabulous Finishing Techniques in Design and Print

In the past, many of the rock-star finishing options were impossible for the budget-conscious customer.

Things like die-cutting, embossing, or foil stamping options were saved for the fanciest invitations or a “lifestyles of the rich and famous” print run. Today, however, technology has transformed ordinary printing, decreasing the time and expense it takes to create textured, fabulous pieces.

Ready to take your work up a notch but not sure what your options include? Here is a basic menu of finishing services accessible to you today:

Trimming or Die-Cutting

Trims can be used to shear or reduce a printed piece along crop lines, page borders, or into a unique or fun shape that expresses your brand (like business cards in the shape of a coffee cup).

Foil Stamps or Blocking

This process is creating by pressing metal dies (or colored foil) onto a surface with a heated die. This process is used mostly to enhance typography and logos.

Embossing or Debossing

This allows you to press an image into a paper or card to create a three-dimensional design.

Embossing results in a raised surface while debossing brings a depressed (indented) surface. This is a great way to give your design impressive dimension and texture.

Perforation or Unique Folds

Perforating creates a series of fine holes to allow a portion of the printed piece to be easily detached (think coupons, ID cards, RSVP slips, or ticketing items).

Non-traditional fold options include everything from accordion and zig-zag styles to overlapping or tapered die-cuts that create wonderful visual texture. Looking for inspiration? A quick conversation with our design team will undoubtedly spark creativity!

Laminating or Binding

Laminating binds clear plastic film onto printed matter to improve durability and protect it against smudges, wrinkles, or tears.

Binding options include anything from a simple staple or comb binding to saddle stitching, screw binding, combs, spirals, and more.

Varnish and Coating Options

Commercial print applications (like brochures, business cards, and packaging options) typically apply a protective coat that seal the ink and enhance visual appeal.

Coatings range from basic machine and aqueous varnishes to UV coatings and high build varnishes that have the appearance of water or wax. Confusing? No problem. Our experts can guide you through the best varnish or coating options for your particular project.

Ready to turn heads with a resounding finish? Go big and bold to make your next printing soar.

How to Grow When Sales are Slow

Nothing was going right at the plate for Dave Concepcion, the shortstop for the Cincinnati Reds.

About a month into the 1976 season, he was suffering a hitting slump, a plague of physical and mental anguish that had frittered away his batting average to around .150. The Reds were in Chicago, where the Cubs had a large industrial gas-operated clothes dryer in the stadium. Feeling goofy, Concepcion hopped in the dryer and called to his teammates. “Hey! Maybe this will help me get hot.”

Going along with the gag, Pat Zachry, the pitcher, hit the side of the switch, pretending to turn on the machine. With a puff of smoke, sparks flew, the machine whirred and began to rotate with Concepcion inside.

”I’ll never forget it,” said Zachry. ”Davey started spinning, and I froze with my eyes bugging out. Oh, it was terrible. Then I banged the side of the switch again. And the machine stopped.

”Davey went out that day and got four for five,” said Zachry. “And for weeks it was almost impossible to get him out. I tell him now that I made him the player he is today.”

Fast-Track Productivity in Unconventional Ways

No one in baseball or business is certain how slumps happen, but it’s helpful to know how to react when they do. Especially if you see trends that repeat each year.

Here are four creative options to fast track productivity if your momentum is slow this summer:

1. Engage in pro bono opportunities that enhance your products, services, and relationships.

In slowdown seasons, invest company time in something that will pay off.

Who are your target customers or VIP account holders? Approach these contributors and offer to host a free training event or professional engagement that will put your products and people in the limelight. Another alternative is to select core clients and offer to enhance your services for them for no cost.

2. Do non-profit work for your best customer’s charity of choice.

Slow periods are an ideal time to invest people equity in causes that matter.

During your down times, partner with agencies that your clients value and offer volunteer hours, free professional services, or mentoring that can make these organizations stronger.

3. Stretch your team’s skills.

When activity wanes, morale often follows.

Invigorate employees by offering on-going education opportunities, professional mentoring within your team, or innovation labs that mobilize groups to tackle some of your most ambitious goals.

Take time to refresh decor, business cards, or your website, and involve your team in designing these pieces. Here you’ll strengthen your products, catalyze creative thinking, or upgrade inefficient systems.

4. Network or collaborate with other professionals.

Finally, as your business weathers change, remember that other entrepreneurs may be in the same boat.

Find like-minded friends and cook up a multi-site promotion to bring people back. Network and learn from people in your community or industry while you have extra time. Or trade services and train one another in ways that are mutually beneficial.

Want to make the most of each day? By reaching out, stretching your team, or collaborating with others, you’ll sharpen your skills and fortify your very best relationships.