The Best $85 I’ve Ever Spent to $12 million annually! Shoestring Success of PrintResource.com

In March of 1993, after 2 years of on-and-off unemployment, I faced personal bankruptcy. I had exhausted all available unemployment benefits, and my wife was earning just $8 an hour as a part-time intern at a IT research firm. Our paltry income ($960 a month, before taxes) was not near what we needed to pay our mortgage, let alone all the other monthly bills. We had $1200 left to our names, and an $1800 mortgage bill due in 3 weeks… yikes!

After a lot of soul searching, I postulated that since I was unemployed with no current possibilities for a job, I might as well change my career aspirations and goals to something better. So, after much research, instead of trying to get back into magazine publishing (after 10 years of it), I decided to go into sales. After all, why not pursue a career where I could make a better than decent living? My personal ‘inventory’ included having mastered negotiating and buying $millions worth of commercial printing annually, and I had a real passion for not only the product, but for serving customers at a high level. This led me to think long and hard about starting a company who would provide extremely efficient, high-value commercial printing services to New England businesses.

Only one problem… I was broke. So, with $85 (the amount the phone company charged me to install a line in a friend’s commercial office space), I launched PrintResource.com. Since I couldn’t afford office rent, I traded marketing consulting in exchange for the rent. And as paying for my own business cards, letterhead, and envelopes was out of the question, I sold my passion to one of the printing manufacturers that I would be representing – promising that they would be paid back in 6 months (I made good on that). While I had passion, no one told me how hard it would be to stay motivated (which was the biggest challenge). I bought a poster that said “Keep your eyes to the sunshine, and you cannot see the shadows!” However, I frequently struggled to stay focused on the sunshine (What sunshine? I would ask myself).

I nearly folded shortly after I started, when I received a very attractive job offer to run Marketing and Operations for a well-established magazine publisher. I had no idea what to do. Ultimately, I sat down and asked myself what I wanted to be doing in 5 years… and as it turned out, it was building my own business. That decision made a dramatic impact on my attitude and ultimately the company’s future.

I leveraged every single relationship I had, and threw myself into the sales process 10 hours a day – despite having zero prior sales experience. I visited the local BMW dealership and took photos of my then-dream car. I was scared to death of sales, so I hung 3 photos on my partition at work – just above my phone – a photo of my 7 month old son, Christopher, a photo of Nisbet Beach Plantation on Nevis (Caribbean island), and a photo of my favorite car (a 1994 Boston-Green, 318i with a 5-speed transmission and tan, vinyl interior). In one year, I wanted to be able to financially take care of my son (impossible at the moment), take my wife back to the Caribbean, and buy that BMW. I did all three in 7 months. Every time I wavered from picking up that phone to call yet another potential client, I stared at my photos, renewed my commitment, and made the call.

Motivation may have helped ‘gain’ our clients, but an extremely high level of personal service kept them thrilled with our services over the past 17-1/2 years. We almost always become the ‘go-to’ company for all of our clients – the people they turn to when they need the impossible achieved. Unusual in business, we have been regularly praised for our ethics and honesty (internally, we always ask “What’s the ‘right’ thing to do?”, despite the answer often being what you don’t want to hear!), and have been told too many times to count that we treat each client as if they were our only client. Sales is necessary to start the process of achieving business success… which in my book, is to make clients into Raving Fans (see Ken Blanchard’s book with that title). Only high-value service can achieve that.

Ultimately, thanks to huge and tireless efforts and support from my friends such as now-partner Mark Tomasetti, and too many client-friends to mention, in 1998 PrintResource achieved #181 on the Inc. 500 list of the 500 fastest-growing private companies in the United States. Unbelievable. I purchased many copies of that issue of Inc., and handed them to my clients with a personal thank you note and a few tears. PrintResource now has revenue in excess of $12 million annually, and continues to serve each of our clients as if they were our only one.

David Sears, CEO PrintResource.com

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