Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Olawale Awani, I started an online printing business to help small businesses have access to professional design and print services using a technology platform (website and social media accounts). The primary products and services are customized printed products, marketing materials, and promotional items.
Our flagship products are business cards and lanyards. We currently work for individuals, small, medium businesses, and corporate organizations.
We currently service about 5,000 active customers with an average $25,000 monthly revenue and a net profit of 20% margin. We have a monthly order fulfillment of about 500 orders monthly with 10 employees and about two dedicated to phone support.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
My personal journey into online printing was a result of changing circumstances. I started my career as an account executive with a securities depository, later working in a family photo materials supply business. An original equipment manufacturer was looking for an official distributor in Nigeria, I applied and was accepted to represent them and eventually became a hardware vendor supplying printers, consumables, and printer software to print companies in Nigeria and West African English-speaking countries. I later became a print vendor because of my familiarity with the industry so I started printing for professional print brokers who did not have the capital to set up a print factory.
Due to excessive competition and price squeeze, we started offering prints to businesses on a retail and corporate level. The bureaucracy of working with large organizations because of the terms and conditions was starting to affect our business especially long payment terms and brutal bidding pricing war amongst printers led to changing our business channel. We realized the most profitable space was the retail online printing business and decided to run with an online printing business as we did not have to deal with long payment terms, brutal bidding price wars.
The aha moment was obviously when we could get paid upfront and charge a premium for providing customer service or assisting clients to achieve their objective of marketing their brand. The interesting factor was also the ability to work with clients across the country thereby removing location barriers and giving us more possibilities of growing our brand and business to a national company as opposed to a local print service provider.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The essential element of the online printing business is the eCommerce feature. The website is the engine room for running an online printing business. We had gone with a provider from Israel but we were not satisfied with the user interface and back end of the platform hence it became our first failure as the first software company did not deliver the interface we had hoped for.
We went back to the market to look for another web2print software and eventually found an Indian company that had the right software and support that we settled for. The company is our technology partner to date.
The product manufacturing was not new to us as we were already offering printing services before taking the business online.
The website operates with a clear process whereby clients and customers can either use our intuitive design studio with thousands of print-ready templates to adjust in the studio even with no design knowledge. The client could also upload a design file that they already have or choose to hire our in-house designers to create a custom design for their brand and have it printed and produced.
We have invested over a hundred thousand dollars outside of the equipment purchase and if we add total investment to the brand to market then the total investment will be four hundred thousand dollars ($400,000).
Describe the process of launching the business.
We started by going live on the website. We spoke to technology platforms about our offering to get featured and push the necessary public relations articles and online media. We paid where we needed to to get the necessary media attention. Our social media strategy was to create quality content and run paid ads to increase visibility.
While we created a buzz with tech websites to give us the credibility we needed, this was just a channel to the market to give us official visibility amongst the young, tech-savvy, and upwardly mobile segment of the targeted market.
We were pleased that other lesser-known tech blogs and websites wrote about us after seeing articles from the main tech blogs.
The business was financed through a combination of personal money, bank loans, and personal loans.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have found out the following:
Need to create a strong online media presence by having authoritative platforms write about our brand. We approached known communities especially women and female-focused groups. A particular community was SHELEADS AFRICA and we had them introduce our business to their community. This was also done with other digital communities female-focused as we noticed the biggest and fastest-growing group of entrepreneurs are women.
Creating a strong social media presence. We created strong visual graphic art to stand out from the competition on social media. Instagram is our lead sales channel accounting for the vast majority of customer onboarding.
Running effective Google and social media advertising campaigns. Eighty percent (80%) of our customers came from our online campaigns if not more as we are a business that is essentially digital.
As regards retaining customers, we made sure all customers received top-quality print production. If for any reason the product fell below expectation we would reproduce at no extra cost to our client.
Delivery of products was also important as we will bend backward to ensure our products were delivered as promised on delivery dates without excuses. If it means paying more to ensure delivery gets to customers as promised we would do to keep our brand promise.
This total customer experience gave us referrals and the position of the highest-rated print business in Nigeria.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Our current gross margins are forty percent with a net profit margin of twenty percent. We are currently spending between ten to fifteen percent on marketing. Our year-on-year growth of 45%. We currently have over forty thousand followers on our social media platforms.
We want to grow our customer base to fifty thousand and sales revenue to three million dollars in the nearest future as this represents a ten times growth.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
We have learned to run a lean and efficient team as opposed to thinking a large team equals progress. We have leveraged partnerships to improve our offerings and complement our services. Partnership with other print service providers to offer products where our partners have a comparative cost advantage and hence we were able to offer our customers quality products at affordable rates. Using our professional expertise we are also able to ensure the highest quality products.
Our partnerships have made us a smart company which means our production effort is towards core products and all other products are done by our trade partners. We expect to move towards being 100% smart in the near future where all our print and marketing products will be manufactured by our partners and we will concentrate on customer service delivery and total customer experience. This will make us a marketing powerhouse that supports small businesses which is an integral part of any economy.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
A few influential people are Brad Lea (Sales Expert), Grant Cardone (Business Mentor), Myles Munroe (Spiritual Mentor), and Les Brown (Life Coach).
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
I will advise new entrants to work on partnerships and strong marketing to create a platform that will bring value to users.
Entrepreneurs should also concentrate on market penetration using products that will help increase their customer base and essentially increase their relevance in their industry.
Customer base and relevance will in turn translate to profits and significant market share.
Where can we go to learn more?
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