The Ultimate list of Digital Business Tools For Sign Makers

The Ultimate list of Digital Business Tools For Sign Makers

The Sign Industry is a fast-paced, competitive and exciting world to trade in. To rise to the top and maintain your position sign companies must always keep up-to-date with tools, software and business trends in the industry. I have put together a list of tools and tips to help the modern day sign maker get the best out of their business!


 

File Transfer Systems

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As the line between sign making and large format printing is becoming ever more blurred, high resolution file transfer is an important part of day-to-day work in every sign and print shop. Emailing file attachments over 1-2mb can cause all manner of issues with email servers rejecting larger files and delivery failures. Different email providers enforce strict size limits on emails being sent and received through their servers. for example Gmail has a size limit of 25mb, which is very much the top end of email providers. However, Even if Gmail allows you to send the 25mb file you are relying on your recipients email provider to allow the file through their size limit.

So what can be done when you need to send or receive large files? 

We suggest using a cloud storage or specialised file delivery system. Please see some popular options below that allow large files up to 2gb to be sent for free!

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Wetransfer.com  - Send multiple files up to 2gb Free

WeTransfer is a fantastic service for both sign company and client. The platform runs straight from your web browser, needing no software for either party. When you have a large file or set of files, you head to the wetransfer.com home page, Enter your email address, your clients email address and then upload the files you wish to send. The files are then stored on the wetransfer server and your client will receive a email with a download link. This service is completely free for files up to 2gb, however there are some excellent paid plans which allow you to customise your own upload page and send much larger files. WeTransfer is simplicity at it's finest!

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Mailbigfile - Send up to 2gb Free

Mailbigfile is an alternative to the Wetransfer system, They both share a very similar functionality and allow you to send 2Gb of files for free! Mailbigfile however has lot more to offer in the way of business add-ons. You can use a business account to add upload boxes to your ecommerce website and order pages, thus allowing your clients to upload their artwork at the time of purchase. Mailbigfile has a whole host of optional extras which increases the complexity of the system but makes it more powerful for developers. A must look if you are trying to configure a slick online entity.

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Dropbox - Cloud Storage

Dropbox is a cloud and desktop software solution for managing, storing and sharing files. You must download the software which allows you to create a folder on your computer that is constantly synced with the dropbox cloud storage. This is a great feature that means you can access your files at any time, any where in the world. You can also send download links to specific files for clients approval. Dropbox provide business plans to suit your needs.


 

CRM / MIS  Software

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Customer focused companies are proven to excel in their industry when compared with companies that are purely profit focused. Keeping track of quotes, opportunities, sales, invoicing and customer service can be a daunting task for SMEs and Large Enterprises alike. Having a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and MIS (Management Information System) is crucial to maintaining a system that can grow with your business. If you can set a great foundation in customer service procedures it will really pay dividends later down the line when you are looking to expand.

 

Clarity - Sign & Print Software

Clarity Software - Sign industry specific, customer management, quoting, invoicing & marketing

initially launched in 2001 with the goal of simplifying the quoting, order processing and invoicing for sign, print and display companies. 16 years later Clarity is constantly updating and improving it's systems to mould to the sign and print industries growing needs. Clarity has some great features such as custom product calculators which allow sign and print companies to create dynamic products that calculate pricing by the Sq/M. These calculators are fantastic for fast quoting without specific manufacturing knowledge. Clarity offers a full CRM system that stores customer data, sales history, success rates and more. Sage also seamlessly integrates with Sage accounts which helps create a fluid process from quoting>confirmation>invoicing>accounting. Clarity is a true contender if you are looking to harness your sales information, look after your customers and keep track of jobs. Say good bye to the double entry of quotes and invoices!

Clarity is a perfect solution if you are a small sign company looking to drastically improve efficiency and business admin speed. However when it comes to more complicated , larger scale businesses it may be worth exploring its features in detail to ensure it can cope with your requirements.

Tharstens - Print & Sign software

Tharstens - Print Management, job tracking, quoting, invoicing & customer Management

The Tharstern MIS is a fully integrated and modular Management Information System that can be configured to meet the requirements of your sign and print business. Tharsten have tailored their MIS software to support the exacting needs and requirements of customers in the print, packaging and label industries. Much like Clarity, Tharsten are a market leader in providing an extremely comprehensive package for the sign and print industry, with powerful integration capabilities.

Tharsten pride themselves with seamlessly integrating into your business. The main focus is to increase the speed of complex quotes, increase production efficiency, Track job status through print/installation processes and also manage your customer database. Tharsten is the real McCoy when it comes to MIS/CRM systems and is suited to the larger sign and print companies looking to nail down every process into a slick operation.

salesforce CRM for signage

Salesforce - Customer Relationship, Sales & Marketing

A world leader of its kind. Salesforce is a powerful CRM system that focuses on customer satisfaction, customer data, marketing and leads. Unlike Clarity & Tharstens, Salesforce will not handle your quoting tasks and everyday business admin. However as a sales tool it is another market leader. Salesforce does have lots of extra modules that can be added to the base system, however if you are looking for a Turnkey solution, sales force may not be it.

Suited to the larger companies that are looking to focus on there customer leads, data and sales. Salesforce could be a great fit for companies with reps and sales targets.

 

mailchimp for sign and print marketing

Mailchimp - Customer email management & marketing FREE

Looking for less commitment than a full CRM/MIS software package, but still value your customers? No problem at all.

Mailchimp is one of the most popular email marketing tools around. It has a FREE option for up to 2000 customer email addresses, Which will let you create professional email campaigns with pre-designed templates and send them to your customers. This is a great way to keep in contact with your customer database. The best part is how simple it is to use, just sign up and upload your contact list (excel or csv files work great) and then you're on your way to sending news, offers and product updates. You can schedule your emails and sort your customers into categories or lists. The premium features of Mailchimp give you some powerful tools to track open rates and also if people click through to your e-commerce site and make it to the purchase stage. Mailchimp is a very valuable tool for any marketing efforts that are on a smaller budget.


 

Impact Vehicle Outlines

Impact Vehicle Outlines 2017

Any sign shop that is currently providing vinyl graphics for vehicles is at a disadvantage if they do not use a vehicle outline system. The Impact Vehicle Outlines Created by Impact Graphic Solutions, has an extremely extensive vehicle library with all the major manufacturers models . The files are provided in 1:1 .eps drawings or also as 1:20 .CDL & .PLT files. Suitable for use in a wide variety of sign design packages such as Coreldraw, EasySign, Flexisign, Adobe Illustrator, SignLab, Cast mate & many more.

Increase the speed and accuracy of your design proofs. Cut down the need to visit a client before initial quoting to take photos & measurements of the vehicle. And produce cut / print ready designs straight from the proof.

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Sign & Print Design Packages

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The sign & print world revolves around the ability to create and edit digital artwork into usable file formats for printers, cutters and routers. Vector based software is the lifeblood of the sign industry, and picking the correct software for your company could be make or break! There are a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to vector design software, so I have compiled a list of 3 of the big names that will be great foundations for any studio.

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Adobe Illustrator - Vector Design Package - From £20.22 p/month

The creative industry's behemoth! If you are looking for the most universally known design package you will run into the Adobe design suite. In-fact the term "Photoshop" has even made it into the Oxford dictionary. Illustrator however, is Adobe's answer to vector based design and it covers all corners.

A very robust software package that is used across the globe by design studios, Adobe Illustrator is not the easiest software to pick up but has a wealth of tutorial videos available on youtube for you to learn just about anything. In days gone by Illustrator came with a hefty price tag, however now it is available on a monthly subscription from just £20.22 p/month.

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CorelDraw - Vector Design Package - From £16.67 p/month

A favourite amongst the sign industry, Coreldraw has similar functionality to Illustrator but I would argue it is a little more stripped back and easier to use. Coreldraw also has the Roland colour library and spot colour system pre-loaded which is very beneficial for Roland users creating print & cut graphics.  Tutorials can also be found on youtube although it is definitely more limited. Coreldraw comes in at a cheaper £16.67 p/month which is tremendous value for the amount of features available. A Sure winner if you're starting out or find illustrator a little too hard to handle.

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SignLab - Sign Specific Package - From £395

An all-inclusive vinyl cut signage design and production software product but also supports the design of full color graphics that may be sourced out for wide format digitally printed signs. Signlab is one of the most reliable software for basic designing and cutting with a large variety of CAD plotters. It features a basic colour system that can be used for wide format printing, although this software is mostly used for simple cut vinyl signs. SignLab does not feature a monthly subscription, however the low £395 price tag makes it economical in the long run. My experience with Signlab 10 was running a Basic Graphtec cutter, it never let me down. Fast and simple tools that just get the job done. Signlab might not have all the thrills of Illustrator or CorelDraw, but if you are looking to get hands on with simple cut vinyl. Signlab is the choice.


Invoicing & Accounts Packages

accounting software sign maker

Lets face it, accounts is never going to be a fun topic to talk about. However, all business owners know that a firm understanding of the accounting procedures and financial data is absolutely key to running a tight ship. Accounting done poorly can cost you time and money, so it is important to get this nailed down and super efficient. The aim of the game here is to utilise technology to help you keep track of your companies finances.

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Pandle - Free Cloud Book Keeping

Pandle is a UK based cloud bookkeeping website. It provides Free online accounts software for you to create Quotes, invoicing and Reporting. A great tool for any self-employed or small sign shop looking for an easy , cheap and effective accounting system. Pandle also offer a Pro option which includes automated bank feeds, premium invoice templates and cash flow projection. The Pro account option is available for just £5 p/month which is superb value for money.

wave-logos

Wave Accounting - Free Cloud Book Keeping

Wave is another fantastic free option for cloud accounting. It is a US-version of Pandle however it works brilliantly for companies and self-employed entities in the UK. Wave has fully editable Quote, Invoicing templates, Recurring Billing, Automated bank feeds, Receipt tracking,  Product database and much more!

I would recommend Wave accounts as my number 1 accounting software for micro businesses, entrepreneurs and SME business start-ups.  Another string to Wave's bow is the ability to connect with Stripe Payment processing. This allows invoices to contain a card payment link to accept credit/debit card payments from your customers. Wave does have some paid features if you would like to connect with a professional accountant for end of year accounting etc but none of these are necessary on the outset.

Lastly, Wave also has apps available in android/iOS for taking pictures of receipts and expenses which automatically show up on your accounts.  A top tool that cant be missed.


Payment Gateways & Card Processors

stripe-payments

If quoting and completing projects is not hard enough, Taking payment should not be another hurdle to jump through. Finding a safe, secure and reliable payment processing system is really important in creating a trustworthy relationship with your client base. Sometimes receiving BACs payments or Cash on Delivery just istn going to cut it in the business world....In walks the payment processor

stripe payments

StripeNo setup, monthly, or hidden fees - 1.4% + 20p

Stripe is a refreshingly simple way to accept card payments. Very low fees, no monthly subscription and you only pay for what you use. You can send customers invoices via Stripe and they will be directed to a secure payment page. Or you can add payment links to your invoices for your customers to complete checkout. As mentioned above, Stripe integrates seamlessly with Wave Accounting which makes a streamlined payment process. Stripe can also be easily added to ecommerce stores including Magento and wordpress, to provide secure checkout for your customers.

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IzettleNo monthly fees. No setup fees. No lock-in contract, Card reader Available - 1.00-2.75% fees

iZettle is another online based payment processor that is packed with some brilliant features. Similar to Stripe there are no set up or monthly fees which is a great start. iZettle also provide an iOS/android app that allows you to take payments at your store or wherever you go. for a one-time payment of £29 you can also get a chip&pin card reader to boost security and make card payments on the go easier.

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Paypal - No monthly fees. No setup fees. No lock-in contract, Card reader Available - 1.9-3.4% fees

Paypal is a household name in online payments. Secure, reliable and trusted across the world, you will have come across paypal if you have purchased items online. Paypal offer some brilliant business products that include accepting card payments, a card reader for onsite sales, small business loans based on your previous paypal income and integration with almost every ecommerce system online. Not the cheapest of the bunch but certainly one of the best. Paypal is so simple to set up you can be up and running in minutes.


 

Online Review Sites

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Reviews, reviews, reviews....that's all we keep hearing about! With the likes of tripadvisor, justeat, hungryhouse, kayak and more, the consumer industry depends on customer service and people writing about it. B2B industries can also harness this trend by ensuring they can prove themselves as reputable companies to deal with. Online identity is crucially important, any reviews written online are there for good, so it is important to understand the consequences of online review profiles. Customer service must always be at the forefront of your actions.

Google uses a complex algorithm to decide which website appears on its first page for each search term, trying to get your business up the top can be tricky. Official review websites can really boost a companies presence online and also increase the chances of customer purchase. Below are 3 top sites for getting reviews that really count.

 

checkatrade-for-signmakers

Checkatrade - Company review directory - Paid Listing

Checkatrade has been an emerging entity online for clients to find tradesman that can be trusted. The website collects reviews from previous clients on sign up and you are then asked to give out review slips when you complete your jobs. Checkatrade has not been saturated with sign makers, So it could be a great opportunity to get some fresh leads.

trsutpilot

Trustpilot - Online review community - Free & Paid Options

TrustPilot is an online community that focuses on collecting genuine reviews from customers and clients. There are free and paid options for your business listing and you can integrate the system with e-commerce websites to automatically request a review from your customer. The fantastic thing about Trustpilot 5 star review system is that the ratings are displayed on the google search results page. This can drastically improve your page rank and also the probability potential customers will click on your link!

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Google Reviews - Free Listing & Reviews

"Google My Business" Listings are one of the most important data when users are searching for local businesses. They hold information about opening times, contact numbers, links to your website and importantly.....Reviews! Signing up for a Google Business listing is quick and easy and is absolutely invaluable for your online presence. Your address is confirmed via a confirmation code sent in the post, once this has arrived you can start collecting reviews and being displayed on the local search listings on google (see image below)

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Project Management Software

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basecamp

Basecamp - Project management, communication & Collaboration Tool - $100 p/month (£76.96)

Basecamp is a tool I highly recommend  for busy professionals that need to keep track of their to-do list, team, customers and projects all in one place. Basecamp lets you arrange your work in projects. You can invite your customers to have access to the projects so you can correspond with them concerning artwork, purchase orders, delivery & installation schedules and more. Basecamp also offers file storage capabilities to keep the customer artwork on the cloud system.

Basecamp runs on a flat monthly fee which allows you to have unlimited projects and team members. Although $100 p/month can seem a little pricey, the time saved with this tool can be astonishing!

 


 

 

 

So there you have it! if you have made it this far, congratulations on your concentration efforts. I hope the list of business tools will come in handy for sign and print professionals. If you think I have missed an important tool then please let me know, I'm always looking for ways to improve efficiency and customer service.

 

 

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