I’m just going to warn you now – watch out for the “easy projects.” It’s the straight-forward jobs that can turn into some loathing creature you can’t get off your desk and out the door no matter how hard you try. We’re in business to make money; kill it, drag it home, be pleased with the end result of our labors, and revel in the process and the product. It is our expectation that every project we tackle will be executed flawlessly, but those of us who have been in business longer than 24 hours know better. We know that most projects will yield positive results that will be a win for our clients and a win for our company. But every once in a while, a project takes a turn for the worse and challenges our sanity. If you have a good project that’s turning south, con­sider these classic strategies to change its heading.

Deliver bad news by phone. Not going to make the deadline? Problems with the process? Raw materials went afoul? Call your customer immediately to update them and explain the issue. Have a plan for how to get it back on track. Bad news should never be emailed or left on a voicemail. In fact, try using the phrase, “I once heard you should only deliver bad news by phone…” It’s a decent lead-in.

Correct problems with a huge sense of urgency. Early in my career I delivered some printed bro­chures to a new client that didn’t meet expectations. We worked late that night to reprint the job and delivered it again the next morning. My client was very pleased and later told me, “It’s not that you made a mistake, everyone makes mistakes. It’s how you handled it that impressed me.”

Differentiate yourself with attention to detail. Sometimes problems are built in before you have even touched the job. Projects come to me for printing that have gone through many rounds of approvals. I still find errors – I have the advantage of seeing the work with fresh eyes. Paying atten­tion to detail endears you to your customers and differentiates you from your competitors. These days, everyone assumes it’s someone else’s responsibility to check the details. Make it your mission to take ownership of those details and ensure they are correct. Spotting red flags is easy. Use your intuition and expertise to find and address them. It can save your customer time, money and embarrassment. You may have to point out a sensitive issue that might make you or them feel uncom­fortable. Do it anyway – everyone will be glad you noticed and solved the problem before it was too late.

Provide some options. There are often several alternative solutions that achieve the same goal. When plan A fails, have plan B and C ready to offer. We rarely tell clients “no” – if what they are asking is physically impossible to do in time, we think a little deeper about what they are trying to achieve and consider alternative ways to provide a similar outcome.

Think long-term. The reality in business is that some projects will not be profitable. If you expect clients to work with you long-term, treat the relationship as a long-term one from the first project to the last. Be generous with your talents and infuse each project with the very best service you have to offer. Very few companies today make the effort to give that little extra. This is your opportunity to shine.

Perhaps the most important revelation I can offer is simply to do what you say you’re going to do. Too many companies advertise their superior quality and service but don’t follow through with production staff to deliver on those promises. Be the exception and be known for it.

Cindy Burri

Cindy Burri is the CEO of Western Robidoux Inc., a commercial printer and fulfillment house in St. Joseph, Missouri. In continuous operation since the late 1800s, WRI specializes in high-quality printed materials, adding value to all forms of client communications and dedicated personal service with extreme attention to detail. Services include graphic design, product photography, offset print¬ing, digital printing, variable data printing, large format printing, mailing services, product/literature fulfillment, kitting and rebate programs.