Back in the second or third grade, a teacher, uncle, or even one of your parents probably asked you, “Hey, what do you want to be when you grow up?” We all chose some aspirational vocation like a doctor, veterinarian, fireman, astronaut, cowboy, or rock singer. I doubt many kids said commercial T-shirt printer or embroiderer unless their parents already had their hooks into this industry.

Fast forward to today and you’re leading an industry company. Whether you are fighting the entrepreneurial battle or simply part of a leadership team, it is essential to look ahead to the future. The shared vision should be built into plans and goals that can become your reality.

This article is about that future journey and how you can make selective decisions and say “yes” to opportunities that will boost your progress toward your ultimate goal.

Start Here

No matter how long you have been in business, working out the future direction of what you want to do can be daunting. The best place to start is to visualize planting your flag on top of the mountain you want to climb. Where do you see the company in 10 years? Begin by asking these questions:

  • What type of customers should we work with consistently? Think about revenue, social mission, personalities, or other descriptions. Can you clone your best customers now, or do you need to find new opportunities in other markets?
  • Where are these customers? Think about these both in terms of physical and digital geography.
  • Think about your numbers. In 10 years, what do you want your total revenue to be? What about annual profit?
  • Are there any social causes important to you to build into your process and business?
  • What are the key factors or measurements that matter? What is a good number, and what is a bad number?
  • Consider your employee needs, partners, suppliers, and other stakeholders in the journey. Who is supporting you on this journey?

While you don’t have to have the answers to these questions, it is vital that you critically assess and discuss them. Again, what you are going after is a direction. It is much easier to say yes or no to an opportunity when you can articulate that vision.

Mission Statement + Vision Statement

A good mission statement defines the company’s purpose. It addresses how you serve the current needs of your customers and details the alignment and fit for that relationship.

A vision statement is a little different. Your vision is all about your goals. The bigger, the better. Combining the mission and vision statements is how you develop the action for your efforts.

These ideas gel into what I call your “Unfair Advantage.” What makes your company unique and different? Any chucklehead can screen print, digitally print, or embroider a shirt. Why should anyone on the face of the planet do business with you? You must answer that question.

Pick a Lane

Deciding whom you want to do business with and what you can offer them gives you direction and focus. Sure, you can have anybody as a customer, but how do you market to that?

When you choose your direction, you decide whom you want to work with the most. Hospitals? Rock bands? High schools? Motorcycle riders? They all have different needs, tastes, and ways of conducting business. You don’t have to choose only one, but you should narrow down your field. That way, you can concentrate your effort and deliver more value.

You might also want to pick different markets to serve as when one or more are slower, another group’s busy season starts.

How Are You Serving Your Customers Better?

If you have been in this industry, you have witnessed many changes in decoration technology, fabric content, consumables and supplies, and how sales happen. Change is inevitable.

But some shops are seemingly stuck in 1997. “We’ve been doing this for years!” they always say. Yes, you have.

With market growth comes customer behavior changes. Are you texting art approvals? Do you have over 200 online stores? Are you doing anything with fulfillment or print on demand? Can you turn an order in under three business days? Is automation built into your processes?

These ideas and more are what’s happening with shops worldwide.

But you can’t adopt new ideas just because they are unique. They have to circle back to make the experience better for your customer. The new ideas need to make sense. To discover this, you have to be willing to try new things. Learn from your mistakes and your successes.

Everything has to be in lockstep with where you want the company to go.

Develop Growth Ideas

Shops everywhere are guilty of taking on orders that are not a good fit because they feel they can’t say no. Unfortunately, this ultimately can impact long-term growth because the wrong type of business pushes assets, people, and production time in the wrong direction.

Here are 10 points to consider when developing new growth ideas:

  1. Talk to your employees and other key stakeholders. What matters most to them? Is everything about profit, or is there a social mission that should be included? Can you define what success looks like 10 years from now? What changes must happen to make those goals a reality?
  2. What are the acceptable boundaries? Can you outline what is in and out of scope for the work that a customer might hand you? Can you produce a one-piece order? What about a 100,000-piece order? Name what you are willing to accept or reject. Write it down.
  3. Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) — what evidence can you collect that demarcates your success? How do you know the KPIs are accurate? Data shows the truth.
  4. What processes will you use to identify new opportunities? What are the constraints that impact the ability to say yes to a new idea? How can you test something? Who is responsible for developing new ideas, innovations, and collaborations?
  5. What happens if it all goes wrong? We like to think that a new opportunity will be a success. Optimism is a good thing; however, it is also good to understand the inherent risks involved. Talk about what happens if disaster strikes. Build safeguards for that.
  6. What is a priority for the company? Is the new opportunity aligned with the priorities or contrary to them?
  7. Do short-term projects and goals feed into your long-term strategy? There are only so many hours in the day. Will the effort you put in today somehow show up later down the road? Detail how and why.
  8. Describe how you will develop your people to achieve what you have planned. Think about training, support, and the psychological safety needed to grow into new positions. How does your company culture play a role?
  9. Consider how information and communication play a role in your growth. How are you bolstering these to support your mission? Can staff members find the answers to their questions?
  10. Financial strength. More than one company has “grown” out of business as its cash flow dried up. What monetary guardrails will be in place to ensure financial strength?


Business growth does not equal business success. There always is a focus on that top-line revenue number. But the number you should focus on is the bottom-line profit instead.

Sure, you can have $1,000,000 in sales. But what happens if there is only $10,000 worth of profit? Growth for growth’s sake is not always a good thing. A better plan is to selectively target what you want to do and build out that journey. Many factors contribute to hitting that ultimate goal.

Be sure you know what they are ahead of time.