Signwriters are an unruly, unlicensed bunch - I should know, I married one of them! In Australia, signwriting is not a licensed trade. Yes, there is a four year trade apprenticeship and yes there are formal signwriting qualifications. However to own a sign shop, you don’t need any of this. In fact, I checked out a signage franchise a few years ago and they stipulated that they only wanted unqualified franchisees! With this in mind, it doesn’t surprise me that navigating the field of signwriting as a business owner can be a bit tricky.
Reputable signwriters often are registered under the building code and comply with building standards, however as you can imagine, building is such a broad field and being compliant with the code doesn’t necessarily mean quality workmanship.
Now that it sounds like I’ve rubbished a whole industry, I think I should clear a few things up. There are wonderfully creative, high quality signwriters out there who have built their careers on balancing creativity, construction and function. A sign can provide direction to the public, bring new customers to your door or say something about your business, without having to speak. The quality and impact of the sign can set the tone of your brand. Signs can be iconic. A great sign can separate you from your competitors, or make you look just like them! As a business owner, how do you navigate the field of signwriting?
Here are some things to consider:
Does your sign need to be high quality and long lasting or does it only need to last for 6 weeks. Be clear when chatting to the signwriter. This will make a huge difference in price.
Consider the area around your sign, not just the area it will be mounted. Take photos of the area close up and from a distance – to give your signwriter a clear indication of context.
Consider the audience of the sign. Will they be viewing the sign up close, or far away? If far away, how far? A massive sign looks like a postage stamp from 300metres down the road. Large lettering up close can feel intimidating. Size comes into play of course, but so does the viewing distance.
What do you want people to do once they see your sign? A directional sign needs to be treated differently from a sale sign. Again, when chatting to your signwriter, let them know what you want people to do once they see it.
What feel do you want your sign to have? Regardless of any text on the sign, the way it is made will set a tone. Do you want this to be impressive, sexy, cheap, official, funky? A good signwriter will talk you through manufacturing options that will align to your desired tone. Even the world’s most talented graphic artist cannot make corflute look upmarket (corflute is a cheap promotional grade material perfect for short term signage).
Be upfront with your signwriter about your budget. You want to choose a reputable signwriter who can help you get the most bang for your buck.
Consistency. Consistency. Have I made myself clear? You don’t want your signage giving inconsistent messaging and your brand competing with itself! Having a consistent approach from store to store, office to office, vehicle to vehicle will give your brand much more value. Consider investing in a signage project package. This is a document that outlines signage specifications including technical detail for you to include in tender packs or to ask around for quotes. This ensures you are getting apples for apples quotes and saves you from comparing apples to oranges!
8. Third parties.
When you build a new commercial building or fit out a new shop or office, you will often work with an architect, a shop fitter, an interior designer or all three or more! The trick here is to ensure everyone is working together. Communication is key. Don’t assume the architect knows how to design good signage. Don’t assume the interior designer knows anything about signage either! Quality professionals can only ever deliver as good as the brief. So brief them clearly about their roles in the project, but also about who is driving what. I’ve seen good money wasted fixing up inconsistencies between an architect and an interior designer, both of whom didn’t listen to the signwriter. I’ve also seen fantastic results (and heaps of money saved) when the design team worked together. If you are working with third parties, don’t wait for something to go wrong. Get them all in the room together and sort out each other’s roles.
It has become more and more popular for business owners to tie the finance of their car signage in with the finance of the car. Not that you have to, but it’s great to understand your options. However, I see more and more business owners financing (third party or internal finance) their capital expenditure for new premises and not allowing any signage budget. The building is complete, carpet laid, glass installed, IT equipment installed, capex budget spent, then they call the signwriter! To me this is just backwards. I have seen $5million projects outlay less than $5K in signage simply because they left it too late and had to fund it from cashflow. Deciding on how to finance your signage up front doesn’t mean you have to spend more (or less), it just means you get to make informed decisions, and not be left with an “all I can afford this month” approach rather than an impressive result.
Make sure you get adequate insurance for your signage! I have seen business owners realise their car signage wasn’t covered only when they go to make a claim. Don’t make the same mistake. Speak to your insurance broker and get a few comparative quotes.
11. Ask questions.
Whether you choose to invest in a signage project package, send it to tender, or simply ask around for a reputable signwriter, it always pays to ask questions. By gathering information every step of the way, you can be sure that the sign you think you are getting, the sign you pay for and the sign you actually get are in fact the same thing.