Web to Print Workflow
Do you order products from Amazon? Chances are, you do. Amazon makes it easy to find products, add them to a cart and then place the order. You may be similarly inspired to add online order systems to your shop operations, e.g., a website-based product list, a shopping cart and a payment system. Doesn’t sound difficult, does it? However, if you study the mechanics, you’ll quickly uncover a technological and logistical nightmare. For example, where will you store the job orders? How will the orders be processed into production? How will you get the customer’s final approval, and how will the order tie into your accounting system?
Truth is, tackling web-to-print operations takes more than just a website. You’ll need full pre- and post-production workflow processes behind the scenes. Also, don’t consider developing a full system from scratch because it could require a room full of software developers and endless working hours. Fortunately, existing turnkey solutions eliminate the need for such work, but you still need a clear vision of what you want before ordering a software bundle.
For example, you need to determine which products you will be offering. And, take into account whether they’ll vary in size or finishing methods. You must also examine your existing sales, order, production, finishing and delivery processes and somehow merge that workflow into your newly devised system. Will your accounting system need updates? Is your shop set up to handle shipping? In addition, do you plan to provide online proofs for your customers?
Answer these questions before you shop for solutions, because although numerous web-to-print packages are available, they may not work with your concepts, equipment, processes and software. For example, many products are tied to a specific printer or RIP, which indicates you should check with your print-machine manufacturer and RIP provider first.
In addition, do you have customer relationship management (CRM) software that helps you manage customer data and customer interaction? Such software could allow quick access to business information and automate sales, marketing and customer support. Some providers say their software allows you to access predictive analytics, streamline operations, personalize customer service, manage business contacts, and discover and contact sales leads.
If you have multiple digital printers, you’ll want to include a workflow package in the software mix, to act as a bridge between client orders and production. Workflow software will allow you to track a job through shipping. It should also update accounting and record changes in your inventory systems. Such a system should also route incoming jobs to the appropriate RIPs, print queues and finishing processes. Also, consider adopting workflow software even if you decline to build a web-sales entity, because such software offers helpful automated workflow solutions, including job estimating, job approval, order entry, production control, inventory controls and forecasting.
Obviously, initiating and operating a web-based business can be intimidating, but, if successful, it will add to your shop’s revenues. One suggestion is to include consulting dollars in your development budget because companies that offer web-to-print and workflow solutions may also provide services to configure and customize their product to your preferences. If you’re working with limited dollars, talk with your printer manufacturer’s rep, because that company may offer less expensive choices for establishing an online sales operation. Our final advice is to explore the market opportunities before you begin. A simple web search will reveal your competitive environment or tell you if other shops match your planned offerings.
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