Expand your signage business and win new customers in 2020

 approx 7 minute read

In this article, we will take a look at ways in which you can expand your signage business. Perhaps one of the industries most touched by the repercussions of Coronavius within the graphic arts sector is signage. Initially, when the global pandemic hit, signage companies were faced with premises of clients closing.  A  sector which relies so heavily on personal and physical interaction could not service their clients. Spaces couldn’t be measured over Zoom and signage projects that needed multiple fitters stalled.

Many within the industry turned their focus to ‘Covid-secure products’; producing  floor stickers and sneeze-guards, social distancing screens and ‘be alert’ signs for those still operating. Then, as lockdown restrictions eased and more businesses reopened their doors, some signmakers reported ‘mini booms’. More of these products were needed to communicate crucial information.

Some signage companies have been able to “thrive”, in some way, from Coronavirus. But is this enough to replace what they lost in the first place? And how long will the demand for ‘Covid-secure products’ last? As business owner Steve Levison put it, “It’s more of a one-off opportunity than an ongoing opportunity, but it’s obviously very welcome.” Does the margin within these products warrant the sale if they’re the only products being bought? What else could owners do to increase sales and maximise profits without starting a business from scratch?

This rollercoaster of profit and loss has many within the signage industry wondering how they can future-proof their businesses. With local lockdowns looming, how can signmakers capitalize on what they currently have in order to expand and grow their businesses and win new customers?


Larger sign companies rely on material from outside of the UK. This has been affected by Covid as supply chains ground to a halt. Even digital signage, an area of the industry which has seen steady growth, is set to stall. The latest figures show that  it “will not be able to escape reverse growth for the first time in 2020”.

Business owners, therefore, need to look closer to home when thinking about adding additional services to plug the profit and product gap. Signmakers have always reaped the benefit of having to have interactions with their clients. Unlike print or ‘Covid-secure products’, signage projects cannot be bought online via ‘self service’. Each project is unique and requires in-depth consultation. So what other service requires this sort of relationship?


Signage companies have long promoted, marketed and advertised their clients offline on billboards, premises and building wraps. To expand your signage business, promote, market and advertise to the same clients online! Websites bring in recurring revenue, they have a high profit margin and they can be built remotely. And how are websites found? SEO, which also brings in recurring revenue, and offline marketing, such as print. Print has long been an extension of a signage business, why can’t website design be too?

The world is moving online.  85% of customers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations. Companies are surviving and thriving during this time because they digitised parts of themselves. The garden centre who asked their local Nettl partner to add a simple order form to their website so they could sell stock online to prevent it from going to waste. The cafe who asked to have delivery options added so they could continue to sell product. These clients will go somewhere to get themselves digitalised.

Signage promoting a new restaurant on a busy, city centre road is valuable. But with less people on the streets and more businesses going digital, and more people trusting digital platforms, a greater number of clients are prioritising their digital spend ahead of traditional marketing methods.

How could signage businesses expand this way?

Learn new skills to expand your offering

According to Viking, a typical signage company would employ between 3-5 members of staff. As signmakers are used to dealing with files or even advising on branding, it’s likely that one or two of their staff will have design skills.

10 years ago there was a big difference between a website designer and a website developer. A website designer was someone who used their graphic skillset to create the aesthetics of the overall website, how it looked and how it felt.  The structure, the layout, the graphics and the content. Then they passed that onto a website developer who would use code to transform the aesthetic into a functional, interactive website.

Nowadays, with the right support and training, it’s easy for graphic designers, people used to handling graphic files or anyone who can use Photoshop to transfer those skills across to web design. Plenty of theme builders and partnerships exist to enable even junior designers or apprentices to build beautiful looking, fully functional websites. And with minimal associated costs beyond that of your designer’s time, there’s a lot of profit to be made per project. Even before collecting recurring revenue for SEO, care plans or hosting.

Use this guide which will talk you through learning to become a web designer  to better understand how you can expand your signage business by learning new skills. If you’re looking to upskill your team to expand your business through digital marketing, web design and print, take a look at the courses on offer at Nettl Academy.

Leverage your relationships to grow your business

Clients now want more from one creative source. No longer used to signing separate invoices for the graphic designer, the signmaker, the web designer and the printer; customers want to maximise their time by having one entity manage their marketing pot. And with the average vehicle wrap costing from £200 to £500 and more bespoke projects being charged out at anywhere from £600 to £2,500, clients are used to spending significant amounts on marketing with their local signage company. With signage products being one part in a large puzzle that creates and communicates a business’ brand; a customer already trusts their signage firm with their branding and design. So how can you expand your signage business by offering more?

These are existing, creative relationships that you can leverage. You have handheld the creative trust of their customers through multiple signage projects, doing the same thing with websites, SEO and print is no different.

‘Vehicle signage near me’ and ‘signs made near me’ are highly searched terms on Google. Leverage this locality of service, along with the necessity of ‘doing the job’ in person, to cross-sell to their existing clients and to win new clients.

The ‘sign seat’ is also a coveted space within networking groups and often leads to referrals. Although perhaps forbidden from openly cross-selling web services within a group or chapter, there’s nothing to stop you from up-selling your new lead a brochure website and an SEO package. Become the ‘local’ person that can service a client’s every need. Clients have never been more demanding than they are now and you can never underestimate the power of being local in winning new customers. Read more about how to leverage your network.

Marketing plans & lead generation for your signage business

With many signage jobs being physical and requiring hours of installation, it’s understandable that time spent on your own marketing can fall to the bottom of the priority list. Business owners should consider implementing structured marketing plans with as many of those outreach processes being automated as possible. Follow this helpful guide to get started by learning how to improve and streamline marketing within a business.

Adding new products and services means more reasons to reach out and win new customers as well as selling new things to existing clients.

In today’s day and age, you must promote and sell online in order to thrive.

It’s all well and good winning new customers by helping them with an online presence, but you will lose out on potentially huge audiences if you yourself cannot be found via a local google search. As referenced earlier, ‘vehicle signage near me’ and ‘signs made near me’ are in-demand keywords. According to XM Blog, “customers are willing to spend 31% more on a business with excellent (online) reviews”. It is an absolute must that more businesses in the signage industry have a website, online reviews and master their digital reputation, in order to win new customers. There are multiple ways to get started; those who have diversified and up-skilled to win new clients by offering websites, have the skills to improve their own online presence. Think of it as a portfolio piece as well as a digital footprint.

Web is increasingly important as potential customers are going out less and going online more. Many printers and signage firms have opted for something like w3shopkeeper. This solution enables them to create an online presence and sell standardised signs online, all within a matter of days. Accessing new channels to market and reaching wider audiences.

Takeaways; How to expand your signage business and win new customers in 2020

However signage businesses decide to expand in order to win new customers, there is no merit in trying to reinvent the wheel. And, as Hanna Brooks Olsen points out, when changing business direction, “you can’t do it alone”.  Although adding additional services like web to a signage company isn’t necessarily changing direction, rather expanding, having the support of something bigger is an advantage. Learning from mistakes that others have made, benefiting from community support or enjoying discounts that come from the power of a network are invaluable. Especially when times are tougher than normal.

Nettl Academy Scholarship

Nettl run a partnership where they offer training, software, marketing and support to signage companies who want to expand their offering and win more business.  For those who have been made redundant, Nettl have launched a Scholarship Programme. This is a new initiative to help individuals get back on their feet again. If an application is successful, Nettl subscription fees and all training courses will be paid for six months. It’s easy to apply.

Nettl, also reminded sign and graphics businesses of its ongoing acquisition strategy as it looks to offer a lifeline to some of the industry’s companies that are struggling to stay afloat amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

If you’re in the signage  industry and are looking to diversify your offering with web design, digital marketing, print or fabric, Nettl partners can help you begin your journey with marketing, training and custom built CRM systems to make your dream a web design reality. Take a read here to learn more or drop a message to our Nettl team.