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The BASIC approach to selling signs profitably

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The most common cause of not pricing a job profitably is simply forgetting to charge for some portion of the job. Maybe you didn’t account for how complex the sign really was, or the cost of the step stakes, or the time it took to install it. Overlooking one thing can eat up the profit on a sign job.

Tomm Moll of Tomm Studios [] realized this early in his career as a sign shop owner. So he came up with a simple one-word reminder that helped him avoid pricing errors: BASIC. It’s an easy word

to remember and it covers all the bases. Besides preventing pricing errors, it also guides you through the sales process. Click here to download a large version.

“At first,” Tomm says, “I kept this graphic pinned on the wall right beside my desk. But after years of looking at it, it became second nature. Give it a try. You’ll be surprised how adding a few line item extras on every invoice can lead to profitability.”

Here’s Tomm’s explanation of what each of those five basic letters stands for:

B: Is this a Basic sign or something more complex? I have to first decide what level the job is going to be so that I know what grade of materials will be used, and how time-consuming the production will be. Is this a promotional sign or a long-term sign? I explain that I can use certain materials that will keep costs down, but they may have drawbacks, depending how they plan to use the sign.

On a banner, I’ll explain that I stock 10-oz. banner fabric. It will do the job, but it’s a

throwaway product. I recommend the 13-oz. fabric. It has a nice gloss and you can clean it up.

For a flat sign, I’ll explain that I can do it on overlaid plywood, but coating out adds to the completion time. Or for a little more, I can use prefinished aluminum composite material and get started on it today.

A: Is there any Additional time or services involved? I add for anything other than typing in the copy 

on a layout. If it's a photo, add something. If it's a piece of custom clip art (like those on my Tomm Toons CD, available from SignCraft ), add something. Adding anything extra into a design is actually adding value. If the customer and their potential customers get added value, as designers we get paid for providing that.

S: That’s for the Sales time. It always takes time to sell the sign. Was it 15 minutes, 30 minutes or maybe an hour? That has to be added to the job. This is easy to overlook, and then profit is out the window.

I: What about Installation or delivery? This is separate from making the sign, so there’s a charge for it. Some people do their own installation, and that’s fine, but if I have to do it, I have to charge for it. How much? If it’s a straightforward job, I can give a price. If not, all I can do is give a range.

Do I have to drop it off? There’s a delivery charge. Every business person knows that 

you either add that time as a separate charge, or it’s built into all your pricing. No one can do much work for free and survive in business very long.

C: Finally, let’s not forget Computer time. If I have to spend 20 minutes finding their font online or make 

their art usable, there’s a cost. If I have to email this to your printer, then answer their questions with another dozen emails, I have to charge you.

I explain that I’m just like them. I’m on the clock, too. I’ll be fair, but I do have to charge for my time if I want to be here to take care of them the next time they need a sign.

Tomm Moll, Signs by Tomm, Utica, New York, is also the creator of TommTOONs, a collection of over 250 royalty-free graphics for sign work. It’s available on CD from


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