How to become a sign maker

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sign maker franchises

If you've always wanted to manage your own business and have an interest in marketing and signage, the franchising sector is home to some appealing investment opportunities. Here, we examine what sign-making involves, what direction the industry is heading in and which franchises are attractive prospects.

Why are signs important?

Signs are one of the most important means of conveying brand identity, marketing a business and raising awareness of the location of a company’s premises. They constitute an integral part of the visual language of business and advertising, and are an incredibly useful means of attracting new customers and reminding older clients of a business’ existence.

Though the world (particularly the business world) is becoming increasingly digital, brick and mortar businesses still require signs and advertising materials on an impressive scale. Walk down any street in the country, and it's guaranteed that almost all of the businesses there will display some kind of sign advertising their presence and identifying themselves.

Importance of sign makers

However, a poorly designed sign can do more harm than good. A sign that doesn’t live up to expectations can give the wrong impression of a business, contradict branding used elsewhere, confuse customers or put them off visiting the shop altogether. Consequently, it's vital that companies employ the services of a qualified, experienced and well-respected sign maker.

What does a sign maker do?

Ultimately, a sign maker’s job is to design and produce high-quality signs that represent the business and its brand in as appropriate, attractive and accurate a manner as possible. In some cases, the customer will already have the basic sign design ready, and all that will be required of the sign maker is to realise the customer's creation. In others, the customer will need help designing a sign and creating an identity. This means that the sign maker has to be both a creative and skilled worker.

Sign makers are responsible for creating many different signs and ensuring that they meet the requirements of the customer. Whether it covers the entire façade of a building, is a small A-frame advertising board or an elaborate neon scrawl, a sign has to communicate precisely what the client wants to express. This means working closely with customers to understand what it is they require of the sign.

What is a standard day like for a sign maker?

  • Filling in paperwork and completing admin duties
  • Using computer software to design the signs
  • Measuring and working out the size of letters and logos
  • Cutting out materials into the letters and logos
  • Hand-painting letters and applying print backgrounds using sprays, rollers or brushes
  • Fitting basic electrical wiring
  • Installing signs

What environment do sign makers work in?

Sign makers work in creative studios, workshops and at their clients’ businesses. Due to the nature of signs and their variety of uses, sign makers might have to work outdoors, at height or in other physically demanding environments.

The sign-making industry

It is estimated that the printed signage industry is worth £500 million in the UK. Though it has long been suggested that increasing digitalisation will make life difficult for sign makers, in many regards it has had the opposite effect. Powerful digital software has made the creative process simpler while also reducing costs. Similarly, advanced printing technologies have ensured sign makers can turn many more materials into signs.

While there are approximately 4,000 companies that offer sign manufacturing services exclusively, this figure increases to 13,000 when you include general printing businesses that also produce signs. The vast majority of these are small businesses, consisting of just a few workers. However, many large-scale sign makers command an impressive market share and incredible brand reach. Franchises have only recently made an impact on the industry, though their influence is growing rapidly.

How to become a sign maker

Three different routes

You can become a sign maker through competing a college course, an apprenticeship or applying for a job directly. At college you can study a Level 2 or Level 3 Diploma in sign-making. Or, the apprenticeship involves one year of on-the-job training, where you can also attend a college or training provider. Finally, if you want to apply directly, it would be beneficial to have qualifications in related subjects like art or design and technology.

Skills and knowledge

To become a successful sign maker, you should be able to come up with innovative ways of doing things and be an analytical thinker. It’s also helpful to have knowledge of engineering and technology. Having a keen eye for detail, persistence and determination are also important to fulfil your role to a high standard. Employers will also look for reasoning skills, IT skills and the ability to use and repair machines and tools. Having a driving licence is almost always required too.

By now, you should have a better understanding of what a sign maker does and how you can become one. But maybe you’re looking for a career prospect more ambitious than just being someone’s employee? Well, starting a sign-making business is a great way to be your own boss and work in an industry you’re passionate about. If this is the case, the next step is deciding whether to take the independent start-up or franchise route to business ownership.

Starting from scratch vs franchise route

In reality, starting a business can be an intimidating, risky business move. This is just one of the reasons why savvy entrepreneurs are using franchising to own their own business. When you run a franchise, you are operating under an established brand with an existing customer base and with a strong support network, so much of the risk is mitigated.

The franchisor should already have already established what works and what doesn’t and developed a robust business model and tried and tested operational systems.

It’s also usually easier to receive financing when you are a franchisee, as lenders acknowledge it as being less high-risk. The franchisor will help you develop a detailed business plan that outlines your projections and the franchise’s previous performance that you can show to banks when trying to get funding.

What to look for in a sign-making franchise

If you're considering investing in a sign-making franchise, you'll need to know exactly what type of business you want to operate. Is your primary focus going to be sign manufacturing? Or will sign-making constitute a single revenue stream in a much more expansive printing business?

When looking for a suitable franchisor, it's also a good idea to consider what kind of support and training you'll require and whether you want to take on a management role or a more hands-on position. Contact each of the franchises you're interested in and have a chat with the franchisor. You need to make sure that you feel comfortable with them and that you're both able to communicate openly and honestly.

Training and support

A good sign franchise will also offer ongoing support and guidance to their franchisees. Though the initial training is incredibly important, there’s no way that you’ll be able to learn all you need to in a one or two-week induction programme. Instead, you’ll have to learn on the job and pick things up as you go along. For this reason, continued support is vital.

What do sign-making franchises look for in franchisees?

Different types of sign-making franchises look for very different types of franchisees. However, for the main part, it's essential to make a distinction between those franchises that expect their franchisees to take a hands-on, manufacturing role and those who expect them to mostly perform managerial duties.

All franchisees need to be hardworking, dedicated and driven, while those that take a hands-on role will need to be able to learn on the job and pick up new skills quickly. All franchisees will need to be willing to follow the franchisor's business plan to the letter.

Top three sign-making franchise opportunities

Below, we take a look at three of the most enticing franchise opportunities and explore what they have to offer.

1. FastSigns

FastSigns specialises in selling and producing signs, graphics, banners and vehicle wraps for businesses and individuals around the country. With over 675 franchise units worldwide, it’s got a tremendous amount of experience to draw upon and impart to new franchisees. The total investment required for a FastSigns franchise is around £120,000.

2. Signarama

Signarama advertises itself as the largest sign-making company in the UK. Having originated in the US, the global franchise network now consists of more than 900 outlets in over 65 countries. It is renowned for its excellent franchise package. A franchise unit will set you back approximately £85,000.

3. Minuteman Press

Minuteman Press is one of the US’ most respected printing franchises. Having developed its signage services alongside its traditional print products, its franchisees benefit from diverse revenue streams and the ability to appeal to a wide range of customers. To become a franchisee, a total investment of just over £50,000 is required.

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