Printers and designers we’ve spoken to tell us they feel that if they don’t offer web services they risk losing the client,” according to its website. Nettl calls itself a “bolt-on formula” offering an “end-to-end solution” to design and print businesses. Minus the jargon, Nettl is a network of web studios.
And it is this network that one design and print business approached, voicing the same fear. Ideas That Work, a small print and graphic design business producing stationery, brochures and vinyl banners from its base in West Yorkshire, was looking to extend its reach. Director Dally Purewal explains a harsh and sadly-familiar reality: “We were still doing a lot of print but the margins were being squeezed. Where we used to make around 50%, the margins were down to 25% to 30%. We were still very much a print studio but because the margins were getting tighter we had to remodel ourselves and change. We needed to offer web services.”
Not only was print on the decline but some of the logo and branding work that used to come the way of Ideas That Work was now going to the very web designers her clients were drifting over to. Purewal, who describes herself on the Women in Business Network website as a “multitasking ninja passionate about coming up with ideas that work”, can multitask only so far. “None of us were web designers; I’m a graphic designer. We had toyed with web design, but did not have the level of expertise needed. We were also busy: though print was dropping off, we were working very hard and did not have the time to invest in a lengthy learning programme. We needed something that was easy to use and did not involve a steep learning curve.”
Ideas That Work is a Leeds franchise of Printing.com and it was through the latter that the company came to know about Nettl. Both Printing.com and Nettl are owned by Grafenia, each brand however is very different from the other in scope and target user. One, after all, is traditional and tangible, the other mercurial, modern and temporary.
While Printing.com is a high-street, cost-effective, quick turnaround business, Nettl is a web-focused operation and more of a full-service agency, she explains. And it was founded just after the millennium while the Printing.com formula was still a market leader in the UK and Ireland. But, in the words of a Nettl prospectus, “no-thing stands still”.
The Nettl formula was developed to address clients’ cross-media needs because “if a print vendor can’t offer web services then they are relegated to the commodity end of the market,” explains the prospectus. “The Printing.com name is sector specific and no longer represented the online scope of our solutions, hence the evolution of Nettl.”
Becoming a Nettl franchisee involves classroom training, home study and webinars on technology, sales, marketing and operational practices. So-called Nettl ‘geeks’ offer technical support while a ‘geek channel’ discussion tool helps with queries such as tricky integration questions. Nettl supplies software, centralised marketing material and logos.
Teaming up with Nettl was “seamless” and “not disruptive at all”, insists Purewal. Grafenia is an AIM-listed company and adept at streamlining communication and integration between its brands. It represented “very low risk and was a no-brainer” in terms of the benefits it could bring to the company, she says.
Franchises range from entry-level, targeting smaller studios and start-ups that want to avoid too-hefty monthly fees, to a full package with more interactive elements, ‘plugins and widgets’. Ideas That Work went for the latter, enabling it to build search engine-ready websites with content management systems and editing facilities that can be scaled up to add functionality as clients’ businesses grow.
Purewal says typical fees listed are a one-off licence fee of £4,000 with a monthly fee of £399. And according to the Nettl online prospectus, the target users, will “probably have a background in sales, technology, marketing or the creative industries and are able to make an investment of circa £20,000”.
Clients pay for monthly hosting depending on the system delivered. The fee is determined by the amount of traffic or transactions on the website together with the processing power the application needs.
Idea became the 22nd company to sign up with Nettl two years ago. There are now more than 100 franchisees, and Purewal reckons its slow start in Leeds was perhaps down to the fact the Nettl brand was not as well known in 2014 and 2015 as it has become.
“We expected lots of website work to come flooding in straight away, but only a little did,” she says, recalling lots of soul searching on the level of investment and questions on ‘when is this going to pick up?’ “Six months later it started to boom, maybe because we were marketing it more; maybe because Nettl was better known; the name was now popping up in more cities around the country. I would say new customers have now doubled in number per month from before we had Nettl.”
Purewal says her business is still heavily involved in print and creative design, but thanks to Nettl the amount of website work has taken off: three years ago her team was lucky to tackle two or three websites a year. Right now Ideas That Work is giving the creative treatment to 14 sites. And an unexpected but delightful bonus is the amount of print work rolling in has also gone up. “This too is thanks to Nettl. We are getting more logo, branding and print work because the first thing people want when launching a website is to market it, which reinforces their print offering. Everyone we have done a website for wants to promote it with printed campaigns. It has changed our client base and working practices. We no longer just bang out quick-turnaround print.”
That’s because the typical Nettl client is focused on the creative and more contemplative processes of brand evolution. Whereas the typical printing.com customer wants low-cost, fast print jobs, the Nettl type is more focused on the long haul or, what Purewal calls, “projects”. These can take anything up to two or three months, so the degree of communication is deeper and more focused.
Purewal reckons adapting to project-based work has been one of her biggest challenges, but was worth the effort. Margins for web work are greater than for print and all those new clients have another huge advantage – bigger marketing budgets. Many are corporations that pay good money for time-consuming conceptual creativity and software know-how that a full-service job entails.
“I have been delighted with how this has turned around our business. This year it’s about setting targets and seeing how Nettl develops and sits alongside our other services. Other printers worried there is no longer the same buzz about print, but who have never done web design before needn’t worry. I didn’t think I’d be able to do it; but all you need is a computer and a creative eye,” she says.
Ideas That Work (Nettl Leeds)
Location Leeds, West Yorkshire
Inspection host Dally Purewal
Size Turnover: undisclosed; Staff: 4
Established Around the 1990s
Products Website creation and design services alongside business cards, letterheads, leaflets, flyers, brochures, posters, folders, and pull-up, vinyl and exhibition displays and banners.
Kit Epson large-format printer
Inspection focus Benefits of becoming a Nettl partner
Basics A background in sales, technology and marketing helps when becoming a Nettl franchisee, but a basic knowledge of creative industries also helps.
Costs Take a look at the one-off and monthly costs as well any further expenditure and requirements needed to pay for additional staff or expertise.
Legals As with any legally binding contract it’s important to have the franchise agreement contract looked over by a solicitor who specialises in franchising.
Help Check out the support you’ll receive such as training arrangements, mentoring, and branded marketing materials, as well as other obligations on Nettl.
Models Although being a franchisee gives you a tried and tested business model, it might not suit your own business culture, so look at the fit with your company ethos.