What Is The Next Level Up For You?

What is the next level up for you?

Today I want to talk about the idea of getting to the “Next Level.” This concept has been around for a bit, and if you have ever played a video game, it is a core piece of the strategy.

In a video game, every action that you perform successfully rewards you with points. Achieve enough points and you “level up.” When that happens there usually is some sort of benefit associated with the achievement that can enable you to compete in much more difficult scenarios that you will eventually face.

Key takeaway: Leveling up just makes things easier. This is true in the decorated apparel industry too.

Variables Matter

To me, there are five main variables that can influence your success in this industry. I’m calling these points variables because nobody in this industry has the same fixed pattern for success. We’re all different.

But, these are the five things that seem to matter the most. Especially if you want to level up.

Willingness to Learn

Notice that I started that headline with the word “willingness?” It is not the “ability” to learn. To me, the variable that is most critical here is willingness.

Meaning, do you WANT to get better?

Some people don’t. They are happy as clams doing it the same old way that they always have handled things. And they are sometimes even proud of it too.

“I’ve been doing this for seventeen years and that’s not how we do things around here!” When I hear statements like this I sometimes shake my head and laugh.

What if they have been doing it wrong for seventeen years? Believe it or not, I’ve actually observed that.

Length of time doing something doesn’t equate to correctness. Also, I want to question that. So you didn’t think it could be improved in seventeen years? At all?

That’s weird to me.

Here’s what I know. Every single day there is a new product, garment, consumable, process, software, technique, or idea that comes out that could make a significant impact on your business.

A little over a hundred years ago, all horse traders and teamsters thought the invention of the automobile wouldn’t catch on. “Get a horse!” they would yell as a car would rumble by.

Those with the willingness to learn moved from a horse-centric industry to one of self-propulsion with automobiles.

Are you still ridin’ that same old nag?


Let’s face it, you can’t do much in this industry alone if you want to scale your business. You need people.

Nearly every time the headcount doubles in a shop, there will be another set of problems. Going from one to two is usually the first step as that means that someone has to hire their first employee. That can be a big decision. Many small business owners struggle with that first step.

Going from two to four. Or four to eight. Or eight to sixteen, etc. always brings more complications. Eventually, the business goes from having a casual way of working to more “corporate” with rules in place.

Leveling up with employees also is more than simply managing a headcount and ever-expanding payroll. It is also about specifically what everyone is doing all day. Are they getting the training and leadership they need to develop and master the craft of their jobs?

Think about your own employees.

Just off the top of your head, do you know what is next for each of them for training? What are you doing, on purpose, to make them better at what they do?

Let’s not forget that we need to have people that want to learn, who want to succeed, and who are interested in making a difference. Who you bring onto the team matters.

Want to level up? Change your people, or change your people. Read that again.


How information is handled, organized, and used in a business often is the deciding factor in the company’s overall success.

Can employees find the answers to their questions in the system, or do they have to go ask someone, “Hey, what’s this mean?” Often the delays in a process are caused by inaccurate, missing, or vague pieces of information.

This can be discovered by tracing back common challenges to the root cause of the problem. Keep asking, “Why are we doing it this way?” Or, “What do you need to make a better decision here?”

Your employees often will know what isn’t working or is broken in a process. Take the time to listen and act on the details they provide.

Leveling up your business can happen when you exert some effort and thought into how information is obtained and used daily.


Want to level up? Take a close look at the activities that your team is doing every day.

Solid businesses work with fantastic, highly profitable customers. Is your production schedule filled with low-profit, crappy work?

Remember, you are in charge of your destiny. Take stock in your sales activities and outreach to identify and bring in better customers. This has to be on purpose. Map out a process and execute the plan.

Leveling up with your activities will be two-fold.

  1. Stop doing things that hold you back.
  2. Start doing things that push you into a better place.

This is harder than it sounds, as it may mean that you have to say no. Saying no is sometimes difficult. Raise your prices. Standardize more. Increase your minimums.

If you haven’t written a business plan (yes, I’m saying that again) now is the time. A business plan helps you identify your best, ideal customer so you can target them with a laser beam-like focus.


Probably the best way to level up in your shop is to build out and strengthen your core processes. There should be a “shop way” for doing everything.

For example, if you have more than one person quoting clients, would everyone produce the same answer for quoting a job? Give that a test and find out.

If you are ever late on your production schedule, it may be because you haven’t built an accurate process for that result. This is a mental challenge more than anything. It should be based on data (how fast x how many) to produce planned events days or weeks ahead of time.

Processes are the guardrails in place that will help you maximize your results, lower your costs, and give direction to your team. As Jocko Willink says, “Discipline equals freedom.”

How to Level Up

So, there are my five things. But like a video game, you won’t be able to get to that next level unless you score those points. This happens through action.

  1. Identify where you are now.
  2. Map out what the next-level status looks like. What do you want?
  3. Create a needs list. What do you need to get there?
  4. Bring in your team. Discuss.
  5. Build out a way to quantify results. You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
  6. Develop the roadmap to get to your goal. Where are the benchmarks along the way? What are the friction points or danger zones?
  7. Execute the plan.
  8. Failure = learning. Tweak the plan on the way.
  9. Celebrate milestone achievement. Make it fun.
  10. Achieve success and level up. Rinse and repeat.

“No problem can be solved with the same level of consciousness that created it.” – Albert Einstein

“Excellence is being able to perform at a high level over and over again. You can hit a half-court shot once. That’s just the luck of the draw. If you consistently do it…that’s excellence.” – Jay-Z

“To do anything at a high level it has to be a total obsession.” – Conor MacGregor

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Marshall Atkinson also shares exclusive blog content at Supacolor.com. Supacolor makes The World’s Best Heat Transfer and provides tips, inspiration, and other resources designed to empower professional garment printers.

1 comment

  • Nice post, I have a screen printing and embroidery business in Florida, my English is not good, but I started very existing with your work, thanks

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