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Desktop Publishing as a Viable Home Business

Desktop publishing is a business that is offers real opportunities - and can easily be set-up in a home office. Learn the rudiments of starting this home business - it just might be your ticket to success.

by Jenny Fulbright
Staff Writer 

Desktop publishing is a business that offers real opportunities - and can easily be set-up in a home office. Learn the rudiments of starting this home business - it just might be your ticket to success.

An Exploding Market

According to recent estimates by business consulting firms this market has grown from roughly 3 million in annual sales in 1985 to almost 3 billion in 1991, and there is no end in sight. One of the real opportunities and challenges of this business is the fact that there are still millions of clients out there that as yet do not even know that they need the services of a desktop publishing service.

Desktop publishing is a term used to connote a new way of publishing documents - using desktop computers as against the traditional method of mechanical, real metal type, and scissors and glue. The personal computer has revolutionized the entire publishing industry, creating a tremendous opportunity for profit.

Virtually any business use desktop publishing for some purpose. Desktop publishers prepare graphic materials such as: brochures, flyers, full-page advertisements, business forms, Web pages, logos, CDs and cassette covers, catalogs, newsletters, books, proposals, and much more.

Some desktop publishers also perform word processing services for their clients. While some desktop publishers prepare almost any kind of graphic material, many specializing in one or more, such as newsletters.

While prior computer knowledge is a plus, anyone who has a desire to learn the operation of a computer can acquire the ability to become a desktop publisher.

Identifying Your Market Niche

The key to a starting a successful small-scale and home-based operation is to find a niche where you can excel. Your niche can be a specific service offered (e.g. web design) or a business quality (e.g. fast service). Your choice will depend on the existing desktop publishing marketplace including kinds of services and prices offered and prices in your locality and by your competition.

Louise Kursmark, in her book "How to Start a Home-Based Desktop Publishing Business" identified eight possible niches for a desktop publishing business:

1. Graphic design. If you have excellent design skills and knowledgeable in using desktop publishing software, you can focus on the profitable and successful market niche of graphic design. Your task will be to communicate effectively your client's message in the design of logos, graphics, brochures, newsletters, posters, signs, and any other type of visual communication.

2. Typography and layout. One good area to focus is the more specialized field of typography, which is the design and use of typefaces from calligraphy to the ever-developing use of digital type. You may create letterforms or select typefaces and arrange them on a page layout. This is a niche for those with a great eye for type details, overall page layout as well as skills in proofreading and editing. You can work based on this specialization, and you can also secure subcontract work from other desktop publishers needing this kind of expertise.

3. Fast service. Another strategy for breaking into the crowded desktop publishing market is to focus on providing speedy turnaround time. Many clients need to have their materials (brochures, newsletters, etc.) as quickly as possible. You can market your business as the service that delivers high quality work in the shortest possible time.

4. Low rates. You can enter the market by offering a lower rate (e.g.. "Introductory pricing") relative to your competitors. In a tight market with many competitors, you may be able to attract attention by offering lower prices.

5. Technical expertise. If you have skills in the high-end aspects of desktop publishing services - manipulating complex graphics, preparing multi-media presentations - you can leverage that for your start-up. You can attract both regular business clients and other desktop publishers needing your expertise.

6. Large project specialist. Big corporate accounts provide large and complex projects that can provide you with significant work for a lengthy period of time.

7. Small business specialist. There are opportunities in specializing in "Main Street" retailers or the small businesses in your area. While they may have relatively smaller budgets, you have a large number of potential clients. Some of the smaller-scale projects that you will be focusing for this market will be business forms and invoices, stationery and business cards, brochures and sales flyers.

8. Internet-related business. The Web has grown tremendously in the last few years, opening vast opportunities and creating new markets for desktop publishers. You can design web sites, create graphics for the Web, and prepare Web-ready multimedia presentations.

Equipment Needed

The success of your desktop publishing business will depend in a large part to your equipment, arsenal of software and proficiency in using them to create the quality graphics that your client needs.

The basic equipment and supplies needed in a desktop publishing business include high-capacity computers, various desktop publishing software programs, laser and color printers, and scanner. You also need to have a disk back-up system, virus protection program, CD writer (CDR/CDW), font software, and clip art.

Prices of computers have steadily decreased in the past few years. However, the computer system that you will use for desktop publishing requires more sophistication than one configured only for word-processing or other basic tasks. You will need a system with large memory to load all your software and provide more data storage for large files. The monitor must be high resolution to display graphics properly; the printer must have a substantial amount of memory for downloading fonts and graphics. Hence, your computer system will be more expensive than the average computer with less capacity.

In purchasing a computer system, you have two choices: get a Macintosh or an IBM personal computer (PC). Both can run most of the desktop publishing software, but Mac seems to be the computer of choice of most desktop publishing professionals. Mac tends to be easier to use and set-up, with greater similarity across programs and compatibility among software. The PC, on the other hand, is cheaper with more widely available peripherals and software.

You must arm yourself with a variety of software (and be an expert in all of them!). The must-have software include: Adobe PageMaker, Quark Express or Corel Ventura for page layout and typesetting; Adobe Photoshop or Corel PhotoPaint for image editing; Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw for illustrating. You do not need to buy everything all at one time; the key, though, is to buy the tool most capable of meeting your needs now and in the future. It is recommended that you buy the most powerful program available in your chosen field to give yourself some growing room and provide the capabilities for future as well as present expertise.

Who Are the Customers and How to Find Them

Almost any company and organization - from Fortune 500 to one-person businesses -- is a potential customer. Depending on your specialization, you can also find customers in the non-business (consumer) marketplace, depending on your field of specialization.

Your potential customers could include a virtual assistant needing a web site, restaurants that require menu design or a painter who needs flyer to pass out. You can also get as a customer a legal firm that requires hundreds of different forms, a hotel that needs brochures, a writer who needs a cover design for his book, and hundreds of other clients.

Given the diversity of your potential clients, one important thing that you should bear in mind is that some of these customers may not know that they need a desktop publisher for their needs. They may not know exactly what desktop publishing is or may not know that they even need it. Therefore, it is important that you design your marketing campaign in such a way that you both educate your clients about what service you can provide them; as well as advertise your business.

One of the most effective marketing arsenals you can use for your business is advertising. In particular, Yellow Pages advertising have proven to be a valuable mechanism in attracting clients and providing your business with the visibility that it needs. Advertising in a daily newspaper, to a lesser extent, can be worthwhile, although you may be able to get better results advertising in a business-related publication in your community. Many local business publications list the new businesses in the area. New businesses are a rich source of desktop publishing work, as they need business cards, brochures, letterhead, forms, and other materials.

Another way you can attract clients to your business is through the power of word of mouth. Word of mouth entails keeping your business is front of your prospects in a variety of ways, and strategies include media mentions, press releases, customer referrals and networking. Word of mouth of a satisfied client will go a long way and it will be your most effective advertising.

One of the best places to network is the Chamber of Commerce in your community and surrounding communities. Participation in organizations like this allows you to meet potential customers. Also, do not forget to network even with your competitors. They may be having problems coping with too much demand, and could subcontract part of their work to you.

Direct mail directed to businesses and organizations will also be highly beneficial in most businesses, once you have found your first few customers, especially the "first big one" it will be easier to find other clients.

The quality and eye-appeal of your brochure and other sales material will be of vital importance. After all you are a desktop publisher and therefore your brochure should very professional looking. Clients will also want to see some work ("your portfolio") that you have prepared for clients.

One of the best leads for new business will be the existing material of businesses, even the never-ending flow of junk mail that you receive from both local and out-of-town companies. You may set an appointment with the owner of the company, and present your idea on how to improve their marketing or presentation materials. You can gently and diplomatically suggest to a potential client how much more effective their sales campaign will be with professional looking material.. Since much potential graphic material is too expensive for their budget they will be pleasantly surprised when they learn from you that it can be prepared for $15 to $30 per page.

Operating Your Business

Most anyone without prior computer background, unless they are young enough to have had computer instructions in high school, will be initiated by computers. Yet slowly but surely computers are becoming as much a part of our lives as automobiles. And if you consider how little most people know about the operation of the automobile engine, but how well they can drive you will realize how easy it is to learn the operation of a computer. While books, operating manuals and even classroom instructions will be most helpful, the most effective way to learn is through practice. Basic knowledge of most software programs, including desktop publishing software can be acquired in about 20 hours. To become truly proficient will take about 2-3 months.

This business lends itself well to be operated from your home. Since you will be receiving clients it is important that your home-office be presentable and well kept. As you business grows you can move to larger quarters in an office.

Your initial expenses in addition to the equipment itself will pertain to basic office supplies, the preparation and reproduction of your sales material, advertising, postage and miscellaneous expenses. If at all possible get a second telephone line just for your office so you can insure it will always be answered professionally. An answering machine or telephone answering service will communicate with your clients in your absence.

Owners of new businesses will spend the majority of their time, during the start-up phase on finding new business. Your new clients will be looking for quality graphic material, which is prepared in a relatively short time span (generally from 2 to several days depending on the project - larger projects may take substantially more time), at a reasonable price. The cost of your services are determined by what your competition charges which is pretty well determined by general cost of living expenses in your community.

It will be a good idea if you do some snooping around and visit some of your competitors as a "potential client". You will find their advertisements in local business publications and the Yellow Pages.

Since you are selling a service most of your revenue will go to the bottom - line and will become profit to you. Operating expenses will be relatively small for general office supplies, paper, laser printer toner, etc. Of course, you may have to finance the purchase of your equipment over a period of time. If your credit is good, financing will be relatively easy to obtain through most computer stores. Since new computer equipment is becoming outdated at an ever-increasing speed it is best to buy equipment on the lower end of the price range even if your budget can stand the higher outlay of capital.

Small businesses and organizations will be requesting credit extension. Your care in granting this privilege is important. Nothing is more aggravating then selling a service "your time" and not get paid. It is not at all unreasonable to request payment up front with new and small business clients. Once you have granted credit to a business or organizations set down strict rules and stick to them. In general there rarely is justification to carry any client beyond 60 days.

As you expand and require assistance to carry the workload consider hiring "outside contractors" instead of employees. There are many individuals who have the knowledge and equipment to free-lance with desktop publishing. You will be saving the various benefits that are required to pay to employees and which average about 20 - 30% of salary.

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