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Expert Answers to Biz Questions

Listen in! Pick up some expert advice to a reader's question that we selected from CyberSchmooz.

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The Biz Question

I am looking for resources on preparing a gang buster layout and design portfolio for my new Desktop Publishing Company. I also need a resource on how to find my first customer.


Answer from our Guest Expert Laura Wiegert of Creative Consultants

Suzi! Kudos to you for taking that first step and starting your own desktop publishing company! Now comes the nitty gritty essentials, such as developing a sizzling portfolio and getting new customers, which are key issues for any DTP company. Here are some tips from my DTP kitchen to yours -- hope they help you!

Cooking Up a Scrumptious Portfolio

Because your portfolio gives clients their first impression of your unique menu of the creative and production skills, you'll want to make sure it's arranged and organized well. From it, customers will browse your work and notice your range of industry experience. (If you specialize in a particular industry or production of a specific marketing piece, you may be well-served to create a special portfolio just for those types of customers.)

Arrange your portfolio in distinct sections. For example, the portfolio I use for my DTP services features logos, newsletters, brochures, and direct mail pieces. In each section, there are two to four examples of quality pieces I've produced covering a broad spectrum of industries. A portfolio should give your work good representation, not only showing the diversity of materials you produce, but also the types of clients you've served.

If you have such a special niche, consider developing a separate portfolio. For example, I have a separate portfolio for newsletters, which is one of my niches. This portfolio is arranged by employee newsletters and customer newsletters and contains many more samples of publications than in my general portfolio.

Tips to Spice Up Your Start-up Portfolio

Once you've decided how to arrange your portfolio, you'll have to figure out what items to feature in it. If you've already done DTP work, the decision's easy. Pick your best work based on the considerations above. However, if you're just starting out and don't have a large amount of creative material to choose from, consider the following ideas to help you whip up some winning portfolio pieces.

  • Volunteer to design material for nonprofit organizations. -- Not only does the nonprofit get a quality service for free, you benefit by gaining portfolio pieces (and usually these groups are pretty open to ideas, so the sky's the limit on creativity).
  • Design marketing material for your own company. -- This is a great opportunity to not only showcase your talents but to create slick portfolio pieces. Make sure any company brochure touts your quality DTP work. And along those lines, create a company newsletter for yourself. I've found this is an excellent way to showcase my writing and design skills and market my business to targeted companies.
  • Create sample materials.-- Use your imagination here and make up a mythical company, product, or service and then develop a brochure, flyer, logo, or newsletter for it, or all of them! Until you build up a client list, this is a great way to show you know your way around the design and layout biz. You can also recreate material from existing companies. Take an old recipe and give it new zest! Show potential clients how you can work design and layout magic on their existing material.

Getting Those First Customers

Just by creating a brochure or newsletter to market your company and redesigning potential clients' existing brochures, you're already on your way to enticing those first clients to walk in your office. But adding more fuel to the fire won't hurt. Here are some hot-out-of-the oven tips for landing more clients.

  • Networking -- Calling business associates, friends, and relatives to let them know about your new business is a good first step. In the course of conversation, simply ask if they're aware of anyone who has a need for your service. Don't forget to join and be active in your local Chamber of Commerce. By attending all their schmooz fests and meetings, you'll create excellent contacts and help develop future prospects.
  • Market your company -- Write a news release about your biz and send it to local newspapers and business/trade magazines to get your name in print. Send out an introductory letter to key business contacts, friends, fellow chamber members or potential customers you want to target. Be sure and follow up with these people via phone or in the local cafe. Get those company brochures and newsletters out on the streets -- think of ways you can spread the good news about your biz!
  • Word of mouth -- Once you get those first few customers and knock 'em out with your work, word of mouth will bring in more clients. Don't be afraid to ask for referrals either. Once you finish a project and you're wrapping things up, thank them for the work and ask if they know of anyone else who might have a need for your service. If they give you a referral that results in a project, make sure you send them a thank you note or box of chocolates!

Dessert Items to Tempt You

If you'd like some additional resources on developing a portfolio and getting customers, check out the following books:

Best of luck to you, Suzi! Great Question!


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