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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

How can I get started in desktop publishing? What software do I need, and where can I find it online? Any other helpful hints would be greatly appreciated!

Answer from our Guest Expert Laura Wiegert of Creative Consultants

So you're ready to dig into desktop publishing (DTP)! Good choice! It's a growing field with many opportunities -- from the production of newsletters and brochures to flyers and wedding invitations. Here's some start-up DTP biz advice that'll get you cookin' with the best of them.

Start Cooking with the Right Equipment

Any DTPer worth her salt knows the key to success is having the proper equipment. And that means making the financial commitment to quality equipment.

A Fast Computer with a lot of Memory. When you get into graphics, you'll sometimes create memory-intensive files. If you have a fast computer with oodles of RAM (random access memory), you'll be able to work much more efficiently. A large hard drive is also helpful; although, you can always store files on a ZIP drive or writable CD-ROM drive.

A Quality Laser Printer. Although you can give some files directly to the printer on a disk, you'll also need to produce camera-ready artwork for clients. So invest in a quality laser printer with at least 600 DPI output.

Scanner. This little marvel lets you scan in photographs, logos, artwork, etc. and will prove invaluable when designing. (Psttt! Hewlett Packard makes great laser printers and scanners! Check them out at

Fax machine. A handy piece of equipment for sending proofs of projects to clients.

Start Cooking with the Right Software

Once you've got the right equipment to serve up those design jobs, the next ingredient to make them sizzle is the right software. Here are some creme d'la creme page layout programs--

Quark Xpress. ( currently, this is the standard software for many designers and print shops. It's a high-end design program that'll allow you to interface easily with printers when supplying artwork on disk.

Adobe PageMaker. ( This is also an excellent design program; although, it's not as commonly used as Quark Xpress. Occasionally, compatibility may be a problem when providing files on disk to certain printers.

Adobe InDesign. ( This new program will soon be released in the marketplace. It was created by Adobe to provide some stiff competition to Quark Xpress. Word on the street is that it compares very well to Quark and actually has more user features. This software will definitely give Quark a run for its money, and it's worth a look.

Even though these software programs are spendy, don't cut corners. They're essential for top-of-the-line DPT work. Other, less expensive programs are available, but they're limited in their capabilities. Invest in quality software and take the time to learn how to use it.

Beef Up Your Computer and Design Skills

Before you start your DTP biz, get to know the software you'll be using. Some of this learning comes in time, but before you open your doors,be familiar enough with your equipment and software, so you don't take 10 hours to design a simple flyer. You may want to look into a training session from a local college or computer company. They often offer excellent one-day programs on major software, such as Quark Xpress or Adobe PageMaker.

Likewise, good design skills are another secret ingredient to a booming DTP biz. If you're thinking of starting a DTP biz, I'm assuming you have some basic creative skills. But you want to continually learn and expand your horizons. To spice up my skills, I attend at least one design seminar a year. I also use design books as resources for ideas I can implement on the job. (The Graphic Arts Book Club is a great place to find these.)

Whip Up a Professional Look

Besides impressing your clients with your whiz-bang creative skills, a slick company name and image can work wonders too. Think of a unique name that accurately depicts your business -- one that'll stick in people's minds. Be clever, but not silly. And be sure the name rolls easily off the tongue. My company name, Creative Consultants, works well for what I do. Other names I've heard include Desktop Designs, Words and Pictures, Designs by (NAME), and Creative Works. You get the idea. Just remember to check to make sure your company name isn't already in use by someone else.

After the classy name, comes your company logo. Think of this as your first project and design a logo that fits your company's image. Then create professional letterhead, envelopes, biz cards and a brochure that feature your name and logo. These items will reflect the quality of work you're capable of doing. Make sure they showcase your great design skills, and have them professionally printed. First impressions mean a lot, and often, these pieces will be a potential client's first look at your company.

A polished portfolio to show potential clients is another way to create a professional image. Pull together pieces you've done in previous jobs and put them in a new leather portfolio. If you're just starting out in the field, you may want to do some dummy mockups. Create some meaty marketing material for fake businesses for the purpose of showcasing your design skills. Look into volunteering for local nonprofits. See if you can do their newsletter or a brochure at no charge. They love the price, you get design pieces for your portfolio. You may get some free publicity out of it!

Spread the News

Now you're ready to open your doors! Remember, just because you built your DTP biz, it doesn't mean they'll come. Get out there and pound the pavement. Start your networking. Join the chamber, call potential clients, do a mailing, send out a press release. Spread the news you're open for business! Good luck!

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