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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'm thinking about starting my own graphic art or a creative desktop publishing business that I can run from home and need some advice on the right computer, printers, scanners, software, etc. I have a PC and understand that I can get Quark Xpress for Windows, but some people I've talked to say I need a Mac to get the best results. I have a little bit of money saved, but am not sure what to invest in first. I also need more ideas of what I could market as a freelance graphic artist and where to market it. I'm willing to take some classes to get this off the ground, but don't feel like I need a degree to do it. Any suggestions?

Answer from our Guest Expert Laura Wiegert of Creative Consultants

Mac vs. PC: Which Suits Your Taste?

The Mac vs. PC question is one people have debated for years. When I started my home DTP business three years ago, I too gave it some thought -- but only briefly. That's because I was "raised" on a PC and that's what I had and knew best. I'd give you the same advice as well.

If you already own a PC or Mac and are comfortable using it, then stick with it. It'll shorten your learning curve so you can focus on getting the software and graphics training you may need. When it comes to using a PC, you'll discover many businesses have PCs, which makes compatibility easier when exchanging files on disk. Most graphic software is available for both platforms, so getting the right programs won't be a problem. Lastly, if you simply go with the computer you already own, then you can invest more money in software and training.

If, on the other hand, you're starting from scratch, I'd lean more toward a Mac. If you have the luxury of choosing any computer system you want -- and the money to do so -- then buy a Mac. A Mac does offer some advantages over a PC when it comes to graphics and it's widely used in the design industry. But don't feel you're slighting yourself if you stick with your PC. It can get the job done too.

Software Servings to Consider

Regarding software, if you're serious about DTP, then Quark Xpress -- which you mentioned in your question -- is a good choice. It's a widely used program and has many excellent features. You may also want to consider Adobe InDesign. This new program is supposed to give Quark a run for its money because it has some enhanced features not available in Quark. I'd recommend either one of these programs for your main graphics software. Tho, Adobe PageMaker is another option as well.

Before buying software, do some research. Read product reviews and talk to others in the field. You may also want to speak with your local printer, who you'll be working with closely. See what types of software they have and/or prefer so compatibility isn't an issue when you bring them files on disk.

Once you choose your main design program, consider expanding into other graphics software. (You can probably get by without these right away and add them in as money and learning time permits.) PhotoShop is an excellent photo-scanning and imaging software, while Adobe Illustrator or Corel Draw are very good drawing programs. None of these are cheap, but if you're serious about quality graphics, it'll be a good investment.

As you purchase your software, don't forget about training. Some of this you can "learn as you go," but at least get a basic introductory course on each. If you don't have a design background, you may want to start out with a basic layout and design course before you open your doors.

Equipment Entrees to Order Up

In addition to the computer, software, and training, don't forget about some other basic equipment to get the job done. For instance, invest in a quality laser printer for camera-ready artwork (as least 600 DPI); a color printer for client proofs and mockups; a good scanner; and, of course, a phone system. Make sure you get a separate phone line for your business and don't use your home phone (tacky!). Lastly, don't forget a fax machine. I'd invest in a freestanding machine instead of using your computer fax. It just works better in the long run.

Market Your Niche

Your question about what to market as a freelancer is a separate issue in and of itself. Find a niche you enjoy doing and make sure there's a healthy market for that niche. For example, do you have a background in a certain industry, such as manufacturing? If so, then consider that as a niche and market your creative skill to area manufacturers. Your niche can also be a type of marketing, such as newsletters. Many companies produce employee or customer newsletters and need help designing them.

For me, my niche is a combination of both. I had a strong background in healthcare, so I was able to get a lot of project work in hospitals around the state. But I've also had an interest in newsletters, so I have several non-healthcare newsletter clients locally. (For more details and suggestions on marketing your new business, read some of my previous Coffee Talk answers.)

The key is to find your niche and go for it. It may not jump out at you right away, but once your business is underway, it'll become apparent to you what direction to take it!

Best of Biz to You!

Laura Wiegert

Creative Consultants

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