P&C Connections Answers Your Questions About Design, Print & Websites

So you realize the need for a brochure, magazine, forms, and other printed materials, or a website to help promote your business! We at P&C Connections get a lot of questions about the best approach, so here are some tips to consider:

GRAPHIC DESIGN:

You'll want to work with an experienced and knowledgeable graphic designer who understands the whole process. Start by checking out local ad agencies, graphic designers (freelancers are often quite knowledgeable and may offer better pricing), printers, etc. While you want to get a good deal, don't be misled by companies claiming to offer "free" graphic design—designers don't work for free, and you'll likely be paying for it at some point. Get referrals from friends and business associates. P&C Connections has twenty-plus years' experience in graphics, printing and marketing. We are happy to share recommendations and sample work from our clients.

Then plan to spend a half hour or more discussing your project and agreeing to a general plan before you commit.

We start every print and web design project by asking clients questions about their business and the job. A little upfront planning cuts way down on overall costs and helps ensure a successful finished product. You may be asked to sign a contractual agreement between you and the designer that clearly states such items as payment terms and timelines to finished product, permissions to use artwork and photos, and ownership of final design pieces and their intended use. We strive to keep this "dry stuff" brief, but starting off with a clear picture of the process is beneficial to both the client and the artist. Establishing a trusting relationship is important, and a true professional will insist on clarity.

Ask for a price quote. Most designers charge for their work "by the hour." Oftentimes this means that they'll charge in the market range for producing that type of job. They should give you a quote with break-down for various services (copy writing, editing, photo and art work, graphic design production, printing, etc.). Prices run the gamut, based on the designer's experience, offerings, and overhead. Expect to pay approximately $25-75+ per hour. Changes you request to your original design plan will be billable; corrections are free of charge. Projects that require heroic efforts to meet unrealistic deadlines or make massive, last-minute changes are generally charged rush rates of time-and-a-half that of regular rates. You may get a better price if you have a number of pieces done at the same time (e.g., a book and a website; stationery and a brochure, etc.), but expect that to be spelled out in a contractual agreement.

Make sure you set up payment terms and a timeline. Like any construction project, the client can expect to pay one-third to one-half of the total price up front (more if costs for outside materials or services are necessary), with additional payments due upon approval of proofs at various stages of production, and a final payment before the finished design is released to the client for use. Favorable payment terms may be arranged in good faith with ongoing, established customers who demonstrate a history of prompt payment.

Production starts after the agreement, the commitment and a down payment. You'll be asked to provide all written copy and photos/artwork necessary to do the job. Working with your designer by email is a great way to expedite the process, or have these materials copied onto a CD/DVD to be mailed or delivered to them. They will work with you on a rough draft for the design of your piece and reasonable amounts of copy and art that will fit. It helps to come prepared with samples of looks you like or specific style and color ideas.

It ís best to provide the text copy in a Word (.doc) file or other format your designer accepts, so you don't have to pay to have them to re-type it from .pdfs or printed pages. Designers usually prefer that you don't try to "fancy" up the copy yourself. Use Times New Roman 12 pt. type and simply double space between paragraphs. Use bold-faced and italics sparingly; it just looks messy, anyway! Your designer can give you some advice on copy and recommend appropriate typestyles for the job.

Print and Internet specifications are different! For instance, pics you pull off the Internet are not high enough quality for printing purposes (and likely are copyrighted); you will need to provide an original piece that is 300 dpi (dots per sq. inch) for printing and 96 for computer screen viewing. Art and photos are usually sent as files in these formats: .jpg, .eps and .tifs for printed work; and .jpg, .gif or .ping format for the web. You can expect to pay for any additional work needed to prepare your pics and art for use in your printed or website piece. We usually work from high quality .jpgs for most jobs (and can advise you on this). An original photo can be scanned and prepped by the designer; so always keep your originals on file…just in case!

Keep in touch with your designer from time to time, and let them know immediately if there are changes to the design. Otherwise, you can be charged for changes on work that's already been submitted and designed. Be available to them for questions or requests during the process so they can meet your expectations and deadlines.

You will be sent proofs of the work, either several at various stages or just one final proof. This is your last and best opportunity to make sure that the print job comes out the way you want. By carefully inspecting the proof you can help us assure an accurate, flawless delivery of your printed piece. It's wise to have someone who has an "eagle eye" for spelling and details double-check the proofs, or pay the designer for this service. Realize the project may be "on hold" until you get approval and/or any changes needed back to the designer, so be ready for this step in the process. Although we require the customer's sign-off, we at P&C pride ourselves on providing a complimentary, once-over, proofing phase to our designs.

If you want to jazz up your work but don't have a logo, artwork or appropriate photos, you'll want to talk to your designer. They can render artwork or provide you with samples of ready-made, stock art and photos from which to choose. We have resources for just about anything you need to get the job done: copywriting, photography, art/illustration, animation, audio-video production, etc. P&C also has the graphics capabilities to make changes that will give your work a personalized and uniquely finished look. Be wary of downloading art from Internet sources—these "freebies" are often copyrighted or must have a credit line or link to the provider's website attached. You are liable for any infringements if you use other artists' work without permission! Also, computer viruses are sometimes attached to these files, so your best source is your knowledgeable graphic designer.

PRINTING:

Begin with a "business package"—that's a letterhead, business envelope and business card. Printing 500 each is a good start, but factor in what you may need for any special mailings. It's less expensive to buy in bulk. Consider having a logo designed that will "brand" (uniquely identify) your company.

Then think about what forms you may need to do business: work orders, receipts, invoices, time sheets, etc. While you can buy these ready-made at office supply stores, your business will appear more professionally packaged if custom designed by a graphics pro. Having your paperwork forms and other records tailored to your specific business can save countless record-keeping hours, as well. You may want to have high-quality copies of your work made, rather than printing, especially if you donít need many or you expect to be making changes soon. But you still will need the graphic design prepared first, and we work well with copy centers—as well as printers—to get the finished product done for you as quickly as possible.

At some point, you'll want to have additional printed materials to promote your business. Depending on your company's offerings, you may want to consider: media kits, a newsletter, rate/price sheets, brochures, catalogs, rack cards, case studies, testimonials, coupon books, gift certificates, annual reports…even signage and billboard design.

P&C Connections has extensive experience in all facets of design, print, and web work. We hope you'll contact us whenever the need arises for these services!

There are a multitude of Internet printing companies that offer good deals. Just Google "Printers." But make sure it's a reputable company: first read the fine print, see if shipping and other hidden costs are going to run up your bill, and that they can communicate well with you. You can expect personalized, hands-on service when you go with a reputable company like P&C. Our capabilities and flexibility allow us to regularly connect with the clients' own local service providers, and we can meet onsite with your company staff, local printers, etc. should the need arise. We recognize the value of "going the extra mile" for a great relationship that is mutually beneficial for many years to come!

Once the final design is ready, you can work with your designer on the printing process, or take the design files and work with the printer yourself. It's recommended that you have us do this, as we have extensive printing experience and "speak the same language" in what can be a complicated process. There will be paper stock to choose, ink colors, quantities, various folding and binding options, as well as many other final finishes and processes from which to choose. Your designer or the print professionals can help you with these decisions, along with establishing a reasonable timeline. We like to "work backwards" from the printing process: knowing how long the printer needs to do his job allows the designer to plan the design stages in order to meet deadlines.

Sometimes your designer can get a better price for you, especially if they often work with the same reputable printers. At least ask for their recommendation when choosing a printer.

WEBSITES:

It depends. Does the future of your company rely on advertising? Do you want to expand your business, especially beyond the local market? Are you looking for ways to better connect with your customers and conveniently provide them with information about your services and products? Answering "yes" to any or all of these questions means you should have a website. Not only can it effectively solve the above issues, a good website will establish your company as a professional, preferred source for the customer's needs.

First decide on your company goals, the functionality you need, and what you want your Internet presence to convey to the cyber-public about your business.

WEBSITES are best for providing lots of static information and graphics about your company and products. A formal website conveys the impression that your company is business-like and professional; plus, you own your website and have total control over its content and appearance. A full-blown website is definitely more high-end and complex, but once set up a site does not need to have frequent changes made. Its pages are organized by content areas, and require a professional design and maintenance. This is true especially if you want complex capabilities: photo galleries, shopping carts, dynamic (submitted) forms, fancy graphics/effects and greater security control. You will need a registered domain name (your own URL, as in: www.mycompany.com) and an account with a web host server company to put and keep your website up on the Internet. These costs are minimal, and usually paid for on an annual or bi-annual basis. With experience as website designer/developers, P&C has worked with a number of these hosting companies, and can make recommendations on reputable sources, as well as guiding you through the process.

BLOGS traditionally were intended for people who like to share their interests and to write about themselves and their interests; blogs are usually maintained by an individual with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, and even material such as graphics or video. Visitors to your blog can join in discussion topics by posting comments. A blog is usually organized by date and category, displaying the most recent post content first. However, there is growing business blog interest, particularly for small, cottage-industry type companies or those that benefit from the interactivity of visitors' comments/reviews. Considered more informal, blogs are pretty easy to maintain but require frequent updating to hold the visitors' interest. You can even hire freelance "bloggers" to create content, post blogs and otherwise maintain your blog for you.

Generally, a blog is much simpler in terms of design look, although their increasing popularity has led to a plethora of templates and plug-ins that provide greater capabilities. In addition to fairly structured design constraints, limitations can include prohibitive restrictions on content storage and bandwidth, photos and text submissions, problems with viewing in some browsers, and limits to the number of members and posts.

To start a blog all you have to do is obtain a domain name and a web host (see info above). Creating a simple blog is free, but there's always a risk involved because if your blog host decides to shut your blog down for whatever reason, you would lose all your content. The most popular source for building a blog is WordPress, as they offer domain names (e.g. "yourcompany.WordPress.com"), hosting and a variety of themes to dress up your blog. While basically free, be aware they maintain the right to insert their ads in your blog, you are limited in the ability to customize your blog, along with many other limitations you should consider before going this route. The price for their multitude of offerings goes up if you wish to go beyond the basics. The book "WordPress: The Missiing Manual" by Matthew MacDonald is a great resource to learn more about WordPress's capabilities as well as limitations.

Be aware that many website designers are now building sites from WordPress "Themes" templates, and then use their designer skills to rework them into something that's a bit more unique for you, the customer.

  1. Good organization is key—start with a well-thought-out outline and plan a visual site map that streamlines and organizes your content and links. You want clear and easy navigation for your site visitors.

  2. Writing for the web is different from writing for print. Visitors will want to quickly skim web pages, especially the home page. So content should be informative, concise and attractive, with the most important info in the top of the page body. Then you can use links that can be clicked to carry over to a back page (like we did with this page) any long article continuations or that offer the option to give more details. The home page should fit in the viewer's browser window to avoid having to scroll very far down the page. P&C Connections has a reputation as typographic specialists, so contact us if you need help with copy-writing, editing, or design and display of "the written word."

  3. Large graphic files can take a long time to load; don't assume your audience has high-speed Internet access. Make sure your graphics are important to the message you're sending, prepare them properly, check often in different browsers to make sure graphics aren't missing, and use Alt labels that give a description even if the graphic is missing.

  4. Flashing graphics and animations can enhance your site, but they can just as easily detract. Use the whiz-bang stuff tastefully and sparingly, and make sure they're working properly. Some browsers have difficulty loading and rendering this art, and many designers are advising against heavy, indiscriminate use of flashy features.

  5. If a picture says a thousand words, then you can go one better with an audio or video recording for your visitor's listening and viewing pleasure. Again, this gives people the option to delve further—an important feature in any website. Make sure they're professionally produced and are working properly. Keep it brief, informative and up-to-date.

  6. To sum it all up: Make your site very, very, very user-friendly! Use color, text styles and stylized boxes to identify similar groups or features. Make sure if a visitor can get to a remote page (or an email, or a down-loadable .pdf file, or pop-up window), you provide an easy means to get back to the site. Building your company website with these tips in mind will help ensure an attractive and effective Internet presence for your company!

 

While these tips are not all-inclusive and may reflect personal preferences and
current info at the time of publication, P&C Connections hopes you find
this information useful in building or improving your marketing efforts!
Please contact us if you'd like more information, have suggestions or
are interested in our services.

 

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