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Avoid Printing Disasters

What Every Small Business Owner Needs to Know

Written by Mary Nelson Zadrozny
© 2007-11 Just Imagine Design & Publications
As a small business owner, what are two of your most valuable resources? Time and money. Problems with print jobs can waste both of these precious assets. At Just Imagine Design, we regularly need to print books, quilt patterns, booklets, business cards and several other types of products. Recently we ran into major problems with a print job so I thought some of the lessons we learned might be helpful to other businesses. When looking for a place to do your printing, no matter how big or small, here are a few suggestions for a smoother ride:

1. Do not confuse a copy shop with a professional printing company. Lines are sometimes blurred between the two and copy shops may tell you that they can do professional printing in order to get your business, but they may not be able to deliver a quality product.

2. Get written estimates with every detail spelled out. People that quote off the top of their heads for a job will not always remember what they said. Or they may say something like "It won't cost much more to do this or that", and when you get the bill, you find out their idea of "not costing much more" is not the same as yours. Any verbal changes to the job need to be written down with a new estimated cost.

3. Go to several businesses to get quotes for your job. Ask to see samples of similar products that they have printed. Check out all companies with the Better Business Bureau. Although not all businesses will have a report, it may alert you to a company that does have a poor record. Ask other business owners where they get their print work done and if they are happy with the service.

4. Of course you want to negotiate the lowest possible price for your print needs, but when choosing a company for the important work, do not base your decision solely on the price. Also consider the quality of their work and whether they seem to communicate well with you while discussing the estimate.

5. Ask for an estimated turn-around time for the job.

6. Ask how long the written estimate is good for.

7. Ask what their return policy is on documents that contain major flaws (missing pages, rips or tears, ink marks or lines, etc.) that make them unusable for your business needs.

8. Color copy machines can produce very different results depending on brand, paper used, and settings. Bring in your original document and ask to do a test copy using their color machine so you can see if the color is off before committing to a large printing.

Barbara Becker of Four Paws Quilting shared this excellent point about color proofs, especially when dealing with a printing company over the internet:
"Never, never, never deal with a printer that doesn't give you a hardcopy proof for any color work, especially cover photos. Without it, you can't tell the quality, and you have no idea if their printer matches your printer or monitor. I learned this the hard way, on my first pattern. Never again...
Many printers offer a "digital proof", which means they send you a pdf file. It works to check layout, but it's useless to verify color and tone."

9. Ask what they will need from you to best complete the job. Most companies prefer the digital file on disk, along with the fonts used in the document. Discuss the version of software used to create your document, how you formatted the document (page size, margin widths, etc.), and whether you used a PC or a Mac.

10. Write out all your specific directions for the job or any important issues you want them to know about the job that are not covered in the written estimate.

11. Submit the job information in a folder or envelope containing: the CD with digital document, fonts and any other needed files, a printed copy of the original document, and any specific directions you have for the project. Label the CD case with your name, phone number, software used to create the document including version #, and job name. Also label the folder or envelope with a list of everything inside, plus all of your contact information as well. This may seem a bit redundant, but it is very easy for things to get separated from each other.

12. Write out every specific direction and label every document that you are handing over to them. Do not rely on verbal instructions. The person you explain the job to is probably not the person who will actually be doing the job. It's like that game we played as kids when you pass a secret around the room and by the time it gets back to the starting place, the wording has totally changed. Label your information so that ANYONE who picks up the job, will clearly understand what you want.

13. Instruct the print company that if they have ANY questions about the job, ANY changes in cost, materials used, or delays in the due date, to call you.

14. When the time comes to pick up your print job, carefully look through the documents preferably before you leave the building. Even if you have to take the box over to the side of the counter to get out of the way of other customers, do no leave until you have checked it all over. At the very least, check it over in the car or as soon as you get to your business. Also, be sure to get back ALL of your original documents, disks and information that you supplied to them.

15. If at all possible, try to have just one representative of your company handle all the discussions for the print job so there is less potential for confusion.

16. If at all possible, pay by credit card so that if there is a major problem with the work that is clearly their error, you can contest the charge if they refuse to give you a refund or reprint the job.

Good luck with your all printing jobs!

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