We’re often asked by project managers how they can save money on the creation of their catalog, training manual, price list book or other large document. Here’s seven of our top tips. They will go a long way toward saving you money and making sure your document gets completed when you need it.
Whether you are managing the project or doing the production of the document, these seven tips will help keep your budget intact and your frustration level low.
1. Understand the process
Understanding the desktop publishing process can help you keep your costs low and get your projects completed on time. Desktop publishing is a bit like cooking:
- In cooking, you gather ingredients from various sources, use a variety of tools, apply some kind of process to the ingredients, heat it up, and “it’ll be done pretty soon.”
- In desktop publishing, you gather graphics, text and tables; then use scanners, computers and various software programs; put it into production, and “it’ll be done pretty soon.”
- If you start cooking before you’ve gathered all the ingredients, it generally leads to wasted time, a messy kitchen, and a lower quality meal.
- Plunging into desktop publishing without first gathering the finished pieces of content means wasted time, an excessive number of drafts, and a final product that may not print properly.
- Cooking without following a recipe means your results are probably not repeatable.
- Desktop publishing without following good industry standards means you may not be able to update your document efficiently (or at all) when needed.
2. Determine the content before you begin desktop publishing
Good organization is the solid foundation of all desktop publishing projects. The bigger the project, the more important that foundation becomes. It’s important that you and/or your desktop publisher manage both the computer files and the project. This begins by having a firm handle on the content of the document, the breakout of sections, and the basic content of each page. Yes, you may experience changes as you get further into development, but the more you identify before desktop publishing begins, the more money you save in revisions.
3. Determine the look and feel of your document before desktop publishing more than one section of it
Develop sample layouts and select the one that will best present your information to your audience. Then work through a representative section of the document. Review the layout and make changes if desired. After you have a firm layout, then move on to desktop publishing other sections. You’d be surprised how much making a “few simple changes” to the layout can impact costs after a document is completed. Making a few simple changes can mean making them on multiple pages in multiple documents.
Look for the “worst case” – your most troublesome tables, graphics, or whatever – and design around them first. You don’t want a few difficult elements to dictate global design changes after you’ve completed a significant portion of the project.
It is especially important to determine the document size before a project starts. Changing a page size even by a small amount after the project is completed requires going into each file and making adjustments in multiple places. It often requires “reflowing” the contents of the entire document to accommodate the new page size and can introduce a lot of unexpected errors if not proofread meticulously.
4. Gather all (OK, most of) the pieces before requesting a draft
What do we mean by “gathering the pieces?” Generally, a document is made up of some combination of text, graphics and/or tabular data. Those are the pieces. To begin desktop publishing without all of the pieces is pretty much a waste of time. OK, not necessarily a complete waste of time, but it’s a shot in the dark, and one that promises that your final cost will be higher than if you started desktop publishing with all the pieces in hand. Your desktop publisher can create a great layout, formatting text and leaving room for photos that are to come. Then the photos (always!) come in a different size or shape than anticipated. Guess what! A significant chunk of the work that went into laying out the first draft becomes wasted. And as much as we all like to get paid for our work, a good desktop publisher is going to feel bad when their costs seem inordinately high for the type and size of document produced…even if it’s because it had to be redone from scratch four times!
5. Provide the desktop publisher with the best information possible before desktop publishing begins
Take time to actually look over the pieces and parts you gather before passing them on to the desktop publisher. You will avoid unnecessary drafts. Nearly every client we work with assumes that their project will require only one draft, with only minor edits before it’s ready to go to print. In reality, nearly every project we’ve done requires at least three drafts (and sometimes as many as eight or ten). The better you review the material before desktop publishing starts, the more “final” your first draft will be. The better you review the first draft, the better the second draft will be…and the less likely a third and subsequent drafts will be required.
6. Get your committee involved early
If your document is going to be created by more than one person or reviewed by more than one person, get them involved early. It is not unusual for us to provide what we thought was supposed to be a final draft and then hear, “I’d like this to be reviewed by several more people before we go to print.” What you are really saying is, “I’d like to pay you more money because there are people who have never seen this who I want to involve now that all the work is done. These people are going to have totally different ideas about how the information should be organized and presented. They’ll probably even insist that we add some new information or remove others. So put the document on hold for a few weeks and we’ll get back to you with major changes that will require several more drafts.” Really. We get this more often than you’d expect. Involve those people in the process early if you want to stay within your budget.
7. Assume that no changes are possible after the document goes to the printer
The printer’s proof copy is the first copy of the document printed by your commercial printer. They have prepped the document for commercial printing and before they print your full quantity, they give you a printer’s proof to review to make sure they’ve properly set up the print run. That’s the real purpose of the printer’s proof. The purpose is not to review the document a final time to ensure the content is good. Yes, you can make changes after receiving the printer’s proof copy of your document, but it will generally cost you a lot more money. Print shops generally charge a lot more to make these last-minute changes than your desktop publisher does to create your document. If you choose to send the document back to the desktop publisher (which we recommend for version control, but that’s next week’s blog), you still incur more costs than if you had reviewed the document more closely before it went to the printer.
Have the mindset that the document is finished before it goes to print. This might sound obvious to many, but our experience shows that too many people who have input on the contents of a document (those folks in #6 above) don’t really look at it until they get the printer’s proof copy, so they pay for multiple print set-ups and printer-proofs, in addition to paying for additional desktop publishing to make the changes and provide new files to the printer.
We understand the real world. Things happen that keep you from being able to implement all seven of these tips for saving money on every project that you do. Still, doing as much as you can to implement as many of them as possible will help keep your project within your original budget and and put it on a track for being completed on schedule.