Making Money with CorelDRAW! – Getting Started
Originally Published in CorelDRAW Help Magazine November – December 2010
By Judy and John McDaniel
Year-end has always been a time for reflection. As we look forward to a new year, it’s customary to assess what we’ve accomplished, where we are, and what we plan to do. Born from this effort, we plan and set goals for the coming months. Some of these may be personal; some may be for our business.
Over the years, we have always found it useful to evaluate our business in two ways. The first is a micro-view, i.e. what has happened within the business over the past year. Did we miss opportunities? Were our customers and/or prospects looking for something we didn’t offer? What services were popular? What services may have not been so popular? How can we better serve our customers?
The second is a macro-view: what’s going on in the industry and how should we respond to change? Are there new technologies that provide opportunities for growth? Are there emerging technologies that will impact how we’re doing things today? Are there opportunities for change that will make us more efficient? Are there new processes we should be exploring?
The micro-view – analyzing our business
The first step in evaluating your business, or for that matter any business you may consider starting, is to define or re-define what your business is.
It seems that every so often we are forced to examine who we are and what we’re doing. Over the years Judy and I have done this a number of times. Sometimes our customers have challenged our thinking, sometimes others in the industry have, and sometimes we have.
Why do this? For the same reasons that car manufacturers have redefined themselves as vehicle manufacturers, and finally transportation companies; or the telephone company has redefined itself as a communications company. These companies do so to broaden the public’s concept, as well as their internal perception, of what their business is.
In our industry, many of us have defined our businesses by the products we make. In fact, many have chosen names like, (ABC) Signs; (XYZ) Trophies; (Home Town) Awards; (Your Name Here) Stamps; etc. There is nothing wrong with these names if you plan to limit and focus your product offerings — but, maybe you shouldn’t.
Do you make trophies, trophies and plaques, or are you in the awards business? OK, then how about gifts, jewelry, advertising specialties, rubber stamps, signs, identification tags, etc. Do you offer any of these things, and if so, where do they fit? What do all of these things have in common?
Some of us define ourselves by the processes we use. We are engravers, or sandblasters, screen-printers, or embroiderers, etc. If that’s the case, then what happens when we add a new process? What do we really do? What do we share in common?
How Our Business Evolved
When we first started our business we purchased a mechanical engraving machine, so we thought of ourselves as engravers. After all, that’s what we did, and still do, for that matter. We perceived our equipment, its abilities, and the products we produced as unique in the engraving field, so our business started life with the name Creative Engraving. We felt the name communicated who we were and what we were all about.
During the first few years of operation we went on the road. We took our machine and raw materials to fairs and shows. We sold lots of stuff, and met lots of people. It turns out that by doing that, our customers quickly helped us see that the way in which we viewed ourselves was much too limiting.
What they helped us realize is that our engraving machine is actually a light industrial mill. We had the ability to do more with it than just engraving. We could actually manufacture some small products. In fact, this was an application the machine’s designer seemed unaware of; at least he had never communicated that part of the machine’s abilities to us.
So a few years into our operation we decided to change our name to Creative Engraving & Machining. We felt that would help our customers understand what we did. In fact it did give us the opportunity to bid on, and win, some projects we wouldn’t otherwise have seen. It also… and perhaps more importantly … expanded our view of who we were and what we did.
Then we opened a retail gift store to market personalized, engraved, gifts. We had people open our door, look in, and say, “Oh this is just engraving!” They would then close the door and move on. Needless to say, this wasn’t the response we wanted.
Back to the drawing board! Who are we really? What do we do? Engraved photos was one of the most popular retail products we made. With our engraving equipment, we turned people’s pictures (i.e. memories) into treasured gifts. With this in mind, we named our retail store Engraved Memories.
But this name didn’t last long either because it didn’t change people’s perception of our business. And as we began adding other processes, engraving in our name was too limiting. In addition, it still didn’t answer the basic question – what were we really doing? Engraving memories was only part of what we did.
We finally settled on Moments Remembered for our retail operation; and that seems to have satisfied our need for a non-limiting name. It also seems to get most people to at least step in the door. But unfortunately, some people thought we were an antique shop and it still begged the question – what do we really do?
The latest step we’ve taken in the name game, is to modify Moments Remembered to Life’s Moments Remembered. We hope that this will overcome some peoples associating our name with antiques.
What do we really do?
The common element of what we do is to transfer some image to some object. We’ve become a little more sophisticated in our language. We call these images graphics; and these graphic images include both pictures and text. After all, we arrange the text so that it looks balanced and has some eye appeal; isn’t that why we have so darn many fonts to choose from?
Alright, we thought we had it a few years ago when we decided that what we really did is “apply graphics to materials other than paper”. After all, we weren’t publishers or printers. We engrave metal and plastic. We sandblast graphics onto glass, stone, rock, etc. We sublimate images onto wood, metals, and fabric, etc.
But then we started retouching, re-sizing and printing people’s pictures on photo paper to fit in commemorative frames we decorated for them. And one Easter we took pictures at a shopping mall of children with the Easter Bunny. We applied these pictures to mugs and t-shirts; however, our most popular product was custom photo greeting cards printed on paper. So we had begun applying graphics to paper as well.
Ok, so here’s what we really do. We create and sell GRAPHIC PRODUCTS. These products may contain photos, artwork, and/or text. They are used for recognition awards; to decorate apparel; as gifts, commemoratives, identification tags, instructional signs, souvenirs, stamps, etc.
So we finally changed our name to Creative Graphics Applications. Our son Jeff, who has taken over the operation, shortened it to Creative Graphic. And since he is moving away from retail, he has dropped the name Moments Remembered altogether. (suggest removing this line)
Why has this journey been important?
It’s actually been more important for us then for our customers. When we first started, we thought of ourselves as Creative Engravers. Now we aren’t limiting our concept of who we are; to the products we produce (signs, stamps, etc.); to the processes we use to produce those products (engraving, embroidery, etc.); or to how our customers use them (trophies, awards, etc.). We simply produce graphic products and sell them.
Next we’ll explore the macro-view. How the industry has changed in the 20+ years we’ve been involved; how it has changed our business; and how it may impact your business.
The Macro-View – Analyzing the Industry
There is one small task we need to perform before we launch into researching the industry. That is, analyzing how we create the products we produce; and why do we do it?
If we are planning to launch a new business, or add a product line to an existing business, then the question might be… how will we create the products we plan to produce; and why will we start this venture? Essentially How and Why?
Why we do what we do?
The Why part of the question is somewhat easier to answer. It’s fundamentally the same for all businesses…To provide a service that customers are willing to pay for!
The tricky part of the question is understanding what the service is that you are providing, and why your customers are willing to pay for it.
Some customers may need awards, trophies, or personalized gifts. Perhaps they need promotional products or signs to promote their business; or rubber stamps for internal efficiency. Then maybe they are selling a product and need their parts marked, or signs and placards to include with their products.
The need for these graphic products is at the surface of our customers’ needs. The underlying need is usually for our customers to look good to someone else. Awards are given to make a company look good to its employees and/or customers. Gifts are given to make the giver look good to the recipient. Promotional products and signs are created to make the company look good to its customers and prospects.
The other needs that are always in play are cost, quality, and delivery. For example, if a customer needs to have an award for a Saturday banquet, Sunday will not do! It won’t make them very happy if you’re late, and it certainly won’t make them look good.
If a company needs parts marked or something produced to incorporate in a product they are selling, then it may be more cost effective for them to hire you, rather than perform the process in-house. If that’s the case, then cost, product quality, and on- time delivery play a key role in their need. But even then, making them look good is still an essential element. They need to look good to their customers, and the buyer who chooses you to provide the service or produce the product for them, needs to look good to his or her boss.
Understanding your customers’ needs is helpful in understanding that, in most cases, they don’t really care how you produce what you produce for them. You need to make them look good to earn their decision to give you the work.
How do we do it?
In other words, what’s the process we use to do what we do? How do we create the award, trophy, personalized gift, stamp, promotional product, mark the part, etc.
As we pointed out, this question is more important for us to answer and understand than it is for our customers. More often than not our customers don’t care. They may have a preference because of the look a certain process produces, but for the most part they don’t know or care how something is made; we do.
That said, in today’s world, it all starts with a computer graphic.
The computer’s Impact on our Industry
Someone once said the only thing that’s constant is change; it seems that’s all too true today. The single most significant factor that’s impacted our personal and business lives in recent years has been the computer. It has given us great opportunities along with great challenges.
The graphic products industry is a living example of the computer’s impact on businesses. Twenty to thirty years ago the industry consisted primarily of companies that specialized in a single process. There were print shops that employed typesetters and commercial artists to create layouts for newsletters, books, flyers and other business publications. There were sign painters, most of whom were artists that hand-painted signs, doors, and windows. There were engraving shops that engraved plaques, trophies, and gifts by hand or with manual engraving equipment. There were companies that specialized in screen printing, pad printing, stamp making, decorative sandblasting, embroidery, and so on.
Today, the industry includes an ever expanding number of computer-controlled processes. Computer-based operations have all but replaced the traditional manual ones. Each new process relies on a specialized computer output device. They include direct-to-product printers; laser and mechanical engravers; print-and-cut sign makers; embroidery equipment; image transfer printers; and so on. All of this equipment requires a computer interface and software to drive it.
But, because the computer graphic is at the core, many processes can be performed by a single company; all that’s needed is the proper output device and the skill to operate it.
Oh, those good old days…
Before we all lament the loss of artistry and craftsmanship to the computer, let’s look at it for what it really is. The computer is nothing more than a tool, and as with all useful tools, it’s an extension of us.
Hammers are an extension of our hands. Airplanes, cars, trucks, trains, and buses are extensions of our legs. Telescopes and microscopes are extensions of our eyes. Telephones and radios are extensions of our ears. Every tool that we’ve ever created is in some way an extension of us.
The computer and its software is an extension of our minds, our brains. It remembers things for us. It sorts and arranges stuff for us. The one I am using now to write this article helps me with my spelling and grammar. When we connect computers together they help us communicate, and see things we wouldn’t otherwise be able to see.
In recent years, as computers have become more powerful (i.e. better extensions of our minds) they’ve allowed us to store and manipulate pictures, in addition to words and numbers. They’ve spawned a whole new segment in the entertainment industry, computer special effects.
Being creative and inventive we’ve attached other tools to our mind’s extension. We now have large industrial machining centers (extensions of our hands) attached to and controlled by computers (extensions of our minds) to make more tools and other things for us.
In our industry, we’ve attached rotary and laser engravers, embroidery equipment, vinyl cutters, and various forms of printers (all of which are extensions of our hands) to our computers (extensions of our minds) for the purpose of producing graphic products. Each and every process that we’re now using has the computer at its core. We control the computer (most of the time) and it controls our machines.
You can visualize it as concentric circles. Within our mind an idea is born. This idea, more often than not, is born from our customer’s need.
From our mind, we transfer that idea to our mind’s extension, our computer. The computer then translates our idea into instructions for any one of its output devices, extensions of our hands, and they produce a graphic product for us.
In essence it’s our job to provide products and services to meet our customers’ needs. To that end, we need to be aware of processes that can help us meet those needs. We need to be constantly vigilant, watching for changes in the industry that can impact our business and/or the processes we use to do what we do.
We can do that by subscribing to trade publications, AND READING THEM; attending educational seminars, and industry trade shows.
Our customers are paying us to provide them with the best possible service! Our business will flourish and Grow as a byproduct of our Learning as much as we can; and then Applying what we’ve learned.
In future articles, we will expand on this macro-view of the industry by examining individual processes and some of the products that can be produced with them. We’ll also discuss skill and investment requirements for each process.