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Regaining Control of Prepress

(November 2002) posted on Mon Dec 16, 2002

Learn how to avoid substandard artwork so that your customers stay satisfied and your reputation and profitability remain intact.

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By Mark A. Coudray

<P>Next, follow up with questions designed to get to the heart of what is important to your client. You may be very surprised by what you hear. The responses you get might not have anything to do with cost and everything to do with protecting the reputation and position of the person you're dealing with. In other words, if you make the client look great, cost will no longer be the main concern. Sometimes a customer just needs a change in perception. As the expert, you can present new ways for clients to define and experience both quality and control.


Don't let a lack of professional confidence prevent you from ushering a customer in a certain direction when it comes to supplying art. Your shop needs to stand up for what is important. Your relationship with customers should be similar to that of a doctor and patient. Patients rarely challenge a doctor's diagnosis or treatment plan. Physicians are trusted because they're specialists. Their years of medical education and training make patients feel that their best interests are always kept in mind. However, printers--the experts in graphic reproduction--allow clients to intervene all the time. When clients are responsible for key elements of the production equation that have a material effect on the outcome, the results are most often negative.


You have two options to avoid such difficulties. The first involves establishing the right expectations about what you will deliver. For example, I once had a client come to me on a referral from another customer. (This was good because it meant I had a certain degree of credibility with the client from the start.) The customer said, "We heard you do great work, and we would like you to do our next job." This set the stage in a pivotal way. When client expectations begin at the very top, the only place to go is down. If I hoped to meet or exceed the client's expectation, it was critical that I maintain complete control of this job and the materials that it would be produced from. So I replied, "Thank you very much for the compliment. We work very hard to deliver beyond our clients' expectations. We've been largely successful because our long-term customers listen to our professional advice and work with our guidance to create great programs."


If the client still wants to provide you with their art, it's time to turn to the second option--establishing explicit guidelines about what you require in customer-supplied artwork. Here, education is everything. You should embrace clients who provide their own art, but only when you can direct the process.


Start by sharing your design guidelines with the customer. Next, discuss what constitutes substandard art and how the customer wants to handle the cost overruns and myriad problems that can occur when such art is submitted. Be realistic in your discussion, but avoid creating a tense environment. And by all means, do not set an overly pessimistic tone. You want your customers to realize their responsibilities and accountability. To bring them fully onboard, ask if they're willing to risk the integrity of their brand, logo, product, or service in order to shave a few dollars off the invoice. If they are willing to take the risk, chances are that they're not the right clients for your business.


In the driver's seat


Prepress is a hugely important part of the screen-printing process. The decisions you make in prepress largely determine the efficiency you achieve in production, the quality of your prints, and the profitability of your business. By letting clients control the most crucial element of prepress--the artwork--you're crippling your shop's ability to deliver and satisfy their expectations. If you control what comes in and how it makes its way through production, you drive your business toward profit. Letting someone else behind the wheel is not only irresponsible, it's dangerous to the financial health and the reputation of your shop.





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