Feedback on Starting a Home Typesetting Business

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Readers give feedback on their experiences with the home composing business.

I thought I’d write to tell you about our experience with the old home business. It all began when MOTHER NO. 9 had an article which caught our interest … it was about operating a home typesetting business.

We contacted all of the people, offices and places around here that could conceivably use such a service and there was general agreement that we would do well in the area . . . in fact, one person felt that we’d be really bogged down by all the work we would get.

Since we are a young couple and have never bought anything on credit, we didn’t have a credit rating … so we scraped together the $450 cash that the IBM people needed and set up shop.

We’ve been in business two months now and, just to shed some more light on the subject of getting started, here are some hard facts that Bill Montanary’s article didn’t cover:

1. The $450 that you put out in front is not credited to the last three months of your six-month trial lease … it’s used for months seven, eight and nine. If you count on the last three months of that first lease being prepaid, you can get into trouble.

2. Fonts cost $35 apiece, which may seem trivial … until you get the bill. Then the expense doesn’t seem at all trivial, especially if you’re not rich.

3. This is a business and, like all businesses, takes a long time to get going. You have to build up a clientel, so don’t expect the machine to pay its way for a little while.

4. Some local printers prefer to set all their copy on their own typesetting equipment. You have to be prepared to really dig at first to find the smaller print shops without such equipment, graphic artists and in-plant operations with overflow work. Until you’ve lined up enough of these customers to support you, you’ll have to support yourself by other means … or overcharge for the first few jobs that you do get.

5. Look into the local and state license bureaus for information on zoning and any other requirements that might apply to you … and get an accountant to teach you how you have to set up the books now that you own a business and have to pay taxes on it.

In the two months that we’ve been open, we’ve had a grand total of two (2) jobs … $21 worth. On those we did fast, professional work and both of the customers are really satisfied, but there seems to be a shortage of jobs (people suddenly do things on the old typewriter). From the letters we sent out to printers and publishers all over California and the U.S., we’ve gotten no jobs at all. It seems that no one needs to have stuff just composed . . . they want the whole thing (type, graphics, layout) done.

So, there it is … we’re not making it at all. You really need to have a LOT of capital to keep you going until you have a regular group of customers. Since we have no fortune amassed, we’ll probably not be able to afford the machine much longer … it looks like it isn’t going to pay for itself.

Just thought that you’d be interested in our experience. If you or any of your readers would like something composed, we sure could use the work.

Rupe and Liz Wilson
Yuba City, California

Here it is off the top of my head.

BACKGROUND: All summer long I worked as a house painter, but it was not geared to my temperament. I began thinking about some kind of skilled labor I could do and the actual skills I did possess. Then I read the composer article in MOTHER EARTH NEWS. I had taken a year of typing in high school and received an A grade. A skill I had forgotten about! “I can do that?” I said to myself.

NEXT: I contacted IBM and everything flowed as per the article. A $450 deposit was required. I signed an agreement and received a loaner while I waited for delivery of my machine, which appeared about 7 weeks later. In the meantime I quit my painting job and devoted full time to learning all about the composer and promoting my new business. I decided to start small while I learned the ropes and sent out 15 mailers to local printers, right out of the yellow pages. My batting average was only .200 but one hit was a home run: a printer offered, me an office, phone and utilities all free, plus $200 a month business in return for instant composition service. I took the offer.

NOW: After two and a half months, my typesetting service has earned $1250, about the same amount I’ve paid IBM for machine rental (including deposit), fonts and supplies. I haven’t had much money to live on but I’ve been able to pay the bills and I feel that my new business is established. My next step will be to set up a customer route of 10 to 12 printers for which I will pick up and deliver composition daily.

ADVICE FOR OTHERS: Start your business with adequate capital. Read MOTHER.

David Kile
The Kile Composing Service
Kirtland, Ohio

A note of thanks is due you, MOTHER, for showing me how to start my own composing service.

Since I began in June — the day that MOTHER NO. 9 arrived — I’ve had many ups and downs in the business … mostly downs until I finally lined up enough accounts to get me rolling. Now I’m so busy that I don’t get much sleep and I’m continually turning down clients that I either can’t handle or don’t want.

When I started, I had just left the insurance business and was in the process of changing life styles (a process which I hope is neverending). I looked to the composing service to give me enough money to live on and still leave me with some free time of my own.

The free time seems hard to come by, but I’m making quite enough to live on — over $1000 gross last month — and am gradually trying to weed out those jobs I really want from those I don’t.

Now that I’m on my feet, I’d like to add some more firsthand information to your article and, I hope, give interested folks a few hints on how to get their business rolling.

I’ve found that the best results come from telephone solicitation followed by personal visits to the printers who seem interested over the phone. I’ve lined up ALL my accounts by using the following procedures (ones which, when generalized, would probably apply to other home businesses as well … say the home candle operation described in MOTHER NO. 11).

1. Make a list of all the printers in your immediate area.

2. Get business cards, letters and type charts printed ahead of time and be sure to have at least two major type styles. I use Univers and Press Roman, which seem to be the most common.

3. Call the printers and ask if they need composition work done. Always come directly to the point … don’t hand anyone a line unless he seems to want it.

4. If a printer sounds interested, tell him you’ll drop your business card and type styles in the mail.

5. Instead of mailing, make a personal visit if you can.

6. When you call on a printer in person, see if you can get him to try your service once. .That’s all you need if you can do the work properly.

7. About doing the work properly … research before you jump. You’ll need some basic equipment before you’re able to do many jobs. Talk to other people in the business and try to determine what you do and don’t need.

I have found the following materials to be necessary: a waxer to keyline (paste up) my work, a light board for cutting in corrections properly, at least 10 or 12 type fonts to start (different type styles and sizes), accurate rules, black india ink ball pens for lining and white paint for covering mistakes and fingerprints.

These are the basics. Beyond them, the only thing really necessary — eventually — is a drafting table with an easy-to- operate parallel rule for faster keylining and more accurate layout.

Once you can pick and choose jobs, the best thing to do is line up accounts which feed you the most interesting assignments. As I become better at my work, I find that I enjoy jobs with some creativity to them. I’m now getting a couple of these each month and hope to get more in the future.

I currently have an artist who freelances for me, and the addition of his work to mine seems to be attracting more exciting work. Guess I’m on my way into graphic arts, and loving it. But one step at a time.

I’ve come a long way since I started cold on borrowed money six months ago … not knowing anything but what you printed. It was enough to do the trick. Now, about that $1,000 a week candle business …

Bob Grugar
Cleveland, Ohio