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PC Biz of the Month

Excerpts from "101 Computer Related Businesses" by Michael A. Tims
A different chapter from "101 Computer Related Businesses" will be posted each week and may be republished by other newsletter, magazine or ezine publishers. These excerpts have appeared in many mail order, marketing, small business and entrepreneur type magazines and newsletters.

Excerpts from the book, "101 Computer Related Businesses", Copyright 1994 by Michael A. Tims.


It is no longer necessary for business persons to wait several days in order to have a printer deliver a new batch of business cards to them. With a computer, business card design software and a laser printer, you can turn out professionally done samples or even short runs of business cards in minutes. Add a digital scanner and by scanning in a client's old business card into the computer, it can be edited; rearranged; graphics added, moved or edited; and samples printed in minutes.

A business that creates instant business cards can fill a niche by advertising and producing business cards overnight. By offering overnight service you are able to charge premium prices.

Your customers will include sales people, business owners, suppliers, realtors and just about anyone else trying to earn a living and needing business cards to establish and maintain contacts with other people.

Commercial printers charge anywhere from $20 to $50 per thousand business cards, one color - standard size. By teaming up with a local printer, you could do the layout and design work for your client's business cards and deliver camera ready copy to the printer almost immediately. The camera ready copy is used by the printer to create printing plates from which he can print the business cards. This process is much faster than the usual process of printing business cards and makes for overnight turn-arounds. This, of course, allows you to tack on an additional fee for the speedy service which the client is usually happy to pay.

You can usually tell when an idea is a money-maker. The franchise and business package sellers come out, big-time. Some of their offers are legitimate and some you must look over carefully. As with any company or service mentioned in this book, you must do your own investigation. The businesses and services mentioned in this book are neither endorsed nor recommended by the author. They are mentioned to aid the reader in obtaining further information.

Following, is a list of companies not only offering business card supplies, but franchises, software, and more:`

Color-Fast Marketing Systems, 9522 Topanga Canyon Blvd., Cabworth, CA., 91311.

Kustom Cards International, @19 Walnut Ave., Vinton, A., 24179.

Express Business Cards Plus, 652 Bair Island Rd., Suite 306, Redwood City, CA., 94063.

Cards NOW, 6401 Odana Rd., Madison, WI., 53719-1158.

Jet Paper Co., POB 860, #205, Everett, MA., 02149.

Kustom Cards Int'l., Inc., 219 Walnut Ave., Vinton, VT., 24179.

Tomorrow Advertising Products, 4060 Peachtree Rd., Ste. D-328, Atlanta, GA., 30319.

In addition to the many commercial programs designed to help create business cards, there are special software programs called SHAREWARE programs which also aid in the design and creation of business cards. One such program is a shareware program called, "Business Cards". Other SHAREWARE software programs which could be used to aid in designing business cards are, "City Desk", Envision Publisher", and "Picture This". See Appendix A for disk numbers, etc.

When thinking about a computer for such a business, you will find that because of the heavy reliance on graphics programs as well as design programs, spreadsheets and accounting practices, a 386 based CPU with an added math co-processor (or a 486 with a built-in math co-processor) would be recommended. Prices for the 486 CPU and even the faster "Pentium" (aka 586) have been falling rapidly. At the time of this writing, a fully outfitted 486 multimedia-ready computer hovered around the $2000 mark, with the Pentium in the $2500 to $3000 range.

When running Windows programs, or in this case graphics intensive applications, a lot of dynamic memory (usually called RAM-Random Access Memory) is used. If you were just using the computer for word processing or other light duty tasks, 2 MB (Megabytes) of 70-ns (nanosecond) or faster RAM would be minimal. Most PC's, nowadays, come equipped with motherboards capable of holding 32 MB or even 128 MB of RAM. Start out with at least 8 MB of RAM and expand your system as the need arises.

Graphics programs produce large files and most require a hard disk with a lot of storage capacity. Whatever amount of hard disk storage you were thinking of, double it. Think of 200 MB of hard disk storage as a starting point, with larger drives of over 1 Gigabyte not being out of the question.

Besides the computer itself, additional office equipment might consist of a dot matrix printer which will probably suffice for most printed output you would have for in house use, memos, etc., although for more professional looking letters or if you will be doing your own advertising circulars, that you may be sending to prospective clients, a laser printer would be preferable. The newest models for personal use have up to 600 dpi (Dot Per Inch) resolution and carry street prices less than $1000.

Other office equipment you may want to consider might include a FAX machine to be able to send and receive your business card designs etc., directly to and from your clients without having to wait for the regular postal service or even for over-night priority mail.

One of the new FAX/modems might be an even better addition to your computer set-up than a stand-alone FAX machine. A FAX/modem is an electronic device that connects a computer to the phone line (much like a plain modem) and enables the computer to act as a FAX machine. A FAX/modem can be an internal type called a FAX board that plugs into an expansion slot inside your computer. External FAX/modems are more costly but are easier to connect to your PC. In either case, the FAX/modem allows you to send a file as a FAX document to any stand-alone FAX machine or to receive a FAX document which can be viewed, stored as a file, or printed out on your printer.

A telephone answering machine which can sense the difference between FAX transmissions and voice may also come in quite handy in the home office, although you will probably want to have a second phone line installed to promote a more professional image. A second line would also cut down on personal call interruptions during your "working" hours. If you have the phone company install a second line under their "teenager line" program, you might not have to pay extra for a commercial hook-up or service.

In addition to the special business card design software you will need, the basic business software requirements for a business of this type would consist of the usual word processing, database, accounting and personal and business income tax preparation software.

As with most of the business ideas presented in this book, I feel that properly selected SHAREWARE (try-before-you-buy type software) will prove to be more than adequate for all your basic business software needs. Using shareware when you are first starting a business can save you hundreds of dollars in start up costs. I have found most shareware to be as good, if not better, than high priced commercial software packages.

For word processing software, I would recommend either of two fine shareware programs. The first is "Super WP", an excellent WordPerfect clone that has many features superior to the commercial program. The second is "PC-Write", said to be one of the finest wordprocessor programs available at any price.

A database program is usually needed to keep track of customers, client data, mailing lists and many other forms of data, etc. The shareware program, "PC-File", is an excellent shareware database program that has features such as custom report writing, letter writing with mail merge, data analysis, plus charts and graph support. "PC-File" also features dBase III and Clipper compatibility, should you ever wish to write a custom application for your business.

Every small business needs bookkeeping software to keep track of income and expenses. What they don't need is a full blown accounting package that takes more time than the business itself. The shareware program, "Medlin Accounting", is an easy to use, time saving IRS approved single entry bookkeeping system which is more than adequate for the small-to-medium sized business. It features a general ledger module, an accounts receivable module, an accounts payable module as well as an inventory module.

Another financial program I would recommend to any small businessman, or individual for that matter, is the shareware program, "Checkmate Plus". "Checkmate Plus" is an easy to use, yet powerful, checkbook style, double entry accounting system which will also print checks on either laser or dot matrix printers.

Spreadsheet programs are sometimes required by the small business and I would concede that the industry leader is the commercial program, Lotus 1-2-3. However, an excellent clone to Lotus 1-2-3 is the shareware program, "As Easy As". Menu-driven for easy use yet a very powerful spreadsheet program. Features 8192 rows by 256 columns, dBase III import/export, macro playback, dot matrix and laser printer support, worksheet linking, charting and much, much more.

Communications software for use with telephone line and computer modem is often needed by the small business. By using communications software, the home based entrepreneur is able to access remote computers, informational databases, bulletin board services (BBS's) client's computers, etc., right from his/her home office over the phone lines. This makes many high tech businesses able to be run successfully from any place a phone can be accessed.

The full featured shareware communications program I would recommend is "Procomm Plus Test Drive". This time-proven shareware offering of a commercial program will prove perfect for most of your communications needs, and has such features as a 100 number dialing directory, script file capability and support for most major file transfer protocols including XMODEM, TELINK, and COMPUSERVE B. However, If you should purchase a fax/modem for your office, many of them come already bundled with communications software.

For more information on these and other shareware, as well as commercial, software programs mentioned in this book, see Appendix A.


Michael A. Tims is the author of "101 Computer Related Businesses" as well as the syndicated column, "PC Biz of the Month". Mr Tims is a full time high school mathematics teacher, but still makes time for several computer related businesses of his own. Write him at Matco Electronic Publications, POB 509, Suite 100A, Roseville, MI., 48066-0509 or Email him at mtims(at)matcopublishing.com  and be sure to visit his web site at http://www.matcopublishing.com.


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