From Print Catalog to E-Commerce

by Jason Baird

You're a designer and your client is about to give you a print catalog job and they bring up the topic of e-commerce. "Uh...well...uh..." Don't despair... out source it and add in some profit like everybody else in the world!

Print and web are similar in many respects, but a print catalog and an e-commerce catalog require a very different skill set. The visible part of an e-commerce catalog is the piece of the catalog that you would be familiar with – the layout and graphics; what goes on behind the scenes is as far from graphic design as creativity is from accounting. The good news is that the print catalog is usually created first and the e-commerce catalog usually comes later.

Some designers may think about referring their client to someone else or tell them that they don't do e-commerce catalogs. Big mistake... the same companies doing e-commerce catalogs also do design and sometimes print. Once they get their foot in the door, you'll find them stealing your graphic design away as well. They will say the design is included, part of the process of doing the e-commerce site.

Now you are thinking, "Great idea, but I don't have a clue about how to do e-commerce." Don't worry. Here are some tips:

Don't try to learn or do it yourself. Get a reputable company to do it right the first time for you and put in some profit for yourself. That is what everybody else is doing. Ownership of the client is what counts, not what you can really do. What counts is what you can DELIVER to the client.

When getting into areas you know nothing about but are similar or could eventually compete with your services, you need to either:

1. Refer a partner (a partner is a company or individual who will gladly receive business from you with the understanding that

A. You "own" the client

B. He won't take any of your business with that client

C. He may or may not give you a percentage of the money received from that client

2. Take responsibility for the project and subcontract an individual or company to do it for the client. This leads the client to believe that your company handles it all for them.

Referring the project

Pros –
Easy. You might not have to do anything but pass on contact information.

Cons –
The next time you have a client who wants to see a reference for that sort of work, you might not have it.

Taking responsibility for the project

Pros –
You get a reference for pursuing that business in the future

Cons –
If he screws up, you are in trouble

The process should go like this:
1. Client mentions e-commerce, you tell him that the graphics are more your area and that you need to call him later with the "e-commerce programmer". Set up a time for a conference call with your client when you are in the meeting.

2. Find the individual or company who is going to be your "e-commerce programmer" and go over the plan about talking to this client and who he is going to be (Referral or Subcontractor).

3. You and the "e-commerce programmer" call the client on the phone and talk about what they want to accomplish. You try and keep the discussion on the level of what they want and what the e-commerce options that they are interested in. (This is really the e-commerce programmer's job. You are just on the phone to be the "guy in charge").

4. Refrain from talking about pricing. "Let's define what you want and then we'll get back to you with pricing."

5. You and the e-commerce programmer get together and come up with a price for the job based on a percentage of what he will charge or based on marking up what his charge would be. Add in some extra time for unforeseen problems and work.

6. Take 1/3 of the money up front (or if a referral, take your money whenever the referral receives payment.

7. Take 1/3 of the money upon getting up a "beta" version.

8. Take 1/3 BEFORE it goes live or you hand over files to your client.

9. You you either have a client who thinks you did it or you have a partner instead of a competitor as another vendor to your client.

A good example of a Web site that started in print and is now e-commerce would be The project sold for above $10,000 and below $100,000 (retail pricing) for e-commerce only. The catalog designer provided source images in JPG format to fit our resolution and size specs. The descriptions and pricing information came from an export of their accounting system.

Jason Baird - Please visit him at for referral and subcontract work.