With the advent of social media and email, many of us tend to think of print marketing as an archaic thing of the past. But unlike online media, it allows you to connect with potential clients in a more personal and emotional way. Think of a scrapbook or a handwritten letter from a close friend – these things connect with people in a way that an email or a banner ad can’t.

Designing engaging printed marketing collateral can be challenging, especially if you aren’t a professional graphic designer. It’s best to break the process down into simple, manageable steps – and the design process often begins before you ever open up Photoshop or Illustrator.

Here are 3 things to do when you’re in the early stages of creating a print design.

Research your target audience

Just because a design looks “good” doesn’t mean it’s achieving its desired purpose. Before you get into the nitty-gritty of design, you’ll want to spend some time identifying your target audience and the things that are most likely to appeal to them. For instance, you might identify that a large portion of your audience cares a great deal about health and the natural world. This will help inform the type of colors and images you’ll want to incorporate. Keep this information in mind as you develop your design.

Browse templates

Certain types of print media come with some extra complications that you might be unfamiliar with. Presentation folders, for instance, need to be folded into shape, so parts of your design file will appear upside down. To help deal with these issues, you may wish to browse pre-made templates (such as these presentation folder design templates), particularly if you have a limited amount of time to craft a design. Whenever possible, avoid using these in their unaltered form and simply editing the text; you don’t want to use a design that will look exactly like someone else’s. Instead, make the template design your own. Add new graphics, colors, and other elements to help it fit in with the rest of your branding.

Seek out inspiration

Everyone experiences a creative block now and again. Even if you have a general idea of what you want a design to do, it can be difficult to figure out precisely what you want it to look like. This is where inspiration comes in. Take a look through design galleries such as Behance and Dribble, as well as online portfolios from individual graphic designers. You don’t want to copy someone else’s work, but sometimes seeing examples of existing designs can ignite your imagination.

Create a rough sketch

Now that you’ve looked through some designs for inspiration, try creating a “swipe file” of the designs you like. Make a note of what elements you like most about them. Then, pick out elements that complement one another and put them together, creating a rough concept. You don’t necessarily need to do this on a computer; sometimes a penciled sketch is all you need.

Anytime you have an important project, it’s rarely a good idea to just jump right in; you have to make a plan first. Before you start putting pen to paper, make sure you’ve done your research, warmed up your creative muscles, and developed a solid strategy.