The Right Shipping and Print Services for Your Business¹
No matter what kind of business you're in, you'll probably have to ship packages or documents. And you'll also have printing needs - whether it's simple business cards, a report that needs special binding or glossy postcards you include with your product shipments.
If you don't plan ahead, shipping and printing costs can escalate quickly. But by organizing your shipping and shopping around for print services, you can minimize costs while still getting high quality service.
Shipping Services - How to Choose and How to Save
Even in our digital society, business owners have to rely on parcel services to send and receive equipment, products and important documents. Fortunately, upgrades in technology have made this process easier and more efficient than ever before.
Shipping costs vary according to package weight, dimensions, delivery time and destination. And among the major carriers - the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and DHL - you're likely to get different rates for sending the same package to the same destination.
All the major carriers now allow you to print shipping labels online and schedule pickup at your office or home. This avoids time-consuming trips to the post office or shipping center and allows you to comparison shop to find the best deal. To use these services, you'll need to invest in a postal scale, tape measure and the supplies you expect to use to package your shipments. Keep these shipping supplies where they're easy to access and use.
If you find yourself consistently using certain carriers, investigate whether you can obtain discounts by setting up an account.
Here are some other tips on saving time and money on shipping:
- Pack items into the smallest box that will hold them securely, and use lightweight packing materials such as air-filled bags or Styrofoam peanuts. Limit the marketing materials you include with each order. You will pay more for a larger or heavier package.
- Don't pay extra for express delivery if you don't need it. If a customer is paying for shipping, charge the customer extra if he or she wants a quick delivery.
- Keep a supply of specialty envelopes and boxes from the carriers you use most often, such as FedEx boxes and UPS express delivery envelopes.
- Use Customer Relations Management software to track each shipment's status. Your CRM software will be most effective if it can synch with your shipper's software.
- Choose a shipping vendor with a good track record, and don't be timid in dealing with problems.
- If you have an e-commerce business and are having trouble keeping up with shipping tasks, consider outsourcing shipping to an order fulfillment company. Order fulfillment can be expensive, but it will free you up to focus on growing your business, and it may be cheaper than hiring an employee.
Working with Print Suppliers
While your office printer can likely handle your routine print jobs, you may need a print shop for large-scale projects, marketing materials, product labels, business cards and high volume print jobs.
Online print shops may offer steep discounts and easy ordering directly from your computer. Online shops typically offer many types of printed materials in an array of paper stocks and finishes, from business cards to presentation folders to postcards and brochures. Some online services will also mail your promotional materials and integrate with your customer relations management software, saving you time.
The downside to online printing is that you can't see the quality of the finished product in advance. And if you aren't used to working with printers and don't know what you want, an online shop may not offer the design services and guidance you need.
Quick print shops have actual storefronts and may be housed within office supply stores. They may offer a variety of services, including printing, copying and binding; some even offer special services for oversized documents. Quick print shops can be a good choice for large, specialized or oversized print jobs that you can't handle on your regular office machine.
Most quick print shops also print business cards, signs, brochures and other promotional materials, and you can evaluate paper or cardstock quality and view samples before you place your order. Some offer design and marketing services, and national chains may also allow online ordering.
Traditional print shops do still exist, though they can be more expensive than their online or quick print counterparts. However, a traditional print shop may offer more personalized attention, may have a designer on staff, and may be more willing to work with you on unusual or complex projects.
Other tips on working with printers:
- Negotiate. This can be hard to do with online printers, but a local printer may be willing to negotiate a discount, particularly for large orders or repeat business.
- Understand volume discounts. Many printers charge a per-copy price point up to a certain number, and the per-copy price goes down for larger quantities. For example, you may pay .10 per page for 1-100 copies, but only .08 cents a page for more than 100 copies.
- Keep your storage space in mind. While you may save money by ordering 5000 brochures, make sure you have room to store them.
- Use high quality materials to project a more professional image. Consider using specialty finishes like embossing and metallics.
- At the same time, you don't need to go overboard and buy the thickest papers and cardstock available. Remember that thicker paper and cards cost more to ship and take up more space.
- Provide clear written instructions on all your print jobs.
- Be sure to get a proof copy of your project and review it carefully before you authorize your order to be printed. Promotional materials aren't much use if they don't show your correct web address or phone number.
- Be realistic about your artistic and design capabilities. Hire a graphic designer or work with your print company's designer if you aren't skilled in this area. The best print materials in the world can't overcome an unattractive or amateurish design.
Shipping and printing can be big line items in a small business's budget. It pays to plan carefully and shop around for the best deals. But don't lose sight of your basic goals in your eagerness to save money. Correspondence and packages must reach their destination safely and on time. And a client or customer's first contact with you may be through your printed materials. Make sure their quality projects the right image.