The Right Shipping and Print Services for your Business
A lot of what entrepreneurs do for their customers depends on reliable shipping services and printers.
The details involved in getting products and information to the market can be intimidating, but there are ways to untangle the red tape. The trick is maximizing supplier services by understanding the system - from the printing of promotional materials to product distribution and delivery.
Ground and Overnight Services: Tips for Saving Time and Money
Even in our digital society, business owners have to rely on parcel services to send and receive equipment, stock and even important documents. Fortunately, upgrades in technology have made this process easier, more efficient and cheaper than ever before.
Shipping costs vary according to package weight, dimensions, delivery time, and destination. Some shippers are a better choice for certain kinds of packages. For example, if you're shipping smaller items under 5 pounds, you'll probably want to use the USPS Priority Mail option. It's usually cheaper than the competition and gets your shipment there in two to three days. If the item is small but expensive, you may want go with UPS or FedEx because of their ability to track packages. If the item is larger, you'll probably get a better rate from FedEx, UPS or DHL.
Here are some things to think about when choosing a vendor:
- Weight and dimension. Rates vary according to weight and size. One vendor may have a better rate on one size, but not as good on another; and most vendors have a weight limit.
- Destination. Rates also vary according to destination, and vendors have different "high cost" areas. Also, UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc. can't deliver to P.O. boxes, but the United States Postal Service can.
- Delivery time. Shipping costs are much lower if time isn't an issue. Conversely, if an item must arrive in one or two days, you'll pay a hefty premium. Vendors such as UPS, FedEx and DHL also offer the option of a specific delivery date.
- Processing time. If you don't have time to mail or ship items yourself, look for a vendor who will either make a regular pick-up at your home or office, or who is available on an on-call basis. Be sure to find out if there is a fee. Also, consider the amount of paperwork required, packing regulations and whether you can print your own labels and schedule shipping online.
- Tracking and verification. Being able to track your packages can ease your mind, instill customer confidence and be a great help in dealing with delivery problems. UPS, FedEx and DHL track all packages, and the United States Postal Service has greatly improved its tracking ability in the last couple of years.
- Reliability. Since fulfillment is one of the most important parts of your business, make sure to choose a shipping vendor with a good track record, and don't be timid in dealing with problems.
- Discounts. Some shippers will give small business owners a discount just for opening an account with them. The major carriers have sales reps that often can give you a better deal or more options than you could get online or by telephone.
The major carriers all have Web sites that contain rate and policy information, so do your research.
If you lack the time to prepare items for shipping, think about using a service to package, label, and ship your items for you. Leading providers are:
UPS Store / Mailboxes, etc.: www.theupsstore.com, www.mbe.com
Caters to the small-office/home-office market, business travelers and consumers by providing packaging, shipping and mailing services and supplies; printing, copying, and faxing services; mailbox rentals, notary services, passport and ID photos and money transfers.
Provides domestic and international shipping with a selection of preferred carriers, custom packing and crating (any size, any weight - air, ground, or ocean), packaging and moving supplies, pick-up and delivery, mailbox rental, business support services, and more.
Postal Connections: www.postalconnections.com
Offers packaging, shipping, mail receiving, fax sending or receiving, duplicating, notary, online access, eBay auction support, packing and office supplies and other services.
Post Net: www.postnet.com
Offers an array of high demand services and products tailored to meet the needs of small business owners and today's busy consumer. Services include packing and shipping; printing and copying; computer; scanner and fax services; passport photos; and shipping and office supplies.
If you wish to ship packages that exceed weight or dimension limits for standard ground or overnight deliveries, you'll need the services of an LTL(Less Than Truckload) carrier. While these firms specialize in transporting goods that typically weigh 600 to 1,000 pounds, LTL carriers can handle up to 10,000 pounds.
An LTL carrier picks up packages from multiple companies, transports these items to a local terminal and then consolidates goods traveling the same route onto the same truck. Not every LTL firm will carry your shipment from beginning to end. Many only serve specific geographic regions to increase the chance of conveying full loads. If a shipment is sent to a location outside a carrier's normal service area, the trucking company will arrange to transfer the shipment from the edge of its service area to another LTL for final delivery. This practice is called interlining.
Here are some things to consider when using an LTL:
- Interlining. Longer shipping times and more interlining may result in higher costs and create more opportunities for something to go wrong during transfers.
- On-time delivery. A good firm will typically quote on-time delivery rates in the mid- to high-90 percentiles.
- Claims to damage ratio. This ratio measures the percentage of revenue paid out in claims for problems caused by loss, damage or theft. The industry average is around one percent. Go with a company with a similar or lower ratio.
- Air freight. If your freight needs to be there quickly, this often can be accomplished more efficiently and cost effectively by using an air carrier.
- Shipment tracking. Shippers that offer tracking services have radio networks to keep all trucks in constant communication with headquarters. This allows the carrier to locate your shipment at any time.
- Discounts. For firms that ship large amounts, significant discounts are standard policy.
Because shipping fees can be prohibitive, it's a good idea to look into ways to save money. A few options are:
- Shippers associations. Access higher levels of savings by combining your shipping volume with other companies. You can do so by joining a shippers association, such as the Merchant Shippers Cooperative Association, (www.mesca.com) or NASSTRAC (www.nasstrac.org).
- Personal account. You can obtain discounts upon establishing an account, and you have the added benefit of paying later rather that upfront - a real plus when there is a shipping problem.
- Logistics management. LM companies place shipments and negotiate discounts based on the total shipping of their client base.
- National and regional carriers. You can get a better rate by using a regional carrier, but if you must ship more than 1,000 miles, you may want to consider one of the national LTL carriers, which do have to interline long distance packages.
Alternative large shipment programs. Cost-effective alternatives to LTL shipping are the Multi-weight and Hundredweight programs offered by FedEx Express and UPS Hundredweight Service. These programs offer discount tier levels for multiple packages in specific weight ranges all going to the same address.
In addition to the shipment weight and the distance, you must also specify a shipping classification. Shipments are classified according to a package's density, value, fragility and storage requirements, with higher numerical ratings indicating higher per pound transportation costs.
To learn the class of your shipment, consult an LTL carrier or obtain the National Motor Freight Classification listing through the National Motor Freight Traffic Association (www.nmfta.org). You can locate a carrier through the American Trucking Association (www.truckline.com).
The final freight cost will include accessorial charges for services such as storage, contacting the recipient or delivery to companies without loading docks.
Working With Print Suppliers
Professional-looking business cards, letterhead, rack cards and ad materials make a powerful impression. Peripheral materials introduce your business to them, and it's what you leave them with.
To this end, these items should be well-designed on good paper and with clean, crisp fonts and images. You should not attempt to produce marketing and promotional materials yourself unless you have state-of-the-art equipment and a good eye.
An expert printer can become a trusted supplier who will make recommendations that save time and money. He or she is someone who will guarantee the quality of your print job and will go the extra mile to deliver on time because of your relationship.
By and large, investing in a professional print service will yield better results; and today's small business owner has a range of options.
Quick Print Shops
Quick print shops offer a variety of services, including printing, copying and binding; some even offer special services for oversized documents. What's more, many are open 24 hours a day, so they can be especially helpful when you need something outside normal business hours. While usually cheaper and faster than a traditional facility, this may depend on the size and complexity of your job, and what else they have going on at the time. Until you've established a relationship with that printer, initial jobs also could take longer.
Traditional Print Shops
Traditional print shops frequently can offer greater experience and more personalized service. You usually can talk with the printer at all stages of the process and get expert advice on what looks good. In some cases, a traditional operation can handle more complex jobs than quick print shops, as well. This special attention does come at a price, however. Traditional printers are often more expensive than their "quick" counterparts, although they may be willing to negotiate a lower price.
Online Print Shops
Many print shops now offer online ordering, and some work exclusively online. This can be a great way to save time and money, but also can be problematic regarding quality. Keep in mind that colors on a brochure or ad may look different online than they do in the print version. If you have never worked with the printer, ask them to send you samples of their work before you place an order
Also, since you can't see and touch the stationery or card stock, what you think you're ordering and what you actually get may be two different things. If you're satisfied with the quality and are comfortable ordering online, the convenience is unbeatable - you don't have to take the time to visit the printer personally, and the order comes to your door.
Whether you use quick-print, traditional or online shops, here are some tips on working with commercial printers:
- Provide clear written directions. Verbal instructions are never a good idea, no matter how simple the project seems to you.
- Make sure print shop staff writes down the number of copies, paper specified, special folds (there are subtle differences in folds: letter fold and z-folds yield different outcomes) and other requirements. In fact, it's wise to type out all of the above and attach these instructions to the print order.
- If you're designing your own materials and submitting them on disk, make sure to check with the printer regarding which file formats will work best for their computer system.
- Consider upgrading the paper. Most paper used for copies is standard 20-pound grade, but 24-pound stock looks much higher-end. Some paper grades are also "whiter" than others, so look at brightness ratings. If your materials contain graphics, color charts etc., investing in quality projects a more professional image.
- Keep mailing costs in mind. If you're ordering a large job like a catalogue to mail to customers, using a lighter weight paper could save a lot in postage. Get a mock-up weighed at the post office before ordering the job, if possible. Don't forget to check size, bar code and other postal regulations.
- Adding color adds impact - and cost. Sticking with one or two colors in your logo and on letterhead and business cards packs a lot of punch while keeping expenses low.
- Engraved font on business cards and letterhead gives a much more professional appearance at a relatively low cost.
- Think about a binding upgrade. A spiral binding on multi-page documents, rather than a plain booklet style, makes it easier and more inviting for your client to open and read your materials. Again, it's a small touch your competitors may not think to do.
Before giving your printer the go-ahead, ask for a "proof," or pre-print copy, and check it carefully for any mistakes. Make any and all changes in writing, as the printer isn't liable for errors if you provide oral instructions alone. Once you sign off on a proof, you've given your approval, and additional changes can be costly. Here are a few things to look for:
- Folds. Are both the flat and folded sizes of the proof correct? Is the document folded properly? Does all copy read correctly when the paper is folded? Are all required scores and perforations indicated?
- Copy. Are there spelling or grammatical errors? How about missing characters or broken type?
- Page order. Are the pages, including blanks, in the correct order? Is all copy in the proper position on the page or panel? Is the page number in the correct position on each page? Are all margins straight or consistent?
- Photos and illustrations. Have all photos or illustrations been reproduced at the proper size and placed into the correct position? Are there upside-down or reversed images? Does each image have the proper caption? Do photographs fully touch the outline rules?
Finally, superior materials can seal the deal with potential customers. Make sure you do everything you can to ensure the best quality you can afford.