Jan. 3 2007 10:59 AM

Are You Ready?

Recent surveys indicate that 65% of everything printed is eventually mailed. If your printing jobs follow this pattern, you could be ready to incorporate mailing services into your business. Step one is to review your mailing-service plans with key customers whose buy-in is critical to your success. These discussions will provide a better understanding of what it will take to get the job done, which in turn can strongly influence initial software and equipment priorities.


Likely components may include a workstation (minimally, a powerful desktop PC equipped with USPS-approved pre-sorting software); an inkjet addressing machine; work tables for staging; a strapper, tabber, postage meter and scale; plus a conveyor, inserter and assorted supplies. Naturally, you'll need additional floor space to accommodate this equipment; most mail room floor plans suggest a minimum requirement of 400 square feet.


Investment Costs and ROI

Speed, volume and mailing class all significantly influence initial cost outlays. An occasional mailer handling postcards with small runs, for instance can probably get started with little more than $15,000 in start-up expenses; larger-scale operations may require a substantially greater initial investment.


Don't let the price tags scare you away: With an expected average revenue of 7. per piece mailed, a $15,000 investment would take roughly 215,000 pieces of mail to break even. And depending on the nature of your planned mailing services, you could even re-purpose existing equipment or buy refurbished hardware resources until you're on your feet.


As you shop for mailing solutions, you'll notice the cliché "you get what you pay for" applies far more to hardware purchases than to software, where big performance can come in remarkably cost-effective packages. How can you tell what software is right for you? Start with the basic USPS qualifications:



  • CASS: Coding Accuracy Support System certification confirming the use of up-to-date ZIP+4, carrier route and five-digit ZIP Coding data is a must for any pre-sorting software.


  • PAVE: Pre-sort Accuracy, Validation and Evaluation certifications vary by sorts and mail classes. Is the software PAVE-certified for the  mail you expect to handle?


  • Visit www.ribbs.usps.gov/files/vendors/paveflis.rtf for a list of PAVE-certified software vendors.


    The USPS: Intimidating, but Manageable

    Don't let postal rules frighten you away from potential new · revenues! Requirements set by the U.S. Postal Service for mailings are undeniably complex, but resources are everywhere that can help you stay compliant, productive and profitable in your new venture.


    First, trust your mailing software. Those CASS and PAVE certifications prove it's been programmed to follow ever-changing postal details. Also, many software developers offer free technical assistance; some even train their support staff in mailing details as well as the software itself. The right provider will be happy to hold your hand until you are comfortable with their product.


    Instead of trying to achieve mailing "expert" status overnight, pace yourself by becoming well-versed in regulations that apply directly to the mailing needs of your key customers. The USPS posts the latest regulation changes in the Domestic Mail Manual (you can find it at pe.usps.gov/text/dmm300/dmm300_landing.htm), and plenty of other free publications are available to walk you through essential postal rules.


    Safety in Numbers: Professional Mailing Resources

    Try to develop a working relationship with your local post office not just meeting the local Postmaster, but getting face-to-face with the personnel who receive and handle your mailpieces. Many new-to-mail printers join their local Postal Customer Councils, which offer forums to discuss general mailing issues among postal representatives and mailers at all levels of expertise.


    Your most significant organizational "ally" might turn out to be the Mailing & Fulfillment Service Association, the national trade group that serves as the "voice" of mailers. (For details, visit www.mfsanet.org.)


    Choosing Mailing Software

    What qualities should you look for in a software solution? Consider these factors:

                1. "Easy-to-learn" is important, but no more than "easy-to-use." Wizard-guided steps may seem valuable as you're getting started, but once you understand how to use the software, they'll probably slow you down.

                2. Don't underestimate the importance of seamless integration from entry-level products to more full-featured versions. Nothing is worse than outgrowing your existing software only to learn that suitable upgrades don't exist or require learning from scratch.

                3. Nail down all compatibility issues not just with the computer on which it will run, but also with your existing print infrastructure.

                4. Make sure the software will handle your current needs and is not "dumbed down" in terms of speed or the number of records it can handle.

                5. How good is the customer support? Seek third-party references from industry forums not just the cherry-picked happy customers vendors may provide but unrehearsed contacts that can give you the unvarnished good and bad news. (Don't forget to include references from printer manufacturers).

                6. Be sure to consider all costs, not just start-up figures. Find out how long the initial data subscription lasts and what's included in annual renewals.

                7. If you already offer variable-data printing services, there is good news: VDP is now hot in mailing as well. Some software packages support, and even enhance, this technology.


    Marketing Mailing Services

    Many printers stumble into mailing services; some subcontract direct mail jobs, only eventually realizing the benefit of bringing jobs in-house; still others buy or merge with existing mail houses. Here are some strategies for building mailing services into your business:



  • Know Your Market. A thorough awareness of your current client base will help you launch into mailing while anticipating future customer needs. Try to determine how much of what you currently print is mailed after leaving your shop. Learn about your customers' pre-sort needs, and position yourself as a logical candidate to handle that work. Finally, see if they have database demands such as list hygiene or de-duping, and make a case for why you should handle that data-manipulation work. The one who controls the database controls the customer but that control won't be handed over lightly.


  • Make It Personal. Review your plans with your top mailing prospects. Key benefits may get you the business: Billing yourself as a one-stop shop offering faster results and predicting time and cost savings for centralized printing and mailing.


  • Heed the Competition. Keep service offerings in line with your market by learning who you're up against, what they offer and what they charge.


  • Spread the Word. Exploit all points of customer communications from traditional advertising to any promotional copy on your packaging and bills and from revamping your Web site to including an "ask me about mailing services" message to your phone system's on-hold recording.


  • Join the Club(s). Join industry-specific organizations. People buy from people, and networking is an important element of new-venture success.


    What's in It for You?

    Once you've answered the questions and checked off the "to do" points described above, you'll find mailing to be a rewarding addition to your printing-services business. It's hard to imagine a better way of exposing such a sizable chunk of your existing business to incremental revenues. What's more, printer-mailers often claim that incorporating mailing services even helps build their printing business. Customers enjoy the convenience and economy of a "one-stop" print-and-mail house and they'll have you to thank. Good luck, and good mailing.


    Ted Seward is Vice President of Marketing for BCC Software Inc, a leading provider of mailing software solutions and list-hygiene products and services. You may reach him at teds@bccsoftware.com or at 800-453-3130.

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