From the May 1997 issue of Entrepreneur

It's done! The biggest proposal your California company has ever handled is hot off the presses, and you want it in your New York client's hands--pronto. How do you get it there? Express mail is the obvious choice.

By far the biggest players in the field are DHL Worldwide Express, Federal Express, United Parcel Service (UPS) and the U.S. Postal Service. And each comes right to the doorsteps of even homebased businesses.

But before calling an express mail carrier, think about the services you need. Will you be sending one package per week or 15 per day? Domestically or internationally? Do you want it delivered the same day, the next day, or in two or three days? Will you be shipping by air or ground?

Answering these questions will help you determine which carrier to use. Here's what the top four offer:

DHL Worldwide Express has developed an expertise in international shipping and also provides overnight domestic delivery. Onetime users can call (800) CALL-DHL 24 hours a day for same- or next-day service or to arrange for pickup from up to 10 days in advance.

The onetime method is the most expensive. Regular shippers sending large volumes (at least $200 a month) can qualify for customized discounts and should consider using a service such as the Customer Care Program, in which an assigned account representative handles all your shipping concerns. DHL bills monthly.

Federal Express customers can set up an account with Federal Express by calling (800) GO-FEDEX or using its online program. Generally, all customers are charged standard rates for several months. After that, Federal Express reviews your account's frequency, volume and type of shipping being done (overnight, two-day, letters, packages, etc.) and decides whether or not you are eligible for any of their discounts.

However, if you know your business will generate a significant amount of mail from the get-go, ask that a sales rep come out to determine if you can qualify for immediate discounts.

Federal Express has postal centers for drop-off services (the least expensive option), or you can schedule regular pickups, depending on volume. Billing options range from weekly to monthly.

UPS, which has an extensive ground-service network, offers seven levels of time-definite service, beginning with the slowest and least expensive--3 Day Select--and ending with same-day (SonicAir).

Occasional users can get the free Air Shipping account, which includes all premium services except 3 Day Select; however, there are further charges for package pickup.

If you prefer pickup for occasional packages or letters, UPS offers On Call Air same-day service for a fee. Or, their One Time Pick-up option enables you to schedule a future pickup; an account is not needed, and you can use any of the company's ground or air services. Simply pay when the driver arrives.

For a weekly fee, you can also set up a full-service daily pickup account using all UPS services--time-definite, ground and international. Varying discounts are available for volume shipping; prices are higher for delivery to residential addresses. Call (800) PICK-UPS.

The U.S. Postal Service provides a pickup service you can access 24 hours a day for domestic express and priority mail services by calling (800) 222-1811. Same-day pickup is available if you call by the cutoff time, which varies by location. A flat rate of $4.95 per pickup is charged; there is no limit on the number of packages per pickup, although there are size and weight limitations.

If the package or letter you're sending weighs less than 1 pound, it can be given free of charge to your mail carrier during a regular route stop at your business.

Contact Sources

DHL Worldwide Express, 333 Twin Dolphin Dr., Redwood City, CA 94065, (http://www.dhl.com);

Federal Express, (http://www.fedex.com);

United Parcel Service, (800) PICK-UPS;

U.S. Postal Service, (800) 222-1811.