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Take Advantage of Bulk Mail and Other Shipping Discounts

The USPS has a bevy of built-in savings strategies for businesses. Here's how to make the most of them.

Bulk mail is one of those interesting things in life that can be either a boon or a bust, depending on how much mail you're sending out, how fast you want it to get there and how much work of the tedious variety you're willing to put in.

The obvious advantage of bulk mail is cost savings. Where a first-class stamp for a 1-ounce letter goes for 37 cents, the same letter sent bulk rate is significantly less. This sounds great. But--and here we get to a whole list of buts:

  • If you're just starting out, it may cost you almost as much to send bulk rate mail as first-class. First you have to purchase your bulk mail permit, which will set you back $300 (a one-time fee of $150 and an annual fee of $150). So when you add up your postage costs, you need to consider those fees as well as the effort required to send mail bulk rate.
  • You've still got to buy a rubber stamp and stamp each piece with your permit number and postage. Or rent a postage meter and shoot each piece through the meter. Or pay your printer to imprint each piece with your meter number and postage.
  • Then you have to sort. And sort. And sort again. You begin by sorting to specific areas (by five-digit ZIP codes) and then work your way to more general areas, bundling the mail in batches of 10 or more with rubber bands, labeling each batch with USPS-provided stickers, and then placing it in USPS bulk mail trays.
  • Then you have to take your mail trays to an official U.S. Postal Service bulk mail center.

The more pieces you send, the more cost-effective bulk mail becomes. Some mail order software programs will handle the sorting for you, which makes this even more appealing.

Endless Permutations
Not all bulk mail fits neatly into the 1-ounce-envelope price category. The U.S. Postal Service has an entire 100-plus-page Quick Service Guide devoted to endless permutations of mail sizes, weights and categories, each with its own rules and regulations. And although the post office seems to have made a genuine effort to make this book user-friendly, it's not. There's a major learning curve, here. Of course, the folks down at your local bulk mail center are usually very friendly and will guide you through anything you need to know, but it's not as simple as licking a stamp and sticking it on your letter.

One issue to consider is the time factor. If you're anxious to get those letters to your customers, you might not want to go bulk mail. Bulk items can take up to two weeks for delivery, while first-class letters get the first-class treatment--usually two to four days for delivery.

You should also be aware that bulk rate letters are less likely to be opened by potential customers than first-class, stamped ones because they're perceived as junk mail. This is not to say that all bulk rate items get tossed--they don't. If your presentation is clever and well-conceived, you'll probably reach your target customers anyway.

What's the bottom line? How you handle your mailings is completely up to you. You decide which are the biggest issues--cost, labor, time or customer perception--and what benefits you're actually gaining. Don't forget that you can outsource your bulk mailings to a lettershop, fulfillment center or printing house. You won't need a permit, and you won't need to spend time sorting and resorting. Be sure to check out these alternatives before making a final decision.

Have Your Cake
If you want a discount mailing rate, but you need the speed of first-class mail, you can more or less have your cake and eat it, too, by sending your pieces first-class pre-sort. The cost per piece is higher and you must presort the same as you do for bulk mail. You must also purchase a first-class permit at an annual fee of $150. And where you need only mail 200 pieces to take advantage of the bulk mail rate, with first-class presort you have to send a minimum of 500 pieces.

If you like, you can buy both a bulk mail permit and a first-class permit and have the option of using either method at any time. For more information on business mailing options, visit "Business Mail 101" on the USPS Web site.

Source: How to Start a Mail Order Business

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