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 beeither a boon or a bust, depending on how much mail you'resending out, how fast you want it to get there and how much work ofthe tedious variety you're willing to put in.

The obvious advantage of bulk mail is cost savings. Where afirst-class stamp for a 1-ounce letter goes for 37 cents, the sameletter 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 muchto send bulk rate mail as first-class. First you have to purchaseyour bulk mail permit, which will set you back $300 (a one-time feeof $150 and an annual fee of $150). So when you add up your postagecosts, you need to consider those fees as well as the effortrequired to send mail bulk rate.
  • You've still got to buy a rubber stamp and stamp each piecewith your permit number and postage. Or rent a postage meter andshoot each piece through the meter. Or pay your printer to imprinteach piece with your meter number and postage.
  • Then you have to sort. And sort. And sort again. You begin bysorting to specific areas (by five-digit ZIP codes) and then workyour way to more general areas, bundling the mail in batches of 10or more with rubber bands, labeling each batch with USPS-providedstickers, 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 mailbecomes. Some mail order software programs will handle the sortingfor you, which makes this even more appealing.

Not all bulk mail fits neatly into the 1-ounce-envelope pricecategory. The U.S. Postal Service has an entire 100-plus-page QuickService 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 tomake this book user-friendly, it's not. There's a majorlearning curve, here. Of course, the folks down at your local bulkmail center are usually very friendly and will guide you throughanything you need to know, but it's not as simple as licking astamp and sticking it on your letter.

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

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

What's the bottom line? How you handle your mailings iscompletely up to you. You decide which are the biggestissues--cost, labor, time or customer perception--and what benefitsyou're actually gaining. Don't forget that you canoutsource your bulk mailings to a lettershop, fulfillment center orprinting house. You won't need a permit, and you won't needto spend time sorting and resorting. Be sure to check out thesealternatives before making a final decision.

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

If you like, you can buy both a bulk mail permit and afirst-class permit and have the option of using either method atany 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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