Shipping, Printing and Office Supplies

Scanning, email, computer file sharing and cloud storage have eliminated many small business shipping, printing and office supply needs. But these services are still relevant in the digital age—particularly when it comes to ecommerce and marketing.

If you don't plan ahead, shipping, printing and office supply costs can escalate quickly. But by organizing your shipping and shopping around, you can minimize costs while still getting high quality service.

Shipping Services - How to Choose and How to Save

Upgrades in technology have made shipping easier and more efficient than ever before. Shipping costs vary according to package weight, dimensions, delivery time and destination. And among the major carriers - the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, FedEx and DHL - you're likely to get different rates for sending the same package to the same destination.

All the major carriers now allow you to print shipping labels online and schedule pickup at your office or home. To use these services, you'll need to invest in a postal scale, tape measure and the supplies you expect to use to package your shipments. Keep these shipping supplies where they're easy to access and use.

If you find yourself consistently using certain carriers, investigate whether you can obtain discounts by setting up an account.

Here are some other tips on saving time and money on shipping:

  • Pack items into the smallest box that will hold them securely, and use lightweight packing materials such as air-filled bags or Styrofoam peanuts. Limit the marketing materials you include with each order. You will pay more for a larger or heavier package.
  • Don't pay extra for express delivery if you don't need it. If a customer is paying for shipping, charge the customer extra if he or she wants a quick delivery.
  • Keep a supply of specialty envelopes and boxes from the carriers you use most often, such as FedEx boxes and UPS express delivery envelopes.
  • Use Customer Relations Management software to track each shipment's status. Your CRM software will be most effective if it can synch with your shipper's software.
  • If you have an e-commerce business and are having trouble keeping up with shipping tasks, consider outsourcing shipping to an order fulfillment company. Order fulfillment can be expensive, but it will free you up to focus on growing your business, and it may be cheaper than hiring an employee.

Working with Print Suppliers

While your office printer can likely handle your routine print jobs, you may need a print shop for large-scale projects, marketing materials, product labels, business cards and high- volume print jobs.

Online print shops may offer steep discounts and easy ordering directly from your computer. Online shops typically offer many types of printed materials in an array of paper stocks and finishes, from business cards to presentation folders to postcards and brochures. Some online services will also mail your promotional materials and integrate with your customer relations management software, saving you time.

The downside to online printing is that you can't see the quality of the finished product in advance. And if you aren't used to working with printers and don't know what you want, an online shop may not offer the design services and guidance you need.

Quick print shops have actual storefronts and may be housed within office supply stores. They may offer a variety of services, including printing, copying and binding; some even offer special services for oversized documents. Quick print shops can be a good choice for large, specialized or oversized print jobs that you can't handle on your regular office machine.

Most quick print shops also print business cards, signs, brochures and other promotional materials, and you can evaluate paper or cardstock quality and view samples before you place your order. Some offer design and marketing services, and national chains may also allow online ordering.

Traditional print shops do still exist, though they can be more expensive than their online or quick print counterparts. However, a traditional print shop may offer more personalized attention, may have a designer on staff, and may be more willing to work with you on unusual or complex projects.

Other tips on working with printers:

  • Negotiate. This can be hard to do with online printers, but a local printer may be willing to negotiate a discount, particularly for large orders or repeat business.
  • Understand volume discounts. Many printers charge a per-copy price point up to a certain number, and the per-copy price goes down for larger quantities. For example, you may pay .10 per page for 1-100 copies, but only .08 cents a page for more than 100 copies.
  • Use high quality materials to project a more professional image. Consider using specialty finishes like embossing and metallics.
  • Provide clear written instructions on all your print jobs.
  • Be sure to get a proof copy of your project and review it carefully before you authorize your order to be printed.
  • Be realistic about your artistic and design capabilities. Hire a graphic designer or work with your print company's designer if you aren't skilled in this area. The best print materials in the world can't overcome an unattractive or amateurish design.

Office Supply Options—Choose with Care

No matter how digital your business is, you’ll still need pens, paper, printer ink and break room supplies. Brick and mortar office supply stores abound in suburban shopping centers, and there are many options for buying office supplies online.

Consider these factors before you pull out your credit card.

  • Budget. If you don't have a line item for office supplies, add one. Experts suggest reviewing receipts for a prescribed period - six months, for instance - as a starting point.
  • Do your research. Make a complete list of area vendors and online suppliers that sell the types of products you need. Check delivery options, shipping costs, return policies and price points on the items you’re likely to buy most often. Explore customer loyalty discounts and other price breaks and narrow your picks to two or three vendors.
  • Take inventory. Check the supply closet and shopping receipts for products you purchase most frequently. Ask staff members which items consistently run low. Once you have this information, decide which would make logical bulk orders. Keep in mind that reusable stock, such as file folders, are not the best candidates for high-quantity purchases. On the other hand, restroom products and break-room supplies, such as coffee and napkins, are.
  • Investigate off-brand options. Some vendors offer house brands or generic products, especially for items such as paper, folders, cleaning products, and ink cartridges. These products can save you a significant amount of money over their name-brand equivalents.
  • Get the customer support you need. Consider whether you need access to customer service reps, same or next-day delivery, delivery to multiple locations, or a flexible returns policy. Choose a brick and mortar or online supplier who can meet these needs.

Remember - the ultimate goal is to save money while purchasing high quality products, whether you prefer to shop online or in brick-and-mortar stores. You may find that the best strategy is to do a little of both.