How to Build Your Own Creative Business: Shipping 101 {Day 8}

Build Your Own Creative Business: Test Your Product's Marketability {Day 2}

Welcome back to the Build Your Own Creative Business 31 Day Series! This is {Day 8} of the program (click here to catch up from Day 1). Today I’m discussing the basics of shipping with the United States Postal Service (USPS).

Because I’ve grown so comfortable using the post office after three years of business, it’s hard to trace back to the day when the post office intimidated me with all of their options, sizes, prices, and packages. I am most experienced with USPS due to the size and weight of my packages. At only a few ounces, I’m able to get my jewelry into the mail using First Class service (the cheapest and fastest way to mail). I have very little experience with FedEx or UPS, but if you do, I would absolutely love and adore a guest post from you, as would my readers!

Shipping 101 for Creative Business | Marketing Creativity by Lisa Jacobs

Here’s what to expect when shipping your product:

Shipping Speed

There are several ways to ship your products, and it is nice to have a knowledge of all your options beforehand.

Express Mail. Every once and a while, a customer might ask you to overnight or express mail a package. Typically customers who request such a service offer to pay for it (if they don’t, the expense is almost always too much to take on). When this occurs, it’s easy to pull a quote from USPS.com. Most customers don’t realize how much this faster service costs, so I’m happy to offer a quote, but people rarely go for this option.

Bottom line: Ships overnight or next-day. Smallest of packages (letter mail) start at $13.09 online and $14.10 at the post office.


 

Priority Mail. This option arrives in “about” two days. (Yes, the official USPS site actually says you’ll get your mail in “about two days” :), meaning it can take 2-3 days to arrive.) In my opinion, it is no faster or better than the next option, First-Class. However, with Priority Mail, you get free tracking which can be shared with your customers and used in the event of a lost package.

When shipping Priority, be sure to choose “Flat Rate” packages. Most postal service workers will advise you of this rookie mistake if you don’t, but at that point, you’ll be at the post office and ready-to-ship. If your order is shipped in your own box or a USPS package that only has “Priority Mail” on it, it will get priced according to weight (and it’s almost always much more expensive than the flat rate). Find free USPS flat-rate Priority Mail packages in-store or online.

Bottom line: Generally ships in 2 days, 3 at the latest to the continental U.S. The smallest of packages starts at $5.05 online and $5.80 at the post office. This is the best option if you ship packages that weigh more than 13 oz.


 

First-Class. First-Class mail ships at the same speed and rate as a stamped letter. Domestic (within country, except to Alaska and Hawaii) delivery is three days or less. In my experience, most packages arrive within two days. In my opinion, this is the best-priced option if you ship light envelopes or packages.

I learned about shipping packages First-Class from my ebay-ing days after I’d sold a movie online and wanted to ship my Kraft-wrapped DVD case to the winning bidder. I asked for Priority mail, and the postal service told me it would go faster and cheaper First-Class … and then charged me less than $2 to do so. I was hooked!

Bottom line: Generally ships within 2 days, 3 at the most. The smallest of packages starts at $.46. If you qualify for this rate, do it.


 

Parcel (Standard) Post and Media Mail. The cheapest, slowest service (estimated arrival between 2-8 days). Standard post is typically the best way to ship larger, heavier packages as standard post can accommodate up to 130 pounds. However, if you’re shipping a reasonable weight in a standard box, faster shipping is usually less than a dollar more.

Media mail is meant to ship items like DVDs, books and CDs. Most of these items weigh less than 13 oz., so in my opinion, First Class mail would be the better deal. If you ship a lot of heavier books, media mail is an option to explore.

Bottom line: Packages typically arrive within a week, 8 days at most. If your products are heavier or bulkier, this will be your best bet via USPS. However, if you’re shipping items like that you should definitely price compare with FedEx and UPS. Standard post packages start at $5.60, and Media mail starts at $2.53.

Advanced Options

Tracking, Insurance, Confirmation. Tracking, insurance, and confirmation are available (at an additional expense) for most packages. However and let me say in advance of this section, that you’re talking to a woman that’s lived and traveled through third-world countries (such as Zambia, Africa). I know what it’s like to need tracking, insurance, and confirmation because mail systems are corrupt and thieved regularly. It’s very nice to offer your customers this added documentation, but for the most part, I see it as an unnecessary expense.

I’ve been shipping packages frequently for three years, and I think I’ve replaced or refunded lost mail two, maybe three times. Starting at $1.95 per package, the cost of insurance and/or upgraded shipping service would have costed me thousands of dollars more than 3 lost packages.

Tracking starts at $.20 online and $.90 at the post office, but if you’re using “Click-n-Ship” to buy and print your postage online with USPS, it comes as a free option for Priority, Standard, and First-Class Mail. You simply check a box at the bottom of the address forms, and both you and your customer can receive email tracking on the package.

Finally, there’s shipping confirmation, and it’s my least favorite thing as both the sender and receiver. The additional service fee starts at $2.20 online, and it’s available for Priority, First-Class, Standard, and Media Mail. This level of protection requires your recipient be present and sign for the package you send. If they’re not home when the package arrives, they get a card in their mailbox letting them know they have a certain number of days to claim the package at their local post office. In most cases, it’s an unnecessary expense for the shipper, and a hassle for the customer.

International shipping. A major issue I run across is sellers not wanting to open up to international shipping. However, if you’re located in the United States, this couldn’t be easier or cheaper to do. If your package qualifies to ship First-Class or Priority Mail in the States, all you need is a customs form to ship internationally.

In general, Priority Mail takes 6-10 business days to arrive to international locations. Flat rate packages start at $28.25 and up. Here again, you can ship up to four pounds via First-Class mail (the cheaper option), but it takes longer to arrive (typically 10-14 business days). This is the option I always choose when shipping overseas, and it starts at $2.05.

To see how much any type of shipping costs to anywhere in the world with USPS, you can visit their price sheet online.

Customs Form: As I’m writing this article, USPS added the option to ship internationally online! Therefore, I’m able to show you the electronic version of the customs form you’ll be using. To ship overseas, all you need is the sender and recipient’s information and the package’s weight and value. You’ll need to calculate the cost of shipping overseas, and then simply add this option to check-out. You may under- or over-charge slightly in the beginning, but the trial and error shouldn’t cost you more than a few dollars.

There’s nothing like opening up your business for global expansion!

Getting Familiar with Your Post Office

One of the most intimidating things about going to the post office is being amongst customers that seem to already know what they’re doing. I can absolutely relate, in the two years I’ve recently been out-of-country, there are so many new lines of grocery stores that have new ways of doing things. It’s all ordinary to their long-time customers, but learning the different practices of a Harris Teeter (you push the cart to the check-out clerk before standing in-line) or a Wegman’s (wholly new world of grocery shopping!) can be disorienting and slightly unnerving.

Explaining to any post office clerk that you’ve never shipped a package this way or that you’re not sure of your shipping options will help them identify you as an inexperienced customer. They should be more than happy to help you out, and if they’re not, find another post office in your area. You don’t have to dread this errand, so work to make it as pleasant as possible.

Woah, buddy! I had a lot more to say about shipping than I realized! On a final note, I’ve lived on a few different continents, and I want to throw in that opening a creative business in the U.S. could not be easier or cheaper to do anywhere else on this Earth. Not only are shipping costs competitively low (of all the places I’ve ever been, I’ve never seen less expensive or more reliable shipping), wholesalers and suppliers are always more than willing to ship to you here. Get familiar with your shipping options, and you’re already on your way to building a successful, online creative business!

That does it for Day 8 of the series! Ready to continue? We’re talking product photography on Day 9. See you there~

Click here to learn more, Luminary

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