Let’s face it. Shipping and fulfillment are not the most exciting aspects of running a small product-based business, right? But they’re a necessary evil. I started out doing all the shipping myself on a little table in my living room. I’d wrap everything up with brown paper and string, then walk it down to the local post office, where I’d wait in line with my stack of boxes. I liked getting some exercise and became very friendly with the local postal clerks, but it definitely wasn’t efficient.
Fast forward almost nine years, and we’ve learned a lot of ways to speed up the shipping & fulfillment process. We go over these key parts of running a business, along with a lot of other subjects, in my online classes, Stationery Business 100: Start Strong and Stationery Business 200: Wholesale. But I’ve also included some free info below to get you started…
Set holiday shipping deadlines, make sure they are listed in your shop, and make announcements on social media, too.
As you can imagine, the holiday season is stressful for small manufacturers. Be prepared for lots of emails wondering when the order will ship, etc… Set holiday shipping deadlines, make sure they are listed in your shop, and make announcements on social media, too.
One more note about holiday shipping. We’ve noticed that the USPS doesn’t update the tracking very consistently during the peak holiday shipping window. You will get lots of emails from worried customers about their package not being updated. Usually at this point the customer has the same exact info as you will have. One thing we do is to have them call their local branch with their tracking number to get any updates.
Keep in touch with your customers. Send them an email when the order has shipped with the tracking information. If something is going to be late, let them know and maybe offer a little something extra. If you offer custom work, update your customers as their order progresses through production.
Customers, and especially wholesale customers, really appreciate this attention to detail.
CRM (Customer Relationship Management)
What is Customer Relationship Management? It’s a software/web-based program that allows you to manage your contacts, leads, accounts and campaigns.
- Contacts: Enter in contact information from suppliers, reps and other people you regularly interact with
- Leads: All of the business cards from NSS? Create a “lead” entry and you can record your history. Keep track of when samples were sent and how you found out about your leads. This will help you determine where to focus your energy in gaining new accounts. Create follow-up tasks that send you emails reminding you to send an email, samples etc..Did your lead place an order? Convert it to “account” in your CRM.
- Accounts: Manage your existing accounts with precisions. When was their last order? Any notes specific for that customer? Upload POs, invoices, quotes etc..
- Campaign: Create, manage and track your marketing plans. Examples of campaigns: Tradeshows, banner ads, cold calling, email, direct mail, webinars, etc…In most programs you can enter in expected revenue, # of contacts (emails, mailers etc..) and new leads from each campaign
If lack of inventory storage space is an issue, and rent is high where you live, you could check out fulfillment centers. In a nutshell, you send them all of your product and when orders come in, the fulfillment center ships it out. Now, the level of detail varies by center. Some will require everything prepackaged, and some will do minor assembly (envelope, card, cello bag).
- No worries about shipping.
- Fulfillment centers have great discounted shipping rates.
- They take care of all shipping needs (boxes, tape etc..).
- No need to rent bigger space.
- No inventory at your fingertips.
- Lose some control about packaging and small details.
- FC could be across the country, which would result in high freight cost.
- Might have to package all of your product before shipping.
- There is a fulfillment cost per order, which doesn’t really make sense for retail orders, only on wholesale orders.
At Sycamore Street Press, we have chosen to keep our shipping in house. It seems that fulfillment centers make the most sense for those who live in expensive cities and focus on wholesale with little to no retail orders.
You might also like: Inventory Resources & Tips, Tips For Finding Stationery Suppliers & Manufacturers, & Tips For Getting Quotes.
Due to popular demand, we’re working on a brand new class called Shop Biz 100: Online, Pop-Ups + Bricks and Mortar. To stay in the loop, sign up for our Creative Business newsletter here.