Artist and printed.com customer Pollie Scott found that the postage and packing of goods sold online can be a minefield for small business owners. Not keeping a tight rein on postal charges, delivery options and packaging costs can cause headaches and eat into your profit margins. Here, Pollie shares her hard-learned lessons on what not to do when posting goods out to customers.
The old cliché about artists not being very good at business is very true in my case. When I started out I made lots of mistakes, despite searching out helpful tips online. My main problem area was errors in sending out my product to customers. I had lots of lovely Christmas and greeting cards made by printed.com, and put them up on my website for sale. I charged a reasonable amount for postage and packing – just enough to cover costs of stationary and posting.
1. Make sure your packaging is secure
The first mistake I made was a very simple one: I didn't pack the product sufficiently. The cards were cello-wrapped and sent in self-stick padded envelopes, but I hadn't realised that they could easily open up during the delivery process. Several packets went missing, and one customer got in touch to say she had received an opened envelope with nothing but the compliments slip inside – very upsetting! I had to send out replacement cards for all the ones that went missing, which cut profits in a small business like mine. Needless to say, the next batch went out with tape around the package and over the ends, which is not as pretty, but much more practical.
2. Keep on top of costs and charges
My next error – one that's easily made when trying to keep costs down for customers – was not keeping an eye on the increased cost of packaging materials and postal charges. I kept the price of my next batch of Christmas cards the same as the previous year (including p&p), offering cheaper value packs too, with the same postal charge. I got quite a shock when I added up the costs after posting and found the price to send the same size package had increased greatly from one Christmas to the next. And when I bought a new batch of stiff-backed envelopes, I found they were more expensive and fitted less cards than the old ones did. Simple errors, I know. I should have done my maths and checked postal charges and so on well before Christmas. It's a good idea to take a sample parcel and get it weighed well before you want to start sending goods out, then charge a reasonable amount to cover all costs.
3. Know your posting options
I thought I was getting the hang of it all, but I have been caught out yet again, this time through asking someone else to post some parcels for me when I was particularly busy. The padded envelopes were identical, as were the number of cards inside, plus a compliments slip. As the envelopes were large I folded them over and taped them. This was probably a mistake, as thickness of parcels can differ, and can affect cost of sending. Some of the parcels went as 'packets' and others as 'letters', despite being identical. The person who posted the packages didn't realise that the contents were the same and didn't query the prices being charged. They were sent out at three different prices, £1.20, £1.60 and £2.70. Unfortunately, when I went back to the post office to ask about the discrepancy, I was told that it should have been queried at the time of posting and there was nothing that could be done about it. Note to self: post your own parcels!
4. Choose packaging materials that make savings at the post office
Another simple tip: take note of the size of envelopes you are buying. One centimetre can make a big difference in cost of posting, changing a 'letter' into a 'large letter', with greatly increased costs. I only noticed that I had bought the bigger size after I had paid for them. It may seem petty, but it can make a big difference to profit margins in a small business.
Despite all this, I will no doubt be designing more Christmas cards this year and sending them out as usual. Hopefully I will take notice of my own hints and tips and avoid making more mistakes next Christmas!
Do you know any other tips that Pollie might have missed? Let us know in the comments below and you can even get in touch if you fancy being a guest blogger.