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Getting Started
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Getting Started in the Mailing Industry                

You need not read any further if you are not a detail-oriented person. Offering mailing services is not for you. If you are, then you will find your pursuit both rich and rewarding. The advent of PC based mailing software has taken mail preparation to new levels since postal reclassification took place in 1996. Previously, list houses or large computer service bureaus using main frame computers prepared most mailing lists. Letter shops would simply purchase these lists in label format and address the pieces.

Because of the capability of PC based mailing software, letter shops soon found themselves doing data processing functions such as merging and purging lists and database management. Use of the internet for file transfer has even replaced the need for messenger services. A good letter shop must now be first and foremost capable of performing data processing for their customers. Why? Because that is what customers want and expect! They donít want duplicates being sent out and they want to pay as little in postage as possible. The typical mailing software will do that and more, much more.

In offering mailing services you must learn two disciplines; data processing and postal regulations. The software is designed with the knowledge of postal preparation requirements but it canít remind you that this bundle needs rubber bands or that certain trays need to be strapped. Publication 95 available free at your local post office is a great resource and time spent discussing rules with the local Bulk Mail Technician at the post office will be time well spent. There is logic in everything you will do and putting it all together with a strong dose of common sense will help you achieve your goals.

What does mailing software do?

There are two processes required by the Postal Service in preparing mail for the best discount available, CASS & PAVE (see postaleeze). The first process that must take place is to read the addresses in a database using CASS certified software and append the correct ZIP+4 and DPB (postaleeze). In English, this means that it matches the street address, city, state and existing Zip code on your lists to the Postal Services approved database. If it matches, the record gets a ZIP+4 & DPB. This record will later be amongst those that get the best discounts. If it doesnít match, it is probably still mailable but at a higher rate. CASS Certified software generates one of the forms required by the post office when mailing.

Once you have finished with CASS Certification of your list it is time to prepare the list in the order that the post office requires using PAVE certified software. This process involves looking through your CASS certified database and putting the list together geographically by ZIP or even within a Zip, the carrier route that actually delivers the pieces. If there are enough pieces of "like kind" mail to meet a minimum classification for the best discount, it will put these together. If not, it will move these records to the next best rate for which they qualify by number of pieces, and so on. The real bonus is the time saving output from PAVE software.

Most products available today print out all the forms necessary to take the mail to the post office, including the postage statement, which tells you how big a check, you have to write for postage. The bonus is the order in which this software prints addresses. There is no sorting to be done. PAVE software prints a report that shows exactly how many and which pieces are within each bundle, tray or bag. It then prints the tray or bag tag to correspond to the order in which the pieces will be printed. For example, the report may show that the first 500 pieces will be addressed to ZIP 60607 all go in the first tray. The tray tag will say "Tray # 1". The pieces themselves can also be coded with the same information so you will visually see when the last of the pieces for tray 1 have been printed and know that itís time to start tray 2.

Which software is right for you?

You will note a wide disparity in pricing of mailing software. All advertise that they are the right software or the best software etc. The simple fact is that every one of them will do the job for a start-up mailing operation. As a start-up though, economics may your first concern. How much do you want to invest and how long will it take to recover your investment?

There are three basic types of mailers. The first encompasses companies & organizations that prepare their own mailings and start-ups like yours that will normally handle mailings of less than 25,000 pieces. The second is legitimate letter shops who specialize in "small mailings", generally from 200 pieces to 100,000 pieces. The final type is the large letter shop that specializes in mailings of 100,000 to the millions.

Of course there is overlap throughout but the point being made is that historically, they have purchased mailing software along the same vein price wise. Once purchased, mailers tend to stick with the software they initially bought even though some manufacturers offer reduced price "upgrades" for those willing to switch.

So, what is the difference between them besides price? The primary answer is features and the speed, as well as "will it work with my printer or computer operating system?" Each software tends to have a feature or a way of doing something that is different from the other, some offer options necessary for more sophisticated mailing operations and some are faster in address coding or presorting than others..

The types of software letter shops have historically purchased generally corresponds in line with their size and the price of the software. Some might call that experience. Is there a cross over? Absolutely! So the real answer you are looking for as a start-up goes back to economics. All will do what you want them to, but what can you, as a "start-up" afford?  Remember,  you  need "common sense" to be successful in this business. This is your first test.

Besides software and postal knowledge, what do I need?

If you are on a low budget as most start-ups are, we recommend using an old dot matrix printer you may have lying around and 1-up adhesive labels. An old Panasonic, Epson or Okidata is fine. The reports and bag or tray tags can also be generated using one of these.  If you want to use your sheet fed bubble jet printer, save it for the bag and tray tags. They have more intense barcodes and will produce a sharper image.

  The labels can be placed on pieces by hand (many home workers are interested in this type of work) and if the piece requires tabs, those too can be done by hand though tedious. The post office supplies trays/bags and rubber bands free of charge. This stage is your learning stage - we donít want you to make mistakes so start off slow. There is a learning curve and there is no better time to learn than while you are just starting up.

As you begin to succeed, you will learn very quickly that you need to start the cycle of upgrading equipment. Your little printer did fine for 500 labels but how long will it take to print 5,000 or 15,000? Why 1-up adhesive labels and whatís wrong with using my Canon sheet fed ink jet printer or a laser? Most letter shops that fail do so for one reason, failing to control their costs! 1-up adhesive labels are about $10 for 5,000 and can be peeled off and placed on mail by hand as fast as 1,000 per hour. Your cost for sheet fed adhesive labels is roughly going to be about 5 times that and you need a great set of fingernails to find the corners to peel them off as you place them on pieces.

As you learn the trade, your first big "expense decision" after the software will be the matter of equipment. Which equipment is best suited for applying addresses (ink jet vs. labels) and which tabbing machine should you purchase or lease. Your choices are labels, which requires a dot matrix printer and labeling machine, or an industry specific "ink jet" addresser. Ink jet addressing machines are designed to address mailing pieces directly from the computer, avoiding the need to print and apply labels. They are however relatively expensive and may not be able to address high gloss pieces due to the drying time required or addresses may not be readable when dark surfaces are addressed. Add-on conveyors and dryers are available but at additional cost.

Ultimately you will find that there is no single best answer and no single right answer. Your customers will expect you to be able to do anything they ask. Our advice is to take your time and get to know the business before investing heavily. Purchase and learn the software before committing yourself to doing a mailing.

The least expensive way to get started is to purchase a single release version of a Windows based combination CASS/PAVE Product. Like all mailing software it will be capable of generating a mailing that meets all the Postal Service requirements but only for a few months. Mailing software has to be kept updated per regulations and current versions must be used. If you find that after getting your feet wet you still want to pursue the mailing industry then purchase the money saving annual subscription.

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