How we handle: Small batch shipping

Over the past couple years, I’ve offered a bonus printed workbook to the early enrollees of the Share-worthy Design course. My background is as a print designer, and I just can’t shake the itch to put a beautifully printed companion book in my student’s hands.

I’ve had a few (okay, several) questions regarding these printed workbooks, so I thought it was time to reveal how we handle shipping these beauties to our students. Keep in mind we aren’t a huge e-commerce shop, it’s just me handling the workbooks. I don’t have a fulfillment center or even a large quantity to ship.

I want to help demystify the process a bit. As is the whole concept behind the monthly “How we handle: ______” Spruce Rd. series. I’m into this nitty gritty, and I hope you are too!

Let’s dive into how I handled shipping in the past that cost me several hours, to what I’m doing now — still not perfect, but it saves me time. I’m okay with that.

How we handle: Small batch shipping | Spruce Rd. | After offering a small batch of printed workbooks for my course, I received several questions on printing + shipping. I’m diving into the nitty gritty of how I handled it in the past, and what I’m doing now to save time. Whether you are pre-selling a printed product, or sending client gifts at the end of the year, this post shares how to print and ship your small batch order.

Where do you print?

This is the #1 question I get about printed products. I print my workbooks through a local printer. I have a relationship with my sales rep dating back 5 years ago when I worked with him as an in-house designer at a university. I recommend finding a local print shop that can handle offset, digital and binding processes. They typically offer free tours so you can see their printers in action, and even examples of their work! Prices are competitive with online vendors, so don’t let that scare you.

Another option is to go with a printer like Blurb or Paperchase Press. These online vendors offer great services, but I much prefer the quality of my local printer. With online printers you lose control over the paper, ink and binding.

A tight grip = stress

I’ve offered these bonus printed workbooks in the past, and let me tell you — the process was stressful! I limited the amount of bonuses to 15, just so that it was easier on me during those launch weeks (which are already pretty stressful as is).

So what was so stressful about the way I used to handle shipping? It was my tight grip.

As a designer, I’m very attuned to details. I made sure each package was wrapped to perfection. I included handwritten notes, a custom designed sticker, wrapping paper and twine, and hand addressed each package. It was too much.

Sure, if selling physical products was my primary focus for Spruce Rd., I would definitely prioritize things like packaging. However, for a few bonus workbooks (that were free), I knew I needed to let go of something that was causing unwarranted stress in the midst of an already stressful period. Those hours (an entire day?) spent on packaging + shipping the workbooks could have been better spent.

Done is better than perfect

This is where my wise husband, Elliot, enters the picture. He has the “get it done” mindset, while I have the “let’s overanalyze and never make progress” mindset. You know what I mean.

For my last launch of the Share-worthy Design for Freelancers course, I decided to not put a cap the bonus workbooks. It was open to anyone who purchased in the first day — meaning I had no idea how many books I would be shipping!

This was causing me all sorts of stress, when Elliot decided to take charge. We printed way more books than I thought were necessary (50), with the idea that I would have some left over for next time. Turns out, just about that many students enrolled the first day and were excited to get those course books!

Instead of spending all day packaging + shipping the 50 books, Elliot and I dropped them off at a local ship station (a store that ships USPS, FedEx and UPS) and had them take care of everything. They used their own packaging, printed labels, and stuffed + sealed the envelopes. It was very affordable, especially considering the amount of time saved.

A life lesson… from our shipping guys

This is where things got interesting. The two guys who ran the ship center were very likable no-nonsense guys. I could tell they favored doing things “scrappy,” which honestly set me a little on edge with my pretty course books.

When I asked about providing tracking numbers for each book, they recommended that we don’t pay extra for it. It would add about $100 to the total. Instead of providing a tracking number, they suggested that if one of our books got lost in the mail, we simply mail another one. No questions asked. The cost of sending an additional book (even to a handful of students) would be less than paying for tracking.

I know this is scrappy business, and it isn’t perfect. But for small batch shipping it makes sense.

Their philosophy on tracking numbers stuck with me. You can’t plan everything perfectly ahead of time, and paying extra won’t resolve all issues. Come up with a backup plan — even if it is a scrappy one.

I also want to mention once again, this method works for my bonus course books, and might not be best for a full e-commerce shop. My books were an added feature, and not something people were ordering as a gift and requiring it at a certain time.

The process

If you’re contemplating sending out a small batch run of physical products, I’m hoping this nitty gritty article helps steer you in the right direction!

Here’s a review of the entire process at a glance. Feel free to swipe + customize for your own needs.

  • Drop off/mail products to a shipping center (supply a few extra just in case)

  • Provide the envelopes or packaging needed

  • Brief them on your order, and when you will follow up with shipping details.

  • Discuss mailing options (USPS, FedEx, tracking numbers, etc.)

  • Once your pre-orders or sales are complete, email the csv file to the shipping center. (I like to separate US from international)

  • Sit back and let them do the work!

Final thoughts

Picture this, you just had a successful pre-order for your printed product. You have about 50 books to mail out over the weekend. Your gut tells you to spend your Saturday on the floor packaging each book to perfection, wait a few hours at the post office, and manually email each recipient their tracking number. Or… you could spend 5 minutes dropping them off at a local ship station, and enjoy your Saturday celebrating the success.

Hopefully this was helpful for you — whether you plan to handle shipping in your business or not. I think there’s a larger business lesson in there ;).