April 10 2008 04:18 PM

Certain dates each year prompt calls to action. January 1 calls for New Year's resolutions, such as eating less junk food and visiting the gym more often. Memorial Day kicks off the family vacation season, as folks head out to the nearest lake or campground to enjoy the outdoors. And that first October frost means putting away sandals and sun visors in favor of snow boots and earmuffs.


For anyone in the mailing industry, there is one date this year that will prompt a call to action the postal rate increase on May 12. And just like New Year's Day, Memorial Day and the first frost spur action, the postal rate increase should prompt businesses to re-evaluate their mail center operations to find out if it is time to outsource to a third-party mail service provider.


The core goal of almost any business function should be to minimize costs and maximize benefits and efficiency. It is possible that a mail expeditor one that sorts your mail and prepares it for final delivery by the U.S. Postal Service may save you money and allow you to reallocate your mail center employees to increase their value to the business. If your company fits the bill, the upcoming postal rate increase may be the perfect time to outsource in order to minimize the impact of the rate increase.


That said, outsourcing mail operations to a mail service provider is not a one-size-fits-all option that works for all businesses. For some, it makes more sense to handle all mailing operations in-house. But for many companies, outsourcing their mail operations saves time and makes sense financially. To determine whether or not your business might benefit from outsourcing, take a closer look at your current mail operations and ask yourself the following questions:


What type(s) of mail are you currently sending? Are you processing Priority, First-Class, Standard, Media Mail or Bound-Printed Matter? Specifically speaking, are you sending mail as the most optimal class, based on content and delivery time? Depending on the type(s) of mail you are currently sending and which class(es) it falls under, you might benefit from working with a third-party mail service provider.


How do you process your mail? Don't just focus on the mailpieces going out the door; think about what all is involved in preparing and processing your mail. Do you have an automated system for sorting and applying postage, or is this done by hand by your employees? Outsourcing your mail operations can shorten the process, because the mail service provider can apply postage, sort, pick up and deliver your mail to the post office to be shipped out to the proper recipient.


How much does your typical outbound mail weigh? If your mail is within the weight requirements and fits the regulations for First-Class mail and you are currently shipping via the U.S. Postal Service, a mail service provider may significantly reduce your costs while still offering timely delivery for less than one-pound mail. While this size may be the standard for mail service providers, it certainly is not the only option. Mail providers may offer services for all mail types and sizes, so be sure to do your homework.


Where is your mail going? Is your mail being shipped to US-only destinations, or do you have mailpieces that need to be shipped overseas? Maybe you even process a combination of both domestic and international mailings. Once again, it is important to do your homework to determine if outsourcing proves a fit for your situation, as rates and qualifications differ according to the mail's final destination.


Is your mail time sensitive or particularly valuable? These factors should certainly influence your decision on whether or not to outsource based on the level of security and visibility you need for your mailings. Some mail service providers can provide updates on mail-in-transit to add more visibility into your mail operations.


How frequent are your mailings? Do you send your mail on a periodic basis, such as weekly, monthly, or annually? Are your mailings consistent, or reactionary and dependent on external conditions, such as customers opting in or requesting additional information? Maybe you send out one large project mailing a handful of times each year. Understanding the frequency of your mailings allows you to estimate how much time is being put into mail processing, and whether that time can be better spent on other functions.


So now that you have given your mail center activities a good, hard look, have you determined that outsourcing is appropriate for your business? Maybe you've realized that it makes good business sense to outsource all of your mailing operations, or maybe you've determined that only outsourcing a portion of your mail functions is the best way to go. If you have decided to outsource some or all of your mailing activities, you're probably wondering how to take the next step to begin outsourcing.


Setting yourself up with a mail service provider is relatively simple. A sales representative will visit your business to evaluate current practices, deliver a rate proposal, provide you with the proper materials and set up your account. Next comes forms that ask for specifics about your mail, with many of the same types of questions as the ones posed above. The final step is developing a shipment tracking system customized for your business and establishing lines for communication regarding your mail.


The entire process takes just a few days, but in order to adequately prepare for the upcoming postal rate increase, it's a good idea to start investigating your mail operations immediately. Besides, with Memorial Day right around the corner, you'll want to have plenty of time to plan that next family vacation.


John Walsh is Vice President of Business Development for UPS Mail Innovations, and more information can be found at www.upsmailinnovations.com or by calling 800-500-2224.