Sometimes we get so caught up in the minutia that we overlook the obvious. Make any of the mistakes below and the results can be devastating - and expensive! Believe me, I know. Over my career I've seen examples of every one of these situations occur, and we've helped our clients recognize and resolve lots of errors such as these, preventing them from creating jobs that have little chance to achieve the desired results - or cost a lot more than they planned.

Producing Duplicates - Just defining what constitutes a duplicate can be a challenge. The rules will change from job to job depending on the purpose of the documents and the condition of the data. Your customers may need some guidance to fully describe the correct handling of duplicates. Sometimes users or clients try to "help" by suppressing data elements they view as unnecessary, but are essential to the elimination or combination of duplicates.

Allowing Data Errors to Affect Deliverability - Did you get all the address lines? The effectiveness of many a mailing has been decimated because someone forgot to include address line two or three in the output file. Conversely, are there too many address lines to fit your print format? Or are the fields too long for the envelope window? Another common problem is zip codes stored as numerals, resulting in the loss of leading zeros in some zip codes. There are dozens of ways data can mess up a document. And many of them take an experienced eye to discover. The more complex or personalized the document, the more important the data.

Designing Documents with Incorrect Aspect Ratios - We see this mistake happening all the time. Designers create self-mailers or custom marketing pieces to stand out and get noticed. There's nothing wrong with that. But incurring an unanticipated postal surcharge for non-machinable mail can be a shock to the budget. Something as simple as making the piece a bit too tall or printing the address parallel to the short side can cause a compliance issue.

Misusing Endorsements - Ancillary endorsements tell the Postal Service how to handle the mail if it is undeliverable as addressed. Be sure to understand the effect of an endorsement and the costs. This is especially important with USPS Standard Mail. Remember that ancillary services can be requested via the intelligent mail barcode, so be sure you've coded the appropriate values into the code. The quality of your mailing lists and your ability to deal with returned mail pieces or corrected address data should also be considered. All these questions need to be answered before the material is printed. By the time you are loading envelopes onto the inserter, it's too late.

Letting Material Decisions Impair Production - Will the toner or ink stay affixed to the substrate without smearing? Will the tabs obscure important messaging or content? Will the perforations hold up through printing, folding, and inserting? How many pages can fit in the envelope? What's the maximum number of nested pages that, when folded, still allow for the address to show through the window (they creep up, you know)? Is there enough envelope clearance for high-speed inserting? Is the window in the right place? Are the margins on the document aligned with the envelope window? Do you have the right permit indicia? There are all kinds of issues related to material.

Failing to Consider Return Processing - If the project requires a business reply envelope or a courtesy reply envelope, does it bear the correct Zip+4? A valid intelligent mail barcode? How many return pieces are anticipated? Can you save money by participating in high-volume return programs like QBRM? Will the document to be returned fit in the return envelope (this mistake gets made a lot!)? Consider how the returned documents will be processed. You might save handling time by placing barcodes or OCR data on the reply pieces.

These are just a few of the many items that printing and mailing professionals need to evaluate way before a job hits the production floor. An error or oversight in any one of these areas can add unnecessary costs to projects. And this isn't a complete list!

In the next column, we'll identify more ways to waste money. If you're not careful, the ROI may be a lot harder to achieve than you thought.

Mike Porter is President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide be more productive, adapt to changing requirements, and lower costs in their document operations. For more ideas about how to maximize your investment in document operations, connect with Mike directly at Or visit and sign up for Practical Stuff â¬" the free newsletter for document operations.