Ok, here’s the biggie: “How do it all myself? How do I save thousands? Can you explain how exactly I might save thousands, and then how to execute on that plan?”
Simple. Consider this: when you pay a fulfillment company to ship stuff from their location to another they pay UPS, USPS, or FedEx rates (just like you would) AND charge you a fee per package to do it, often around $4.00 or more, plus possible setup and storage fees. If you have 700 packages to ship in the USA, instead of paying $4 x 700 = $2,800; you do it yourself and pocket 85% of that money. Is it worth it to you? It is to me. That’s a lot of money! Plus self-fulfillment is a chance to hang out with my friends for a while and chat. – You also save on freight by having one less shipping lane. (The missing 15% is spent buying shipping supplies and pizza.)
So how do you execute?
Ok, I’m not going to pretend this is easy, but it is rewarding…
- Get the requisite quantity of games freighted to your home office / storage and shipping location.
- Organize your backer report export files from Kickstarter into ONE single tab, and organize it. Then split it by region you will be shipping to (USA vs. International(s)).
- Price out the exact ship method and cost by making various practice orders using PayPal’s postage service. Is USPS flat rate best? (Be sure it fits by testing it, those priority boxes are free!) Don’t underestimate that padded flat rate bubble mailer (roughly twice the size of the small flat rate box). Don’t forget to add the estimated weight of the shipping materials! (2 to 7 ounces by size… bubble mailer = 1 oz; Small Flat Rate = 3 oz; Small box = 5 oz; Med Flat Rate = 7 oz). If you already have a ShipStation account, you can use it to do the same, only faster.
- Long before your shipment arrives… (ideally back during the budgeting stage, though I suppose under-budgeting might have forced you to read this ; ) …plan the exact box/bubble mailer dimensions you need to fit the items (this might mean different materials for different orders, that’s ok). Find the cheapest box (that is that size or slightly bigger) on ULINE.com, then see if you can get them cheaper on Amazon.com (which you almost always can). Are they free on USPS.com?
- If this is still feeling feasible, call your friends NOW to see if they’re willing to help pack for Pizza and maybe a stipend. If they’re not, abandon ship and hire the fulfillment company. I’d suggest at least 4 people total for 4 devoted hours of work, minimums. Adjust up by size of event. If you’ve got the plan, and the friends, move on to step 6 where committal happens.
- Buy ‘void fill’ to fill your slightly too-big box/mailers (a giant bubble wrap roll or 2, but you’ll need half of what you think you will), Postage labels (after you peel the sticker labels off, use the paper backing as “free” void fill!), packing tape, an expensive tape dispenser, lots of printer ink (I like this company), a shipping scale (do not use stamps.com’s free one), promotional materials (business cards, thank you flyers, etc.), and possibly some ‘fragile’ stickers. Links are specifically recommended products I’ve bought and use daily.
- Set your printer to defaults to “fast draft” & “greyscale only”.
- If prepping for more than 30-40 packages, see the ShipStation Setup and Use Guide below.
If you have less than 30-40 packages just use the PayPal shipping link above and just do one at a time; you’ll also therefore need to prepare a printable packing list from your one-file excel sheet you made in Step 2. (Use Word’s mail-merge if you can.)
- Save ALL your labels to your hard drive in PDF form.
- Call your friends to set up a date. Plan for a long process and an assembly line. My friends and I could run our own fulfillment company by now, as we can pump out about 700-1000 orders a day with a rotating group of about 8 people.
- Print your labels.
- Gather your army and begin!
Suggested Assembly Lines – Apply as best it works for your situation…
- Shipping container preparer (fold and tape box to shape)
- Shipping label applier (yes, pre-apply, fill afterward; especially helpful with the Stamps.com method)
- Packing insert inserter (business cards, promotional materials)
- Organizer of prepared shipping containers for Phase 2…
Assembly line Phase 2:
- Order Fillers (all people not needed below)
- Package Sealers (someone will be good at the tape dispenser, put em to work!)
- Package Organizer (putting finished packages in spare boxes for delivery to front porch)
- Misc support – (Pizza orderer, picture taker, massage giver, and of course… Order filler)
- Call your local Post Office to “Arrange a Pickup” for tomorrow afternoon, let them know the scope of the pickup so they can send the best vehicle. Hopefully you need “the big truck”.
- Help load them onto the truck so you can verify that all were accepted. Use a “SCAN form” if possible, this makes USPS liable if one goes missing.
- Post pictures online, in a Kickstarter Update, sing and rejoice! It’s done!
Now wasn’t that easy?
Stamps.com Setup and Use Guide
Huge tips here! – Skip this section if your project is too small to bother with ShipStation.
ShipStation is a very helpful tool (owned by Stamps.com, though you’ll never hear them say it even on the phone with help-desk) that will save you big over going to the post office (same discounted rates as the PayPal option above), and can save a lot of time on large quantities of orders. Let’s break down a bit how to make these systems work.
- Open your Kickstarter super spreadsheet (made above) and add the following column headers off to the right: Order Date, Content Type, Mail Class, Mail Piece, Package Value, Weight, Length, Width, Height, Tracking #, Postage Cost, Insurance Cost, Insurance Value, Content Description, Country of Origin, Print Message. See this google sheet for a detailed guide on what to put in each column and why.
- When your products are 3 weeks from arriving, open a ShipStation.com account, set subscription level to “Starter”, set up all the things, then call them to increase your Maximum Postage Purchase limit immediately, explain “I have a Kickstarter”. You’re also gonna need a few hours to get used to the software, setup your printer and mailing label choices, and to get it to do what you need it to (I’ll help), and you’ll want lead time on getting ready before you invite your friends to the party. (You don’t want them showing up before you’re done printing labels, and it’s not as easy as you’d like to think.)
- Setup your CSV file as above. – You’ll want a new ODBC Source for each region you are self-fulfilling to. For example: I create one for USA, one for Canada, and one for International.
- Pro tip: Put any APO (U.S.A. Armed Services) orders with the Canada/international ones because they require customs forms.
- Set your print preferences in ShipStation. The Store Name, the Print Message, etc.
- Set your email notification messages for the store.
- Upgrade your account to “Bronze”, which allows order imports from CSV file.
- On your Orders page go to “other actions” and “import orders”. This step to completion is going to take some troubleshooting. You have to assign all the import rows and items, and it can be time-consuming and easy to miss tabs or sub sections. Be thorough.
- Once orders are imported, you can now make any final adjustments like making sure international Customs Declarations are accurate and clear, print services are selected correctly (huge price differences – use first class unless too heavy), and making sure your labels are in the printer the correct orientation (face up/down).
- It’s time to click “Create Label”. This is the moment you pay, and make the final label. I suggest doing so for batches of 25 or so orders at a time. It makes finding a missing label, or trouble shooting if your printer bails on you, much easier.
- Finally, you can “Print” them!
Repeat 9 & 10 until every order is printed.
Ok, that was a lot of work. And it sure wasn’t easy. But you did a great job! Spend some of your savings buying your friends lunch or movie tickets, and your family a nice weekend outing. They’ve earned it.
Then… downgrade your subscription back to “Starter”.
I hope I provided enough angles to cover all the possible fulfillment sizes (small, medium, large) and what you’d need to do at each level to accomplish it!
Got questions about navigating the spreadsheet, or import?
Please ask in the comments.
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