By Deborah Sweeney, CEO of MyCorporation
The first step in modernizing the United States Postal service has been taken. The Senate has passed a bill that would downsize the postal force by 100,000 workers, mainly through early retirement and buyout offers for affected employees. While it still needs to go through the House, it does give us a glimpse as to what the final USPS downsize will look like. Processing centers will be closed, rates will continue rising, and five-day delivery, a change the USPS has been clamoring for, will likely be implemented.
And, for the thousands of businesses that use direct mailing to contact their customers, this news is pretty grim. Business owners have already been hurt by the recession, and any change to how the postal system works, and what it charges, will hurt their bottom line. Luckily, there are a few things small business owners can do to prepare for the USPS’s impending downsize.
Communicate online as much as possible.
Direct mailings have been an advertising staple for decades, but the cost of mailing these little bits of paper could begin to outweigh the business they generate. Business should modernize in this field anyway – most flyers and physical letters are tossed in the bin the minute they’re received. We aren’t reaching anyone AND we are paying out the nose for postage.
I’ve tried to focus on social communication instead of direct mailing. All it costs is a bit of my time, and it enables better engagement than physical mailings – customers can log onto Facebook or Twitter, shoot their questions over to my company’s online profiles, and get a quick, personalized answer. As of March 2012, over 80% of US households have internet access according to the Office for National Statistics, so reaching your target market online is not an issue. So cut the letters, save on postage, and engage with your customers!
Be ready to change your billing schedule.
There are plenty of businesses that still send out physical invoices and bills to their customers, and Saturday delivery has meant they could expect these bills to get to their destination at a certain time. Once five-day delivery is implemented, your billing schedule will have to change. I should also mention that Saturday service might not be cut – the Senate’s version of the bill would allow six-day delivery to continue for the next two years, and the USPS would only be able to cut Saturday if they could prove it was seriously harming their finances. But the USPS is lobbying heavily for five-day delivery, and the House will be more willing to make any and all cuts.
My advice is to prepare for the demise of Saturday delivery sooner, rather than later. If you inform your customers of the change in billing schedules and ease them into it, you’ll encounter less resistance. And you’ll be able to test out your new schedule and iron out any kinks while still being able to fall back on Saturday deliveries. Of course, the best thing you can do is to modernize your billing and give some sort of incentive for your customers to pay their invoices online. But if that isn’t in the cards yet, you can at least begin preparing for the inevitable.
Avoid shipping physical documents when possible.
Granted, this tip is a little obvious but a lot of firms I talk to don’t realize they no longer have to ship physical copies of certain documents. My company used to be bogged down in postage and forms that needed a physical signature before they were processed. But twelve years ago the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act was proposed and, since then, 47 states have adopted it, giving the same legal recognition to electronic signatures as is given to physical ones. As of 2009, the remaining four states also officially began recognizing e-signatures, despite not adopting the UETA into their own law. This is a huge win for businesses and drastically reduces the need for mailing, but I still hear about companies that mail out every, single document they need signed. If you are one of them, look into what the law is in your state of business and see if you can make the switchover.
The downsizing of the United States Postal Service will impact small business owners, but if companies begin to modernize now, they will easily survive the transition. Try moving certain aspects of how you run your business online, and test how accommodating changes in the USPS will affect you once those changes are made law. The trick is just to get these changes figured out and implemented as early as possible, so you aren’t stuck with a broken system without any time to fix it.
Deborah Sweeney is the CEO of MyCorporation, an online filing services company that specializes in incorporations and LLCs. Find her online at mycorporation.com and on Twitter @deborahsweeney and @mycorporation.