In my last posting, I discussed how an organization wasted over $12,000 in postage, mainly due to using First Class postage instead of Non-profit for which they were qualified. In my experience, the number one reason that organizations are forced into situations like this is poor planning. And, the easiest way to combat poor planning is to construct a timeline and have the discipline to follow it.

In my mind, there are five parts to be considered to form a constructive timeline: Design, Print, Mail, Delivery (How), and Delivery (When). Believe it or not, the best place to start developing a timeline is at the end (Delivery – When) and work your way forward.

Delivery (When)
You need to start by determining when you would like your piece to arrive in the mailbox. This can be a little tricky since there is no guarantee of delivery for Marketing/Non-profit mail (and it even can be difficult to predict for First Class). There can be issues if the piece arrives too early and obviously if it arrives too late. If a piece arrives too early, many people will put it aside and forget to act. If it arrives too late, well…do I really have to say anything else about that here?

I would recommend that you shoot for a piece to arrive in the mailbox about one to two weeks before you need your prospect to act. Although, I admit that I have seen many successful campaigns where the prospect had to act immediately. The truth is that there is no hard and fast rule for what works; you just need to give some serious thought of what arrival date you think would work best.

Last, I would recommend you consider if you prefer the piece to be “delivered short” or “delivered long”. Because the actual delivery into the mailbox can vary, you should consider if the piece would work best delivered before the optimal delivery date (delivered short) or after the optimal date (delivered long). This will help your mailing professional determine the best date to have the pieces dropped into the mail-stream.

Delivery (How)
There are no published standards by USPS for Marketing/Non-profit mail to be delivered, which can make developing this part of your timeline a challenge. First Class mail will be delivered within 1 to 5 days, but even that can be dicey since USPS closed 243 distribution facilities and changed their delivery standards. Your mailing professional should be able to give you sound advice in this area, but there are three things that can affect Marketing/Non-profit delivery that you can consider.

1. Type of Piece: It takes less time for a letter-size piece to be delivered that a flat-size piece. Letter-size pieces can run through USPS equipment faster and requires less handling. I would add at least two days if you are mailing a flat-size piece.

2. Area of the Country: The postal service would argue with me on this one, but experience is experience. I have had letter-size pieces delivered to California in 3 days via Marketing mail and the same type of piece delivered to Florida in a week and a half. I have had First Class mail consistently take four days to go from Albany, NY to New Jersey. So, if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and sounds like a duck, am I to believe it is a chicken? Your mailing professional should be able to guide you here, but I would not trust anything USPS tells you about delivery. No one can guarantee you delivery times, but you should be able to get advice that will work in your timeline.

3. Time of the Year: I would recommend adding a couple of days to your delivery schedule if you are mailing between Thanksgiving and New Year’s or any other time where mail volume can be heavier (Mother’s Day for example). The changes made with the structure of the postal service was based on lower mail volume. During these peak times, the postal service has a harder time keeping up and the delivery of Marketing/Non-profit mail can suffer.

Mail processing is usually the most often squeezed in terms of time. Most mailing professionals are used to this and will do everything possible to meet your deadlines. However, the fact is that it does take time for pieces to be processed into a mailing piece. The more complicated the piece, the more time you need to give for the work to be completed.

Just like with mailing, the more complicated the piece, the longer you need to allot for printing. One piece of advice that I can give you is that, in general, envelopes take the longest to be completed since they cannot be printed “multiple up”. Even if you are still working on your content, get your envelopes rolling and that will go a long way for meeting your deadlines.

One other thing that is often neglected when discussing deadlines is the approval process. I have seen many projects go off the rails because organizations keep making changes or take a long time to get back to printers because “XYZ person” needs to see the piece and they are on vacation. I recommend that you give some thought to how the pieces will be approved, the communication for approval, and determine a clear deadline of when pieces need to be approved.

The first step is the last for our purposes here. Often this step takes the longest time to complete and can really blow up a timeline. That being said, it is critical have enough time to get the design right because 60% of the success of a mailing can be tied to your offer and message, and the look of the piece (the other 40% is a subject for another time).

Complicated pieces can be effective but, if time is of the essence, it might be best to approach design with a KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Whatever design direction you go in, it is important to be disciplined and keep to the amount of time you have allotted for design. Be prepared to make decisions and keep things moving along as best you can.

Creating a timeline is a straightforward and important tool to making sure that you don’t set fire to stacks of hundred-dollar bills (how is that for an image?). The professionals you use for support should be able to provide good information and options for your timeline based on the specifics of your projects and their experience. And if they can’t, I would recommend you find different professionals.