How to mail commissions like a boss

I have been on both sides of the commission mailing process a fair amount of times in the past 10 years. Through the trial and error of my own experiences (as well as the successes and failures of other artists and even companies), I have discovered what to do, what not to do, and what more people should be doing when sending tangible goods (2D commissions like paintings and 3D commissions like fursuits, scupltures, and plushies), and merchandise (like enamel pins and prints.)

Although shipping isn’t glamorous and tends to be more work than expected when it is done right, shipping is a critical and commonly overlooked part of customer service. Shipping something properly and in a timely manner that can mean the difference between a good experience (customer commissioning you again and happily recommending you to their friends) and a bad experience (which means the customer never returns and they tell their friends not to commission you, or going as far as filing a chargeback and posting a beware.)

 

Price your shipping appropriately

You finished the product ready to ship. You have the customer’s address. But if you don’t feel the drive to ship things out, ask yourself “why?” You finished the work, this should be the easy part, right? But where is the incentive? Especially if you still have to buy packaging, drive to the post office, etc. Well… If you asked the customer for anything less than $3 for shipping, you haven’t paid yourself enough for the service of shipping. Not enough for small items and certainly not enough for larger items.

Shipping is costly (for both time and money.) I’ve already ranted about pricing your artwork appropriately. Don’t forget that shipping is crucial for the product to be a success. If you aren’t charging enough to make it worth your time, you and your customers are missing out. Timeliness is important to keep on your customer’s good side and that goes for the art production as well as the delivery of the art or product! When pricing your shipping, you have to take into account:

1.) cost of postage itself, of course! Different rates of speed, sizes of containers, and shapes of containers affect price. And we will get into other important options like insurance, tracking numbers, and signatures in the following sections.

2.) time it takes to package and drive to the post office – if the post office isn’t nearby, consider gas mileage if you’re driving or cost of taking public transportation.

3.) cost of packaging materials and the care that goes into shipping commissions safely – by including padding or structure to your shipment:

  • you increase the value of your service (since you have to invest the time and money in tracking down the materials and converting them to your needs.) It shows you’re invested in your business and your customer’s satisfaction.
  • the weight of the container will also increase, which affects the final postage.

 

Appropriate mailing containers and damage defense

Once a product is out of your hands and on the way to your customer, there are so many things that could cause complete and utter disaster, many of which can be prevented before you even seal the package. This is why before packaging and shipping it off, it’s best to prepare your items for dangers like being bent, shattered, crushed, or moistened by rain.

Wrap things that can be ruined by moisture in ziplock bags or polypropylene sleeves. Fursuit makers will often use garbage bags to protect a fursuit that is shipped in a cardboard box (which by itself does very little to protect the contents inside from moisture.) For mere cents per bag, it’s an ideal thing to do “just in case” the box is shipped to a customer who may no be waiting eagerly at home for shipment. You never know if they have a cover-less porch, if it’s raining or if the postal employee leaves the box on accumulated snow before being rescued by the customer!

If it’s semi-fragile (like a keychain, acrylic charm, or pin), use a bubble mailer – helps to cushion the small non-flat item. It doesn’t matter if the mailer bends if the item is small but the bubble insulation prevents damage from being crushed.

BONUS POINTS: I also like to package my keychains in a way that prevents minor scratching damage. By encasing the plastic portion in a pouch of bubble wrap or in a ziplock bag with the metal ring sticking outside, I prevent the metal pieces from scratching the face of the plastic. There are sites like Clearbags.com where jewelry bags can be purchased in bulk.

If it’s flat (like a badge, print, or sticker), use a rigid flat mailer – makes it more apparent that it should not be bent and is harder to bend than a bubble mailer. Have Amazon boxes or cereal boxes that are going to be recycled? You can cut off portions to help reinforce badges or prints from the dangers of being bent or torn. As seen in the image at the right, I used a piece of cardboard on either side of the commission, which I considered to be the badges’ bodyguards. I ensure the mailer fits a piece of cardboard that is just slightly larger than the commission or print so that if the mailer’s corners are dented, the edges of the commission or print do not get damaged as well.

What about a combination of flat and non-flat items? Or what if the item is flat but very brittle like shrinky dinks? When I ship a non-flat object like a pin with a flat object like a print or badge, the outer package is a bubblemailer but I reinforce the flat items with cardboard and add more padding around the pin and along the pin-side of the cardboard so the cardboard doesn’t bend around the padded pin or pin doesn’t press into the cardboard and damage the print. I have had a shrinky dink shatter in a standard envelope so the bubble mailer with added padding or rigid structure of cardboard could help protect it on its travels.

If it’s soft and cannot be damaged by being squashed (like a t-shirt), use a poly mailer – the shirt doesn’t need much protection other than from getting wet or dirty. The poly mailer is basically a plastic bag keeps out both water and dirt if all openings are sealed properly with clear packaging tape or duct tape.

If it’s soft but has a structure that cannot not handle being squashed (like a plushie or fursuit head), use a cardboard box that is just slightly larger than the item itself. As mentioned above, encasing everything in a garbage bag can help reduce the chances of water damage if the package is left in the rain. You can also include air-filled packing bags or clean grocery bags for additional padding to prevent items from getting too jostled in transit.

If it is 3D and can be bent out of shape (like wire or metal sculptures) or shatter (like a clay, ceramic, wood, or glass sculpture), use a slightly larger cardboard box with plenty of padding. Anything that can shatter or be crushed should get a bit of extra padding from paper wads, grocery bags, air-filled packing bags, biodegradable packing peanuts, or bubble wrap inside the box that it is shipping in. Make a nice nest in the bottom of the box, place the item inside, and completely encircle the item with padding so that it can’t touch the sides of the box. The padding will keep it firmly positioned to prevent damage from it jostling around.

For anything I ship to a customer, I liberally use clear plastic tape to ensure the package is fully sealed. Sometimes I also use it to protect my labeling from being rubbed off or ripped off the package. Many of the packaging materials mentioned in this section can be found at USPS offices, online at amazon.com or Bagsunlimited.com, or in stores like OfficeMax, Walmart, or FedEx.

 

Sorry, “DarkMysticW0lfguy13” doesn’t live here. Try again!

Depending on where your customer lives, a package with a fake name or without a name at all could result in your commission being undeliverable. Some apartment complexes, college dormitories, etc. typically deliver based on the addressee’s legal name. And when an undeliverable package bounces back to you, it may take weeks for it to return. Then you get to try again with all new postage. Yuck! How wasteful! Get the full legal/human name and address of the customer up front. Worst case scenario, if anything should happen to the package along the way, people can help direct it back to you… But only if your full name and address are on the package as the return addressee!

BONUS POINTS: Also include the shipping info of your customer (marked “SHIP TO:”) and yourself (marked “RETURN ADDRESS:”) on a slip of paper inside the box just in case the information on the outside of the package is compromised.

 

Label clearly with all important information

What good is a name or address if you can’t read what it says? Write neatly and in big enough letters for the average person to read. If your handwriting is an illegible mess, consider typing and printing out your customer’s address to tape onto the package.

Make sure return address (your address) is on the top left-hand corner and labeled “From” or “Return to” while the customer’s address is prominently placed in the middle of the envelope or top of the package and labeled “To:”. Also consider purchasing either a self-inking stamp or set of address labels for yourself if you ship out a lot of commissions (and don’t plan to move anytime soon!)

If you are reusing bubble-mailers, the environment thanks you! But make sure you fully cross out or cover up old labeling information that could be confusing to post office employees or scanning equipment.

 

Don’t assume postage

Get accurate postage and tracking number (if applicable.) In many instances in our lives, throwing a stamp on an envelope and putting it in the mailbox with flag up is enough. But if you put your time, materials, and energy into a commission, you and your commissioner want it to get there safely. If you aren’t sure of the weight and size restrictions, a post office employee can help guide you to the option that will get your package delivered safely to your customer. Also by providing a tracking number and estimated time of arrival (ETA) to your customers will help them to keep an eye out for their package and shows that you are invested in the commission arriving safely!

 

Expensive or one of a kind item? Better insure that!

Terrible things can happen (and have happened) to shipped items regardless of the service you choose; USPS, UPS, FedEx, etc. Sometimes the best thing you can do is to get insurance on the item at the post office. List the actual price of the item to be covered (up to $5,000) in case your item is lost or damaged. In that case, you can file a service claim and ideally get back your losses. This protects you as much as your commissioner so that you hopefully have a better option than “sorry, the post office messed up! I guess you wasted your money on me!”

Ideally you should have a Terms of Service that explains any damages and/or losses made by the post office are out of your responsibility (this depends on what you are shipping.) However depending on the situation, you will have to come to an agreement with your customer. I have made Stunt-double badges when a post office completely lost the badge original I shipped in an envelope with stamps and sadly got lost. I learned from that experience that the difference in price between using an envelope with two Forever Stamps and a bubble mailer with “First Class Parcel” postage (includes tracking) is a small price to pay for commission security and the sanity of both you and your commissioner. When you get a tracking number, send that along to your customer so they can keep their eyes on the mail until it arrives!

 

MORE bonus points!

  • Reuse materials – Save money and reduce landfill waste by reusing envelopes from commissions that you’ve ordered for yourself. I save a box of packaging materials and often reuse envelopes. I also use the cardboard covers of art paper pads to add structural support to badges.
  • Reduce waste – Cut previously used bubble mailers to fit multiple smaller objects like keychains, charms, or pins. I originally bought poly mailers for my shirts that were far too big. I was able to mail two shirts for the price of one! I unseamed the bags to create two sheets of poly. I took each sheet to wrap two separate shirt orders, created tubes around the shirts, then sealed all edges completely with tape.
  • Personalize your packages
    • Include goodies like stickers, candy, or a doodle as reward for their patience.
    • Thank you note thanking your customer for their support! Remember: they aren’t obligated to buy art from you. Show them that you appreciate their decision to patronize you!
    • Associate your brand with their enjoyable experience so they come back for more. My thank you notes have my logo on them. I also use my own stickers with social media info and logos on the inside and outside of packages.
    • Decorate the package or envelope to make it feel special and help it stand out from bills and junk mail. Sometimes I will also use flashy duct tape to get the attention of my commissioner and cover up old information on a reused envelope.
  • Schedule a weekly Post office day – if you can set aside a bunch of commissions to ship all at once, you could save money by reducing frequent trips to the post office.
  • Save a trip, order postage online – I haven’t personally gotten to this point in my business yet but there are shipping subscription services where you can weigh packages at home, order postage online, print and apply labels at home, and schedule pick-ups straight from your home via USPS or Stamps.com!
  • Verify shipping success – Check in with the customer the day after the package is expected to arrive and check tracking website. Communicating with your customer about their job all the way through to completion continues to show your investment in their satisfaction.

 

I hope you found this blog post informative! Like this post, feel free to share on social media. Also comment below! I’d love to hear from you about your shipping success stories, tips, tricks, favorite packaging sources, and even shipping failures that helped you learn what better to do for next time!

 


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