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A shipping 'cheat sheet' for entrepreneurs

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Are you in the early stages of your business or thinking of starting one? Here's a checklist for successfully getting products to customers.

Entrepreneurs often get so immersed in designing their product – or finding financing – that they put critical issues like logistics and shipping on the back burner. To keep you from making costly shipping mistakes, here's a planning checklist.

Avoid those "what was I thinking" moments with this nine-step cheat sheet.

1. Map your supply chain. From where are you sourcing products or components? Are there extra steps that create unnecessary delays without adding value? When you join UPS CONNECT, logistics experts will conduct a free "whiteboard" session designed to help you spot costly bottlenecks and get goods to you and to your customers faster and more cost-effectively. Here's how it worked for Artaic.

2. Hire a subject matter expert. To avoid "what-was-I-thinking" moments, make sure someone on your team has a background in shipping. "Bring the right skills to the party," says UPS's Sheila Eddy, a regional manager who works with a lot of startups and incubators.

3. Manage inbound suppliers. Positive relationships with suppliers and vendors are critical. "You need to understand your supplier constraints," Eddy says. "You may face transportation issues with suppliers in India or a remote part of China, for example."

4. Forecast inventory needs. You want to have enough product to meet demand, but not so much that it ties up working capital. "You want to work toward a just-in-time inventory plan," Eddy says.

5. Automate order processing. In one recent case, three Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduate students used kickstarter.com for funding and were quickly flooded with thousands of orders. "They were trying to fill orders one label at a time using ups.com," says Mark Wright, UPS small business segment marketing manager. "We took their customer list and used batch processing in WorldShip® to get the work out in a couple of days." 

6. Create a delivery plan. You want your customers to have a positive experience, especially when they're buying online. And these days, buyer expectations are high when it comes to getting what they want, when they want it. "Even UPS Ground offers next-day delivery in the same service area, and you can use a blend of services to get product from the East Coast to the West Coast in three days," Wright says. 

7. Pay attention to packaging. You want to avoid damage to products you ship to customers but not overpackage and add shipping costs. UPS Packaging Solutions can help you optimize packaging choices.

8. Consider security issues. If you have high-value or time-sensitive product, consider guarding against losses or delays. For a flat fee per package, UPS Proactive Response® Secure combines 24/7 shipment monitoring, intervention and remediation for goods moving through the UPS network, plus insurance protection.

9. Consider cargo insurance. If you have a global supply chain and import products for sale in the U.S., consider cargo insurance to safeguard your goods in transit anywhere in the world. "If you qualify, UPS Capital Cargo Finance® services can also finance the cost of your in-transit inventory, so your cash isn't tied up in your supply chain," Eddy says.

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