Postage Options for Large Mailings: The Pros, Cons, and Costs of Custom Stamps, Live Stamps, and Metering.

Photograph of stamps on ripped of pieces of envelopes.There are pros and cons to all options. Here are a few pointers to help you figure out if they’re right for your project:

Custom Stamps

(stamps you purchase at places like zazzle.com)

  • COST: More than face value of the postage (typically 30–60% more). For a 2 ounce mailing of 2,000 pieces, that jumps from $1,360 to a whopping $2,595 (Based on ordering 2,000 $0.68 custom design stamps from zazzle.com).
  • DESIGN: Because you design them, they are the best option to coordinate with your mailing design and support your organization/event branding.
  • CONS: There are copyright issues if even a small part of your design was licensed through a third party graphic supplier such as ShutterstockiStock, etc. Most places won’t let you order without written permission from your designer or a copy of your license.

Live Stamps

(stamps you buy at USPS.gov or at your local post office)

  • COST: Face value of a stamp.
  • DESIGN: Must choose one of the currently available options.
  • CONS: Sometimes a yellow butterfly (frequently the only 2 ounce option) just doesn’t go with your theme.

Metered Postage

(your print shop or mail house prints the postage directly on your envelope/mailer)

  • COST: Less than face value of a live stamp. Depending on wether you print First Class or Non-Profit, the savings vary. Non-Profit takes 1–2 weeks to delivery, but can save some serious money (frequently I see my clients save over 50% on postage fees by shipping Non-Profit).
  • DESIGN: Simple barcode. No design options or graphics/images.
  • CONS: It’s not very formal and can look like mass produced, informal, junk mail. Not ideal for event invitations.

The Bottom Line

Live stamps are best for invitations/formal mailings with moderate to high budgets. Custom stamps are best for unlimited budgets. Metered postage is best for high quantity mailers and non-formal communication (postcards, brochures, etc).

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Fonts: Commercial vs. Personal Use

A dirty machine with letters A, B, C, D, E...I found a font on the internet, so it must be ok to use.

Wrong.

Oh, well that sucks. But surely the fonts that came with my computer are fine to use on a organization’s project, right?

Wrong again.

No way, but it’s on my computer!

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It’s an easy mistake to make. But just like images and photographs, fonts need to be licensed to be used commercially.

Microsoft and Apple includes fonts that are available for your personal use. That fine print you click “accept” on when you first set up your computer basically states that you’re only allowed to use the included fonts for things like term papers, letters to your grandma, and birthday signs.

Personal Use Fonts

A lot of free fonts online are labelled as “free for personal use” or “for personal use only” and can only be used for things such as:

  • Your wedding invitation
  • Your friends baby shower invitation
  • A book report/essay/paper for school
  • Your personal blog/website (as long as it doesn’t include things like a portfolio with a link where people can pay for your services).

Commercial Use Fonts

Commercial fonts are licensed for ANY project where financial gain is the ultimate goal. This is basically any organization — even a non-profit — and includes:

  • Invitations/brochures/any printed item that leaves your office
  • Logos/advertisements/merchandise
  • Websites for any company or organization who asks for donations or sells goods or services

But wait, there is hope!

Free for Commercial Use

Free for commercial use fonts are a great way to get

Note: sites like 1001fonts.com, dafont, and others do not typically count as professional fonts you can legally get for free. There are a few exceptions mixed into those sites, but my I tend to steer clear.

Expectations of Communication in a Creative Business

Black and white photograph of a telephone pole, with wires sticking out in a grid like pattern.When I started out as a designer, I had a wedding invitation shop on a new website (at the time) called Etsy. As one of the earlier sellers on Etsy I did pretty well selling custom made invites to brides and grooms around the globe. Between that and a few articles on my wedding design business, I had steady work and a lot of opportunities to fill up my social media channels. Ultimately it wasn’t lucrative enough, so I dropped that part of my business a few years ago.

One of the biggest reasons my profit margin was thin was because of how much time I spent on communication. The concept was easy: people picked from pre-designed samples and I altered the text and colors to their liking. Sounds easy, right? Well, the design part was easy. It was the communication that killed me. I spent 80% talking to them and 20% making edits. I would get emails at 3:00am on a Sunday, with a follow up 4 hours later asking why I hadn’t responded yet (and threatening to fire me over it). Brides wanted 4 phone meetings and an 8 week design period — for an item that was essentially already “designed.”

In an effort to limit questions and confusion, I created forms and FAQ sheets to make sure my clients had all their information upfront. It didn’t seem to help. What I realized after a few years, was that this need for excessive communication was limited to my wedding clients.

Corporate and nonprofit organizations wanted efficiency.
Brides and grooms wanted attention.

I also noticed that this happened most often with my younger clients. Those in the category of “millennial” seemed to have a need for instant gratification and immediate feedback. Even with posted business hours and a friendly reminder that I require 24 hours to get back to people, I still received nasty emails (and calls to my cell) at 3:00am from a bride or groom, freaking out about something that could have waited until the next business day.

Over time I learned how to set boundaries and deal with the communication issue. Here are some ways I break bad habits:

1. I communicate my office hours.

I post my office hours on my Facebook page and website. When I work with a new client, I let them know what my general hours are, so they know the best times to reach me and schedule meetings. When I’m planning to be out of the office for work or personal reasons, I set an out-of-office reply of course, but about a month before I’m out, I let my clients with current projects know that I’ll be gone during that time. This keeps them from being caught off guard with my absence.

2. I avoid texting with clients.

Call me old; tell me I’m out of touch — fine. Texting is not a form of business communication that works for me. When I’m working, I’m working. I’m not checking my text messages, because what my friends and my mom are texting me about aren’t as important as the work I’m doing. Texts will always take a lower priority when I’m working and I never want my clients to feel like they’re not being heard.

The biggest reason I don’t text with clients is because information will slip through the cracks. When you email me, I can mark the priority, respond more easily, and file it away for future reference.

So what do I do when a client texts me? I email them back. And I explain in a friendly way that I can serve them better if we communicate via email. All of my non-wedding clients have been totally fine with this.

This rule also applies to Facebook messaging, google chat, IM, etc.

3. I only answer emails a few times a day.

If I stopped designing every time an email dinged in my inbox, I would be working in 5-minute spurts and never accomplishing anything. When I’m in the middle of a big chunk of edits or brainstorming design ideas, I don’t shut off the sound on my computer and ignore the constantly increasing counter on my mail app. Focusing on these projects is better for my client. Everything 30 minutes or so I glance over. If it’s something immediate to do with the project at hand, I’ll respond. Otherwise, it waits until I’m done.

There are a lot of people who disagree with this tactic. I know of other creative professionals who immediately stopping working and answer every email that comes in, in the name of excellent customer service. That’s awesome if that works for you. But personally, I would never get anything done that way and isn’t that a bigger disservice to my customers? My graphic design work requires small chunks of time where I focus on a project. If I’m constantly interrupted by emails, I’ll lose focus and the art will suffer.

4. I charge “after hours” fees.

Emergencies come up. It’s totally understandable (although graphic design emergencies tend to be less life threatening that those of a heart surgeon). It’s an emergency to you, so I’ll do everything in my power to fix it for you quickly. But because I also have a family and I life, I set up rush fees that are charged if someone needs me to work on a project after hours.

In addition to covering the babysitting fees I’ll now incur by working after hours, this policy has helped my clients manage their time better. If they know they can’t pay for extra hours, they are more likely to be organized and on top of things from the beginning.

5. I don’t answer calls/email in off hours.

There are some exceptions to this, but if it’s a weekend or evening, I typically won’t respond to emails or pick up calls I know are work related. My brain needs to time to rest between workdays. And my kid likes to see me (without my phone!) every now and then.

Why I still purchase images, even though there are hundreds of free image sites online.

startup-594090 cropped

I bet you’ve seen this free stock image before.

I am frequently asked, “With all of the free image sites out there, why do you still purchase photos and graphics?” There are many reasons to use royalty free images. I work primarily with arts organizations and churches, so none of my clients have a lot of money. I value what free image sites have to offer and I do utilize them.

But here are a few of the reasons I still heavily depend on paid images and graphics:

1. Licenses and usage

Some people are blinded by the FREE sign on stock image sites and fail to understand that they aren’t free for everything. Want them for social media or your blog? Perfect. Go for it. Want to stick them on 20,000 postcards to sell? Not so fast. It’s good to learn the limits of what “free” means.

2. Certain content

For certain topics, there just aren’t a lot of (or any) free stock images out there. Try looking for a photograph of a specific city or location and see what comes up. Sometimes I luck out and find a fantastic photo for my project on one of my favorite sites. But when I strike out, I won’t hesitate to pay for a good photograph.

3. Quality is important

I’ll give the free places credit, they have some high quality, nice resolution, beautiful images available. This hasn’t always been the case, but they’ve been stepping it up over the past few years and weeding out the low quality images. But sometimes you get what you pay for and free is free for a reason.

4. Image recognition

“Hey, I recognize that image!” is not typically what you’re going for in a marketing campaign. If you’re relying on stock images instead of originals, paid for one to increase your odds that the same organization across isn’t using it.

Example: I’m working on a project for a local food pantry. I need your standard “canned goods” image to pair with a few social media posts. There is literally one photo I find over a dozen free image sites, so I use it. But so does every other food drive in town, so now we’re lost in a see of the same image being used with different text.

5. My time is important

If my options are to spend 15–20 minutes on searching free image sites, vs. finding exactly what I need on a paid platform with more options, I’ll frequently jump straight to the paid platform. On Shutterstock I spend roughly $9 an image with my yearly subscription package. If I can find and pay for what I need in under 5 minutes, vs. spending 20 looking through 15+ free sites, it’s actually cheaper. Don’t sell yourself short on what your time is worth.

Why don’t you just snag one off of Google and call it a day?

Why? Because karma. And legal stuff. And being a good human being. I don’t need a cease and desist letter messing up my day. And I don’t believe that stealing from other artists does my industry or my colleagues any good.

10 of My Favorite Free Image Sites

Screen Shot 2018-09-11 at 2.23.32 PMFinding compelling images on a nonprofit or limited budget can be tricky. And when you’re an honest person (high five for not stealing from other artists), it can be hard to fill up your social media queue or find the perfect images for your design project.

There are hundreds of royalty-free and free-for-commercial-use image websites out there. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Unsplash

Rich and non-cheesy stock images. I do well here when I’m searching for images for my teen or millennial focused accounts. Easy to use searching

2. Pexels

Large selection of quality images. I like that their search platform shows things that are close to your keyword when it runs out images with your target word. Sometimes it’s a miss, but occasionally it’s really helpful.

3. Pixabay

Not always the first place I go, but frequently they have options that my other go-to’s don’t. They also have some graphics/illustrations, which is helpful.

4. Stocksnap

Similar to Pexels and Unsplash, but frequently locates an off-topic kind of picture I need. Has more artistic options and random artsy stock images, which I appreciate.

5. Gratisography

Check our their Whimsical category for fun and inspiration. I like this site when I’m looking for something off-the-wall and quirky.

6. Freely

Need Christian content? Freely is your place. Some traditional, some modern, lots of worship and music options.

7. WikiMedia Commons

Looking for an image of a specific location or historic event? This is always my first (and last) stop.

8. Creative Market

Sign up for their emails and you’ll get a weekly message on Mondays with 6 free items of the week. They can include photos, templates, fonts, illustrations, and more.

9. Free Nature Stock

Great if you’re running digital marketing for an outdoorsy operation or just need a killer cloud photo to use for texture.

10. Travel Coffee Book

Perfect for when you’re posting about a specific location, but can’t afford to send yourself half way around the world to photograph said location (I’ve tried — it’s never in the budget).

Typical disclaimer: Be smart online. Don’t steal things. I’m not a lawyer and can’t verify that every image on every one of these sites is legit. Websites may also change their licensing or policies after this article has been posted.

10 easy things to make your event more accessible.

Conference meeting

You want your next event — whether it’s a fundraiser, conference, gala, board meeting, convention, or music festival — to be inclusive and accessible to as many people as possible, right? Because creating events that exclude people, just limits your attendance.

If you aren’t an accessibility expert though, it can be overwhelming to figure out ways to make sure everyone can enjoy your event. Accessibility standards are constantly improving and not every event professional has a background in accessibility. I’ve been lucky that the majority of my event clients have insisted on 100% accessibility for their events. For those who haven’t, I’ll typically ask why it isn’t a priority.

The biggest response I hear? “No one who attends our event is disabled.”

Um… no.

By saying that, they’re discounting people who aren’t attending because the event isn’t accessible, people with invisible disabilities, people who might get injured at the last minute and need accommodation, or people who can’t even access the information about the event because it’s not accessible. It’s an answer that really says; “I don’t feel like being inclusive, it sounds hard, so I’m not going to try.”

Here are some ways you can start to integrate accessibility into your event. This isn’t everything, but it’s a sample of easy things you can do to get started:

1. Pick an accessible venue.

Choosing an accessible location for your event is key to making sure your event is inclusive. This includes some basics, like making sure it’s wheelchair accessible with ramps and elevator access, but it also means having ADA compliant restrooms, signage in braille, tables at appropriate heights, and more.

PRO TIP: If a venue has held events with guests with disabilities before, they are more likely to know what they’re doing. Ask for references of past clients who held events with disabled guests.

2. Book the right hotel.

You’ve found a hotel near (or at) your event venue and got a great discount on a room block. That’s awesome! Did you include accessible rooms in that block? There typically isn’t a one-size-fits-all “accessible room,” although some hotels do have rooms called “ADA rooms.” These can mean wheelchair accessible with and without role in showers and rooms for those who are Deaf or have hearing loss.

Make sure you do a site visit as well. Hotels will always claim to be 100% ADA compliant, but that isn’t always the case. They mean well and say they’re compliant because they have “ADA rooms.” But after the room was built and approved as compliant, the staff neglects to keep it compliant with how the furniture is arranged for path of travel, where items like the iron and shower head are placed, etc.

PRO TIP: Some ADA compliancy issues can be fixed easily by the hotel (and since its the law, they shouldn’t object to fixing them).

3. Invitations and Marketing.

Now it’s time to get your attendees to register or r.s.v.p. for your event. It’s important to make sure your event website, brochures, and invitations are all accessible. You don’t want people to not attendee because they can’t navigate your website. And remember that accessible design does not mean a loss of creativity. A good designer will work those elements in from the beginning. Not sure if your designer knows basic accessibility features? Just ask them.

PRO TIP: Shameless plug… hire a designer who already has access experience.

4. Catering and food service.

You’re probably already accounting for vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and other dietary restrictions. There are a few other things to keep in mind though. Make sure everyone can reach buffet items, wrap flatware into the napkins for an easier grab, and have volunteers or staff available to people who require assistance carrying their food to the table.

PRO TIP: If you’re hosting a reception, make sure the bar is low enough to be reached by someone in a wheelchair and be sure to have low seating available.

5. Make sure your presentations are accessible.

Include in your presenter contract that presenters must provide accessible presentations. Then give them resources to succeed. Several organizations have free training tools for getting presenters to make accessible presentations and handouts:

a.) Federal ADA and Disability Resources
b.) Great Lakes ADA Center
c.) The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

6. Accessibility Services.

So now that you’re inclusive, what do you do to provide services to your attendees with disabilities? There are several service options that you may be faced with, such as Sign-Language Interpreting (if you’re in the US, most likely American Sign Language or ASL — other countries have different sign languages), Open or Closed Captioning, Audio Description, Sighted Guides, and more.

PRO TIP: Not sure what some of this means? See this helpful glossary from the ADA National Network.

7. Guests with service animals.

Service animals (since revised US ADA laws of 2011, this only includes dogs) are allowed in any public area that the guest is allowed. The ADA covers service dogs, but not comfort dogs. It’s up to you or your client to decide if non-ADA covered animals are permitted at your event (of course, check with your venue too as they may have a policy on this as well). By definition, “A service animal is a dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a person with a disability.”

PRO TIP: Be a good host and identify “green space” near your venue, where service dogs can relieve themselves.

8. Be more than just compliant.

You’ve heard the phrase “ADA compliant” a few times by now. That covers the bare minimum you have to do to be within the law. Whether you’re trying to make your events accessible or not, this should always be your minimum for legal reasons. Just like you wouldn’t chain off all your emergency exits and break fire code, you shouldn’t be less than ADA compliant either. It could open you and your client to a lawsuit.

But being just compliant means you aren’t doing anything above or beyond for your guests. There are easy ways to be access-friendly when it comes to your event.

PRO TIP: More than just not waiting to get sued, you should want to be inclusive and access friendly because it’s good customer service. And that’s good business.

9. Don’t make assumptions.

Not everyone who is Deaf knows sign language, not every blind person reads braille, and not every person in a wheelchair prefers to stay in his or her wheelchair during an event. So how do you know what accommodation to provide? Just ask!

PRO TIP: Ask a guest what accommodation they REQUIRE. Do not to ask them WHAT their disability is.

10. Train your staff and volunteers.

Hire an accessibility trainer or someone in the field, to talk to your staff about the dos and don’ts of working with people with disabilities. You can do everything else right and blow it all by having a registration desk person use archaic language and accidentally offend someone by asking if they’re ‘handicapped’.

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Hopefully you’ll find some of these tips helpful. Remember that this doesn’t cover everything, but it should get you started on your way to planning more accessible events. If you have other tips, feel free to include them in the comments!

In with the new.

newyear

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions.  But my business fiscal year ends in December, so it is a great time to evaluate the past 12 months and see where I can make improvements in the new year.  There is also a dead zone for work in the December 15-January 1 timeframe, so I spent time updating my portfolio and website, and thinking about what “in with the new” means for me and my business.

But let’s start with “out with the old…”

My 2014 Accomplishments and Struggles:

  • It was my first year of running the business full time, without any income from other jobs.  I was 100% Hitchcock Creative and it was GREAT!
  • I said NO.  NO to clients who needed everything yesterday.  NO to projects that weren’t financially viable.  NO to self doubts.
  • I said YES.  YES to projects out of my comfort zone.  YES to professional development.  YES to spending money on equipment upgrades.  YES to focusing on specific work hours so I could spend more time with the family.
  • I struggled with the decision to end a relationship with a pro-bono client.  I loved working with them, but with a toddler at home, my other workload increasing, and some other personal matters, I felt I couldn’t give them the attention they deserved.  It was a tough decision, but a necessary one.
  • I increased my business income by about 40%.  This was a huge leap, but also not an unexpected one since I did go from part-time to full-time (and spent 3 months of 2013 on maternity leave).

My Goals for 2015:

  • To say NO to wasting time on the internet during work hours.  NO to constant breaks during the day to see my daughter downstairs.  NO to distractions.
  • To say YES to being more productive, more creative, and more attentive.  YES to setting a specific work schedule (and sticking to it).  YES to getting my taxes done early.
  • To increase my overall business income by 5-10% by cutting expenses, using my hours more wisely, and pricing my services more consistently (and raising prices a small amount for the first time in 5 years).
  • To answer my emails more quickly.  I can’t explain why this is such a weakness for me, but it is.  I read a message, process it, and promptly forget to reply.  I think my phone is partly to blame – I like reading email on it, but hate responding with my thumbs.

So, we’ll see how I do.  Notice that I didn’t put “Blog more” or “Increase my social media presence” on the 2015 list.  I’ll talk more about this conscience choice in a future post.