For small businesses that sell products online, by phone, fax, e-mail or mail order, success often brings with it a new problem: an order-fulfillment backlog.
Packing, shipping and tracking orders can quickly become daunting. If you are constantly shipping packages, you have less time to spend on other facets of your business.
This may be a good time to consider what's known as an outside fulfillment service for these duties. Handling these orders properly can be critical to your success. Poorly packaged items and slow service will annoy customers.
Outsourcing fulfillment can save time. When orders are placed, the fulfillment firm packs and ships the items and perhaps handles customer service and returns as well. Orders can come through you via your usual methods or go directly to the service.
When selecting an order fulfillment firm, be sure to align your needs with the services they offer. Ask about minimum and maximum order quantities, error rates and restrictions on the types of products they will ship. Some, for example, don't handle oversize items. If you have special packaging, ask if they will use it.
These services can work well for Web-savvy business owners. Orders from your Web site can be routed to the center. You can track and manage your orders, inventory and other details online. The Mailing and Fulfillment Service Association, a trade group, can help you locate a fulfillment house that's right for you through its Web site: www.mfsanet.org.
Stephen L. Rosenstein is co-chairman of the Greater Baltimore SCORE Chapter No. 3. Call 410-962-2233 to speak to a SCORE counselor or visit www.scorebaltimore.org. To send a question to SCORE, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.