Find user-friendly resources from the USPS

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AƔLittle over seven years ago, I wrote a column in DM News about the resources available from the US Postal Service. At that time, I was not too thrilled with how the USPS Web site was constructed. It was not user-friendly at all.

Today, I'm pleased to say that www.usps.com has come a long way. It has become a treasure trove of well-organized information, publications, and resources. I encourage you to visit and bookmark the site in your browser.

The site is designed for both consumers and mailers. To find the information I refer to below, click on the "business" button on the top left, then look in the "resources" section on the right. Following are just a handful of the useful items you'll find.

An Introduction to Mailing for Businesses and Organizations. If you're new to direct mail or just want a quick refresher on basics, this is the place to start. There's a quick introduction to business mail; a short primer on retail, discount and online mailing services; and a good-sized glossary of mailing terms.

Domestic Mail Manual. The DMM is still the granddaddy of all mail guides. It covers everything you need to know about official standards, mail classes, services, rate eligibility, mail preparation and more. This is the "bible" of mailing standards, so it's a must-have for any direct mailer. If you mail internationally, you will also want the International Mail Manual. The online versions of these guides provide a search function, so you can find specific references quickly. Everything is available as a Web page or as a downloadable PDF.

Quick Service Guides. The DMM can be a little overwhelming, so the USPS has put together dozens of short guides, each on an individual subject. These include guides for letters and cards, flats, parcels, nonprofit mail, periodicals, addressing, postage, special services and more. The only problem with these guides is that if you don't know what you don't know, selecting the right guides can be tricky.

Business Mail 101. This is another good resource for beginners or infrequent mailers wanting an overview. It's written like an introductory-level class on the subject. It walks you step-by-step through key pieces of information and shows you how to decide what mail services are best for your business. Subjects covered include postal rates, mail classes, addressing, sorting and all the basics. There is also a series of checklists to help make sure you don't forget anything when you're actually creating and preparing a mailing.

Postal Explorer. If you're searching for something and are not sure where to find it, Postal Explorer is a good place to start. It's a comprehensive library of postal information for business mailers. While you can search within any publication or resource anywhere on the Web site, here you are able to search for subject matter that appears across multiple resources. So if you're looking for, say, addressing standards, you can find every reference for this without having to read or search through every publication from the USPS.

Customer Support. Okay, if you're like me, maybe you bristle a little at the pretense of being called a customer, given the fact that the USPS is a government monopoly that outlaws any competition. But, these days, the modern Postal Service at least acts more like a business with customers. And Customer Support is the area on the Web site where you can get help for using USPS services and products, submitting forms, locating vendors and finding training workshops.

MailPro. This is a new publication from the USPS. In January of this year, it replaced Mailers Companion and Memo to Mailers. It's a free, bimonthly newsletter for everyone involved in mail creation or production. It provides information on programs and services, rates and classifications, mailing success stories and industry news.

Design Templates. This is a super handy resource for designers. It's a collection of templates for Business Reply Mail and Courtesy Reply Mail for use with Adobe Illustrator or Macromedia Freehand. You can download a template, add your delivery address, bar code and other information, and you're finished. This makes compliance with USPS standards for spacing and positioning a snap, and there are a wide variety of standard sizes to choose from.

There's a lot more on the site, so visit and spend a little time looking around. If you have people involved in creating mail or handling production issues, make sure they have access to the site as well. It can prevent a lot of headaches and may even provide a few good ideas.

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