Fulfilling Kickstarter Orders with Shipstation

Wonderful! You’ve just completed a successful Kickstarter (or some other crowdfunding or pre-order campaign) and you’ve been successfully funded. You’ve got that wonderful feeling of elation – until you realize you have to fulfill hundreds (maybe thousands) of orders. Suddenly, a dose of reality hits. How in the world are you going to manage that?!

When I completed my first Kickstarter campaign for Marooned, I had no idea what I was getting into. I had to ship out over 200 large books all over the world. I had prepared with boxes and shipping materials – I had even properly planned for the shipping costs.

A Time Machine Would be Handy

TARDISWhat I did NOT plan for was the time it would take to manually copy and paste orders, print them out on paper, cut them to size and affix them to boxes. Even worse, the hours and HOURS spent at the post office with bundles of packages waiting for each one to be weighed and paid for.

The worst part of the process being international orders and the extra paperwork. UGH.

It took me close to two months to fulfill all the orders, and untold hours of my time. When I closed my second Kickstarter campaign for Rock & Tin, I vowed to find another, better way.

And that better way is ShipStation.com.

Using ShipStation, I fulfilled around 130 orders in less than two weeks, and I spent almost no time at the post office. And it was the easiest thing in the world.

How it Works

ShipStation partners with all kinds of marketplaces to suck your orders into the system. When you sign up, you get a Stamps.com account as well to handle the postage. So the bottom line is you pull up an order, print out the shipping, affix to your package and drop it off at the Post Office.

Here’s how it worked specifically for me.

ShipStation isn’t connected to Kickstarter (yet), but that’s not really a problem. First I exported all my orders from my backers into .csv format (spreadsheet format). Then I imported them all as “manual orders” into ShipStation. It basically looks like this:

orders

You can customize what columns you want to see. Here I have the backer reward level (item name), I can see notes I left (especially for add-ons, as you can see in the pop-up window), order number, quantity and customer name. I like that in the name, there’s an icon telling you whether it’s a residential, apartment or even international order. The red icon is an address that has not been validated.

Clicking on order gives you a detail view (either full screen or in the right rail) like so:

order

You can see all the information is at your fingertips – including the shipping cost. And I can tell you that I only skimmed the surface of the features available – you can customize and automate things as much as you want.

A closer look at the shipping info panel shows you how you can figure the shipping rate:

rate

You can save presets for as many types of shipping as you like. You can choose if you want delivery confirmation, or insurance. And note, both the insurance AND the shipping rates you pay are discounted off the retail price! This saves you money on your campaign.

The best thing about all this is that there are no extra forms to fill out EVEN on international orders. It all prints out on ONE label that you affix to your package.

When you print a label, your Stamps.com account is debited, and the order automatically moves to the “shipped” section. And you move on to the next one. It’s that easy. And let me tell you how awesome it is simply walking into the Post Office and dropping off a stack of books at the counter and walking away – it’s like you are cheating at life!

Hook up All Your Stores

I also took some orders from my StoreEnvy.com store. Because ShipStation supports Store Envy as a sales channel, it was a simple matter to hook them up, and those orders were automatically sucked in, and just as easy to fulfill.

stores

What are the Costs?

All this certainly sounds awesome, but you are probably wondering about the cost. That’s probably the best part. It depends on how much you ship, of course. The Stamps.com part – you are already buying postage either way – so not only is that a wash, but as I said you are getting a better rate.

The pricing model is based on amount of stores (sales channels) and shipments you send out. If you had more than one channel you can ship up to 1,500 packages per month, you’d pay $45/month. BUT WAIT.

I’d say that is worth the cost anyway, but if you stick to one channel, you can ship up to 500 packages and only pay $25/month. BUT WAIT!

They have an UNDOCUMENTED “Starter” plan that allows you to ship up to 50 packages per month for only $9! That’s the plan I am on now. But how did I ship out all my Kickstarter packages and only pay the $9 rate?

See, this is why free promotional deals are worth it! You get ONE month free – to use the thing like a rented mule. I got everything done in two weeks, as I mentioned, then when it came time to pay, I went down to the starter plan. Truth is, you could just cancel at that point. But it’s a valuable service that I plan to continue using.

What do I need to use ShipStation?

Not a whole lot – but a few things can help.

  • You need a scale to weigh your packages properly. If you weigh things wrong, your customers could end up owing postage, and you do NOT want that. I picked up this scale for under $20 and it’s perfect.
  • You’ll need a credit card if you plan to keep the service beyond the 30-day trial.
  • Depending on how many packages you are shipping, you may want to invest in a label printer. I ended up not doing that, and just printed them on paper, then taped them to the package. I will say having a label printer would make the process even faster. But they can run around $200-$250 (new at least) so you need to have the volume to justify the cost. Eventually I plan on getting one though.
  • You at least need a printer to print your labels.

That’s it! The other thing you’ll need is some kind of plan to fill all the leisure time you’ll have after fulfilling your orders – because you are going to steam through them!

I’m happy to answer any questions you might have about the service. And to be clear, ShipStation is NOT paying me or asking me to write this. I wrote this because I love the service, and think it’s an awesome tool for you to use.

Check them out at ShipStation.com.

How to Use Google Sheets to Track Your Crowdfunding Expenses

One of the scariest things about launching a crowdfunding campaign is knowing whether or not you have accounted for all the money you have to spend vs. what you collect. The internet is littered with crowdfunding horror stories, where creators lost all their profits – or worse, had to dig into personal finances – because of unforeseen expenses.

Well, I’ve got some good news for you. You can avoid such a situation by planning out your campaign using Google Sheets – and updating it live as your campaign progresses. I’ve used this technique on both my successful crowdfunding campaigns (and I made a profit on both), and I’m going to show you how to do it for yourself.

Fail to Plan? Then Plan to Fail

The title is a cliche, but it’s true. You want to plan for ALL your campaign expenses BEFORE you launch. And then you want to match that up to your goal to see if what you are planning on doing is really something viable that will actually turn a profit.

So what are the key expenses for which you have to account?

The cost of your product

In my case it is graphic novels. So I need to know the printing costs (at various price break levels). But it’s not just printing the book! It’s proof copies, any other related printer expenses (pre-press, for example, if you need it) and very importantly – shipping the books to YOU. (You have to get them before you can send them out!)

Shipping costs

dnf

When you read failure stories, it’s often because of this. People often just leave it out entirely! Not only do you have to account for domestic shipping, you have to account for international should you be shipping abroad. And that can get expensive.

And something else here is important. You want to know almost exactly what it costs to ship your item BEFORE you order it! You need that number. How do you do it without the thing in your hand? Make a mockup, or find something similar. For my books, I found a same-sized book, got the box I would use, and brought it to the post office. I had them calculate domestic shipping (media mail) and international (first class).

And make sure you are accounting for multiple shipments if you are making them. (I suggest you try NOT to do this). For both Marooned and Rock & Tin, everything that could be gotten from the campaign could fit in the one box. I did not have to make any extra shipments to incur extra costs.

Extras and Fees

Stickers, buttons, bookmarks, t-shirts, whatever it is – find out the cost to buy it AND the cost to ship it to YOU (just like the books.)

You’ll pay a % fee for the crowdfunding platform plus a fee for credit card processing. Make sure you look up this information on the platform of your choice.

Setting up the Google Sheet

With all this information at hand, you want to start building your spreadsheet. We’re not going to do anything difficult here, so don’t worry. First, you create a new spreadsheet by going into Google Docs and creating a new Sheet. (If it’s defaulted to docs, you can go to the menu in the upper left corner of the browser).

Next, we create a section up top for expenses. I like using some color formatting to make things easier to read. You can copy what I did, or you can roll your own.

s1

My format is to use 6 columns (the one to the left of notes is just for readability). On each line, enter an expense item. For things that change over the course of the campaign, make use of the quantity column to update things on the fly. For things that won’t – like my button or sticker order, just make the quantity 1 and put in the total amount. The notes field is optional but can help you remember things.

Automatically calculating the cost

We make our sheet automatic by using the SUM functionality. As long as you know basic math, you can use this – it’s not hard 🙂 Examine the image below:

sum

You can create a SUM function by clicking the button highlighted to the right (with the tooltip “Functions”). But you can also just select a cell, and type “=SUM(” to get started. If you look at the SUM I have set up to calculate the cost of my softcover books, you can see how simple it is. The numbers inside the parenthesis are cell numbers of the spreadsheet. “B3” means column B, row 3. (You can see row numbers in the image, apologies!)

So I am multiplying (since the asterisk means multiply) cell B3 by C3 – in other words, 46 books at $6.69 equals $307.74. And the great thing about this is that if you copy cell D3 now and paste it in cell D4 (the next row) it will copy the formula! Now you can keep adding quantity and cost for your rows that way until you are done. And when you change those numbers on the fly, they will be recalculated.

I did the same thing for campaign fees in another section below the first, until I have this:

s2

And you can see the row numbers here as well. Now the next trick is to add all these expenses together.

Showing total expenses

Now that we entered all this information, we want a full picture of the cost.

fees

I’ve created three more rows. And we’re going to use three more SUMs. For the total base expenses, I wanted to add up the “Cost” column for all those rows. That’s easy to do using a simple colon. So in the example above, =SUM(D3:D11) means “add the total of rows 3-11 in column D. That gives me that first total (or “Toal!).

For the total fees, I did the same thing for the bottom section – just added D14:D15. Then to get my Total Project Expenses, I added the two total cells together =SUM(D18+D19). Now I have the total money that I am responsible for. (Note, some expenses are estimated, like credit card fees, so be aware of that.) 

Add in the good stuff!

Now that we’re done with the bad news, let’s put in the good news. We make a row above expenses that is for funds raised. If you are still in the planning stage, this is funds projected. Before you jump into this, you definitely want to have some sort of an idea of how much you expect to sell. You should not be going into this without an established audience.

In my case, I knew how much readership I had (and how many Patrons I have on Patreon.com). I did a quick poll to see how many people were interested in buying a book – with the full awareness that polls are not reliable! People who will buy will not answer, and people who say they will buy end up not buying. But still, it’s not a bad idea to get some kind of ballpark starting data to use with all your other insights.

I took that number, what I knew about my readers, what I knew about people who bought things from me before and people I was currently talking to who expressed interest in buying the new book. I came up with a conservative number of buyers, and figured out how many books I’d need for that. This is how I crafted my funding goal.

My projection actually was pretty accurate, if a bit low – which is good because I easily met my goals for both campaigns. So with that row placed, we now have this (remember, this amount is manually entered):

raised

Calculating the live situation

You can probably tell from how we have these rows laid out that we’re going to logically subtract the expenses from the funds raised (or projected if you are just starting) to see how things stand.

So we’ll add one more row called “Gain/Loss.” We’ll subtract the total expenses from the funds raised/projected using the simple =SUM(D17-D20). Note, with all these sums, your numbers will likely be something different, but the examples should show you what to do.

gainloss

Ta-da! Now you have a LIVE view into the current state of your campaign. Each time you change a cell, all the values will update. So the complete sheet looks like this (as of halfway through my campaign):

sheet

And I can see that I am currently $840 in the green. Now I can adjust the funds raised each day, add to the number of books to print, adjust the shipping (I like to keep a running total of each shipping method as I go) and so forth.

If another expense comes up, you can add a row in. If it’s in between your SUM range (Like D3:D11) then the sheet should just automatically update.

The only thing missing from here would be taxes, but I feel like that really doesn’t fit in.

Ideally, you make this spreadsheet BEFORE you launch. Estimate what you think you can realistically raise (even if it’s only an educated guess). Then you can put your funding goal in as that number to start, and you’ll see if you need to adjust.

As your campaign goes on and you meet your goal, this spreadsheet will be an invaluable tool to help you decide how to implement stretch goals or add-ons, and how those costs will affect your bottom line.

Now go forth and conquer!

How to Make a Bookplate for Your Kickstarter (or any other) Book

Like many artists, when I planned my Marooned Kickstarter campaign, I wanted my books to be signed and numbered. This adds a little something special to the book, having not only a signed version, but one that is numbered out of the original printing. However, if you have ever tried to sign and number a book by hand, you know that it isn’t the easiest thing to do.

Having to try and hold open the book cover while trying to sign/number the book is one thing – and then you have to wait for the ink to try lest you get ink on the inside cover. Even more troublesome, I had offered artist sketches as well. The difficulty in trying to number the inside cover of a book is nothing compared when trying to do an inked sketch in the same space! Lucky for you, there is an elegant solution.

I would be remiss without first pointing out that I learned this from the talented Jason Brubaker. He did this for his amazingly successful reMIND Kickstarter campaigns. Credit where credit is due!

What is a bookplate?

Before we get in to the specifics, what exactly is a bookplate? In short, it’s a decorative label pasted inside the front cover of a book to signify ownership. They often bear the book owner’s name, motto, crest, device or even coat-of-arms. You see, this is not a modern invention just for Kickstarter – bookplates have been around since the Middle Ages! (You can find out more at the wikipedia entry).

You can look at lots of examples by doing a Google image search, but here’s a couple to give you a general idea:

bookplates

As you can see by the examples (and especially the image search) bookplates can literally take any form of design – it’s completely up to you. As an artist, this is very appealing! You can customize the look to match your particular project. In my case, I needed a spot for my signature, a place for the number and a the main area for the sketch (if needed.)

Creating your bookplate

The idea looks good, but how do you do it? It’s actually quite simple. You’ll get yourself a package of full page (letter size) Avery shipping labels. These are full page, thick stickers. The package I linked has 100 stickers for $26 (plus shipping if you don’t have Prime) – but we will be cutting those in half, so you’ll get 200 bookplates out of that one package. That’s around .13 cents per item.

Once you have those, you’ll create your design “two up” – meaning next to each other on a full sheet – like this:

twoup

Print them out on your printer, and you now have 100 stickers with 2 bookplates each. You could then cut them by hand, but that’s crazy talk. Head on over to your local FedEx Office (or local print shop) and have them cut the whole stack in half for you. This cost me like $2.50. Well worth the trip, you’ll have perfectly cut bookplates.

Here’s a closer look at the top and bottom of my design – you can see the circle for the number and the line for my signature:

top-bottom

One more important thing – when you set up your book, make sure the first page (a right hand page) is a BLANK page, so you have a place to paste your bookplate.

Stamping the numbers

Now we could write in the numbers, but again – that’s kind of a pain and we want something that looks slick and professional. So what you can do is buy this really cool Cosco Consolidated Stamp for $25. Keep in mind, once you have the stamp, you can use it on future projects, too.

stamp

Customizing the bookplates

Now that you have the stamp and the bookplates ready, you can begin actually making them. You kind of want to do this in one fell swoop. Doing things in batches saves you time. The stamp is simple to use – you ink it up, set the numbers and stamp away. I stamped all 200 of my plates at once, then signed them all at once. Now I had a big stack of signed and numbered bookplates. I then did all the sketches on them – which is WAY easier than trying to do them inside a book!

Now you can have your stack of bookplates next to your books as you are putting your orders together. The first thing I would do is grab a book, grab the proper bookplate, and paste it in. It’s quite simple, and looks very good. Now you have a beautifully numbered book (with sketch if applicable) and it only takes a moment to slap it in there.

Placing the bookplate

Putting the bookplates in is very simple. I’ve recorded a quick little video of me pasting one in:

You could use this technique for any size project – big or small. My campaign was around 230 orders, and it has worked wonderfully. So the next time you want to wow your readers with your book – for Kickstarter or otherwise – create a custom bookplate!