Paper Cuts: Outsourcing Your Production, Local vs. Long Distance

Before I get into the juicy details of this blog post, I wanted to preface with a little story. Today marks the 11th Paper Cuts post that I've written, and the first time I truly struggled with keeping up with my blogging calendar. I normally pre-write posts a few days in advance, but here I am, Wednesday morning, sipping my coffee and preparing to hit "post" instead of "schedule". I woke up with dozens of emails fighting for my attention; and a to-do list that kept me up all night. I contemplated not writing this post, skipping a week, or simply posting a pretty picture of a new invitation instead. But the thought of not posting, not sharing, not talking about an important topic - well that caused an uneasy feeling that I couldn't put my finger on.

The light bulb when off when I realized how much I love writing these posts, and how thankful I am that all of you enjoy these posts as much as I do. Each and every one of us is on a journey. We're ALL fighting with the number of hours in a day, the long to-do lists, the real-life demands, and the juggling performance that's impossible to master. We each have a few precious moments a day where we can do whatever we want, and I feel so honored and humbled that you choose to visit this here blog during your busy day. Thank you for that, it truly makes me enjoy writing these posts, and makes me know how worth it is for me to carve out the time in my day, as well.

So, enough sappy stuff, let's get to this elephant of a topic. Outsourcing the production of whatever it is that you create and sell.

I've gotten a lot of questions from "how do I find a printer?", to "how do you know what to outsource vs create at home?". Truthfully, there's really just one answer: You won't know until you try it all. Seriously, I wish I could write that simple line back to each person who contacts me with questions they're grappling with. What works for me works because I tested dozens of other methods and found the one that is best for me, and what works for me might not work for you.

With that, one thing I struggled with in a HUGE way was outsourcing locally versus cross-country (or in some cases, internationally). Here are some of thoughts on local vs long distance outsourcing:

LOCAL: Obviously, there are some huge positives about keeping things local. Supporting other businesses, cutting down in turnaround & shipping time (and costs), being able to check in on production, and creating live person-to-person relationships. TRUST ME when I say I tried desperately to find local print partners, but for me, it didn't work out. There's no way around it, doing business in/around New York City is downright expensive. The premium I would pay to use local printers means I would have to charge my clients way over market value, which is not a good business model. I tried to find printers within New York State, which I thought was a good local alternative, but I couldn't find a partner that offered the quality I expected. I spent hundreds thousands of dollars testing printers, and countless hours sending emails, making cold calls, and trying to communicate what I wanted with people who just weren't a good fit. For me, sourcing locally was like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.

At some point I realized that I had my priorities confused. I was so focused on the idea of sourcing locally that I lost sight of my ultimate goal: work with top notch printers in order to offer my brides beautifully crafted invitations at reasonable market value. This goal was very possible for me, it just meant that I needed to find the right print and manufacturing partners, which meant expanding my search beyond New York State. As soon as I shifted my priorities and began looking for a good fit in print partners, everything fell into place.

Here are some things I keep in mind when working with LONG-DISTANCE partners:

Create a good relationship. You might not be able to meet the person, but try to speak with them on the phone, express what you like about their work, and communicate your own business goals and expectations in working with them. Communication is absolutely key. Also be prepared for things to take a little longer. I have to ship color swatches, paper samples, etc back and forth with my printer constantly. It adds a lot of time (and some minimal cost), but in the long run it's worth it because it ensures good quality and the exact outcome I expect. Don't expect the first printer you try to be the one you work with forever, and similarly, don't expect to work exclusively with just one printer. Every printer has a specialty thing they really excel at, so I play to each printers strength and ultimately use a variety of printers for different print methods & finishing options.

This is just an overview of how I personally decided where/how to outsource. Over the next few weeks I'll dive deeper into how to find a good printer, what questions to ask, and so forth. I'll be pointing you in the right direction, but I think the true value will be in you doing your own leg work. I'm a firm believer that the best way to learn is through experience!

Wednesdays here on the blog are all about sharing Paper Cuts, which is a behind-the-scenes, down to Earth business advice series. I hope you've enjoyed today's Paper Cuts topic, and look forward to having you back next time! To read past Paper Cut posts, click here.


photo credit, Mikkel Paige