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Effective handling of mass communications with your customers is a key component of every business.

If you have a few large customers, it's usually simple enough to handle all your needs on your own, using e-mail, postal mail, fax, or mobile phone SMS (Short Message Service) text messages. But if you need to communicate regularly with hundreds or thousands of customers, you may require more resources than a single desktop computer can provide.

You could opt to handle all your communications requirements in-house by investing in more technology resources, perhaps by adding a more powerful, collating printer, a new fax server, and related software. But the do-it-yourself approach may not represent the most efficient use of your time and money. If communications isn't one of your core business competencies, outsourcing may be a better option. Web-based services make this very convenient, but you'll need to determine if the convenience is worth the cost.

FlyDoc Does It All

Large postal mailings are particularly labor-intensive operations. Putting them together can be painfully slow unless you have the right equipment and staff that's been trained to use it. You or your employees will need to print, collate, fold, stuff, and seal each envelope before affixing the postage and addressing the envelope.

It may not be economically feasible to set up a mass-mailing operation in-house if you perform only one or two per month. This task can be outsourced to a well-established industry of small printers or specialty letter shops that handle all the paperwork for you. I've discussed outsourcing mass e-mail needs in a previous column.

FlyDoc provides an easy-to-understand, Web-based interface.
FlyDoc provides an easy-to-understand, Web-based interface.
If your business depends on several communications media and you'd like to coordinate it all through a single service, consider FlyDoc from Esker, a company that specializes in document delivery services on demand.

You can use FlyDoc's Web-based service to handle postal mail, faxes, e-mail, and SMS communications. All FlyDoc services are available when you log in to the FlyDoc Web site. FlyDoc recommends you use a broadband Internet connection, particularly if you send large documents.

Importing Your Mailing List

While it's simple to send a single flyer, e-mail, or fax, mass communication requires more work. For starters, you must develop a list of recipients.

You can enter individual contacts one by one directly into FlyDoc, but that could be time-consuming for a large list. FlyDoc can import a mailing list contained in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or a file in CSV (Comma Separated Values) format. After your list is in FlyDoc, you can use it for any of the supported services--including faxes or e-mail messages when time is of the essence.

I'll focus on postal mail and fax services, which can be time-consuming for small businesses to handle internally.

Flexible Postal Mail Options

FlyDoc gives you a fair amount of flexibility preparing your postal mailings.

First, you'll need to download and install the FlyDoc printer driver, which helps you prepare and format your documents. FlyDoc provides handy Microsoft Word templates, but their use is not mandatory--nor are you required to use Word, if another word processing app would be more appropriate.

Documents you prepare for postal mail can be either black-and-white or full color, printed single-sided or duplex. You can select from three standard double-window envelope sizes, but there's only one type of paper offered: 24-pound white.

After you submit your job to FlyDoc's worldwide network of mail facilities via its Web site (the printer driver directs you there automatically using a wizard-like process), the company promises to print, stamp, address, and send your documents via first-class mail within 24 hours.

The first page costs as little as 36 cents for black-and-white printing and 48 cents for color; subsequent pages cost 18 cents for black and white or 30 cents for color. The largest envelope available can hold up to 70 pages. Postage and taxes are additional.

There is no required minimum number of letters: You can use the service for as little as one letter or mass-mail tens of thousands. Being able to pay for individual pieces means you can use FlyDoc to send customer invoices or use the mail-merge capability in your word processor to personalize each letter.

This flexibility is where FlyDoc beats out other letter shops I have used, which typically require a minimum mailing of a thousand or more pieces and several days to print and mail the job. However, a good letter shop will offer a wider range of paper and printing options. You'll need to decide if FlyDoc's limited offerings meet your business requirements.

FlyDoc Faxes

While you can easily send a few dozen faxes using the fax modem that is typically included with most computers sold today, sending and tracking the results of thousands of faxes requires something beefier.

You can set up a fax server that can handle several fax lines simultaneously to handle the load, but FlyDoc lets you outsource the work without investing in additional hardware.

Sending out a mass fax with FlyDoc won't tie up your fax line for hours. Another advantage is FlyDoc Manager's reporting feature, which tells you which of your faxes were not received, making it easier to resend failed transmissions.

Outbound faxes are priced per page, from 10 cents for recipients in the United States and Canada to $1.60 for far-flung destinations.

Right for Your Business?

FlyDoc is fairly easy to use. The Web interface is intuitive, and multimedia tutorials explain important steps. You need to install only one piece of software on your PC, and the on-demand service is convenient. But again, you'll need to weigh these benefits against the service's expense.

Richard Morochove is an IT consultant and writer. Send him questions about using technology in your small to mid-sized business via e-mail. PC World may edit your query and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.
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