Barcoding 101

Posted by Matthew Kostanecki

Barcoding your business is easy! This article will show you how to set up a complete barcoding system by printing your own barcodes and using scanners.

You’ll be hard-pressed to find a business with stocked products that wouldn’t benefit from a barcode system today. Yet there are still quite a surprising number of businesses that aren’t benefiting from the convenience and accuracy afforded by barcodes, simply because they still operate on pen and paper or Microsoft Excel templates.

The most common objection is that a barcode system might be too expensive or difficult to implement.

Well here’s something a lot of people don’t know: not only is it actually inexpensive to set up a barcode system, it can be quite easy to implement, too! Depending on your needs, a few hundred dollars could set you up with a complete system.

Why would you care about barcoding? Well, in a nutshell, it allows you to run your small business more accurately and efficiently, getting you ready for growth. You’ll look more professional too! Especially if you run a store and scan scan items at your checkout.

Let’s discuss these things in a bit more detail.

Barcoding will increase your inventory accuracy

Setting up a barcode system can dramatically increases your inventory accuracy. Having barcodes on your items makes them instantly readable to a computer paired with a scanner. It lets your computer do all the heavy lifting for you!

While computers aren’t perfect, they are significantly more accurate than any human ever could be. There are studies showing that even the best trained data-entry person will make at least one mistake every 250 keystrokes.

On the other hand, scanning barcodes with a computer has an error rate of one in every 5,000 to 36 trillion characters scanned.

We’d want those odds in our favor. Wouldn’t you?

Save time and increase your efficiency

Using barcodes allows you to process your inventory much faster than any other manual method. Think of the length of most universal product codes (UPCs), which are 12 characters or more. You could type those numbers into your system, or you could activate a scanner with one press of your finger and have the computer do the typing for you.

All of those saved keystrokes add up to a surprising amount of extra time for you to do other things for your business!

Grow your business easily

Sure, you might have just a few products now, but what happens when your inventory starts growing? By integrating a barcode system sooner rather than later, you’re building scalability into your business.

Scalability means the barcode system will work the same, regardless of whether you have one item, 100 items, or 10,000 items. A barcode system will help your company avoid growing pains as you add more products.

Having a system in place also makes training new members of your team much easier. Instead of memorizing products and product descriptions to look up items, your new team member can easily scan the product in and have the computer bring up the relevant product details.

Look professional

A good barcode system has a two-fold advantage: it increases your own inventory accuracy, and it also dramatically decreases the time a customer spends at checkout. A customer will have a better first impression if you can quickly and easily process their purchase using a scanner system, as opposed to waiting while you manually type codes into a system at checkout.

How do I set up a complete barcoding system?

You can set up a complete barcoding system with just three items:

If you’d like a complete overview of setting everything up, you can download our ebook entitled “Barcode Your Small Business”. The book will walk you through the entire process in details. For now, you can continue on to get an overview:

Generate your barcodes

In its simplest form, a barcode is just a picture that represents numbers, text, or both. This picture can be read by a scanning device and the information is almost instantly transmitted to a computer.

You have two main options when it comes to setting up your small business items with barcodes. You can either make your own barcodes using a barcode font (or web service like the one from ID Automation) or buy existing barcodes from a universal database such as UPCs.

If you’re going to just be using the barcode system internally, then you can pretty much use any barcode type. The most common is named Code 3 of 9. You can generate Code 3 of 9 barcodes by using an online barcode generator or even by using a barcode font. You can print these on standard label stickers, stick them on your product and you’re all set!

If you’re a manufacturer and you want your products to be sold on Amazon or any big retailers, then you’ll want to get UPCs. You can buy UPCs from a reseller or directly from the source, GS1.

Get yourself a barcode scanner

The next step is to get a barcode scanner. You’d typically want one that connects over USB for simplicity’s sake. You’ll find them in wired and wireless options ranging from $50–100. To learn more about scanners in general, click here.

We also make a USB barcode scanner that you can purchase on www.inflowshop.com. Our scanners come with a two year guarantee and are available in seven unique colours.

Get software to make sense of it all

One of the most common misconceptions when trying to implement a barcode system is that people think a simple barcode contains all the product’s data.

For example, some people think that when you scan a barcode, all the relevant data should instantly appear on screen. Unfortunately, this not the case (unless you’re using super specialized barcodes and scanners that are outside the small business realm).

A barcode typically represents a simple alphanumeric code and the software on your computer is what will link that simple code to a product record. For this to work, all your product details do have to be saved somewhere on your computer in advance. This is true for most major retailers (even when using “universal” product codes, the product information has to be pre-loaded into a database).

Of course you can still scan a barcode into a computer without software, it will just produce the code that you assigned it. However, scanning a barcode into inventory software such as inFlow inventory, will mean it will bring up that specific product record when say, making a sale, or looking up an item.

Now it’s your turn!

Now that you know all the components of a barcode system, why not give it a try for free with inFlow Cloud? You can activate a free Cloud trial today!

Matthew Kostanecki

About Matthew Kostanecki

Matthew Kostanecki is speaker, author, and active contributor to the small business community. He leads the marketing and business development for inFlow Inventory.

Have a question or comment? Let us know below!

    1. I would buy a Dymo barcode printer which comes with software to make barcodes. It’s super easy!
      Otherwise, you can download a free barcode font such as our Archon 3 of 9 font and buy printer labels to make barocdes.

  1. How it’s work for business I have just started my leather goods business need to get information about bar code

  2. We have small business in door locks. We need bar-code scanner to put details in our system, with software. We want to know what we have in stock and which items are near to finish, how many we sold.

  3. I just want to get some emails from you so I have a copy for when I am ready to down load your kindle book, does it work if you don’t have a kindle?

  4. hi. I work for a cabinetmaking company. Im just wondering if a bar code system would work for us as in ordering products in and keeping tabs on stock we have? One problem is the orders are sometimes wrong because the wrong product was ordered by our office staff who have no idea what product we were wanting. and also we frequently run low on stock..

  5. Hi we run sandwich vans and would like to be able to count stock out add up payments for goods for the driver by scanning barcodes on labels count returns and get daily takings total what do think we will need to get this done and how much do you thinkj it will cost

    1. Hi John, inFlow Cloud could help with this if you treat each van as a location in the system. You could then transfer stock from the main warehouse to each van at the beginning of the day, and during the day they’d just record what they sell.
      When each van returns, you can create a sales order for each van, and use a barcode scanner to quickly add items that were sold. This link can show you how to add barcodes to each product in inFlow: https://www.inflowinventory.com/support/cloud/how-do-i-use-a-barcode-scanner-with-inflow/

      If you’d like to try this out, you can start a free Cloud trial here: https://app.inflowinventory.com/signup
      If you have any other questions about inFlow, you can reach out to support@inflowinventory.com, and we’d be happy to help!

  6. Can the barcode scanner scan alphanumeric codes already printed on stickers from an excel template? Or it must have to be printed by a barcode printer?

    1. Good question, sorry for the late reply. But I’m adding this in case it helps someone else down the line.
      Basically, as long as the barcodes are printed and are readable by the scanner, then you’re fine. They don’t need a “barcode printer” specifically to be legible.
      Most scanners are fine with varieties of glossy and non-glossy paper, but not all scanners are able to read computer monitors or phone screens.

      – Thomas

  7. If I have an excel sheet with 2000 items, how can I generate a bar code for all items in easy way?

  8. Hi,
    I want to create a bar code inventory system for my small business (selling piece items).
    My entire inventory will consist of apx 125 products.
    I plan to create bins for storage of like items.
    Bar Code each bin (containing 25 items) and sell from the bins.
    Need computer connectivity for inventory control.

  9. Hi , I am just starting my new venture of female garments manufacturing and whole sale , I want to maintain my stock out going ,incoming , and billing and other relevant issues through barcode and all in one software please suggest me what is the procedure and why cost is involve for this
    If u can give me any contact persons no from kolkata will be very help full for me and also what machinery is required

    1. Hi Arjit, it sounds like inFlow Cloud could help you with this. Our software doesn’t handle actual payments (it doesn’t connect to bank accounts), but we do handle stock in/stock out, as well as purchase/sales orders. This video can give you a good overview: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gp3bHTdlT9Y

      But if you have other questions, our support team (support@inflowinventory.com) would be happy to help!