If you read the advice of many “small-business experts,” you’ll be told that you should expect to wait at least a year – possibly more – before your start-up can begin to see a profit. That’s what I was taught when I studied business administration in college – and it turns off a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs. “I can’t afford to wait that long,” they think. “I need to make money NOW.”
If the prospect of unpaid bills, astronomical credit card balances, and endless meals of ramen noodles is keeping you from starting a business, read on. Because today, I’m going to tell you how you can have a profitable business in as little as 30 days.
As Michael Masterson and MaryEllen Tribby point out in their book, Changing the Channel: 12 Easy Ways to Make Millions for Your Business, the Internet has changed the way everyone does business. But, they remind us, anyone who thinks that the Internet has made traditional direct mail obsolete is quite mistaken. They note: “In fact, in 2007 direct mail spending grew 5 percent. That translates to $58.4 billion dollars being spent on direct mail.”
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that if this kind of money is being spent, the profits from direct mail can be enormous. And as someone who has spent his entrepreneurial career focusing on small businesses, I’ve had quite a bit of experience with this marketing channel. I’ve proven firsthand that it’s a way to create a profitable business without a ton of capital – and to do so almost instantly.
I’ve used direct mail to start small local businesses with only a few hundred dollars, and I’ve operated larger businesses that mailed hundreds of thousands of pieces each calendar quarter. What I’ve discovered is that, regardless of the size of your business, you can use direct mail to win customers and make sales.
What’s more, as soon as you find a direct-mail formula that works for you, you will have a profitable business in less than 30 days.
Let’s say your business idea is to sell and install generators that work on solar power. Considering current concerns about energy and the environment, you’re confident that it is a very marketable idea. So now, if you can come up with the right direct-mail formula … you’ll have an instant business.
Here’s how to do it:
Instant-Business Step 1: Choose Your List
As MaryEllen has pointed out time and again, the list of names you mail your promotion to is your most important asset. You can have a top-notch product (a high-quality solar-powered generator) and an incredible offer (a low price and tons of bonuses)… but if you send that offer to a sub-par list, you won’t make a dime. On the other hand, if you have the right list, you don’t even need good copy. Mediocre copy to a great list will always out-pull great copy to a bad list.
If, for example, you mail your promotion for your solar-powered generator to a list of people who have recently lost their homes to foreclosure, you’re probably not going to find many buyers. But if you send it to a list of homeowners who have recently requested information on environmentally friendly energy devices, you could easily make a healthy profit.
To get a good list, you’re going to need a skilled and reputable list broker. If you don’t know someone who can give you a referral, you’ll find many possibilities listed in direct-mail trade publications.
Instant-Business Step 2: Create Your Offer
Your offer is another important part of your direct-mail formula. Even if you have a skillfully written promotion and you send it to the perfect list, if the offer doesn’t appeal to your prospective customers, you won’t be successful.
No matter how many impressive features your solar-powered generator has, it won’t sell if you price it too high or you fail to position it as a good deal (by adding value with your bonuses). So make sure you study your competition to see what’s working for them… and make your offer even better than their best.
Instant-Business Step 3: Come Up With a Blockbuster Sales Promotion
A strong direct-mail promotion can be as simple as a well-written postcard or as complicated as a 30-page sales letter.
Again, study what your competitors are doing… what’s working for them. To get your hands on their promotions, just get yourself “seeded” on their mailing lists. Contact a few of them and ask for information. Or go to their websites and “opt in” to receive information from them. (If it’s not too expensive, you might even want to buy one or two of their products online.) Before you know it, you’ll be added to dozens of related mailing lists and inundated with good (and bad) sales copy that you can learn from.
Instant-Business Step 4: Test
The golden rule of testing marketing copy is to spend the least amount of money possible to determine if the formula works. Most well-capitalized marketers will do a test of 25,000-50,000 names (compiled from an assortment of 5,000-name lists).
If you are that well-capitalized, good for you! Go for it! If you’re not, don’t sweat it. You can test with a lot less.
Some years ago, I was a partner in a mortgage-brokering business. I created an offer and a promotion. And I chose one list of 5,000 local names that were in the income bracket I felt would be most receptive to the offer.
To mail to all 5,000 names on that list would’ve cost $2,500 – which I was reluctant to spend until I knew that the formula worked. So I tested the list by mailing to 500 of the names – at a cost of $250. Well, there was a good response to that test – and we made a thousand-dollar profit. So I mailed to all 5,000 names – which, again, made a profit. Eventually, I sold my share to my partner so I could focus on other interests. But I had established a formula that worked for that business. And he was then able to use that formula to keep expanding it.
Because it is so easy, and inexpensive, to test every element of a direct-mail package (the list as well as the copy), this gives you a mechanism to quickly start a direct-mail business with minimal risk and capital.
And once the formula proves successful, there is no other business I know that can be expanded as easily.[Ed Note: Starting – and growing – a direct-mail business doesn’t require tens of thousands of dollars. Entrepreneurial expert Paul Lawrence has created a program that reveals how anyone can get started in direct mail with limited capital. For more information, follow this link.]