“You must do the things you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

One of the most common reasons that people give for not trying to start a new business is the fear of losing a lot of money. This reason is not foolish. When you’re playing with your financial survival or that of your family, you’ve got to act responsibly. Yet, as you probably know (especially if you’ve been reading ETR for a while), starting your own business is one of the best ways to become wealthy.

So how do you get past that fear of losing money? Easy. Start the business by doing postcard mailings.

I’ve used this technique to start several profitable small businesses, so I know from personal experience that it works. And – besides being very inexpensive – one of the best things about this technique is that it’s so versatile. Almost any service and quite a few products can be marketed by mailing postcards.

There are some distinct advantages to using postcards to market your new product or service:

  • Postcards are much cheaper to print and mail than full-size sales letters in envelopes.
  • Postcards don’t have to be opened to be read by your potential customer.
  • Postcards are small and easy to handle, so you can do a test mailing with a few thousand of them yourself

You can print and mail out 1,000 postcards for about $300 to $350. A small test mailing like this to people in your target market will give you a good idea of whether your business idea will be successful. If you get a two percent response rate, which is not crazy at all, you could have 20 new customers. In the direct-response marketing business, a two percent response rate is generally considered good. (Note: Your response is partially dependent on how well you identify your target market.)

LP, for example, used postcard mailings to launch a side business teaching computer skills. For about $350, he mailed out 1,000 postcards and netted 20 new customers. At the $60 fee he charged per lesson, he made $1,200 just in the first week. And many of those clients took multiple lessons. So, in fact, he actually made many thousands of dollars for a $350 investment.

Once you see that your postcard marketing effort is working, you can mail out another 5,000. If you get the same response rate, now you’ve got another 100 new clients – and the foundation of a thriving business. And the great thing is that you only risked a few hundred dollars to test it. Plus, to keep building your business, you can stop doing the mailings yourself and use a mailing house to get you bulk-mail rates and volume-based discounts.

If you want to try a postcard mailing to test your business idea, these are the basic steps:

  • * Write some strong marketing copy for your postcard.

Most important is to have a powerful headline that offers a desirable benefit. In the body copy, support the claim made in your headline, and then close with information on exactly how you can be reached. (For a local business, providing a phone number is usually best.) For example, LP used the following headline on postcards marketing his business: Learn to Master the Computer in the Privacy of Your Own Home!

This headline worked because it stated a big benefit that appealed to his target market: people who wanted to learn how to use a computer, but didn’t want to go to a school to do so.

Don’t clutter up the postcard with too much copy. Four or five bullet points stating the most important benefits of your product/service is plenty. Most of the time, you shouldn’t have more than 100 words on your postcard.

  • Format the copy so it looks good.

Either use an inexpensive software program to do it yourself or hire a graphic artist. Any office supply store will have several programs for under $50 that can help you design a postcard that looks professional. Once you have it designed, save it as a PDF or Word file. Then you and someone you trust should proofread it carefully – several times, because it’s easy to miss minor typos.

  • Find a reputable list broker who can rent you a good list.

A list broker is a person who can supply you with the names/addresses of people who would be good potential customers for you. To find local list brokers, use the Yellow Pages or search the Internet under “list broker, [your city], USA.

You will probably have to rent a minimum of 5,000 names, even though you aren’t going to mail that many postcards for your initial test. But it will be a small portion of your total cost for the mailing – and if your test works, you’ll quickly use the rest of the names.

You must make sure your list broker is reputable before renting a list from him. He should have been in business for a number of years, and should have references available. If you stick to basic demographics when selecting your lists – such as income levels, geographic boundaries, age, gender, occupation, etc. – you can get them at surprisingly reasonable prices.

LP chose lists based on geographic boundaries for his mailings. He knew that certain neighborhoods were packed with older, upper-income people who would be most likely to want to take in-home computer lessons.

Don’t be intimidated because you are a small customer for the list broker. Remind him that you might be mailing 50,000 pieces a month in just a short time if your test works.

  • Hire a printer.

As long as you live in a well populated place, you won’t have any trouble finding plenty of options for printing, though you’ll probably want to use a place like Kinko’s or Office Depot that specializes in small printing jobs. It’s good to shop around a little, because prices can vary greatly.

It’s customary to make a deposit when you place the order and pay the balance when you pick it up. Since the printer doesn’t make a profit until you pay in full, you’re unlikely to have any problem getting your job done quickly.

Before the postcards are printed, make sure you review a proof of the final copy to make sure they’re going to look exactly the way you want them to look.

  • Drop your postcards in the mail.

It won’t take long to put the labels that you get from the list broker on your postcards, then peel and stick the stamps. Even so, keep in mind that the reason you’re doing it yourself is because you want to do a very inexpensive test of your business idea. Once you know it works, you’ll be able to hire someone else to take care of the stamping and labeling so you can spend your time bringing in more customers.

A postcard campaign can be a very effective and low-cost way to start a new business. With only a few hundred dollars at risk, almost anyone can afford to test the waters.

[Ed. Note: Larry Fredericks is an entrepreneur with a history of successful business dealings in retail, direct mail, the Internet, and real estate. He is also the creator of the Street Smart Business Program, which can teach you proven methods for creating a profitable business – even if you don’t have a lot of start-up capital.]
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