Six years ago, Agora Publishing decided to test a theory – to see whether the same methods used in running a successful publishing business offline could be translated into running a profitable online business.

Did it work?

In fact, the results were remarkable – so much so that savvy online businesspeople now refer to this as the “Agora Model.” Even so, the approach seems to fly in the face of conventional wisdom.

“Build a website,” they say, “and people will visit that website in droves and buy your products.”

But people don’t tend to do that. Just throwing up a website with details about your products and copy taken from your corporate brochure does not appeal to people’s emotions.

Even if you have top-10 search engine placements on all your keywords, a website will bring in only a small fraction of sales compared to what you could be realizing by using the Agora Model.

In the Agora Model, the main idea – the new paradigm, dare I suggest – is that online marketing works best when:

  • You have a person’s permission to contact him.

  • You have already established a relationship with that person. He recognizes you and has a sense that he already knows you (to some extent).

  • You offer the person something of value beyond what it is that you would like him to buy from you.

When you do this, the person doesn’t feel that you are trying to sell him something. People online like “being sold to” about as much as … well, about as much as they like it offline.

They don’t!

Any direct-response marketer knows that the most important thing in building their business is to grow their “house file” – the list of people to whom they are able to communicate.

In the Agora Model, this translates into the “e-list” – a list of people (along with their e-mail addresses) who have given you permission to communicate with them online.

You can make a lot of money in conventional direct response, but it can also cost you a lot to build your mailing list and to print and mail letters to potential customers. It seems logical, then, that you should want to build an online e-list instead. After all, it’s almost free to send e-mail – and the technology you need to build and maintain your e-list costs next to nothing.

But how do you find these people, obtain their e-mail addresses, and gain their permission to communicate with them online?

It’s not by sending out sp*m. This approach is unethical and illegal – and it doesn’t even work.

So the team at Agora decided to test whether offering free online newsletters (“e-letters”) – filled with interesting, inspiring, and useful content, ideas, and information – would motivate people to sign up to continue to receive them. The idea was that if people would do that, the three core tenets of the proposed model would be fulfilled: (1) You would have their permission to contact them. (2) You would have an established relationship with them. (3) You would be giving them something of value beyond what you would like them to buy from you.

One of the first Agora e-letters was The Daily Reckoning (DR). Founded by Bill Bonner and currently edited by Addison Wiggin, the DR now boasts a readership of millions and has an e-list that any online (or offline) business would give an arm for. Each day, the DR brings readers a wry, erudite, and thought-provoking perspective on the world.

The HSI e-alert is an excellent Agora health e-letter edited by Jenny Thompson. HSI enjoys great success and continues to grow, both in readers and in sales, providing news of the most urgent advances in modern underground medicine.

Another highly successful Agora e-letter is International Living Postcards, edited by Kathie Peddicord. It sends virtual postcards from a team of roving writers and correspondents – a new story every day about travels in far-flung places around the globe.

People sign up for these e-letters and tell their friends about them. Then those people sign up and tell their friends. The marketers at Agora built their e-lists with these names – and came up with creative ideas to help source new e-mail addresses and marketing opportunities.

The Agora team now has many successful online newsletters, all contributing to the almost $100 million of online sales that the companies within the Agora group enjoyed last year. (This year looks like it’s going to be even better.)

Most website designers and Internet experts will tell you that almost every principle Agora has followed in doing business online should not work.

But it does. The Agora Model is known to be successful.

But can you learn how to repeat that success?

Michael Masterson says it takes about 1,000 hours of practice to become really competent at just about any valuable skill (copywriting, marketing, martial arts, playing a musical instrument, etc.). If you have expert guidance from a masterful teacher, you may be able to cut that to as little as 500 hours.

And anyone who has read of or who practices NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) knows that copying (mirroring) an expert in any field with the help of a skilled teacher will help you greatly accelerate your learning curve.

Watch an expert. Copy what they do. And put in your time. That’s what it takes to become an expert in anything – including online marketing.

Start small – but start now.

That’s what I’m going to help you do in future ETR messages. In upcoming weeks, you’ll learn how to put the proven Agora Model into action – and how to use it to start, grow, or expand your own online business.

(Ed. Note: David Cross is Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing in Baltimore. He is responsible for brainstorming and testing new ideas and developing new Internet marketing campaigns. Prior to working with Agora, David was CEO of a European software-development and Web-hosting company. He has extensive direct-marketing and sales experience, including work as a guest presenter on QVC in the UK.

David will be hosting Agora Learning Institute’s Online Marketing Bootcamp this summer. He will show attendees how to build a million-dollar online business using Agora’s $100 million Internet marketing techniques.)

Although David hails from Blackpool, England – which is often referred to as the “Las Vegas of England” – he shunned a career in show business and instead followed a meandering career path overflowing with “life’s great experiences,” working or living in over 20 countries along the way. Chef, teacher of Transcendental Meditation, guest presenter on QVC, earthquake relief volunteer, CEO of a web hosting company, marketer at a radio station and all combined with years of direct marketing, PR and sales experience for clients as diverse as health food stores, small charities and right up to multinational public companies. David brought unique talent and experience to his role for six years as Senior Internet Consultant to Agora Publishing Group. Working closely with Agora’s publishers and marketers to test new ideas and marketing campaigns, Agora’s Internet revenues topped $200 million in 2007. David understands and can communicate fluently with creative “right-brain” marketers and analytical “left-brain” IT and software teams, all with equal ease. He has a proven track record for generating results and creative thinking and excels at making trouble to find new ways of making things happen! He lives on a small farm close to Mount Hood in Oregon with his wife Cinda, a veterinarian, and their four children and a menagerie of animals (no more, please!). When not marketing or brainstorming you’ll find David following a dream of self-sufficiency for food, power and water within 10 years, tending the land and caring for the farm and animals. Not surprisingly, David is an engaging and knowledgeable speaker with many amusing anecdotes from his work and travels over the years.

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