The Simple Letter That Launched a Nine-Figure Business

The year is 1979. And entrepreneur Bill Bonner sits down to write a simple sales letter for a new publication he’s ready to launch.

Bonner’s letter starts like this:

“You look out your window, past your gardener, who is busily pruning the lemon, cherry, and fig trees… amidst the splendor of gardenias, hibiscus, and hollyhocks.

“The sky is clear blue. The sea is a deeper blue, sparkling with sunlight.

“A gentle breeze comes drifting in from the ocean, clean and refreshing, as your maid brings breakfast in bed.

“For a moment, you think you have died and gone to heaven.

“But this paradise is real. And affordable. In fact, it costs only half as much to live this dream lifestyle… as it would to stay in your own home!

“Dear Reader,

“I’d like to send you a FREE copy of a unique — and invaluable — report.

“It’s called…”

The letter continues, explaining how you can get a free report titled “The 5 Best Retirement Destinations in the World” just for trying Bonner’s International Living newsletter.

And how, if you read International Living, you’ll learn to live in luxury on a modest retirement income by moving to one of the most beautiful — and most affordable — paradises in the world.

Does the newsletter sell?

Boy, does it!

Out of the box, every marketing dollar spent on sending out Bonner’s letter brings back $3 in orders.

And even today — three full decades later — that letter has barely been changed and still sells subscription after subscription to International Living.

Starting with this letter, Bill Bonner grew his company, Agora Inc., first to $1 million, then to $10 million, past $80 million, and now well into nine figures. (That’s over $100 million per year.)

On the heels of this success, Bonner went on to launch dozens of successful newsletters. (You probably wouldn’t be reading ETR if it weren’t for Bonner’s letter.) And Agora now publishes books. And puts on conferences. And arranges travel and “discovery tours” for business owners, retirees, and others looking to move to some of International Living‘s recommended paradises.

New Agora subsidiaries and affiliates are created all the time.

What’s Bonner’s secret to nine-figure business success? Brilliant marketing copy. Being able to write letters that sell.

When you can send out a sales letter at a cost of $1 or even $2 and it brings back $3 or $4 or $10 in return, you have a license to print money.

In fact, there are copywriters who charge well into five figures to write sales letters. And smart business owners make this investment over and over again because of the enormous profits these letters can generate.

But you don’t have to pay skilled copywriters tens of thousands of dollars to write sales letters for you. You can learn to do it yourself.

Any business owner who can write a letter to a friend can write a successful sales letter. All it takes is following a few specific rules:

  • Know your customer — who you’re writing to.

You spend every day with your business and your customers. It’s your life to know your customers well. Just reading Bonner’s letter above tells you the people in his target audience want to live like royalty — without blowing their retirement savings. That’s knowing the customer.

  • Make the message about your readers’ dreams, desires, fears, and frustrations.

Bonner’s letter goes right for the jugular on this. It puts his readers right into their dream of living in paradise… and plants them firmly there before even mentioning the “free report.”

  • Spell out all the benefits your readers will get by taking the action you recommend.

While the features of your product are important to you, what your customers really care about are what your product can do for them. So talk about what they care about.

  • Make the benefits clear and easy to imagine. Make them concrete.

Look back at Bonner’s letter. It doesn’t start with a rant about expensive retirements and theorize about how to save money. It puts the reader in his seaside retirement estate, beautiful garden, hired help, and all.

  • Prove what you’re saying in every way possible.

Without proof, your pitch is an empty promise. Your reader has to be so confident by the end of your letter that what you have is perfect for them that they’d be stupid not to respond. Bonner’s full International Living letter tells the stories of actual people who have done what the letter promises, surprisingly easily. Specific details prove the promises are real.

  • Keep it simple, building your entire message on one “big idea.”

It may surprise you, but test after test has proven that demonstrating one benefit to exhaustion will almost always make more sales than presenting every benefit your product offers. The big idea of Bonner’s letter is that you can live in paradise, far better than you’re living now and for less. And it demonstrates this powerful idea over and over again until the reader sees no alternative but to subscribe to the newsletter.

But even with these rules for writing successful sales letters, you may still have some questions. For example:

  • How do you get someone to pay attention and start reading your sales letter?
  • Once they’re reading, how do you hook them into reading the whole thing?
  • As you tell your “story,” how can you introduce your product and get your reader excited about it?
  • Once your reader is excited about your product, how can you present the offer in a way that makes them want to respond to it?
  • How do you get the reader to go from excited about responding to actually placing the order?

If you’re asking these questions, you’re on the right track. Soon you’ll be writing letters that will grow your business quickly. Maybe some day you’ll even surpass Bill Bonner’s nine-figure business success!

[Ed. Note: You can learn the answers to these questions — and how to write sales letters that turn $1 into $3 — in AWAI’s Accelerated Program for Six-Figure Copywriting. In it, master copywriters Michael Masterson, Don Mahoney, and Bob Bly, among others, reveal the real secrets to writing copy that sells.]