Who Said This Was Easy? (written, April, 2008)

Nobody said mail marketing was easy; things worth doing seldom are. Mail marketing is no different. So why do so many would be dealers expect to earn money, spending only a few dollars, a few hours, and very little effort to learn the business? Who knows?

If a “local” retail business attempted to start with that attitude, it would hardly open before closing up for good. Yet for some uncanny reason, some people think mail marketing is some sort of magical thing they discovered where they can get rich with no investment in the trade. They think that success is a shoe-in! Nothing could be further from the fact. Yet almost everyday we are asked “how many orders can I “expect” from advertising? Get serious! A local businessman would need $500 to $1000 just to pay the first month’s rent on a small shop – try listing the other costs he’s faced with. That’s unimportant here. What is important is the attitude that so many people have about mail marketing. People actually expect $20, $35, $50, maybe even $100 or so to bring them a miracle. Sure $100 is a lot of money to a lot of people (me too). But it is absolutely nothing to start a business with, much less expect an answer to the question “…how many orders can I expect?” The sad thing is that they are serious and know no better.

Why is this “attitude” so widespread? Easy. It comes from all the ads that tell people how easy it is to make lots of money in mail order. It can be easy, but it takes time. It takes an understanding of the methods and systems involved in the trade and, last but not least, it takes enough investment to keep your offer circulating in front of lots and lots of people, like scores of thousands. That’s how you earn money in mail marketing. At least that’s how we earn money in mail marketing. Our secret? That’s easy too. We lost that “attitude” over 28 years ago and it was all uphill after that.

If there was any one thing that stands out in the established dealers mind, it’s the fact that most customers in mail marketing expect far too much for their payment. Actually though we have found it’s more a case of just simply not understanding costs involved in selling by mail. A product or service offered by mail is usually cut to the bone price wise. This allows for a little or no margin to use for extras. In addition, most customers do not offer to pay additional for the extra work or only offer to pay a “few dollars”, if required. Because most small dealers or newcomers can take all the time in the world to do things needed in their business, the large company must account for every minute and every penny. That’s just the way it is.

Point here is that when ordering by mail, try to understand the costs involved. Most services entered are set up in format and software (if computerized). When you ask for a change to that format, it could take an hour to make the change and another hour to change back after your job is completed. Some would ask, so what? Well the man that comes to repair our equipment when it fails charges $120 per hour!!! That’s what! Labor is about $10 per hour, paid out. So it is hard to justify a couple extra hours on a 10 minute job. To get a good idea of what the “real world” charges for similar services, check local prices first. This can be quite alarming. Personalized services can be very, very costly – that is, typesetting, layout, design, etc. So that inexpensive mail order source you have should be used wisely. Just don’t expect too much. Expect what you pay for – no more, no less!

Many services that may cost you several hundred dollars may have just a 4 or 5% profit margin due to postage, material cost, labor etc. So although you may pay a couple hundred dollars most of it goes to the post office, paper company and employees. Direct mail and printing is a prime example of low profit margin in mail order.

Be certain to review the important information when you order. Here are some helpful hints: For the mail marketer (or those wishing to be in mail marketing). #1) always read an ad or offer carefully and comply with the advertiser’s instructions as best you can. Do not expect or ask for more than you are paying for. The usual low mail order prices do not allow for “free extras.” #2) Always make certain you read the ad or offer as it is written and not as you might like it to be written. That is do not “read things in to the ad” that are not really there. #3) Always send the correct payment requested. There again do not assume a price for any amount is (say) 2 cents each when the ad actually says “for as low as 2 cents each.” Send for more info in such cases, since the “as low as” statement will probably require a certain minimum amount be ordered to qualify for the fee stated. #4) Always place your name and address inside and outside your letter of inquiries and orders – Not just on the envelope or just on the letter – If it’s a post card, write it on both sides (postal system often covers up the name and address with their postmark on post cards). If this is a bother, then either get yourself a rubber stamp (you should have one anyway in this biz) or take the chance of not getting a reply or your order filled. #5) Always check your order envelopes before sealing just to make certain instructions are clear and all inserts have been included.  And make certain that payment is enclosed (that seems to be the most overlooked item in outgoing orders). #6) Never expect a printer to “touch up” your “camera-ready” copy free. It is not part of the cost and there is no time or money to pay a person to do it for you. Do it yourself or if you do not know how, add $5 or $10 (depending on how much you want done). Otherwise expect your circular to be run “as is”. The rule of thumb for a printer is – If he has to do anything except click the camera shutter, than the item is not camera-ready copy. That’s why most mail order price sheets say “prices are for camera-ready copy”.  That is why they are so low. There are a lot of variables in printing good looking circulars. Learn them if you expect to save money and stay in this biz very long.  #7) Avoid screaming and yelling if you have a complaint. You’ll catch more bees with honey than with lemon. Most often there is a logical reason for something to be delayed or even lost in the mail. Do not simply assume you have been ripped off. Ask questions and be businesslike and polite.  It’ll most likely go a long way in resolving the matter. Same applies with phone calls as with letters.  An irate dealer can delay things a long, long time (legally). Or solve it right away (as you’ll learn as you become more experienced.)  Remember that the Postal Inspector (and all other authorities) are there to protect you, but also to also protect the dealer. There are probably just as many rip off attempts by buyers, as there are by dealers, so make sure you have your ducks all in a row when all else has failed.  #8) Always keep cancelled checks and money orders receipts (just in case). When contacting a dealer about a problem, send a copy showing their endorsement and explain what the problem is. Describe the order in question fully (what it was for, how many, when, etc). Remember… Try to be polite. #9) Lastly, just use simple common sense when dealing by mail. Learn your trade. Learn how things work and what offers mean. It’s a lot different than walking in a shop to buy.

Nobody ever said this was an easy business. But it is a great one!

The author of this article is Larry Costello, President of All-American Print & Mail, 2200 Wilson Blvd #102-57, Arlington, VA 22201.