As a freelance copywriter, I’ve put together a nice portfolio of major corporate clients, ranging from Bay State Gas to Pizzeria Uno. And I found most of them in a rather unusual way.
I didn’t use SEO or pay-per-click. I didn’t go to networking events and shake hands with half the Rotary Club. And I didn’t take out billboards by the highway that said AWESOME COPYWRITER FOR HIRE.
I got most of these lucrative gigs in a way that wouldn’t cross many people’s minds — a way that’s unconventional and highly effective.
I sent them a sales letter.
Not the kind that’s an HTML page, but a good, old-fashioned paper letter in an envelope with an honest-to-goodness stamp.
The same copywriting techniques you use for online pages can be moved to the physical mail world. (In fact, that’s where they came from in the first place). Direct mail can still be surprisingly effective, and it has a few real advantages.
Why prospect by direct mail in the internet age?
I conducted my first direct mail campaign in 1997 and got an amazing 11% response rate of prospects asking for my information kit. From that I landed several high-paying, long-term clients. After a hiatus to focus on magazine writing, I decided to get back into copywriting this year and garnered a good client base (and a lot of interested prospects for my pipeline) with my very first wave of direct mail.
Here are a few benefits of prospecting via mail as opposed to e-mail:
- You stand out. When hordes of other freelance copywriters are shooting off e-mails (which are all too easy to delete), you stand out from the crowd by sending a nicely-presented mail package.
- You can customize your mailing. With e-mail, you wouldn’t want to send an unasked-for attachment because you run the risk of being labeled as spam. So all the prospect gets is your bare-bones e-mail introduction, and you hope like crazy that she clicks on the link to your online portfolio. With a direct mail sales letter, you can include your business card, a reply card, a sample, a white paper — anything you want.
- You don’t feel overwhelmed. E-mail can reach prospects all over the world and in all different industries — but just thinking about where to start can be overwhelming. When I tried prospecting via e-mail, my efforts were scattershot and mostly fruitless. Using snail mail forces you to focus on either a particular geographic area or a type of business. For example, with my first campaign I concentrated on businesses of a certain size in my home state of Massachusetts.
- Prospects can keep your information on file. I recently got a $1,000 assignment from an exec who kept my information kit on file for over two years. It’s difficult for your potential clients to dig through (or even remember) old e-mails, and often a lot easier to pull a paper packet out of a file.
Want to try the low-tech way to land clients? Here’s where to start: the essential components of a simple direct mail campaign.
Multi-page sales letters typically pull in clients better than single-page ones, so my sales letter is two pages long.
It starts with a question that readers are sure to answer “Yes” to, tells the reader about the benefits my clients experience when they work for me, and makes the offer of a free information kit with my samples, client list, testimonials, and fee schedule.
Sound familiar? It should — the ingredients of this paper letter are the same ones you’d include in an effective landing page.
If you’re looking for the mechanics of writing a killer sales letter, you’ll find articles on persuasive copywriting every week here on Copyblogger. Even better, sign up for Copyblogger’s Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter. It starts with a 20-part tutorial that includes lots of tips for writing killer sales copy.
The mailing list
For my first campaign, I went through a business directory at the library and entered likely prospects into a Filemaker file. I then called every one of those businesses to make sure the information was up to date. Only then did I compile my mailing. Time consuming, yes — but also effective.
For my second campaign (which started late last year), I bought a list of 900 marketing executives in my new home state of New Hampshire from Hoovers.com for around $225. (There are tons of list services out there, but most of the ones I found had a $500 minimum order.)
I stupidly had faith that a purchased list would be as accurate as the one I compiled myself — and received an e-mail from a prospect complaining that both his first and last names were spelled wrong. (Though, thankfully, he still did ask for my information kit.)
Now before I send a letter I always call the business to check all the key information, or I at least verify the information online. You’ll save yourself from making a poor first impression with someone who could turn out to be a great client.
The reply card
I include an old-fashioned reply card that the prospect can fill out and mail back. My mailing address is on one side, and there are blanks for the prospect’s name, phone number, e-mail address, and mailing address.
The prospect can choose to receive my information kit via snail mail or e-mail, schedule a phone call to discuss a project, or be removed from my mailing list. (By the way, to date, no one’s ever checked that last box.)
For my first campaign, there was the question of whether to include postage on the reply card. I did this for the first wave or two, but another, more experienced copywriter told me that something as small as a stamp is not a barrier for people who are genuinely interested in contacting you. In other words, if someone really wants to send the reply card back, they’re fine with sticking on a stamp. I stopped stamping the cards and my response rate didn’t budge.
The information kit
When someone requests your information, it’s really helpful if you have something to actually send them.
For my first campaign, my information kit was in hardcopy and I kept all the components — samples, testimonials, etc. — in folders, ready for me grab the components when needed and stick them in a large envelope.
Now, I also have each component in PDF format so I can send the kit via e-mail if that’s how the prospect chooses to receive it.
You can use any electronic resource you have available (your blog, some great web sites you’ve done copy for, or even a well-crafted Facebook page) to support your direct mail efforts. Just because you’re prospecting by direct mail doesn’t mean you have to stay there.
The cover letter
Along with my information kit I include a one-page cover letter that restates my experience and the benefits I offer, and invites the prospect to call me to discuss any projects she may have.
If I have a particular interest in this company, I can easily customize the cover letter to show that I’ve done my research and understand that company’s needs.
Over the last 13 years that I’ve been freelancing, I’ve learned the value of the follow-up e-mail or phone call.
Every few months, go through your database of all of the people who have asked for information from you — your prospects. Touch base with each one to let him know what you’re up to and to ask if there’s anything you can do for him.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but once you have a system in place it becomes second nature.
Also, I prefer putting in some work up front and reaping real rewards, rather than taking the seemingly easier route of shooting off e-mails to untested addresses and not get any response for my time.
How about you? Have you ever tried a direct mail campaign to land clients? What did you learn? Would you do it again? Let us know about it in the comments.
About the Author: Linda Formichelli is the co-author of The Renegade Writer: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Freelance Writing Success and runs the Renegade Writer Blog. Linda offers phone mentoring, e-courses for magazine writers, and an e-book on productivity for freelancers. She lives in Concord, New Hampshire with her writer husband, toddler son, and German exchange student.
Whether you’re delivering your persuasive message by blog, email, direct mail, mass media, or carrier pigeon, you need to know about the essentials of content marketing and copywriting. You’ll find a free 20-part course on these marketing essentials in Copyblogger’s Internet Marketing for Smart People newsletter. Sign up now!