Many people think about mail order as a business they want to be in
after hearing of someone who had a simple product and got rich working out
of his home. While it’s true that mail order marketing of products or
services has all the ingredients of being the perfect way for the small
guy to start or expand a business – e.g., being able to start at home no
matter where you live, starting with limited capital, avoiding geographic
selling boundaries, etc.– it does have some pitfalls for the unwary.
Here are six things you should consider before you start or invest money
in a mail order business:
A homebased mail order
business can be very profitable, but mail order does have some pitfalls
for the unwary. Here are six things to consider before you start or invest
money in this type of business.
Remember that mail order is a just another way
of advertising and selling a product or service.
In mail order, your
catalog or flyer is your store, the printed word is your salesman, and you
go directly to the customer's home or business. This is in contrast to
retail where you first try to get customers to come to your store and then
convince them to buy.
Mail order products should be unique and not readily
available at retail outlets, and your potential customers should be easy
to identify and reach. If you look at a majority of companies that market
via mail order, you'll note that they specialize in a specific product
category or group of products. This way they have a clear idea of who
their potential customers are and how they can be reached.
Have follow-up products that fit into the same category to sell to
Very few people make a lot (or any) money on one product
unless that product is one that is used up and people continue to reorder.
Mail order profits come from making customers happy with their first
purchase from you, then they buy a second time, and so on. The second time
they buy is most important. In essence, they are saying they approve of
the way you do business, they are satisfied with your product or service,
and they are ready to develop a purchasing relationship with your company.
You must be in business for the long run. If you are
starting from scratch with little capital, expect to build your business
slowly over a period of years. You must first build up a base of satisfied
customers who will continue to purchase from you. As your customer base
grows, so will your profits.
Know your product or service.
Many times the most successful mail
order marketing companies start from a person's hobbies or interests. This
way they know something about the products they are selling. For instance,
if you want to market fishing related items, but you yourself are not a
fishing enthusiast, on what will you base your buying decisions? How will
you know what a fishing person will be interested in?
You need specialized knowledge.
Many people think mail order
consists of putting an advertisement in a magazine or sending out
thousands of letters and waiting for the cash to come rolling in. If it
were that easy, everyone would be in mail order. There are many tricks to
marketing via mail order, and you need to be familiar with them so you can
do them yourself, or know how to hire someone who does. Anyone one who is
considering the use of mail order to sell products or services should
first invest in their personal education. A few hundred dollars spent on
the right books and manuals can save one from wasting thousands of dollars
on things that never had a chance of working, or had major strategic
Furthermore, you must associate with people who know the business
well and gain by their experience. And you must keep yourself up to date
on the latest concerns to mail order marketers, such as government
regulations, postal rules and regulations, advertising secrets,
promotional writing and graphics, cost cutting tips, printing,
availability of new products and lists, and much more.
Keep in mind that Web marketing is really mail order with an electronic
twist. Your e-mail is your letter, your Web site is your catalog and, of
course, the delivery of goods is the same. The principles and skills
needed for mail order success are the same needed for web success. This is
the last frontier for the small guy with a limited budget to operate on a
global basis, and you are in the right place at the right time. Anyone who
has a burning entrepreneurial desire, the willingness to work hard, and
something to sell, can build up a good-size business and perhaps even
2003 by John Schulte
John Schulte is the Chief Manager and Chairman of the National Mail
Order Association (NMOA), which was founded in 1972 by mail order guru
Paul Muchnick. For membership information,
visit NMOA’s Website.