Six Secrets for Success
in a Mail Order Business

by John Schulte
National Mail Order Association

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.

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:

1. 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. 

2. Specialize! 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. 

 3. Have follow-up products that fit into the same category to sell to your customers. 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. 

4. Be persistent. 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.

5. 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? 

6. 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 flaws.

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 become rich.

© Copyright 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.

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