Direct Mail Steadily Works

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I’ve always loved direct mail, both as a freelancer and as a potential customer.

According to this article on The Mail Shark, direct mail response rates run at a half a percent to 2%. And according to this piece on Amsive.com, direct mail gets a 10-30% higher response rate than digital mail, with 60% of those asked saying they remember the content of a physical piece better than an email. Now, remember, both of the above companies are trying to sell their direct mail services. The small business newsletter Chron (a Hearst newspaper affiliate) talks about a half a percent to 2% return as well.

As a consumer/potential customer, I find that rings true. If I get an email about a product or service, I put it aside to “look at later.” I usually forget about it, and when I go in, weekly, to do my bulk email deletes, it’s gone.

When I receive a direct mail piece in my physical mailbox, I look at it immediately.You can thank all those organizing gurus who’ve touted “handle the piece of mail once immediately when you get it” for that. If I’m interested in it, I put it next to my desk so I can respond within the next few days. If it’s something I know I will want down the line, I put it in the appropriate file folder, and then I have it when I need it.

As a freelancer, when I’ve done direct mail campaigns for Fearless Ink, I generally get a 25% positive response, which is much higher than the above-mentioned 2%. And imagine, if 2% is 10-30% HIGHER than a digital campaign, imagine how small the return is on most digital campaigns!

Having worked both digital and physical direct mail for various clients, it depends on what’s offered and the target audience. I find clothing, books, and jewelry tend to get high rates on digital campaigns, while larger goods and services tend to do better with physical direct mail. That’s just my personal sampling over a variety of years, and, especially in digital campaigns, doing a lot of A/B marketing tests and constantly changing course to compare and grow results.

What Kind of DM Piece?

For my freelance business, physical direct mail is one of my best tools for growing or shifting my client base. My best tool is a quarterly postcard. It’s very simple, with my business name, the tag line of the Fearless Ink Website, and a short list of information, with a link back to the website and email contact. Since I only do phone calls by appointment and charge in 15-minute increments, I do not put my phone number on the card. Sometimes I print the card on seasonal cardstock; other times I use the standard card with the logo.

I used to have a brochure as well as the postcard, and would hand out brochures with the card and my business card at networking events, pre-plague. I sometimes sent the brochure out with a physical LOI (letter of introduction/interest), or attached a digital version with a digital LOI. My last brochure was very specific to the region in which I lived, and needs a complete overhaul (which is on the schedule for this spring).

I have portfolio links on my Clients and Publications page, along with the link to my online portfolio over on Clippings.me. A new media kit for Fearless Ink is in the works.

I have not sent out a postcard since I moved to the Berkshires, but intend to correct that by February.

Although I have a quarterly newsletter for the fiction under the various names (you can subscribe to Devon’s Random Newsletter here),  and my Substack account, The Process Muse, is technically, a weekly newsletter (you can subscribe here), I do not have a newsletter for the business/marketing side of my business, Fearless Ink.

Most freelancers, especially those in business and marketing, have a weekly or monthly newsletter, and it’s an important tool. Because the focus of my business writing is changing, I do not believe that I have business content of regular value for a newsletter (I use this blog instead). No one wants to get a weekly email screaming “Hire me!” I’d rather talk about specific topics here twice a month and include interesting pieces in the quarterly newsletter.

If you have enough to say, and you don’t want to blog (or have enough to say in addition to a blog) a regular newsletter is a good tool. I find newsletters, at this point in the game, work better digitally, while business outreach works better on a physical direct mail piece. That’s just my experience. Talk to the freelancers in your circle to get a sense of what will work for you.

These direct mail pieces are separate from any holiday greetings I send. Holiday greetings are sent purely to wish someone the joy of the season. They do not mention work.

How do I put together the list?

My list is a mix-and-match, and ever-growing.

–Former clients (provided I still want to work with them). I keep in touch with former clients on a fairly regular basis. A lot of my work is one-and-done, rather than the advised weekly, monthly, or retainer work. So there are clients I might only work with once a year, or once every few years. However, when their work comes up, I want them to think of me first.

–Businesses to whom I sent LOIs, and either got a “we like your materials, but don’t have anything right now” or whose work intrigues/excites me enough that I want to keep my name in front of them. A physical postcard allows them to stick it in a folder or on their board and see it when the right assignment comes up, and by reminding them of my existence every few months, I’m more convenient than having to search for someone. Making the client’s life easier is a big part of getting and keeping work.

–Local business with whom I want to partner. It’s always good to have a solid local client base, providing they are professional, meet your rate, and respect the work relationship. In my previous location, there was a lot of talk about supporting local businesses, but they felt that local freelancers/copywriters/marketing people should be willing to work for free or a low rate “for exposure.” They only respected large firms out of town, who didn’t need to work with them. Also, even when there were decent local clients, most of them refused to make referrals or provide testimonials, because they didn’t want their freelancers to work for anyone else in the area, even though they didn’t have enough work to keep the freelancer employed. Where I am now seems to have a more reasonable and respectful view of the partnership between freelancer and client. I’m sure, this year, I will find out if that is true or an illusion.

–Regional businesses with whom I want to partner. Similar to the above, but with a wider reach. I’m in the Northwestern corner of Massachusetts now, so “regional” includes not just the Berkshires, but southern Vermont and the region from Albany/Saratoga/Troy.

–National and international businesses that interest me. Because I work asynchronously and choose which hours to work on which client project, I can work across time zones. I rarely accept an assignment that demands I work for that client within specific hours, because, to me, that’s not “freelance.” That’s a part-time employer.

I make the list by reading about companies doing interesting things, looking at Chamber of Commerce member listings, and checking which companies are hiring for what. I used to attend lots of chamber events in person. If we ever get enough of a handle on COVID, or a place institutes safety protocols (ha!), I will start going to a limited number of in-person events again. I might not want to send a resume to a job I see on a job board, but I might be intrigued enough to research the company and then send them an LOI, detailing how working together will solve a particular issue of theirs (without insulting them).

The list is constantly growing and changing. It’s a living document, not a static one, and that’s part of what makes work as a freelancer so interesting. Successful businesses grow and change. Growing and changing along with a business is always exciting, as is finding new businesses, and helping them get their passion and message out.

Do you use direct mail? Do you have a newsletter? How do you build your lists? What do you find does and does not work?

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