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?

Your Business Bookshelf

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I am a bibliophile. Some would say a bibliomaniac. I buy books. I read books. I keep books. I use books to build the forts I need to deal with the world.

As a writer and freelancer, I love to read how others build their business, hone their craft, grow their creativity.  Below are some of my favorite books,  ones I read and re-read, by title and author:

THE ART OF WORKING REMOTELY by Scott Dawson. Scott hosts the Remote Chat on Wednesdays at 1 PM EST on Twitter. It’s a highlight of my week, and one of my favorite groups of people. Scott’s book is a great guide on how to build a successful work life with remote work, and avoid the pitfalls and obstacles that employers throw in your path.

A BOOK OF ONE’S OWN: People and Their Diaries by Thomas Mallon.  I re-read my 1986 paperback of this book so often that it’s falling apart. I love this book. It has musings on and excerpts from a wide range of diarists. I learn so much about seeing, feeling, and articulating each time I re-read it.

BOOKLIFE: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st-Century Writer By Jeff Vandermeer. This is helpful for delineating the public and private lives. I am an inherently private person, an introvert forced by the needs of business, into extrovertism far too often for my liking. This book has some good ideas on handling that frisson.

THE COMPANY OF WRITERS by Hilma Wolitzer. Another wonderful book on the writing process and navigating the times you want and need to emerge from solitude. I am a huge fan of Hilma’s novels and those by her daughter, Meg.

THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE by William Shakespeare. I learn more about art and craft and stagecraft and structure and style from Shakespeare than I do anywhere else. I read and re-read his work constantly.

THE CREATIVE HABIT by Twyla Tharp. Far too many books are about breaking blocks into finding one’s creativity. This book is for already creative people to take their creativity to the next level, in any discipline.

CUT TO THE CHASE: Writing Feature Films with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. From UCLA Extension Writers’ program. Excellent book on screenwriting art & business.

ESCAPING INTO THE OPEN by Elizabeth Berg. The writing advice is great, and her blueberry coffee cake recipe is THE BEST.

THE FOREST FOR THE TREES: An Editor’s Advice to Writers by Betsy Lerner. Editor, agent, writer, Betsy Lerner talks about creating a writing career and how to work with editors and understand marketplace.

HOW TO WRITE A BOOK PROPOSAL by Michael Larsen. Still the best book I’ve ever read to teach effective proposal writing. I’ve used this for fiction, nonfiction, and adapted it for grants and multi-media or multi-discipline projects.

INSIDE THE ROOM: Writing Television with the Pros. Edited by Linda Venis. Another excellent UCLA extension book on art, craft, and business.

LIFE, PAINT AND PASSION by Michele Cassou and Stuart Cubley. Although the focus of the book is painting, I find that painting (or sewing or dancing or singing) frees up the writing. Switching disciplines helps fuel your primary discipline.

MAKING A LITERARY LIFE by Carolyn See. She has terrific ideas for maintaining your creative, often solitary work life, while still meeting the needs of the business side.

MY STAGGERFORD JOURNAL by Jon Hassler. The journal of a year-long sabbatical to write a novel.

THE RIGHT TO WRITE by Julia Cameron. I’ve found this small book the most useful of all her creativity and artistic coaching works.

THUNDER AND LIGHTNING by Natalie Goldberg. My favorite of her books, this mixes practicality with exercises to open creativity and work past stuck.

THE WELL-FED WRITER by Peter Bowerman. This book helped give me the courage to make the freelance leap. There are many things I do differently than Peter does, but his energy and enthusiasm inspired me. I re-read this book often to remind myself of the basics.

WORD PAINTING by Rebecca McClanahan. I’d developed my Sensory Perceptions class before I read this book, and now it’s become part of the Recommended Reading list. The exercises focus on choosing the best words for descriptive writing.

WORD WORK: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer by Bruce Holland Rogers. Again, a professional writer offers ideas on how to keep creativity flowing while dealing with necessary business aspects.

WRITE AWAY! by Elizabeth George. Although my process has evolved very differently than hers, I find re-reading this book helps me look at the way I write in a fresh way. It’s a great book when I feel tired and stale.

WRITER’S MARKET. This comes out every year. I prefer the print edition, although I double-check online to see if any information has changed. I like to sit and go through the entire large book with pen and paper, reading each entry and making notes on the markets I want to approach. Then, of course, I have to go and DO it.

Looking at the list, many of these are about art and craft more than business. Several of them deal with balancing the two. I have many more books on writing. In fact, I have an entire six foot bookcase in my office filled to bursting with them, and more packed in boxes downstairs. But these are the books I go back to re-read regularly.

In my opinion, you can’t maintain a solid career without the art and the craft. You can live on your marketing until they find out your lack of art and craft. But without it, you can’t sustain, even in this age of the “influencer” and marketspeak.

Art and craft matter. When you build a solid foundation and keep growing, you can add in the marketing skills and continue to learn the technology as it changes.

Many of these books remind you how to go back to the basics of art and craft, how to grow creatively. When you get tired and discouraged, these are great books to help you refill your creative well.

What are your favorite books for your business?