Direct Mail Prospecting: Does It Make Sense?

“I’m thinking about trying a direct mail campaign to land clients. Is that a good idea?”

I get this question all the time.

The short answer is, “it depends.”

Because the real question isn’t whether you should try direct mail. That’s like asking me if you should try to go to Paris this summer. (I don’t know. Should you?)

The real question goes deeper than that. To know for sure, you need to ask yourself the following:

  • What do you want to get out of this effort?
  • What are you offering in your direct mail piece? (What’s your call to action?)
  • To whom are you sending it?
  • Are you following up with these prospects in any way? Or are you planning multiple “touchpoints” for each prospect who doesn’t respond?
  • Who’s on the mailing list? And what’s the source of that list?
  • What else are you doing to prospect for clients?
  • Where does this campaign fit into your overall marketing strategy?

You see, when it comes to prospecting it’s not so much the tactic you’re using as much as how you’re using it… whom you’re approaching… what you’re offering… and how it integrates with your other marketing efforts.

We’ll address some of these issues in future articles and podcast episodes. But for now, I’ll answer the original question. And I’ll rephrase it as follows:

Is direct mail still effective? And if so, what kind works best?

Yes, direct mail is still a very effective prospecting method—when done right. When promoting your writing or copywriting services, there are three types of effective direct mail prospecting:

  • The lead magnet approach
  • The “hire me for your next project” approach
  • The “warm letter” approach

The Lead Magnet Approach

The lead magnet approach involves offering a free download (your “lead magnet”) as your call to action. This lead magnet can be a checklist, cheat sheet, process map, tip sheet, template or other relevant, useful and easily consumable information that’s somehow tied to the services you provide.

Interested prospects can trade their contact information for that lead magnet. Once they do, they’ve essentially “raised their hands” and identified themselves as “leads.”

For our purposes, a lead is a prospect who has indicated interest in your services. They could have done this directly by sending you an inquiry. Or they could have simply requested information from you (such as a lead magnet), which implies interest in an indirect way.

With this method, rather than approaching your prospects for work, you’re instead fishing for interest—even if that interest is not immediate.

Some of the prospects who request your lead magnet might have an immediate project opportunity. But most will not. Your job is to follow up with those “not yet ready” leads and stay top of mind in a professional way until they are ready to hire a writer.

The advantage of this approach is that you’re able to generate a larger pool of leads. And if you do a good job following up and staying in touch, you can end up converting more leads to clients over the long haul.

The “Hire Me for Your Next Project” Approach

Unlike the lead magnet approach, this one is a direct invitation to discuss a project. You’re essentially communicating whom you serve, what you do and what makes you different. And you’re inviting the prospect to contact you if she has an immediate need—or next time she has a project you can help with.

Statistically, there are fewer prospects with an immediate need than there are prospects who are interested in the topic of a relevant lead magnet. Therefore, you won’t generate as many leads with this effort as you would with the previous one.

Here’s a hypothetical (but very realistic) comparison to give you a very general idea of the potential difference between these methods:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notice that in the “hire me” scenario, there was one prospect who had an immediate need and who turned into a client within 90 days. In the lead magnet scenario, however, no one had an immediate need. But five prospects did request your lead magnet, thereby identifying themselves as leads.

By staying in touch with these five leads over the next few months, you converted two of them into clients once they were ready and had a specific need you could fill.

The net result is that you generated two clients with the lead magnet approach and only one client with the “hire me” method.

Again, this is simply an illustration. But it’s a very accurate representation of what happens in each of these scenarios. The “hire me” approach might turn up a client quickly. But that approach is very short-term–oriented and leaves you with no viable leads to follow up with over the long haul.

The lead magnet approach might also turn up a client quickly. But its benefits go beyond that. It helps you generate a larger pool of interested prospects (leads) you can then nurture long term until they have a need you can fill.

The “Warm Letter” Approach

This approach incorporates elements from the other two methods. Quite simply, it’s a warm email in the form of a letter. Which means that it’s a very personalized message to a specific individual—a “one to one” message, as opposed to a “one to many.”

Here’s an example:

Tina Wright
123 Main St.
Atlanta, GA 30003

Dear Tina,

I keep seeing your name everywhere (I do a lot of writing work in the waterworks and wastewater treatment industry). I’m very impressed with what I’ve read about your new line of Xtronix wastewater treatment monitors. Definitely a game changer!

I was curious: Do you ever work with outside writers for any of your marketing materials? And if you do, I’m wondering what it would take to be considered for a future project.

I specialize in helping companies in the water treatment industry write marketing content and sales copy. You can learn more about my experience here:

www.AwesomeWriter.com

Would it make sense to connect?

Regards,
Ed Gandia
www.AwesomeWriter.com
770-555-1212

I like using this approach as a follow-up to a warm email. Here’s how:

  • I send the prospect a warm email.
  • If I don’t get a response within two weeks, I resend the warm email.
  • If I don’t get a response to that warm email “resend,” I send the prospect the same warm email copy in the form of a printed letter via snail mail.

This approach is effective because by changing the medium, you increase the chances of your message getting noticed. And the personalized copy and tone tend to increase response because they show that you took the time to handcraft your message for that individual.

Direct Mail Gets Noticed (When Done Right)

In an environment where digital marketing is all the rage, physical mail stands out. Especially when your direct mail piece feels personal. Or when it’s different from most of the mail your prospects receive—either because you’ve taken the time to hand address the envelope or because your message and call to action are highly relevant.

Or both!

But before you dive too deep into the weeds, take time to decide what you want to get out of your direct mail efforts. From there, pick the approach that makes the most sense for your specific situation.

One last thing. Set the right expectations. Don’t expect miracles from doing just one mailing. That’s unfair.

Smart follow-up, nurturing not-yet-ready leads and taking an integrated approach to your prospecting are essential to your long-term success.

  • Great, practical article, Ed. I’ve used the “Hire Me” approach and have gotten a couple great clients out of it—one that has become a solid and enjoyable retainer client. Two factors worked in my favor there: 1. After I sent my first letter to him I used their website as an example for a newsletter article to my list, then sent him an email with a link letting him know. He had saved my letter and recognized my name. 2. He’s used to working with freelancers for writing and design projects. Not everyone is. So multiple touch points, yes!

    • Awesome! Great to know that approach has worked well for you. You’re going after a smaller pool of prospects when you go that route, but the ones who respond to be the ones who need something now or very soon.

  • Nice! I love your thorough breakdown of the different approaches to handling direct mail. I never thought of doing a third follow-up to a warm email by snail mail. Interesting!

    • That’s one of the reasons it works so well — because very few people use it that way. Which increases the chances that your letter will stand out.

  • Maria Krisette Capati

    Thanks for this piece, Ed! Very practical and straightforward. Interesting, I never thought about sending a potential client a printed mail, but it just makes sense. I’ll apply this and see how it goes.