The Loot is in the Mailing List

Building an e-mail list and writing to it regularly is a lead and sales generator second to none, writes John Shreeve.

EDP Business

This article was first published in the EDP Business newspaper, published in Eastern England.

UP UNTIL THE LATE 1990s, I often came close to financial ruin. Not because I was extravagant, but because I'd always worked for myself, which is precarious at the best of times. One of my dices with fiscal disaster happened in 1994. I had no money in the bank and a mountain of bills to pay. I was on my uppers. But I did have a tenner (£10) in my pocket.

So I went out and bought some meat and fresh vegetables for a hearty meal later on. Plus I squandered a couple of pounds on the football pools (soccer gambling), just in case the Almighty, Allah, or a kindly god or goddess felt like smiling on me for once.

And ... believe it or not ... my luck did begin to change. Come the weekend, the football results brought me a small win - enough to cover the outstanding telephone and utility bills. Plus I had a money making idea. I'd got a mailing list I'd built up the year before using cheap classified adverts and a free report.

At that time, I was new to direct mail and marketing and didn't fully grasp the potential. But it occurred to me that the mailing list I'd built up could be turned into a little pot of gold. All I had to do was research and write up a new report and offer it to the list, along with a few free bonus reports on related subjects.

So I worked flat out for two weeks to create the products. I then sent a simple letter to everyone on my 2,000 strong mailing list. And ... oh yea! ... my salvation came. I sold 200 reports at £20 each. Which amounted to a cool £4,000, minus about £500 in postage, copying, and other expenses.

That got me back on my feet. And future mails to the list brought in more cash.

I basically discovered something that all direct marketers know: THE LOOT IS IN THE LIST. If you've got something to offer - a product or service of your own, or you drop ship goods produced by other firms - building up a mailing list of prospects is one of the most powerful things you can do. It is a profit generator. The secret is to write to your list regularly with free information they will benefit from - as well as promoting new and special offers. That way you build up a relationship with them and they come to trust you as a vendor.

E-mail Lists

In the past, this was done through the mail, which is expensive. Some still do this. But a lot of marketers have moved to e-mail. It's cheap and it's fast. But you do have to be careful that you build opt-in lists that people voluntarily subscribe to, otherwise you'll be accused of spamming. This can lead to your ISP or website hosting firm closing your account. Some spammers have even had death threats. It's not worth the risk.

Whatever the size of your mailing list, you should be e-mailing it regularly. Don't let the list lie dormant (as many firms do). Keeping up relationships with customers and clients is important. Once you've gained people's trust, you need to work at keeping that trust. The best way to do that is to write to them every week or so with offers, news, thoughts on life and living ... anything to keep up communication. This will keep you or your firm fresh in people's minds and they'll come to see you as a friend - not some money-grabbing street hawker selling snake oil.

Personalized Messages

One of the secrets to gaining trust in e-mail marketing is to personalize the e-mail messages you broadcast. Tests show that you get far better results in terms of sales if you address everyone on your list by name (I've also proved this personally). In other words, you don't write "Dear Subscriber" or "Dear Friend." You write "Dear Jim" or "Dear Julie." Even better, you write "Dear Jim, how's the weather in London today?"

But wait, you cry! Microsoft Outlook won't do that! To address everyone personally you would have to write each e-mail manually. That could take hours or days if the list is large. It would be even worse if you wanted to mention the cities and towns where people live, or other information specific to individuals.

You're quite right. It would take days. That's why the resourceful marketer doesn't use Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora, Pegasus, or any of the other big names in e-mail programs.

What does he or she use?

Well, there are a number of good programs out there, including Mailloop ( and World Merge ( Each has advantages and disadvantages. I've tried just about all of them. But one program I came across recently that stood out in terms of price, power, and usability is an e-mail program called Mail Commander, made by Internet-Soft ( It allows you to mail merge first and last names, city, town, county, country, and company names, as well as customized information.

I now use Mail Commander for all my general e-mail and for managing my newsletters. Every day I get torrents of e-mail. Being a lone operator, it's no easy matter keeping up. So the program has proved a godsend. It isn't perfect (what program is?). For example, it doesn't currently have a spell checker. But the company tells me this issue will be resolved in future versions of the program.

Internet-Soft also market a dedicated e-mail broadcast program called Mailing List Deluxe, which makes it very easy to stay in touch with multiple customer lists. I use it to keep in contact with the media here in Britain and in the U.S. It makes it very easy to separate different types of lists. I've got mine split into business, technology, and lifestyle publications. You can do the same with customer lists. You might have a list of customers interested in lower cost products and another made up of those interested in higher cost items. Or you could split your customers up by town and county, or by country, if you've got international reach.

Click the links below to discover more about Mail Commander and Mailing List Deluxe:
Mail Commander Mailing List Deluxe

Give the two programs a try. If you like them, tell me about it. I'll paste your comments at the end of this page. There's nothing in it for me, by the way. I just get genuinely enthusiastic when I find powerful marketing products on the web.

The fact is, if I were just starting out today and had gambled my last couple of pounds on the football pools ... and won ... I wouldn't squander the winnings on utility bills. No. I'd plough the cash into Mail Commander and Mailing List Deluxe. And I'd go hell-for-leather into building a mailing list and offering it something of real value.

Okay, it would be a race against time before the phone and electricity get cut off. But with a few sweet words to the utility people, I'd be able to buy a couple of months before they start breathing fire. In that time, I'd expect to generate enough cash to cover the bills and have enough left over to build on my campaign - that's the power of the mailing list.

August 2003

John Shreeve
UK writer & journalist