In my life, I've had two freelance careers, one that limped along miserably for a number of years, and one that took off like a rocket after only three months of marketing.
What happened in between was eight year of excitement, growth and misery at a high-powered direct response agency, and a life-changing event at a hospital from overwork. What I'll always be thankful for, however, is that I learned exactly what it takes to get a lead, and convert them.
Prior to my years at the agency I managed to maneuver myself onto the board of the Oregon Direct Marketing Association. During this time I was often in the company of list brokers.
One broker I wrote copy for was fond of reciting the "40/40/20 rule," which I thought was a not-so-subtle attempt to put me in my place.
According to the 40/40/20 rule, 40 percent of the success of a mailing comes from the quality of the list; another 40 percent comes from the quality of the offer, and only 20 percent comes from the copy.
I'll grant he was right, except in the case where a mature marketer has tested all the lists, and tested all the offers, and now all that's left to test is copy or creative.
New businesses (and new copywriters) must start with the list, and the more qualified it is, the greater (and faster) the success.
That's why I spend several sessions with my coaching students when it's time to start building their lists. I emphasize that nothing is more important than targeting the right people!
One of my list-building secrets is the online database, Who's Mailing What!.
Who's Mailing What! is a huge archive of "classic" direct mail packages, postcards, magalogs, catalogs, and self-mailers. It exists to give businesses access to competitive marketing materials, and to provide copywriters with a research tool and copying service.
For instance, say you got your first job writing a promotion for the Seminars trade. You could spend about $70 for a one-year membership to Who's Mailing What! and pull up information on thousands of archived mailers selling seminars.
For an extra $40 or so, you can request that one of these mailers be copied and sent to you in either a traditional photocopied format, or (if available) an instantly downloadable PDF.
Sometimes you'll find a sample that the Who's Mailing What! editors suspect is a control (due to the fact that same package keeps reappearing).
There are two types of control identified: the "Control," and the "Grand Control." The Grand Control is a mailer that has mailed many times, and over a long period of time.
Personally, I've never used Who's Mailing What! to see what others are doing since I have an extensive swipe file of my own. But I've often used it to build my prospect database.
What makes Who's Mailing What! such a valuable resource for the copywriter is that it lists known mailers. You don't do better than that when trying to determine whether a company is a likely prospect for copywriting services.
What's more, in the Who's Mailing What! database you can search by niched category. For instance, if you specialize in nutritional supplements you can search category #346 (Nutritional Supplements and Vitamins) for high quality prospects.
You'll find many repeat entries, but that's ok; it just means that particular mailer is mailing frequently, which making them all the more desirable for your list.
An example: In a quick search of the database for the Nutritional Supplements and Vitamins category - and limiting to just the last two years - I found 66 entries. One strong mailer is Mountain Home Nutritionals, with eight mailings in two years.
Now that's all I need to know in order to "qualify them" for my list.
However, if you wanted to go deeper, you'd learn that Mountain Home Nutritionals doesn't mail the same package over and over; rather, it appears they test offers, as well as certain products.
Go even deeper, and you'll find that on one mailing, they used a #11 envelope, that the mailing specs were 13 pages of four-color process, that it was an acquisition (prospecting) mailing...and that the concept/copy for the outer envelope was:
"Stock Up Now on Dr. Williams' Top Health-Boosting Formulas!"
Now one caution: this is all very fascinating, but you're simply looking to qualify a potential prospect. Resist the urge to look deeper as time is of the essence.
What you need to do next is go to your potential prospect's Web site to get contact data...and that may not be as easy as it seems.
For instance, plugging "Mountain Home Nutritionals" into Google didn't bring it up...but it did bring up "Dr. David Williams"...and that's the brand under which Mountain Home Nutritionals is sold. So this is where you gather your contact information.
With hundreds of categories...from fund raising and investments to technology and insurance...Who's Mailing What! is an ideal source for building your prospect list. Start here, and I guarantee you'll step into the marketing side of copywriting with more confidence...and more success.
Master copywriter and coach Chris Marlow publishes an ezine for copywriters who want to quickly build a profitable business. Visit: