Nico Prins contributed this article. Nico is the founder of Launch Space, where he arranges “no brainer” software deals for people working online. Check out the site and sign up to the email list to get access to upcoming offers.
In this post I want to show you how to launch your digital marketing agency — and turn a profit — in 30 days or less.
The model is 95% based on direct marketing. You don’t need traffic from Google and can be making money within a month.
I used this direct marketing strategy to launch an online marketing agency, launchspace.net, where I come up with lifetime deals of software for online business owners. We used a simple 3-page website and an email address to land high value clients and make deals that benefited our customers.
As a result of our direct marketing efforts we made close to $90,000 in gross sales (around $30,000 in profit) in the first year. This despite the fact that on the “best day” ever the website got a server-crashing 24 hits.
And all this was as a side hustle; it’s not a full-time business for me (yet).
You might roll your eyes at this point.
I’m not saying you can replicate the results I got in the niche I’m working in. I have experience in the industry, a good distribution network and a great business partner (these are not replicable in 30 days).
What I am saying is I believe this direct marketing strategy is repeatable in your niche and you can borrow it guilt-free. Use this strategy to launch a business and get your first customer in less than 30 days with minimal time and money invested.
To make this guide as practical as possible I’ll break down what kind of niches I would focus on if I were launching a digital marketing company tomorrow using this tactic. I’ll cover the direct marketing strategy I use to run the business, the systems I’ve created, and everything else in between.
Let’s get started!
What is Direct Marketing?
In contrast to mass media, direct marketing is a form of promotion that presents information about your product or service to your target customer in a personal way.
Historically direct marketing has been done over the phone or through the mail, with postcards, brochures, coupons, fliers, and catalogs. Those methods still work, but the channel has expanded to include email marketing, targeted online ads, and even text messages.
The goal of direct marketing is to generate a response or action: a request for more information, a visit to a website, or ultimately a sale.
Because the prospects receiving direct marketing messages are pre-segmented or screened based on their being a likely potential customer, it can be more cost-effective and personalized than other forms of advertising.
What Industries Does Direct Marketing Work For?
The images give a snapshot of a story.
Every day thousands of people start a new side hustle online. They’re setting up e-commerce stores, blogs, and I don’t know what else. At the same time they’re competing against thousands of other people who are already out there running online businesses.
All these business owners need services. They want logos, copywriters, website developers, content creators, help with SEO, social media management, and more. These are all great niches for you to apply direct marketing business strategies.
This is where I’d focus if I was going to setup a niche marketing agency tomorrow. Keep in mind you can spin the outbound marketing strategy I’m about to share in different ways.
If you do I’d be interested to see what results you get. Be sure to share in the comments below!
Nick’s Notes: What Nico is suggesting is that online entrepreneurship is on the rise, and that means demand for services supporting those businesses is on the rise as well. However, I think his direct marketing approach below can be applied to any number of business to business sales situations. As long as you have skills to help solve the problems of other businesses, you can use this method to find customers.
Why I Recommend Going Niche
When providing a service it’s natural to want to offer something for everyone. It feels like you get access to the biggest market share. Yet when you look at business you quickly realize there’s a lot of money to be made in specializing on a certain demographic.
Think like Ferrari. They don’t make affordable cars — they target the 1%.
This is what I recommend you do: Go niche.
When you specialize in something, like being a web designer for dentists, it’s much easier to target and pitch clients, both online and offline. As a niche specialist you can quickly gain insights into the demands of the industry.
It’s easier to get relevant testimonials and referrals. Plus you get to make your client feel like you understand what they want from day one.
If you have a useful skill that can benefit businesses then hopefully you can use the direct marketing business strategies I’m going to share to become the ‘go to’ person for your skill set. Let’s get started with designing that website.
Before You Start: Direct Marketing Pre-Requisites
The beauty of direct marketing in the Internet age is it’s incredibly low-overhead. You don’t have to break the bank buying customer databases, mailing lists, printing flyers, or getting fancy business cards or letterhead or anything like that.
But there are a couple things you should have in place: a website and an email address at that domain.
Combined they’ll cost you less than $10 a month.
Your 3-Page Website
Before you start your direct marketing efforts, I think it makes sense to build at least a “minimum viable website.” If nothing else, it will make you look more legit when potential clients want to learn more about you and your company — even if there’s not much of a company to speak of yet.
When I setup my site, Launch Space had just 3 pages:
- an ‘About Page’
- a ‘Contact Page’
- and most importantly, the squeeze-style Homepage, which is much as you see it today.
That was it. The site was up over a weekend.
There are a lot of good articles online about creating a good squeeze page (here’s an example you could read). At its simplest the landing page for a niche-marketing agency looks a bit like this:
- Hero Image and headline
- Blurb about the business
- Social proof or testimonials
- List of services you offer
- Call to action
- Answer to the meaning of life
Just checking you were paying attention. Ignore the last bullet point ;-)
Here’s what the Launch Space About / landing page looks like following the template above:
Nick’s Notes: I think WordPress is the best website builder out there (and it’s free; you just pay for hosting), and put together this step-by-step guide on how to get your site online quickly and affordably. If the tech stuff is holding you back though, you might consider a simpler option like Weebly.
Don’t worry about adding more pages or content to your site right now.
What you’re creating is a minimum viable product. A 3-page website is the minimum amount of work you need to test the demand for your business. You can always improve it later.
If you can’t generate interest for your service with direct marketing and a very basic website, you need to review your business plan. That’s the bad news.
The good news is you won’t have spent much time or money on your project to reach that conclusion!
An Email Address at Your Domain
The other thing you need to get started with your outbound marketing is an email address. I always use the format email@example.com.
While not essential, I suggest running your email with Gmail for Business. For me, it’s a “no-brainer” investment. The user interface is just like Gmail and it costs around $4 a month per email address. Here’s how to set it up.
Nick’s Notes: I have all my domain email forwarded to my “master” gmail account for free. Here’s a video I did on how to set it up with your hosting provider.
How to Find Direct Marketing Prospects
The initial success of your business will be the result of your outbound marketing.
Don’t worry if you’re not a natural public speaker or if you’ve never done this before. Most of the work is research and email.
The starting point for your direct marketing effort is generating a list of potential clients. How you go about this will vary niche to niche, but let me share a couple ways that have worked for me.
Most of my research is based around intuitive searching on Google combined with niche-specific sites and membership of a few Facebook groups.
For example, the software companies (that are my target clients) tend to promote their services through sites like Betalist or ProductHunt. In my experience companies trying to promote themselves through these channels are very receptive to direct marketing pitches.
If I were running a marketing agency targeting a specific niche then I would use Google Ad results to identify a similar shortlist of ‘hot’ prospects. For example, here’s what shows up for “mechanics + London”:
Nick’s Notes: This screenshot comes from the Google Keyword Planner inside AdWords.
These companies are already spending at least £0.48 per click to get prospects to their site. There’s a very good chance that if you are offering a service that would improve their conversion rate or drive more traffic to their site then they would be interested in hearing about it.
Once I identify an interesting software service that I think our customers would be interested in I normally head to Google. A search for “10 best + Product Name + Alternatives” increases the number of companies I can target.
A quick search of “mechanics + London” brings up close to 50 results. I could increase the number of potential clients by cross referencing these results with a local business listing website like Yellow Pages.
The other way I create a list of potential clients for direct marketing is based on what my customers are interested in (my clients are not the same as my customers, if that makes sense). Facebook groups like Digital Marketing Questions, which I am a member of, are useful forums to see what online marketers are talking about and what software and services they find useful.
Going back to the example of targeting mechanics in London, I’m sure you’ll find online forums where customers are discussing the mechanic they used. With a bit of online research you might find that the company doesn’t have a website or their website desperately needs an update. (Perfect if you’re the go-to guy or girl to build websites for mechanics!)
I imagine a variation of the tactics I’ve listed above will help you quickly generate a list of potential clients for your business.
Nick’s Notes: You can find some additional tips for finding clients and prospects in this post.
Managing Your Direct Marketing
Once you have your list of leads for your direct marketing you need a system to manage everything.
I use a combination of Google Docs and Trello to do this. On Trello I break my outreach down into steps and systemize everything on the lists. You can see how I do this in the image below.
When developing a small business marketing strategy I always arrange everything as if I wanted a Virtual Assistant to manage it. This is a good practice to get into as it creates systems you can use as you scale the business.
Here’s a breakdown of what’s on the important template cards, which give an overview of how the direct marketing is managed through Trello:
- General Overview: Access info for Google Docs and the email address.
- Email Outreach: Templates and timing for email and social media outreach.
- Example Template: Review of the information that should be posted on the client cards (what has been discussed and next steps).
To track my direct marketing efforts I color code the cards. I move potential clients through the various columns as I reach out to them and eventually seal a deal with them (or not).
On Google Docs I store all the leads I’ve reached out to and use a traffic light system to track the results.
You can find a mockup board of the system I use on Trello. The board is public so you can check out all the cards. It should give you an idea how I run my business. Feel free to copy it.
My Overall Direct Marketing Strategy and Results
Now comes the meat of the article…
A good direct marketing strategy is about getting results. My response rate for outbound marketing is a respectable 15%. That means for every 100 people I reach out to from my prospect list, I can have 15 sales conversations.
Of those pitches, one in three convert into clients. Overall, last year about 5% of the people I contacted became clients, which was worth $30,000 in profit to my business.
Here’s how I do it:
- Mon: Send your first email pitch asking for the relevant contact person.
- Wed: Follow up on your initial outreach via social media.
- Thur: Send a follow up email to the company.
- Final Step: Make your pitch by phone, Skype, or similar.
Let’s break down those steps.
Your First Outreach Email
The first stage of my direct marketing is my intro email.
This email has one aim; to get a hold of the correct person in the company.
(I suggest that every email you write have only one purpose. It keeps things focused).
Subject Line: Marketing Enquiry
I hope you’re having a good day. I’d like to speak to someone from the marketing department for COMPANY NAME. Can you please provide me with the email address of the relevant person in your marketing department or forward this as appropriate.
Thanks in advance,
P.S. The HOOK
What’s the hook, you might ask? Well, I’m not talking about Peter Pan.
The hook is how you get attention. My hook is the benefit I can offer the software companies I want to work with (in my case, early adopters and an injection of cash).
If you’re a copywriter or content creator, your hook could be as simple as a list of spelling and grammar mistakes you noticed in the prospect’s existing sales copy.
I include the hook in the Post Script, because people always read it. Plus it’s the last thing they read.
If you get a response from your direct marketing that’s great! I’ll cover how I follow up on a lead below. Before we get into that though I want to cover the follow up series that I use for contacting potential clients.
This is important, because you will miss out on a lot of clients if you only email a lead once.
When I don’t get a response to my first message, I follow up two days later using a different communication channel.
For my business, I find Facebook Messenger is a good option, but LinkedIn or Twitter may work best for you.
The reason you should use a different communication channel is simple: All too often your email ends up in the Spam folder.
Even when your email does get through, a lot of people are just bad at responding to their emails. They might be busy when they read your message and plan to get back to you later and never do. Remember, your importance in a stranger’s life is somewhere between plans for the weekend and if it’s time for a coffee break.
Direct Marketing via Social Media
I start my conversations on Facebook with “Hello. I had a question.” and wait for a response.
My Mum taught me well.
More often than not I get a response from direct marketing through Facebook. I think part of the reason is Facebook shows the average response time for replying to a message. Many companies want to keep that bar green so they always reply to enquiries!
If you are communicating through LinkedIn, use a variation of the above email. Include an opening sentence explaining you tried to contact them two days ago, got no response and you’re now following up through LinkedIn.
Still No Response?
Consider this strike three. This is going to be your last attempt to get in touch.
Follow up with a final email the next day. This message is a variation on the pitch you’d give if you got a response from a client. If I were a web designer I’d use something like this:
Subject Line: Problem With Your Website
I emailed you on DATE, but you might have missed the message.
I’m a web designer and provide online marketing services for NICHE. I reviewed your website the other day and identified a number of changes you could make to the design and user flow that would make you extra sales.
I created a short two-minute video for you going over your website here: youtube.com/yourvideo
If you’re interested to learn more about how I can help your business we can arrange a Skype/phone call and I’ll be happy to go into more depth about the issues I identified. Look forward to your response.
The email copy might not fit with your niche. That’s fine! Edit the hell out of it or just create your own template.
What to Do When Someone Replies To Your Direct Marketing
You’ve got a bite! Someone responded to your initial outreach message and wants to learn more about what you have to offer.
So what comes next?
Your next move should be to ascend the prospect from curious to convinced, and I go about this in a very specific way, still usually over email.
When creating an email template of your own to use at this stage, my suggestion would be to include two out of the three points below in your copy:
- A free report
- A video pitch
- An invitation for a phone call or Skype chat
Each of these points is important. I’ll cover them below.
The Free Report Formula
A lot of companies offer a free report as part of their direct marketing strategy. It’s a way of illustrating the value that you can offer a business. Plus it sounds like it took a lot of work to create.
And it should, but not too much work…
The free report is the business equivalent of foreplay. You want to offer just enough value in the report to prove you know what you’re talking about.
If you think a free report is relevant to your niche, replace the sentence about the two-minute video in the email template above with something about your free report.
Don’t include the report in this email, but get them to ask for it. That way you don’t have to write the report unless they ask for it!
Here are a few pointers to keep in mind if writing a free report is relevant to your direct marketing strategy:
- Presentation is Everything: Use proper formatting, title page, etc., and save as a PDF.
- Keep it Concise: Write no more than 3-5 pages. Make it light. Use a mix of graphics and text.
- Spellcheck: There are a lot of grammar nuts out there. Put the report through two spelling and grammar checkers.
- Include a Call to Action: Ask the reader to take an action at the end of the report.
Remember, the idea of the report to leave a good impression. Think James Bond smooth.
You’d be surprised how many people spend hours writing a great report that looks like it was formatted using Microsoft Paint. Spend a few minutes smartening it up to make it look good (really that’s all it takes).
The ‘free report’ formula might not work for your niche. Or you might find you need to give the free report a twist. I gave you an example of a twist in that hook example I mentioned above.
The Video Pitch
Pitching by video is a little trick that I picked up from Daniel DiPiazza. When he was working on Elance (now Upwork) he’d always include a link to a video in the email copy when he pitched for contracts. He managed to make over $20,000 using this approach (this is now against the Upwork Terms of Service, but still very effective in direct marketing).
The reason the sales video trick works as an outbound marketing strategy is the way we communicate. The thing is, a large part of communication is visual and oral. It comes from our facial expressions, the intonation of our voice, our accent, etc.
Language, the perception of shared experiences and understanding is a big part of what makes a connection between people. When you have that connection it makes it a lot easier for you to make a sale.
So while it might feel stupid using your webcam to make a video, I suggest you give it a go. By standing out in a crowded marketplace you will drastically increase the likelihood of sealing a deal with a potential client.
Keep in mind that you want to offer something of value in your pitch. Going back to the web designer analogy, you could create a short video review of the website you want to land as a client. You can see there’s demand for this as Nick managed to sell a website review service through Fiverr.
Closing a Client with a Phone Call
This is the last stage…
When a potential client gets back in touch with you and says they are interested in your service it’s time to celebrate. Open a bottle of wine, pour yourself a glass and chill out. Then when you’re feeling completely relaxed arrange a call with them.
I normally use Skype when talking to a potential client for the first time. It allows me to get some face time in. At a minimum I recommend you get on the phone so they can hear your voice.
Having a chat makes it easier to pitch your service. You can answer questions, talk business, and eventually chat deliverables and pricing. If you’ve never done direct marketing before, I recommend you prepare yourself and practice with a few bullet points about what you want to cover in the call.
The truth is not much has changed since Dale Carnegie published the book How to Win Friends and Influence People over 80 years ago. Here are a few key things to try when you get your prospect on the phone:
- Find out what they’re passionate about. Any connection or shared interest you can find makes it easier for you to make a sale.
- Talk about the value that your service will provide the business, preferably their profit, rather than the cost of your service. This makes it easier to justify the cost of your service.
- Break down your contract into milestones. See if you can include a contract extension if you hit all the milestones.
Seal the Deal
If you have a good service to offer that has value to customers I guarantee you’ll generate leads and sales from outbound marketing. The hardest part is “closing” the sale and converting your prospect into a paying client.
Don’t worry if you don’t get it right first time. On my first Skype call pitching Launch Space I completely messed up. My pitch was, on reflection, terrible. I felt like a clumsy Superman. Instead of taking off to save the world like a champ I’d tripped over my cape, broke my nose, and spent the night in A&E.
Safe to say I didn’t land the client.
The next call was a little better. By my fifth pitch using this direct marketing strategy I was in a groove and sailed through the call and had answers ready for every question. You can find an example of a deal that we ran (and the case study I wrote that I use in client pitches) here.
That’s when you’ve got a business.
Once you’ve got a few customers and you’re showing decent results you should get on a roll with referrals. Outbound marketing should still be part of your small business marketing strategy, but it will no longer need to be the whole business.
It sounds strange, but I was quite excited as I wrote this guest post for Side Hustle Nation.
I want to see what people do with the information. If you’ve got a service business and direct marketing is a key part of what you do then I hope there are a few tips here you could benefit from (if you have any tips I’d be really interested to hear about them in the comments).
Alternatively, if you’re looking to start a side hustle and you think this business model could be right for you I hope you act on it. Regardless of your niche, I’d recommend testing and validating the demands for your service by creating a minimum viable product. If you do decide to take action after reading this post then best of luck!
Any questions let me know in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them.