How To Start > Business
The Direct Mail Sales Letter that Returns Over 500% Profit Every Day of The Week
and how you can copy it and adapt it to your business
Tldr: Started a carpet cleaning business, messed about with a dozen different versions of a sales letter, found one that works REALLY well, made $21k in 90 days from sending carpet cleaning sales letters.
I write a lot about starting and marketing small businesses – but – unless I walk the walk, I’m just writing an ‘opinion column’. So, after 6 years of not actively running a business, I decided to do a ‘walk-the-walk’ project.
In late May of 2020 (right in the middle of the apocalypse) I started a local business.
The goal: build a real, offline, local business that earns a good full-time income (about $70-80k a year), working part-time hours. And do it all in less than 30 days.
This is the story of the sales letter that made it all possible, and how after stumbling around with 12 different versions, I ended up with something so powerful that it forces people to pick up the phone and call – a literal ‘shut up and take my money’ response.
The sales letter that I ended up with doesn’t get people to call and ask about prices, nor ask if they can see our reviews (which is good, because I had exactly zero reviews!), nor ask for discounts, nor – frankly – ask anything else at all.
All they ask when they call is “when are you available?”.
The type of customers who responded to my sales letter were the best customers – they pay more, they complain less, and they’re happier with the result.
They have high expectations, but are easily satisfied.
Because I had worked as a carpet cleaner many years ago, I chose to start a carpet cleaning business for my walk-the-walk project – but this approach (and this sales letter) works equally well for pressure washing, pest control, lawn care, painting services, gardening, roofing – just about any home service that is something a homeowner would think “oh yeah, I should do that!”.
It will NOT work for things that are forgotten about until they’re a problem – for example, plumbing and electrical repairs. Trying to sell those services by sales letter would be a disaster.
No homeowner is going to open a sales letter from a plumbing company and say to themselves “hey, I should spend $5k to replace my water pipes, what a great idea!” unless they have an immediate problem…
So use a bit of common sense. This approach works shockingly well, but only if you use it with a broadly appealing mass-market offer.
Something that homeowners are probably going to spend money on in the next year anyhow, and something that they spent money on last year.
The First Batch of Letters
The v1.0 letter bombed.
It was 6 pages long, and several days after having over 1,000 out in the wild, I’d had exactly zero calls.
Ok, ego check noted.
If you send 1,000 sales letters, and don’t get a single response, you should probably not send anymore. Right?
Well… maybe that’s right? Maybe not.
But - here’s why I was convinced that the problem was the letter itself, rather than the idea of ‘sending sales letters’.
I knew people were already buying this service, in good numbers.
It’s not as though I was writing to them about installing auto-cleaning windows, or some other nonsense. It was carpet cleaning. And plenty of people in my target area were already buying that service.
I knew this, because before I wrote my first letter, I had wanted to how many people in any given area were likely to have their carpets cleaned in a normal month.
So… I busted out my bro-science hat and did some numbers.
I started by looking up the monthly Google search volume for “carpet cleaning [my city]”.
I assumed that about half the people who are getting their carpets cleaned already have a preferred company, and the other half are going to Google to find someone new.
So, doubling the search volume gave me an estimated number of people in that area who were getting their carpets cleaned.
I took that number and divided it across the number of houses in the area – which gave me a figure around 1.6% - that is to say, according to my estimates, 1.6% of homeowners in that area that month were likely to get their carpets cleaned.
There’s no way that’s accurate. However – it’s a good enough back-of-the-envelope guess to tell me I’m not wasting my time.
And – that monthly demand volume is just a ‘moment in time’ snapshot.
It’s quite likely that by the time the homeowner takes action (that is – finds a carpet cleaner and picks up the phone) it’s already been on their mind for some weeks, maybe even a month.
So I said to myself – I’m going to call it a ‘2% opportunity size’ – 1.6% who were going to do it this month anyway, plus a few points extra from those who had started to become aware they might need carpet cleaning, but weren’t quite picking up the phone just yet.
That gave me a theoretical fully-saturated response rate of 2%, so I figured if I could get to a quarter of that – 0.5%, my letter would be ‘good enough’, and certainly on 0.5% response rate it was a profitable enough letter to send by the tens of thousands.
Therefore, based on these assumptions, in any batch of 1,000 letters, 20 recipients were already going to get their carpets cleaned this month or next month, and, I’d like for 5 of them to call me, rather than someone else. (Spoiler – as the results below reveal… I got to this number, and more!).
Anyone reading this who is formally trained in this kind of stuff is probably squirming in their seat at my inaccuracy, but… after a complete failure in the first letter, this series of guesses was good enough for me to know that it was more likely than not that I could profitably send these sales letters, which was really all I needed to know.
So… I sent more letters.
The Next Batches of Letters
After the first letter bombed, I abandoned the ‘longer is better’ idea, and forced myself to no more than two pages.
It was an introduction, an offer, a bit of social proof, a bit of vivid description of the details of why their carpets probably sucked right now, and then restating the offer and inviting them to call.
I started to get some calls.
Then I realized the offer was a bit silly, because it was a fixed price offer for ‘up to 5 rooms’.
And all the people who were responding had 5 or more rooms… which told me that someone with 3 rooms, or 4 rooms, possibly felt like the offer wasn’t valuable to them (maybe they’re over-paying for the extra rooms, maybe they feel like it’s just not for them!).
So, next version, I ran a 3 room, a 4 room, and a 5 room special.
And I got far more calls than the previous version.
Then I changed around the format of the letter a little bit – the offer was somewhat buried at the bottom of the back page – I moved it up to the third paragraph. The original thinking for having the offer last was to spend some time in the letter ‘building up the magic story’ – but – I came to take the view that if someone wasn’t remotely interested in carpet cleaning at the time, they’d bin the letter anyway – and if they WERE interested, slapping them with a really good offer first was the best way to capture their attention and keep them reading.
So – with the offer moved up, I ran some more batches – and the response rate crept up a little more.
Then, I added a “text us anytime” number, for people who might be opening the letter at night and didn’t feel right calling late at night. I still wanted them to respond in that instant, rather than put the letter away and forget about it.
I’m not sure that the ‘text us anytime’ addition increased the response overall, but it did make the responses faster. Instead of people forgetting about the letter for a few days, they often texted right way.
In later editions of the letter - around v6.0 – after having had plenty of people enquiring about it despite not advertising it, I added an upholstery cleaning offer, and made it clear that upholstery cleaning could be done with carpet cleaning, or as a standalone service.
It turned out that of all the people who had asked about upholstery cleaning, there were about another 2x or 3x who were interested and started to respond once it was included in the offer.
Now, on v6.4 of the letter, I’m done tweaking it.
I’m not saying it’s perfect. It’s certainly not. It just works well. It works every day. It works everywhere.
And – for the purpose of my project – it gave me the results I needed.
Addressing my letters
You can buy a mailing list so your letters are personally addressed, or, you can send a generic offer to the whole world.
The pros/cons are that buying a mailing list can be expensive, but on the other hand, developing an offer that can profitably be sent cold to ‘everyone’ can be a huge challenge.
I skipped the mailing list, and went for broke… I settled on mailing everyone in a given area.
So – because it was to be bulk mail – and not personalized, the question became – what do I write on the damn envelope? I can’t write their name and address… so… what?
In the back of my mind, when I was planning my attack on the suburbs, I had intended to address the letters either as “To The Homeowner”, or just a totally blank envelope.
I wasn’t super happy with either of them – anyone with even two brain cells knows immediately that a “To the Homeowner” letter is marketing mail – so you’ll get a lot that go straight into the bin without being opened. And a blank envelope is easy to ignore (and easy to judge) too.
But I wanted my letters to be opened and read – not ignored or binned!
I didn’t want to spend the extra money for addressed mail (it’s not just the cost of the mailing lists, but you’re also then paying postage, rather than bulk mail rates).
So – the envelopes had to be appealing, personal, and important enough to open – without actually being personal.
I’m not sure quite how I got there, but in the end I settled on “To The Neighbors”, in a hand-written font. (Reenie Beanie, size 26, PMS color 286, center-aligned).
Who isn’t going to open a hand-addressed letter like that? (Pro tip – use secretive envelopes, so they REALLY can’t know what’s in it until they open it)
The big risk was that when they open it and discover it’s NOT from their neighbors, they’ll be pissed - and you wont get their business anyway, despite them opening your letter.
So to mitigate against that – the letter became one where the introduction was “I’m writing to introduce myself because we serviced your neighbors today”, and several times within the letter I make reference to ‘neighbors only special pricing’, and ‘your neighbors called us’, etc, so that it’s quite clear that we’re writing to them because they’re neighbors of our existing customers.
I had one woman from all the calls from those letters who started the call by saying “well, first of all, I don’t believe you were actually at my neighbors today”… my response (prepared long before – because I was expecting to hear those words quite often!) was “it almost definitely wasn’t your immediate neighbor, but when we do a job we typically send letters to all houses in a half-mile radius”. She went ahead and booked, with no further mention of it… and nobody ever again mentioned the ‘neighbors’ thing, much to my surprise!Who isn’t going to open a hand-addressed letter like that? (Pro tip – use secretive
I started with batches of about 1,000 letters. A batch might go out in a single day, or it might take two or three days – it depended on how fast I could get them printed and distributed, and whether I’d been organized enough to order paper and envelopes!
But – a batch size of 1,000 is enough where a single response isn’t going to skew the results too much, but also small enough that if my letter bombs and fails completely, it’s only a small amount of money.
For reasons I don’t fully understand, the city that I ran this project in has terribly overpriced printing shops. There’s either no competition, or all the shops are too busy already, or…? I don’t know.
I got quotes from local print shops to print the envelopes, print the letters, fold them, insert them into the envelopes, and deliver them to me in bundles of 100 ready for distribution.
The prices that came back were so outrageously expensive that it would have been foolish to proceed with any of them. I started looking interstate, and the quotes got better and better – but – I also started looking for a commercial printer (old photocopier!), and a folding and inserting machine.
In the end, I bought my own equipment, and it paid for itself almost immediately.
I bought a Canon Image Runner Advanced 5035 for $400 (with two unopened black toners!), and a NeoPost DS62 inserter for $500.
For an investment of $900, I could do my own printing, folding, and inserting at a cost of $83 per 1,000 including paper, toner, supplies, envelopes, etc – and the time taken is negligible – it takes a couple of hours a week to prepare a few thousand items.
The quotes from print shops had varied between $270 and $380 per thousand! So, by the time I’d done just a few thousand letters, my gear had paid for itself.
Ultimately, I settled on having them delivered as bulk mail. You can choose your routes, and repeatedly do the same areas – you’ll consistently get the same response from an area by mailing it about 4 to 6 times a year – once every 2 to 3 months.
I decided against messing about with the “DIY” methods - hand delivering them myself, or getting ‘the neighbors kids’ to do it. It’s a guaranteed hassle. You’ll get a few hundred done, then… what? It will start raining. Or Jimmy from next door accidentally dumps them in the bin instead of delivering them… or he has to get back to his homework.
The end result
(Hello to those who skipped the whole page and came straight to this!)
The end result is – my final 6 batches (7,200 letters total) returned me an average of 622% (every $1 spent gave me $6.22 back).
In other words – for every $1,000 in work I generated, my gross profit was about 84%.
And that’s a scalable 84% gross profit. You want more profit? Send more letters.
Here’s a screenshot of my sales letter tracking sheet.
Note: Looking at this sheet, I’m not quite sure why there is no v1, v2, v3, or v4. Maybe I decided against them before ever even sending them – or maybe I didn’t track them properly – I don’t recall what exactly happened – I just know it was a slow start..!
Every time I did a batch of letters (which was just about daily, unless I had forgotten to order envelopes, or something equally silly) I marked it on a map – so when bookings came in, I could identify which batch they were from – and accordingly – which version of the letter was giving the best results.
You can see in the screenshot the iterations through the versions – the results started off quite poor, but did slowly get better with each batch.
Fast forward to today - I have a sales letter that predictably and reliably returns 500-800% - and I still don’t know why the range is so big. It would be nice if it was ALWAYS 800% - maybe it’s the weather, maybe it’s the day of week, maybe it’s the sporting match the day before – maybe it’s any number of things. Some weeks the response just isn’t as high the best weeks.
But I don’t care. I just know I have built a machine that will take my $100 and turn it into $500 to $800, day in, day out.
The elephant in the room here is that this was all done during the coronavirus apocalypse. Even though I did this project in an area that was ‘barely affected’, my bro-science guesswork says that if this was 2 years later, or 2 years ago, the results would have been even better.
If you want a copy of the final and most effective version of the sales letter (in Word format, ready for you to edit to suit your business!), just drop me a message via the contact box below.
If you tell me what industry you’re in, I’ll see if I have any other resources I can include.
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