The fol­low­ing excerpt is from Robert W. Bly’s book The Dig­i­tal Mar­ket­ing Hand­book.

Let’s review how you can use direct mail (self-mail­ers and post­cards), con­ven­tions, meet-ups and trade shows, and TV and radio spots to grow your email list. But first, an unex­pect­ed offline list-build­ing strat­e­gy: cold-call­ing.


Nobody likes the idea of call­ing some­one out of the blue. Bear with me for a moment: This strat­e­gy costs you noth­ing but time (or a bit of cash if you hire a vir­tu­al assis­tant to do the call­ing for you). It re­quires know­ing the name of the indi­vid­ual you’d like as a sub­scriber and a short script:

Hi, this is Sarah from ABC Com­pa­ny. I have an impor­tant email to send to Mr. Bill Bow­er. Would you mind con­nect­ing me with him to get his per­mis­sion to send it?”

If that doesn’t get you to Mr. Bow­er, con­tin­ue:

The rea­son I’m ask­ing is that I work for Kathy Flo­res, a well-known and respect­ed insur­ance mar­ket­ing expert. She puts out a week­ly email newslet­ter that sev­er­al thou­sand insur­ance agents receive, read, and enjoy. The only rea­son I’m call­ing is to ask Mr. Bow­er if he’d be open to us email­ing him the week­ly newslet­ter. Our read­ers tell us it takes about six min­utes to read each one, and they are find­ing a lot of val­ue in it. Can you con­nect me?”

Of course, if you’re con­nect­ed with Mr. Bow­er right away, you’d use much the same lan­guage to con­vince him of the val­ue of read­ing the email you’re request­ing per­mis­sion to send. (Don’t wor­ry about legal­i­ties because by get­ting per­mis­sion direct­ly from Mr. Bow­er to send an opt-in email—and not just get­ting ver­bal per­mis­sion and then adding Mr. Bower’s name to a hand­writ­ten list of email address­es for lat­er list inclusion—you’re com­pli­ant with CAN-SPAM laws.)

Direct mail

Self-mail­ers (fold­ers that can be sent by mail with­out an enclo­sure in an enve­lope by using a gummed stick­er to hold the leaves togeth­er) and post­cards are two of the least expen­sive ways to add names to your sub­scriber list.

Self-mail­ers give you more area to work with than a post­card, and since there’s no enve­lope hid­ing the con­tents, both self-mail­ers and post­cards make it easy for recip­i­ents to see the con­tents of your mail­ing imme­di­ate­ly.

Post­cards are cheap: You’ll pay any­where from a nick­el to 15 cents apiece for stan­dard-sized post­cards, depend­ing on the vol­ume ordered. Self-mail­ers will cost you far more, but the advan­tage of extra sell­ing space may prove worth the cost.

What should you offer? What­ev­er it is, tie it to a sign-up: Make it so the (irre­sistible) offer can only be redeemed when the recip­i­ent signs up for your newslet­ter.

Direct mail


If you attend live events like trade shows and asso­ci­a­tion meet­ings, you’ll have many oppor­tu­ni­ties to add email sub­scribers. Some are pas­sive: Your busi­ness cards and prod­uct or ser­vice brochures should fea­ture a sign-up link or, bet­ter yet, a QR code. The QR code will allow peo­ple to opt into your email list sim­ply by scan­ning the code.

Is col­lect­ing email address­es at such face-to-face events con­sid­ered “opt-in” by email ser­vice providers (ESP)? The answer is yes if you do so using a form that clear­ly indi­cates the per­son is sign­ing up to join your email list. Many mar­keters have found using a tablet com­put­er with a data col­lec­tion app to be the most effi­cient (and eth­i­cal) way to gath­er con­tact infor­ma­tion. Be sure to send these con­tacts a wel­come email as soon as pos­si­ble con­firm­ing their opt-in to your list.

The cost of acquir­ing sub­scribers at live events can be dif­fi­cult to cal­cu­late. It’s not the cost of print­ing busi­ness cards and brochures; the cost is more in the amount of time spent and the amount of mon­ey you spent to attend the event. Still, it’s rel­a­tive­ly inex­pen­sive — espe­cial­ly when com­pared to TV or radio pro­mo­tions, our last option.

TV and radio advertising

Now, we’re in the big leagues when it comes to spend­ing. Radio ad­vertising pro­duc­tion costs can run you between $500 and $1,000, to which you’ll have to add the cost of air­ing your radio spot.

And what will it cost you to run a local TV adver­tise­ment? Rates vary depend­ing on the time of day and year as well as loca­tion. You may pay any­where from $200 to $1,500 for a 30-sec­ond spot at noon, but an ad seen between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. will cost you far more. Nation­al TV adver­tis­ing, which can run $100,000 for a 30-sec­ond spot, is beyond the bud­get of most small busi­ness­es.