"The best thing to do is network by going to conferences and seminars sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association (DMA)," says Muldoon, who's also the author of How to Profit Through Catalog Marketing (NTC Publishing, $90, 800-323-4900). "It's the largest association in the industry, and it has different meetings every month." (See "For More Information" on page 28 for contact information.)
You can also find plenty of help if you've got a computer; technological advances have leveled the playing field in the retail marketplace. "We have all sorts of technology available to the small guy now," Schulte says. "Bigger companies had the advantage when the costs were high. Nobody could afford a computer or a programmer but the big companies. But nowadays, you can buy helpful computer programs right off the shelf."
To manage his extensive mailing list, Blair uses PreSort Pro software (MCS Inc., $995, 301-990-6500), which works in conjunction with his database to presort first-class and standard mail, print reports and generate mailing labels. "We wouldn't have been able to conduct our business without it," he says.
Schulte recommends several database-management programs. The first, Order Pro (PC Innovations, $299.99, 800-774-6668), is a mail order processing program with built-in invoicing, inventory and credit-card processing components. Response Doubler (Advanced Business Stategies Inc., $395, 508-350-9770) can help you increase sales by tightening your mailing list using response rates and closing ratios. Mail Order Wizard (Haven Corp., $795, 800-676-0098) allows you to process orders, control inventory and manage your mailing list.
"The technology available can help weed people out of your mailing list who haven't bought in a year or who no longer live at the address you have on file," he says. "You can get more precise with your database--even target mailings to people who bought a certain product."