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Building an Effective Mailing List

To get your direct-mail message across, you have to start out with the right names.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: How do I go about finding the right mailing lists that target my customers?

A: Much depends on the specifics of who your customers are and whether you're targeting businesses or consumers. But, generally speaking, here are nine avenues for you to explore to get you started in the right direction.

1. Small Business Development Center (SBDC): The SBDC is a government program sponsored by the SBA and funded by your tax dollars. It provides expertise and advice on a variety of small-business issues, including marketing, at no charge to you and has access to targeted mailings, which it can offer to you, as an SBDC client, at a relatively low cost. Log on to find the SBDC center nearest you.

2. List brokers: Look them up in the Yellow Pages under "Mailing Lists," "List Brokers" or "Mailing Services." A good list broker knows what lists are available and can also advise you on what type of list would work best for your business. Many list brokers can also custom-build lists based on your specifications.

3. Trade associations: What trade associations do your prospects belong to? Say, for example, you want to reach professional speakers. In this case, you'd contact the National Speakers Association and ask to rent or purchase a mailing list comprised of its members.

4. Local chamber of commerce: This makes sense if you're selling to local businesses. Most chambers of commerce sell a member directory or offer the directory as part of their membership package.

5. Internet directories: Do a Google search. For example, I do a lot of work with PR and ad agencies across the country. To find qualified prospects, I recently conducted a Google search on "PR agency directories." One of the search results was Agency Compile, which has more than 1,000 agencies in its database, indexed according to various categories. This site has been an invaluable research and list-building tool for me-and it's FREE. Perhaps there's a useful directory on the Web that features your target customers.

6. Magazines and trade journals: Magazine and trade journal publishers usually have a list manager, who handles orders for the mailing list. Therefore, if you know that subscribers to Men's Health Magazine, for example, are likely to be good prospects for your product, then you can rent their subscriber list directly.

7. Community newspapers: This approach makes sense if you're targeting local consumers as opposed to local businesses. Just as with magazines and trade journals, call the community paper and ask for the person in charge of mailing list rentals.

8. Homeowner associations: Say you want to target your mailing to local upscale consumers who live in homes valued at $300,000 and higher. A good place to begin is to scout the neighborhoods that fit your profile and then find out which associations manage those subdivisions.

9. Building your own list: How do you build your own contact list? Anytime you meet people who fit your customer profile, put their information in your database. If you find qualified prospects through your Internet research, add them to your list. Or if you've purchased a directory from the chamber of commerce or trade associations, include those contacts. Over time, you may find that you've built a database extensive enough that other businesses would want to rent your mailing list.

Sean Lyden is the CEO of Prestige Positioning (a service of The Professional Writing Firm Inc.), an Atlanta-based firm that "positions" clients as leading experts in their field-through ghost-written articles and books for publication. Clients include Morgan Stanley, IFG Securities, SunTrust Service Corp. and several professional advisory and management consulting firms nationwide.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

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