Marko: You recently told me you knew Maxwell Sackheim. Care to elaborate on that a little, maybe tell us a little more about him? I’m pretty certain there’s a few people out there would like to know more about him.
Jim Straw: I really can’t tell you much more about Max than what you may have read.
Back in the mid-1970s, I got a telephone call from a man complimenting one of my promotions. He introduced himself as Max Sackheim … I didn’t know whether I wanted to believe him or not. After all, why would the greatest master of the craft be impressed by anything I had written.
After complimenting my promotion, Max proceeded to give me 2 or 3 ideas to improve it. — Since I ALWAYS test new ideas, I tested the ideas and saw an exceptional increase in response.
Max asked to be put on my mailing list.
Over the next few years, Max telephoned me frequently with ideas on other of my promotions and even told me when I was dead wrong … he was always right. We talked on the telephone on numerous occasions.
The last couple times I called him, in the late-1970s, I was told he was in poor health and couldn’t be reached.
May he rest in eternal peace.
Marko: I think that’s the kind of person most business minded people, at least, would want as a friend.
Would you be willing to divulge which of your promotions he commented on and in what recommendations he made?
Obviously, I realise there’s would be a lot to say on that, so just something to give us an idea?
Jim Straw: I would – but – I wracked my itty-bitty brain cells and can’t remember which promotion it was.
Marko: That’s a shame as I would have liked to have known that bit of information personally.
Moving on back to you: I know I’ve asked how you started in business, but how and when did you get into the info publishing business?
Jim Straw: Well, in the early 1970s, I owned and operated a number of retail shops selling Women’s Wigs and was a wholesale-supplier of Wigs to Beauty Salons, nationwide. – If you were in that business back then, you may remember Jim Diamond Wigs, Ballerina Wigs, Discount Wig Centers, or Peek-A-Boo Wig Shops.
Since I advertised pretty heavily in some of the trade publications in the beauty supply, cosmetology and beauty salon industry, an editor of one of those publications asked me if I would write an article for them about “Retail Merchandising of Women’s Wigs.” – I did and the article appeared in their next issue.
Shortly after the article appeared, I had a telephone call from the president of a nationwide chain of wig shops. He “loved” the article and was impressed that it wasn’t just another “hype piece”
rehashing the same old rhetoric about retail selling. It was real,
earth information that really told the reader how-to-do-it. – All he wanted to know was “who” had written the article for me.
When I told him that I had written it, he asked me if I would write articles about selling, styling and wearing Wigs for him. – If I would write them, and let him put their company name on them, he would pay me $1,500 for each article I wrote.
All in all, I wrote a total of eleven articles for him…pocketing $16,500 for my efforts.
That started me thinking – “If people in the Wig business were willing to pay for how-to-do-it articles, maybe people in other industries would be willing to pay for articles. After all, I had been in so many different businesses, I could write how-to-really-do-it articles in a wide variety of industries and fields of endeavor.”
For a couple of months, I pounded my head against a brick wall … as most “writers” do … trying to sell my articles to publications in a variety of industries. – To those publications, I was just another “writer” standing in line. They had so many “writers” sending them articles for publication, I was lost in the crowd. – My first encounter with writing how-to articles “for pay” had been a fluke.
Okay! – Who would buy my articles?
Why not sell my articles directly to the people who could use that information … people who were trying to learn how-to-really-do-it.
After all, I had been buying and reading “how-to” books, booklets and reports for almost 20 years by then. Usually buying the book or report, trying to do it the way the “writer” said to do it, then devising methods that really worked. So…
The first thing I did was to write 20 short how-to reports … each one was written from my own personal experiences. But, since each report was only about two pages long, I put them all together in a saddle-stitched booklet … to sell for $10 (the going-price, back then).
My ad-copy really wasn’t very good, so the book didn’t sell very well – but – I started studying the “art” of mailorder. Then, one of the people who had bought my booklet … a real mailorder professional … telephoned me. He was impressed with the reports and suggested that I quit selling the book, create 20 separate reports and either sell them, individually for $1 each, or sell them as a monthly series (a newsletter).
Following his advice, I created the “Business Intelligence Network
– Monthly Memo” selling for $10 per year … one report per month. And, I sold my subscribers back-issues; by title, for $1 each. (Over the years, I sold hundreds of thousands of those $1 how-to reports.)
But, my ad-copy still wasn’t very good, so I didn’t get very many subscribers in the beginning. Then, I came up with a one-page sales letter that pulled 230 paid subscriptions for every 1,000 letters I mailed ($2,300 for every $100 spent on mailings). – Of course, that was back when there weren’t 15,000 newsletters on the market; all selling just about the same information, so even that dynamite sales letter was amateuristic by today’s standards. The only thing that kept the dollars rolling-in was the fact that the information in each report was well worth far more than I was charging for it … as a matter of fact, according to my readers, some of those two page reports were far better than 200-page books on the same subject.
Publishing that first monthly-memo service (newsletter), taught me more about building a Mailorder Info-publishing Business than I could have learned getting a Masters degree in advertising and marketing at an ivy-league university.
Marko: For someone who’s already ‘made’ it offline, would you say the internet has made a dramatic effect on your business and, if so, what has been the most significant difference to your business as a result of it?
Jim Straw: When I started the Business Lyceum website back in 1999, it was in response to my paper & ink readers who wanted to know where they could find my info-products on-line. — The site was profitable by January, 2000.
At first, all of my info-products were hardcopy and were shipped by mail. Later, I had the books and reports converted to PDF files and about 70% of the buyers wanted the electronic version.
Within 3 years, over 80% of my orders were for the electronic versions. My direct sales dropped to near nothing – but – of course, that was caused by my not doing very many direct mailings.
At that time, I decided to discontinue my direct-mail solicitations, quit selling hardcopies, let my employees go, and closed the office … reverting to a one-man operation using the Internet only.
In the early 2000s direct mailers were either folding their tents or going to the Internet.
Today, direct mail is back with a passion. Most; if not all, of the ne’er-do-wells and con-men are gone. People are getting less and less direct mail making it a wide-open market for those who aggressively pursue the market.
If I were younger and still an aggressive entrepreneur, I would be back into direct mail full force. At my age, a one-man operation on the Internet allows me to keep busy and still produce and enjoy an exceptional income.
Marko: What you’re saying is, rather than killing the direct mail
industry, the internet has ultimately been a blessing for the genuine hardcore direct mail marketer?
Jim Straw: The Internet killed-off most; if not all, of the mailorder hypsters, ne’er -do-wells, and amateurs … thankfully. But, a lot of legitimate mailorder marketers suffered through the move to the Internet.
Ultimately, it was a blessing because people are getting less ‘junk’
mail and actually have time to read and respond to the legitimate offers.
As always, the business pendulum swings.
Marko: I think you may have given hope to those people out there who may have been considering direct mail but were hesitant. I’m certainly one them. Is there a direct mail ‘course’ out there you would recommend in a heart beat, which is also affordable for the majority?
Jim Straw: I’ve read them all – but – I truly believe my course is the best; after all, I’ve been doing it for nearly 40 years. — As a matter of fact …
After Dan Kennedy read my mailorder course, he told the readers of his “No B.S. Marketing Letter” …
“If you’re interested in selling products via mailorder, one of the ‘quiet giants,’ a fellow I’ve watched and learned from since I was in short pants, Jim Straw has finally put his experiences, personal secrets, tricks of the trade and how-to-advice together in a big manual: “Own Your Own Mailorder Business.” He’s selling it for $49.95 and it’s easily worth ten times that much. Jim’s one of the few ‘masters’ in the leagues of the late Joe Karbo, George Haylings, Dean DuVall, Ben Suarez, who, if you had a chance to pick their brains for an hour, you ought to pay any price, fly anywhere.”
Dan sold over 100 copies of my mailorder course to his “Insiders.”
You’ll find it at:
Marko: That’s great. I’m definitely getting it now. Actually I would have got it earlier if it wasn’t for my doubts about the market.
Would you say it’s inexpensive to get into direct mail?
Jim Straw: Yes … you can actually start with just a couple hundred dollars. Of course, the more money you start with, the faster you can grow – but – by just starting small and putting your earnings back into the business works better than having more money to be wasted on methods that don’t work.
Marko: Thank you for that – I think it’s a sensible piece of advice. Finally, for this part of the interview, is there any single piece of advice you can give based on what you’ve said here… Or just any piece of nugget as a temporary parting gift to our readers out there?
Jim Straw: There is ONLY one thing that separates the successful marketer from the ne’er-do-wells and amateurs. — That one thing is to test, Test, TEST … then, Test some more.
That’s why I always test new ideas … no matter how silly they may sound.