How to start a small, successful mail order catalog business

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Making shopping easier is the goal of the successful catalogue entrepreneur. People are busy and rarely want to spend their off hours wandering through shopping centres or malls. Between the Internet and catalogue sales, millions of people around the world order something by phone or mail each year. Whether you produce your own products or purchase products from others, your catalogue can be a stand-alone ordering system or part of a website's offerings.

Select or develop products for your catalogue that your are passionate about. If you hate gardening, don't go into the seed catalogue business. But if you love aeroplanes, develop a catalogue for aeroplane pilots and those who share your love of flight. If you are creating your own catalogue full of the jams and jellies you make, for example, then be sure that managing a mail order catalogue business is how you want to spend your days, especially if your catalogue is successful.

Look at your finances. You'll need to have enough cash to both live on and print, mail and advertise your catalogue. If you intend to have a 48-page, full-colour catalogue like those put out by L.L. Bean or Cabelas, then this will be a hugely expensive endeavour. However, if you design your catalogue on your home computer and print it out in black and white at your local print or copy shop, you'll produce it for much less.

Order a variety of catalogues in your target niche, as well as others that you like. See what these catalogues do that you like and don't like. Make notes about style, illustrations and descriptions.

Design and print your catalogue. This can be done in a variety of computer programs or even through some online vendors that have design producers right on their websites. Several publishers now allow you to design the catalogue as a .pdf and either offer it online (like an e-book) or you can print it on demand. The cost to you per catalogue is slightly higher, but you won't have the initial outlay of cash. This is a good way to go until orders start to come in.

Develop a website that complements your catalogue. You can place a .pdf version of your catalogue on the website so that people can browse your products online. Give your customers the ability to order your catalogue from your site as well as to ask questions about your products. Having your catalogue online also gives them the option of printing out your order form and mailing it in the traditional way. Your customers can then browse your catalogue from home or the website and order online.

Open a business current account to deposit checks, money orders and the revenue from credit cards. Most of your sales will likely be done by credit or debit card, so getting a merchant account through your bank is also important. If you are not yet ready for the expense of a merchant account, investigate another small business credit card processing source like PayPal.

Set up a place for you to work once the orders come in. You will need a place for sorting mail and printing out e-mail orders. If you are shipping out your products yourself, have a long work table with all the supplies you need to mail out your products, like packing material, boxes, labels and promotional materials to place in the boxes. Have an office area, too, that will give you a place to store your records, orders and other associated paperwork.

Look into drop-shipping. Some companies will allow you to sell their products for them, get the wholesale price and then ship out the goods for you once you place the order. This is ideal for someone starting out because it eliminates the hassle of packaging and shipping.

Get a post office box. You don't want orders and returns coming to your home address. A post office box will help you keep your personal and business mail separate, and keep your personal information private.

Place advertisements in the magazines of interest to your target market. If you are selling fishing gear, for example, then find several fishing magazines and find out what their rates are by calling their advertising departments. Some magazines now post their rate cards and editorial deadlines online. If display ads are too much for your budget, then place ads in their classifieds sections.

Advertise online. Go to blogs or websites that you visit as an avid fisherman, for example, and purchase an ad for your catalogue. Make sure you find out exactly how many page views the websites you choose are getting. You can verify the data they give you by going to a website like and finding out just how much traffic they get each month. Even small blogs and sites, though, with a dedicated following may generate orders. Also investigate advertising programs like Google Adwords, which will target those who search for the keywords (like fishing, rods, reels) that are predominant in your catalogue.

Start taking and filling orders for catalogues and products. Get a freephone number and an e-mail address you check all of the time, and post them on your site and in your ads. If you don't want to have to answer the freephone number all of the time, consider getting a virtual assistant or answering service.

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