How it all started.

If anyone under the age of 50 says they can't figure out how to run an email campaign, they're just being idle. Here's why.

My first email campaign went out sometime in 1995.

To put that in perspective, the JPEG image format that we use for nearly all photos on the web, that was a year old. Google would take another 3 years to appear. To learn HTML I had to go to a shop called Borders and buy a book about it. Borders, and the publishing company are both out of business now.

Curiosity and persistence were in abundance.

There was no Mailchimp, no WordPress, and I was still paying for internet access by the minute.

So how did I do it?

First let's ask why I did it.

I was working for a publisher called Longman in their English Language Teaching (ELT) division and we had launched a ground breaking interactive product, The Longman Interactive English Dictionary.

It was a CD Rom that combined a dictionary and encyclopedia, pronunciation audio, as well as images and video around the world.

It was well received not just in education but by the IT press, much of whom were overseas and desperate for materials to improve their English.

I had a hunch that the language schools where Longman were trying to sell the product, probably couldn't afford the multimedia PC that it took to run it.

I'd had to twist a few arms just to get on in our office, and it was our product.

So, I had a few feedback cards printed and added to the product (this was still the days of CD-ROMs with manuals sold in shrink wrapped boxes).

I can still remember a few weeks later when I got the card back and my hunch was proven right. It wasn't from a school. It was from a sales exec at IBM in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Then, over the next few weeks another couple of dozen cards came back. They all came from staff at IT businesses or other industries where English was the common language.

I talked to the rest of the marketing department about a follow-up campaign selling other business related materials, but they instantly wrapped themselves up in the idea of printed materials being posted halfway round the world.

So I went rogue.

I added all the addresses to a spreadsheet, and prepared to email them one by one with an email about our business language tapes and a one-page order form that I'd cribbed form another product.

With no website, no online credit card processing, no forms, it had to be faxed back.

Then I hit my Nemesis. Boredom.

I have zero, and I mean zero, tolerance for repetitive tasks. They literally cause me brain pain to endure. Plus, sales of the CD-ROM were going well and I had visions of this becoming a regular activity.

I discovered a thing in the early version of Windows we were using called “macro recorder”. It would literally record your mouse & keyboard and then play them back.

Here's what I did:

  • Copy an email address from the spreadsheet
  • Paste it in my email programme
  • Copy some text from the notepad
  • Paste it in my email programme
  • Attach the order form
  • Hit “Send”

25 Times

That's all it took. 25 emails, selling a £200 product to a list who had no idea how to solve their problem or speaking better English without going back to school.

I think I sold 10.

£2,000. My salary was £12,000 at the time. I'd just made more than double my salary with one click. Well, a few hours of swearing, a lot of broken emails to go-knows-who, and an angry sales director when the forms came back in.

But it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission, especially when exhibit A has a cheque attached to it.

The next time, it took one click.

And for 6 months, until I got bored of it, I made my salary by mid-month with a process everyone had toe tools to copy, but no-one had the bloody-minded tenacity to figure out.

We live in a software-driven world.

There is even software to help you build software more easily. The barriers to communicating online are literally non-existent. I can use a free internet connection at my library, sign up with a free email account at Gmail, set up a free email marketing tool with Mailchimp, a free lead-capture form with Typeform, write something to give away in Google Docs, and tell people about it via Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and a dozen other places.

I can even set up a free paypal account and sell digital content online.

The only barrier is having something useful to offer amongst the noise of a million other people doing the same thing. Even that's not hard. You can sell the exact same product as the market leader if you can get the pricing and service right.

But that's another story.