Ray Owens of JokeADay.com reveals the secrets of his $150,000 a year success with a personal e-mail humor list.
"Wait a minute -- you mean to tell me you're actually making a living telling old jokes on the Internet?"
That's usually the reaction when I tell someone I have a joke-telling business via email.
My company, Joke A Day, has gone from having a small group of 8 friends sharing jokes via email to the largest daily humor mailing list in the world.
Is there a more common use of email than forwarding something funny to a bazillion of your closest friends? Probably not -- just like 95% of all microwaves in the world do nothing but make popcorn and heat coffee. Humor listings are a dime a dozen and there are no new jokes on the planet. So how is Joke A Day able to generate revenue close to $150,000 a year without telling a single original joke?
For those of you who may have started a mailing listing of your own, this is not an inconsequential question: "how do I make my mailing list unique? Different?" Especially if you're using content that can be found in many other places. Because, let's boil it down to the basics: if you want to make any money, you've got to be sponsored by advertising. If you want advertisers, you have to have readers. To have readers, you have to have content that's different from any place else.
What's my secret? I'm the smartest and sexiest man on the planet? Ok, truth be known, I'm uglier than a mud fence and have nothing notable on my resume. The secret to my successful mailing list is my personality.
Think about Top 40 radio stations. (Or C&W -- or any other genre). The music is all the same. There's not one bit of difference between playing Celine Dion on station A or station B. What causes you to listen to station A over station B is the intangible "personality" of the station itself. The DJs who play the music. The advertisements they run. The amount of time they spend talking over the records.
Joke A Day is an extension of my personality. It grew from having 8 members to over 150,000 members in two years. The only difference between it and other, older humor lists is how I "talk" to the readers.
I'm not averse to sharing personal tidbits with the readers. I've talked recently of my impending divorce. I've given them tales of my two daughters. I've bitched about being on the road and the joy of traveling for a living. I've shared with them the joy of running my own business and the triumph I felt when I was able to leave my "real" job to devote full time to Joke A Day.
In response, readers tell me how "personal" the service is. How glad they are to get email from me because it's like getting mail from a friend. How inclined they are to read my sponsors' ads and do what my sponsors are asking because they're getting a referral from me -- their friend.
It's a complete cycle. My sponsors enjoy higher response rates because of the loyalty of my readers. Because it's a good investment for them, I have plenty of return sponsor business. In fact, I've not had an unsold ad spot in over a year -- and my inventory is sold out for the next two to three months.
So what does all of this mean for you and your email listing? It means that Joke A Day is like The Borg: resistance is futile, and you should just go ahead and send all of your readers over to me. (It's so hard for a man who makes a living telling jokes to be serious).
Here's your guide to a successful email list:
(1) Talk to your readers. When you sit down to do a publication, pretend you're sitting across the table from your best friend and talk to him (or her).
(2) Establish a personal rapport with your readers. Don't be afraid of screwing up. Don't be afraid of sharing a little about yourself with your readers. This lets them know there's a real human being on the other side of that monitor.
(3) Talk to your sponsors the same way. Weekly, I send out a Sponsor Newsletter chock full of things that help them grow their business. (Of course, I hawk my own stuff, too.) Let your sponsors know what's going on with your business -- give them "the inside scoop" behind your decisions and how you're running things. When people are "on the inside" it makes them feel special.
To paraphrase one of those baseball movies: "Build it and they will come." Make your readers your friends and the subscription numbers will climb through the roof.
Ray Owens is President of Joke A Day, the World's Largest Daily Humor Mailing List. Three years ago Mr. Owens couldn't spell "Internet." Now, he's running a successful business, bringing smiles to tens of thousands of people daily. His success allows him to sit around in his bathrobe all day looking for jokes to tell.