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Mar 29, 2001
Case Study

Style Made Simple Gains 100 Paid Subscribers via Online Guerrilla Marketing Techniques Costing Less

SUMMARY: Diana Pemberton-Sikes is one of our favorite poster-children for the entrepreneurial world of subscription Web sites. Working part-time from home, she started her own subscription site. No, she has no prior editorial, marketing or online experience. Yes, it's working. We think even big sites can pick up a tip or two from her experiences.

Like many new parents, when accountant Diana Pemberton-Sikes had her first child last year she began to wonder if she could start a home-based business. Since 1994 Pemberton-Sikes has moonlighted on the side as a personal image and fashion consultant. After extensive research, she came to the conclusion that, despite the fact that there are millions of Web sites, very few contain useful personal image improvement expertise.

So, like hundreds of other entreprenuers this Winter, Pemberton-Sikes decided to start her own subscription-based Web site, Style Made Simple. Here's how she succeeded.


First Pemberton-Sikes spent about five weeks writing three issues of Style Made Simple and emailed them to friends, relatives and former business associates across the country. She told recipients, "This is what I'm thinking of doing, what do you think?" Everyone responded positively, some so much so that their letters later provided testimonials for her marketing Web site.

Encouraged, Pemberton-Sikes picked a price point of $9.95 per month. She explains, "I learned the consumer market will bear about $97 per year, so I divided that figure into a monthly figure. Also, my one-on-one image consulting fee is $150 for about two hours, so I think this is a bargain."

Next Pemberton-Sikes developed two Web sites. The first, Fashion For Real Women, functions as a free access marketing site for the second paid-access only site, Style Made Simple. Fashion For Real Women uses several marketing tactics that are becoming familiar to all on the epublishing scene, including:

- Offering a free email newsletter that is a "lite" version of the paid service. It includes a useful free article and tempting summaries of the content available to paying subscribers.

- L-o-n-g sales copy (in this case, 11 pages long when printed out) all on a single, scrollable Web page that features classic direct marketing tactics, including multiple benefits, customer testimonials, a "p.s.", a money-back guarantee, two free gifts (aka premiums) with order, graphic images of the product, and several calls to immediate action.

- A completely different site name than the paid site has, to help users distinguish between the free and paid options.

Although Pemberton-Sikes describes herself as "marketing challenged", she was smart enough to test two classic, low-cost guerrilla marketing methods to drive interested traffic to her free site. These are:

1. Offering a free article, "10 Fashion Mistakes That Can Spoil Your Look", to sites and ezines that her target audience frequents. Editors could reprint her article in its entirety for free as long as they included the following promotional bio:

"Diana Pemberton-Sikes is an image consultant and owner of . Love fashion or just want to look great? Learn how to dress beautifully whatever your age, shape, size, or budget. Subscribe to “Style Made Simple” at ."

2. Purchasing paid listings on search engines such as Pemberton-Sikes tested a total of more than 150 different keyword terms on these engines. However, instead of choosing words such as "Fashion" which would have been expensive due to heavy competition and would have produced higher quantities of less qualified prospects, she chose cheaper terms such as "Express Clothing" and "Business Attire" which fewer, more highly qualified prospects searched under.


In her first three months starting from zero with a total marketing budget of less than $50, Pemberton-Sikes got 100 paying subscribers. She predicts she'll reach her goal of 500 paid subscribers within the year because, "The site is just now being discovered by a lot of people." (We actually predict she's about to hit critical mass and may well go beyond 1,000 within six months.)

She admits to being "astounded" at how quickly the free newsletter offering has grown. More than 10% of unique visitors to her free site sign up for the newsletter.

The majority of visitors currently come from the paid search engine listings. Pemberton-Sikes' free article offering has also met with a positive reaction. She says, "It was picked up by several beauty sites. Some are on a monthly editorial cycle so it take s awhile for them to run the article." The article also caught the eye of other journalists. A reporter from Women's World magazine interviewed Pemberton-Sikes recently for a story that may run in its April 3rd issue.

NOTE: Pemberton-Sike's advice to other epublisher wanna-bes, "Don't wait to market. If you really get absorbed in creating content, you have to budget your time to do marketing or you'll go through your resources pretty quickly!"
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