A direct mail piece generally costs about 35 cents to 75 cents or more per home. If your mailing list isn't current, accurate, and targeted, you're throwing money out the window.

Inspect your in-house list: current and past clients, past prospects, professional advisers, and others in your “circle of influence.” Is it current and accurate? Past clients and prospects may have moved nearby and need your services again. Past prospects who hired other remodelers may regret their decisions and need you now. Keep the list up to date.

If you purchase or license (rent) lists, make sure they are current. Ask the list providers how often they check and update the entire list, how they update the information, and how many bad addresses you should expect in a mailing. (No list is ever perfect.) If they only update the list once per year, don't use it.

Evaluate buying versus renting. If you plan to mail right away and only briefly, it's better to rent an updated list for a few mailings or a short period of time than to purchase unlimited, multiyear rights.

As for targeting, be exclusive. Sure, you generally work in this or that ZIP code, but don't assume that everyone there is an ideal — or even a so-so —prospect. Save your money for people who have a good chance of being ideal prospects. Use these key criteria:

Location. Mail only to homes in areas you serve.

Homeowners. Renters don't remodel. Also, mail to only one lead per home.

Household income. If your clients make at least $125,000 a year, don't buy lists of homeowners who make $100,000. Removing income earners under $125,000 could reduce your printing, marketing, list, and postal costs by a significant margin while increasing your return on investment. Some lists let you select preset income ranges; some let you select custom ranges. If the list's highest income range is $150,000 per year, and your clients tend to make $300,000 or more, find another list.

Age. If your best clients are between 50 and 59, focus on that age group. Expand the list a bit to include slightly younger prospects if you want to gain name recognition among homeowners who will soon enter your target age range.

Even with these careful selections, only a fraction of your list will be in remodeling mode at the time they receive your mailing, and just a fraction of these will respond. Adding poorly qualified names will only reduce the return on your marketing investment.

David A. Alpert is president of Continuum Marketing Group LLC, a full-service marketing firm for professional remodeling companies. www.continuum-mg.com, 703.759.0106.