Here’s how a small project of mine a few months ago led to something really, really big…
I have been selling domain names for over 20 years, but have mainly relied on inbound leads (people looking up I was the owner and emailing me an offer). I sometimes list domains with brokers, but that has only accounted for around 5% of my total sales. Then a year ago I listed all of my domains (around 400 .coms, most 15+ years old) with a big domain company/brokerage because they said they had just developed a new system for outbound marketing, where if they for example had a florist domain for sale, they would contact all the big companies in the flower business that might want to buy it. I am not sure what went wrong, but in the entire year it led to zero offers, so I was frustrated.
I was about to list my best domains with some other brokers when it occurred to me that I should just act as my own broker instead, and do whatever they do, and save the 15%-20% commission. If it worked well, I could maybe even broker domains for other people, or at least buy more domains myself knowing I could flip them. My plan was to do a Google search for sites related to my domain and then send them an email suggesting they could get more sales using a better domain (mine). These are known as “Cold Emails”, and as long as you include an unsubscribe link and follow some other protocols, it is not considered SPAM. Cold emails are legal, but what I didn’t realize is that none of the email marketing services, such as Constant Contact or Mailchimp, allow you to send cold emails. They only let you send to people who already subscribed to your email list (a newsletter for example). And you can’t just send marketing emails from your regular email program, because without following the CAN-SPAM act’s rules correctly, you could be fined up to $43,280 by the FTC for each email you send. Plus, even if you don’t get caught, there is a high likelihood your email provider will shut down your account.
Next, I looked into using LinkedIn, because they offer direct messaging instead of emails. LinkedIn Sales Navigator costs $65/month and is designed for this sort of thing. The problem is that you can only contact 20 people per month, so it would not really help me much.
I was almost ready to give up, but then I found there are programs such as Woodpecker and Airborne which are specifically made for sending out cold emails using your own email account (most people set up a new one to use just in case of problems). I ended up going with MailRush ($19/month with free trial), which is a cloud tool, so no software download was needed. I also paid $15 for the first month for them to “warm-up” my account, where they send a bunch of emails back and forth to make it look like a real account, not just one used for marketing.
But then I realized there was another problem. If I have a “domain for sale” landing page on each domain I am selling, showing the price and my contact info, and link to that in the email, there is a chance my web host will shut down my hosting account, even though the emails are coming from a different server and I am doing nothing illegal. Being associated in any way with unsolicited emails, even if they are not SPAM, violates the terms of most web hosts. An angry email recipient is likely to complain to both my email provider and my web host, and I didn’t want to lose my hosting over this, so I had to find a better solution.
To avoid any problems, I signed up with BlackHOST ($1.95/month), which is a “bulletproof” hosting provider. Usually located in countries that have more relaxed laws, such as China and Russia, bulletproof hosts allow you to put up almost any type of content without having to worry about it getting taken down. I then uploaded a simple “for sale” page for each of the 10 domains I was trying to sell.
After doing some Googling to get target email addresses, I used mailrush.io to send out 40 emails total for 3 of the domains I was selling: Autopsies.com, Telemarketers.com, and BoatDeals.com. My stats show 36% of the emails were opened. Only 1 person replied. He was a doctor, who asked for a price for Autopsies.com. When I told him $25,000, he said he wasn’t interested. But at least I received zero complaints and the email address I was using was not put on any spam blacklists. I was getting ready to send out more emails when something bigger and better came along.
During the month I was setting all of this up, I hand-registered 200 new .com domains I could try to sell, just in case my email marketing efforts took off, and I also started looking at domains people had for sale. I made a big list of the ones that had an asking price, because it gave me an idea of what the current market was like, plus I could then make offers on the domains I liked. It can never hurt to make a really low offer just to see what happens. There were some really good names I considered buying, like to maybe start a nationwide house cleaning service, or a ghost kitchen (a virtual restaurant on DoorDash/UberEats/GrubHub), but nothing where having the industry’s best domain would give me the clout I needed to make up for the fact that I knew almost nothing about that type of business.
One name I saw kept sticking in my mind though. I will write more about this in my next blog posting, but the end result of all of this is that I am now the owner of Yachts.com.