An electronic mailing list delivers information around the world instantaneously, and its cost is a tiny fraction of paper direct mail. It's also an effective way to establish online customer loyalty before you invest capital in a Web site. Mountain Travel-Sobek, in El Cerrito, Calif., chose that conservative route to the Web.

The adventure-travel company started cautiously, first E-mailing a weekly newsletter. The three- to four-page letter, "Hot News," reported recent news on travel interests like the current status of Ebola in Zaire, and Katmandu's political climate. Content for the weekly newsletter comes from the company's offices and guides all over the world, and company personnel compile issues from those bulletins, descriptions of upcoming trips, and notations of available discounts.

After the travel company, which employs 35, had amassed a list of 1,500 subscribers, it upgraded its electronic offering to a full-fledged Web site. By making good use of its subscriber list, it guaranteed Web site hits from the very start. Now, 77,000 people visit its site every month, and business continues to grow.