How to make sure you stay on the right side of the Law

I don’t know about you but I’m sick to death of getting emails from ‘business development managers’ using the contact form on my website to spam me with requests to use their services. I even went to the trouble of outlining who the form was for and who it wasn’t – it clearly says: please don’t use this form if you’re trying to sell me your services I probably won’t respond. I thought that was pretty clear, although apparently not, so I’ll be updating that.

To add insult to injury, I put a contact form on my site in the first place to stop spammers scraping my email address and using it to update me on the latest deals on various pills I neither want or need. It turns out that although it did in fact stop such practices, these so called business development people can now sort of legitimately get in touch with me (although the laws are a little fuzzy here) whereas if they’d copy and pasted my email address from my website I could definitely have reported them for spamming. Outrageous.

Even more irritating is that the majority start with ‘Hi, I’m xxxx’ or ‘Dear Sir/Madam’ – my name is all over my bl**dy website. How rude and how lazy. Needless to say I don’t read any further.

So the serious point here is that you have to be very careful who you target for your new business efforts; who’s email address you use and more specifically how you go it. By far the most important aspect of email marketing is the concept of permission. It’s the only thing that differentiates you from spammers and you’ll land yourself in real trouble if you don’t comply with CAN-SPAM laws

Here’s a definition of spam just so we’re absolutely clear:
Spam is any email you send to someone who hasn’t given you their direct permission to contact them on the topic of the email.

Of course ‘permission’ can be open to interpretation. If you’re using my email marketing campaign software DMAIL then here’s the type of permission you MUST have. You can only email subscribers using DMAIL if you obtained their permission in any of the following ways:

Here’s what DOES equate to permission:

  • They opted in via your web siteThis could either be through a newsletter subscription form or by ticking a checkbox on another form. This checkbox cannot be checked by default and it must clearly explain that checking it will mean you will be contacting them by email.
  • They completed an offline form and indicated they wanted to be emailedIf someone completes an offline form like a survey or enters a competition, you can only contact them if it was explained to them that they would be contacted by email and they ticked a box indicating they would like to be contacted.
  • They gave you their business cardIf someone gives you their business card and you have explicitly asked for permission to add them to your list, you can contact them. If they put their business card in a dropbox at a trade show, there must be a sign indicating they will be contacted by email about the specific topic.
  • They purchased something from you in the last two yearsBy making a purchase from you they have provided their permission implicitly. Feel free to email them but at the same time,  it’s always better to ask anyway, so include an opt-in checkbox as part of the checkout process.

Here’s what DOESN’T equate to permission:

Basically, anything outside the examples above doesn’t equal permission if you’re using DMAIL, but here are some examples to make sure we’re absolutely clear.

  • You obtained the email addresses from a third partyWhether you purchased a list, were provided one by a partner or bought a bankrupt competitor’s customer list, those people never gave YOU permission to email them and they will consider your email spam. No matter the claims of the source of this list, you cannot email them using DMAIL.
  • You scraped or ‘copy and pasted’ the addresses from the Internet Just because people publish their email address doesn’t mean they want to hear from you.
  • You haven’t emailed that address for more than two yearsEven if you got a person’s permission legitimately, they won’t remember giving it to you. If you haven’t sent something to that address in the last two years, you can’t start now.

At the end of the day, there’s no point emailing people who’ve expressed no interest in hearing from you – at best you’ll alienate them forever and at worst you’ll find yourself in the middle of a legal dispute.

And the last word goes to all you business development managers, you know who you are, stop using my contact form to sell your services I am not now, or ever will be, interested in outsourcing work to you.  And here’s some customer insight for you… if at any time I need to find a skilled programmer I will ask my professional network for recommendations.

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