Do you add:
- customers to your newsletter list without clearly letting they’ll be added after purchase?
- people whose business cards you collect at events to your newsletter list?
- people who drop contact information in a prize bowl at a show to your newsletter list?
- people who email you about potential services to your newsletter list?
As someone with a newsletter list, I know it’s way easier to import a list of names to MailChimp (or auto-add them when they purchase), rather than sending 50 individualized emails asking people to join your list. And when you import/add them you’ll automatically have a bunch of new subscribers and not everyone will opt in if you give them the option.
But what’s the value of having someone:
- on your list that hasn’t asked to be there?
- that’s there by default?
- that lets your messages sit unread in their inboxes?
- that deletes every message you send?
And what’s the harm you are doing by pissing people off?
When you import names or auto-add them without getting their permission, not only are you possibly violating SPAM laws, but you are likely violating the terms of service of your email newsletter service provider. On top of that, you definitely aren’t complying with the spirit of permission-based email marketing.
So how do you keep your email newsletter on the up and up?
Follow CAN-SPAM Act requirements
You must follow the CAN-SPAM Act whenever sending emails containing commercial content. And this law applies both to messages sent to individuals and businesses.
So to decide if the law applies, you have to figure out the why behind sending the message. According to the law there are three categories:
The FTC defines commercial messages as those whose purpose is to advertise or promote a commercial product or service or to direct people to a business’ website.
If you have a commercial message, you must comply with all the requirements of the CAN-SPAM Act.
According to the FTC these messages are those whose purpose is to update a customer about an ongoing transaction or facilitate a transaction already agreed upon.
Examples of this include:
- providing a purchase confirmation
- delivering the digital download purchased
- providing a receipt
- providing information on a product’s warranty
- gives information on changes in terms or features
- for memberships, subscriptions, or loans providing account balance information
- gives information on account balance
If you have a transactional message, you are exempt from most of the CAN-SPAM Act requirements. Except for the requirement that you provide a valid reply email address.
All messages whose primary purpose is something else falls within this bucket and doesn’t have to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act.
What about mixed messages?
If your message contains multiple types of content, it’s safest to assume that the CAN-SPAM Act applies and follow all of the rules.
What the CAN-SPAM Act prohibits
The CAN-SPAM Act only requires that you:
- not use a false or misleading subject line
- give them the option of opting out
- identify your message as an advertisement
- provide a valid reply email address
- provide a postal mailing address
Follow the rules of your email service provider
When you created your account with MailChimp or Convertkit, or the like, you agreed to comply with their terms of service. And if you violate them, they have the right to cancel your account.
- not send Spam (which they say is unsolicited bulk emails)
- not use purchased, rented, or third-party lists
- not send offers to sell illegal goods or services or pornographic/sexually explicit content
- comply with the CAN-SPAM Act
- not be in specific industries, including affiliate marketing and multi-level marketing businesses
- have proof that each subscriber consented to emails from you
- only include photos, text, or other content that you’ve created or have permissions to
- not use misleading names, email addresses, addresses, or other information
What surprised me most was this line:
Nothing personal, but in order to maintain the highest delivery rates possible for all our customers, we can’t allow businesses that offer these types of services, products, or content: … [a]ffiliate marketing
In their Knowledge Base, MailChimp clarifies the difference between affiliate marketing and affiliate links. But if this is one of your revenue streams, it’s important to understand what is and isn’t okay.
Not surprisingly, since Convertkit is a young company, their terms are shorter. However, Convertkit subjects all accounts to an “approval process” where they have the right to deny your account for any reason. In their Approval Process and Inappropriate Use policy they say you cannot:
- use purchased lists
- use lists of subscribers that did not explicitly opt in
- violate the CAN-SPAM Act
- be in an industry Convertkit perceives to negatively impact delivery
- send low-quality content
- use list collection methods that result in poor performance
Some of these seem very subjective, so if you are using their service, you should closely watch open and click through rates to make sure you won’t be flagged.
(I switched to Convertkit in January 2016 and have been super happy. It’s not for everyone, but if you are thinking it’s for your business and want to help support the artist’s J.D., here’s my affiliate link to join.)
Most mailing list service providers have this as the default option. When someone signs up on your website or through a form, they get an email requesting that they confirm their subscription. Your service provider will log when the original opt-in was entered and what time they confirmed their subscription. Thus, giving you a record of when a subscriber opted to receive your newsletter.
Double-check your email newsletter template
So that your email complies with the CAN-SPAM Act double-check that each of these is included in your template:
- your name/business name
- postal mailing address
- valid reply email
- unsubscribe link
Additionally, when you send your campaign you’ll want to make sure that your subject line accurately reflects what’s included. Not only is this a requirement under the law, you don’t want readers to feel like you pulled a bait and switch on them.
Adding emails collected at an event
So what do you do when you go to a show or event and collect a bunch of email addresses that you previously would have added to your mailing list? Or that amazing potential client you met at a conference?
- get permission to send them a single email (e.g.“Write your email information here and I’ll send you a coupon for free shipping!”)
- send them a single email with what you promised and a call-to-action asking them to join your newsletter list with a link to your signup page
- never bug them again if they don’t sign up
If you’ve got more than a few of them, you might want to use your email service provider to send this email. (And, since you’ve asked for permission, you can use their service.) But, since your permission is limited you must add them either to a separate list (in MailChimp) or add a tag to them (in Convertkit) and only send them a single email. Give them the allotted time to sign up, and then if they don’t, delete them from your list.
But, you must add them either to a separate list (in MailChimp) or add a tag to them (in Convertkit) and only send them a single email.
If you’ve only got a handful of them or they are emails you collected a long time ago, then you should send individual emails via your email service provider AKA Gmail.
(If you send emails via Gmail but don’t want to send them individually, please make sure to bcc: the recipients otherwise people will be pissed that you just revealed their email address to a bunch of strangers.)
Regardless of how you do it, here’s my template you can customize:
It was great meeting you at [NAME OF THE EVENT]. I promised you [WHAT I PROMISED], so here it is!
Each Friday, I send out an email to creative business owners like you helping them tackle one legal aspect of their creative business. After I send these emails, I sit at my computer for at least an hour, so I can answer any follow-up questions you might have. My goal is to be your friendly legal eagle that pushes you to start tackling the legal overwhelm associated with your business bit by bit.
If you’d like to get these updates you can sign up here.
Have a lovely week!
How you can easily apply this today
- Create a canned response that explains to people the value of your list and how to sign up. You can use my example as a starting point!
- Create a dedicated newsletter landing page that explains what value your list provides and gives them a place to sign up. What might that look like? Here’s mine.
If you follow this method will you have a fewer number of people subscribe? Yes, but numbers are the end all be all. What’s the point of that person on your list that deletes every single one of your emails? Or the person who feels like you are spamming them? You want people who are excited when they see your newsletter in their inbox. Who open each one and look forward to the next one.Growing your list? Grab this free checklist to make sure your emails are on the up and up:Click To Tweet
So is your email newsletter on the up and up? Let me know in the comments below what changes (if any) you’ll be making.
**Note: This post focuses on the laws of the United States. If you have subscribers in other countries, you need to comply with the laws of the country your subscribers live in, in addition to U.S. laws. So you should double check their laws because countries like Italy are very strict and penalties include jail time! MailChimp has kindly compiled links to all the laws here.