The subject of spam came up recently in one of my small business marketing workshops, and I realized there is a lot of confusion about spam in the small business community.

We all seem to have a general idea that spam = bad, but don’t really understand the ins and outs. What is it exactly? What are the rules? When is it okay to email someone and when is it not? So I’ll try to clear it up for you.

What the heck is all this fuss about spam anyway?

We all get tons of emails every day. And too many of them are unsolicited and annoying, right? Well, without the CAN-SPAM Act there would probably be hundreds more. The Act was established to protect consumers from deceptive email practices and bombardment of junk email. It’s a “law that sets the rules for commercial email, establishes requirements for commercial messages, gives recipients the right to have you stop emailing them, and spells out tough penalties for violations” (source: CAN-SPAM Act).

So what the heck does this really mean? It means if you want to email someone to promote your company in any way—whether you’re selling to them directly in the email or not—you must follow the CAN-SPAM rules.

But I’m just a tiny company; my emails don’t fall under this act, do they?

Yes, they do!

Here is what the act says is covered under the law: “all commercial messages, which the law defines as ‘any electronic mail message the primary purpose of which is the commercial advertisement or promotion of a commercial product or service,’ including email that promotes content on commercial websites. The law makes no exception for business-to-business email. That means all email—for example, a message to former customers announcing a new product line—must comply with the law.”

Spam is any unsolicited email that is intended to promote your business, product, or service.

The bottom line is don’t email people who haven’t given you permission. Yes, you can send them one email asking if they want to be on your mailing list—but a phone call is better.

Okay, so how do I avoid being labeled a spammer?

  1. Don’t use false or misleading header information. Your “From,” “To,” and “Reply to,” and routing information—including the originating domain name and email address—must be accurate and identify the person or business who initiated the message.
  2. Don’t use deceptive subject lines—being creative is one thing, but flat out deceiving recipients is against the law.
  3. Include your address—you must have your address somewhere in your email.
  4. Give recipients the option to opt out and an easy way to do so—every commercial email must have a clear and simple way to opt out from future emails.
  5. Honor opt-out requests immediately! Don’t wait!

And finally: CAN-SPAM is not just a suggestion—it’s the law. And there are fines for violators!

Besides all this formal stuff—sending emails to people who don’t ask for them is just plain rude. Why would you want to start off a relationship making someone mad at you? It’s very simple to ask, “Hey I send out weekly marketing tips, would you like to receive them?”

People usually say yes, but I also tell them if they don’t like it they can easily opt out. No harm, no foul.

If you want to read the full text of the CAN-SPAM act, visit The Bureau of Consumer Protection Site.

So what do you think? I’d love to hear from you!

AvatarCarolyn Higgins

Carolyn Higgins is the President and founder of Fortune Marketing Company. Her personal mission is to help small businesses stop wasting money on advertising and promotions that don’t deliver and help business owners implement an effective marketing system that will bring in more customers—consistently. For more information about Fortune Marketing Company visit the Fortune Marketing Company website or blog.