If you are collecting business cards, going back to the office and putting everyone’s details on your email marketing list, and then merrily sending them your marketing emails (yep, that includes your newsletter), this is very bad form and against all the rules and regulations. The Direct Marketing Association’s legal department confirmed to me that it was actually against the law, and you could be fined £500,000 for doing that.The rules are getting tighter and tighter for marketing to consumers (ie individuals). In the old days when I qualified (pretty much pre-computers, so email marketing was not even a twinkle in anyone’s eye) people had to opt OUT of receiving marketing messages, they now have to opt IN before you can send them anything.
The exception to the rule is if someone is already your customer. You can add them to your list and talk to them about similar services that you offer, but you must ALWAYS give them the option to opt out. This is easy with official email marketing programmes as they all provide an automatic unsubscribe link at the bottom of the email. Not so easy when you use your own email client…you could end up in all sorts of hot water if you miss a reply from someone on your list asking to unsubscribe them.
With business-to-business (or B2B) email marketing, the rules change slightly. As long as you tell a company who you are and supply your contact information, then you can send email marketing to corporate bodies, ie Limited Liability Companies or Partnerships, Governmental bodies and so on without permission.
BUT (you knew that was coming, didn’t you?!), sole traders have the same rights as consumers, ie you can’t email them unless they opt IN. And individuals at companies also have those rights: for instance, my business, Merrie Marketing, is a Limited Liability company. So you could send a marketing email to email@example.com (not that it would get you very far as it doesn’t go anywhere!), but you shouldn’t send one to firstname.lastname@example.org because that comes through to a named individual, me in this case.
If your target market is the end consumer then they have to opt IN to receive your email marketing.
If your target market covers limited liability companies, public limited companies, and Government bodies, and you are only emailing an generic, non-named email (info@ / contact@ etc) then, yes, you can email them…but from a marketing point of view, it’s not actually very efficient and not to be recommended.
If your target market is other small businesses then they have to opt IN to receive your email marketing. You can not be sure whether your target small business client is a sole trader, Ltd Company, LLP or even a plc, so play safe and require everyone to opt IN.
You should give EVERYONE (consumer or business) the option to opt OUT (ie unsubscribe) on every email you send them.
You must NEVER send an email marketing message to anyone who has opted out of your list and has said they don’t want to receive communication from you. You could get fined for this too.
If you are at all confused about your list, need some specialist and professional advice, or are now having a minor – or major – panic about it all, then please book a completely friendly, free and no obligation 30 minute Email Marketing Strategy Session with yours truly today: