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BusinessColumnistsJamie Herzlich

Small Business: How to avoid spamming clients

Small business owners who are marketing their enterprise

Small business owners who are marketing their enterprise through e-mail must be careful to avoid becoming spam. (2003) Photo Credit: Getty Images

No one likes getting spam, yet about 200 billion spam e-mails are sent daily worldwide.

This poses a particular challenge to e-mail marketers, who are trying to get their message out to a highly skeptical audience.

The best way to avoid being labeled a spammer is to send your e-mails to recipients who actually want to receive them. This means having a highly targeted opt-in list, experts say.

"People want e-mails from businesses they know and trust," explains John Arnold, author of "E-mail Marketing For Dummies" (Wiley, $21.99) and director of training and certification for Constant Contact, an e-mail marketing services provider in Loveland, Colo.

Simply blasting out e-mails to random recipients isn't going to win you fans.

"Hate is not a buying emotion," Arnold says. "You don't want people to hate your communications and think of you as a spammer." 

1. Grow your list
So how do you grow your opt-in list without being a nuisance?

Well, you can start by tapping into relationships you already have, suggests Ron Wood of Ron Wood Public Relations in Port Jefferson Station.

Look for opportunities to collect customer e-mail addresses at points of contact and purchase, he says. For instance, his client, Panama Hatties restaurant in Huntington Station, includes a comment card along with the check, asking customers whether they'd like to be included on their list.

Make sure customers understand you won't be sharing their e-mail address with anyone, and let them know they can opt out at any point, he notes.

If you have existing customers' e-mail addresses that you haven't used in at least six months, you should ask their permission to start e-mailing them regularly, Arnold says. Set clear expectations (i.e. frequency, etc.)

2. Keep list updated
Also, take the opportunity to update their e-mail addresses.

"Maintenance is key," notes Cindy Smith, president of ImageQuest Communications, a Stony Brook marketing firm.

One of its clients, Love My Shoes, was sending out e-mails to a list of 120,000 names, but it was questionable how many were actually delivered due to poor list maintenance and the retailer ending up on the spam "blacklist" of major e-mail service providers as a result of a former employee not fully complying with CAN-SPAM requirements (see ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/  ecommerce/bus61.shtm for guide lines), Smith says.

"We sent e-mails out, but half were lost in cyberspace and the other half were blacklisted," notes Robert Yeganeh, owner of the Farmingdale-based shoe seller, which has five stores.

ImageQuest implemented several fixes, including using a reliable third party e-mail provider, iContact, to send out e-mails and maintain the company's list, as well as adding a double opt-in to ensure recipients actually wanted to be on the list. 

3. Target audience
As a result, Love My Shoes got off the "blacklist," and complaints/reports that had exceeded 11 percent are now less than 0.01 percent, Smith says. Click-throughs (clicking on an e-mail offer and being driven to the advertiser's website) also increased 10 percent to 12 percent.

"It's really endless what you can do with a well-managed e-mail campaign," says Yeganeh, who sends customers deals and incentives via e-mail, including discounts with a coupon code.

Try testing different offers and calls to action to see what customers respond to best, suggests Chris Baggott, author of "Email Marketing by the Numbers" (Wiley, $24.95) and chief executive of Indianapolis-based Compendium Software, a social media publishing platform.

For some customers it may be a coupon, and for others it might be a free white paper, he notes. He had a hardware store client that encouraged e-mail opt-ins by offering 12 offers/deals within a 12-day period during the holiday season.

"If my goal is to build my e-mail list, I should be doing something every single week," Baggott says. "Never stop testing."

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