But I Didn’t Sign Up For This! (Are you sending spam?)

Spam FlagI really wish that when entrepreneurs decide to start marketing online, they’d learn – and respect – the rules for playing in the various sandboxes. Last week I wrote about one disagreeable practice: tagging someone in a Facebook post when the content has nothing do to with them. This week I’m writing about another disagreeable practice: adding someone to your automated email list when they haven’t given you permission to do so.

Do you know what “permission-based marketing” is? Have you ever looked at Canada’s anti-spam legislation?  According to the Industry Canada website :

“The regime to allow for email marketing is based on a consumer opt-in approach, which stipulates that businesses must get consent prior to sending commercial email or have a pre-existing business relationship with a consumer.”

What that means is that unless you explicitly ask permission, you cannot add everyone you know into your database and send unsolicited email. You can manually send individual emails to ask for that permission, but even then you should use an opt-in system, whereby if YOU as the list owner add ME as the potential subscriber to your list, I am then sent an automated message asking me to confirm my subscription to the list. Almost all third party email applications, such as Constant Contact or MailChimp or 1ShoppingCart, make that easy for you.

Using that automated opt-in is not yet law in Canada, but it very likely will become so. And if you are sending to folks outside of Canada, make sure you comply with their anti-spam laws too – because some jurisdictions REQUIRE using a double opt-in system. (The US also requires that you include a valid physical postal address. Since most of us here in Canada also email folks in the US, we need to comply with those anti-spam laws as well.) The full text of the Canadian law is here: .

That explicit permission can be implied during the process of making an online purchase, but even then the purchaser should be notified that they are being added to a marketing list – and be given the option to NOT subscribe. It can also be granted by using a sign-up form when you speak at an event, or by getting individual, explicit, verbal permission when you are networking with someone (I write it on their card so I have a paper trail).

If you make a habit of sending emails to folks who don’t expect them because they didn’t subscribe, you run the strong risk of having those messages as spam. Too many spam flags can get your account suspended or even closed permanently.

Raining SpamI don’t know about you, but I’ve had to tighten up my spam filters lately. Messages are creeping through that shouldn’t. If YOU add me to your list, rather than inviting me to add myself to your list, my spam filter might well catch your message and bundle it with all sorts of other nasties. Do you really want your message lumped in with the ads for Russian brides or the requests for help in laundering money from Nigeria?

I know it’s tempting to take that fistful of business cards you collect at networking events, or the list of folks who “like” your business Facebook page, or the ones who belong to the same LinkedIn groups you do, and add them all to your main marketing list. But it’s borderline legal at best, and certainly not good business practice.

So please, revisit your list subscribers with that in mind.  Remove the folks who have not yet given you explicit permission, and send the others a MANUAL email with a “please subscribe” message and link.


  1. Exactly!

    As with anything we do in our business, we walk a fine line between erring too far on the side of caution and being a strong, consistent promoter of our own brand. But common courtesy should always rule. If you don’t know whether you have permission to do something, ASK!

  2. Win, thanks for sharing this information. The regulations are often difficult to interpret, and even though it may take a bit longer to follow the “best practices”, the results will be so much better.

    Email marketing can have a big impact. Sending email to people who are not expecting it can have a very big impact in a negative way. Getting permission, setting clear expectations for your subscribers, delivering on your subscribers’ expectations, and being respectful of their time is going to have a big impact in a positive way.

    The decision of whether to have a positive or a negative impact is up to each person. The regulations are only going to become stronger – it’s smart to follow the best practices and hold your business to a higher standard now, rather than try to play catch-up later. It’s one reason why I use and sell Constant Contact – they follow that same high standard and they make it easy for their customers to follow the regulations whether they are aware of them or not!