If you’re building your own online coaching or service-based business online, then you know how important it is to have an email list. It’s not just a smart business move because of what keeps happening with those pesky algorithms, but it’s a great way to build that LIKE-KNOW-TRUST factor with your ideal clients.
But while it’s so important to build an email list to grow your business, it’s crucial that you do so in a legally legit way.
It’s not worth having 1,000 people on your list if they didn’t get there the right way — because you’ll end up paying, big time.
My clients ask questions all the time like, “What do I need to know about sending emails to my list? Are there any rules I need to follow?” all the time.
So much so, that in my new course, Fearlessly Legal, I dedicated an entire lesson to teaching you how to make sure your email marketing game is legally legit.
And this isn’t just stuff you should know, it’s stuff you need to know if you’re doing business online. We’re talking HUGE fines from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That doesn’t sound so fun, right?
Today you’re going to learn all about:
- what email marketing is
- why email marketing is a non-negotiable if you want to grow your business online
- the CAN-SPAM Act (aka. the US law that applies to your emails)
- how you can comply with CAN-SPAM with a few simple practices
- What you need to know if you email European Union (EU) residents – *breaking news*
And as usual, I’m going to break things down in a way that’s easy + just what you need to know, nothing more.
So let’s get down to it!
What is email marketing?
When I say “email marketing,” I’m talking about anytime you email potential/current clients or people who have opted in to your email list after, presumably, downloading one of your freebies or signing up for your newsletter.
For legal purposes and what I do, we’re not talking about 1-on-1 emails that you send you to someone. We’re talking about the emails you send you to dozens, hundreds, or thousands of people all at once. It’s something you probably use an email service for.
(I use ConvertKit and am obsessed with it — you get email marketing, landing pages, and sign-up forms for your website all in 1!).
And no, you don’t have to be directly selling something in these emails to lots of people for it to count to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Even linking to your blog post in your email, which then leads someone to your site (where you advertise your services) can be enough to trigger compliance with CAN-SPAM, which we’ll talk about in a minute.
Should you use email marketing to grow your business?
As my husband says, “does a bear sh*t in the woods?” YEP! Or at least I think so. I’ve never actually seen a bear, and I’m terrified of all the bugs that live in the woods.
Email marketing is crucial to growing your business because we truly have no ownership or control over any other form of online marketing (i.e., social media, which changes faster than we can keep up with). It’s your opportunity to connect personally with your audience. Entering someone’s inbox is more ‘intimate’ and personal than just posting on Facebook and hoping they come across it.
But it’s even bigger than that. The people who are on your email list are warm leads. They’re semi-buying what you’re selling. By downloading your freebie, or wanting to hear from you more often, you know they’re interested in learning more about the pain point you offer to solve.
These are two huge reasons you should focus on email marketing as much as possible in your marketing plan. What you write in your emails, and the content strategy behind that, is another post for another day : )
What US law governs email marketing?
The CAN-SPAM Act (the “Act”) is a United States law that sets the rules for commercial emails. Each violation of the Act can cost you a pretty penny — depending on the circumstances, it can be up to $41k per violation (each email, to each person)!
Essentially, the Act was created to help prevent fraudulent, misleading, or pornographic email from being sent to people who didn’t want it. It’s aim was to more clearly identify advertisement-type emails, aka. commercial emails, and give people the right to opt-out of receiving any future commercial emails from that person.
According to the FTC, a commercial email is “…any [e-mail], 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.”
In other words, if you’re an online entrepreneur, you’re sending commercial emails. If you’re not – let’s talk.
4 Ways to Keep Your Emails Legally Legit
There are so many ins and outs with the CAN-SPAM Act that we should all be aware of. But at the very least, you should make sure to do/not do these 4 things to be on the right track:
1 // Opt-Ins
People should only be on your email list because they opted in to join your list. Whether that’s through a form on your site, signing up for your webinar, or attending one of your in-person events.
Plus, only emailing people who have opted in to receive emails from you saves you a HUGE headache from the CAN-SPAM perspective. Technically speaking, CAN-SPAM requires that you label each email as an “ad”. But if people consented to receive these types of emails from you (aka. they opted in in a non-sneaky way), then the ad-rule gets relaxed for you.
Don’t do anything sneaky to add people to your list, or to mislead them thinking they’re providing their email for 1 thing, but really you’re adding them to your email list.
Be open and transparent about what’s going to happen to their email if they opt into something. If someone wants to hear from you, they’ll opt in! And those are the people who want to work with you. So it’s a win-win.
2 // Content
Your email content should make sense based on what you do, what the person opted in for, and what you advertised. For example, if you had someone download a “10 Healthy Recipes” book and then start selling them Tupperware through your emails, that might be a little deceptive!
You also want to make sure the “From: ____” line is accurate and not misleading. And use smart subject lines, not tacky or deceptive ones.
3 // Address
Thanks to CAN-SPAM, we have to have a valid business mailing address on the bottom of each commercial email. This has to be an address where you can actually receive business mail. So no, using “123 Fake Street, Anytown USA” doesn’t cut it ; )
If you don’t want to use your home address for privacy reasons, and you don’t have an office outside your home, a United States Post Office P.O. Box or UPS box are really the best, and most affordable, ways to go. I pay like $35 for 6 months of a PO Box through USPS.
4 // Unsubscribe
You must have a clear, always available, link to “unsubscribe” from receiving future emails from you. Most people put this at the bottom of the email. And you must honor that request in a timely manner. Another huge benefit to using an email service like ConvertKit? They take care of all of this for you.
If you send emails to anyone in the European Union (EU)
The European Union (EU) Parliament just recently passed the General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”), which they begin enforcing on May 28, 2018.
If you have the “personal data” of anyone who lives in the EU on your email list (aka. someone who lives in the EU is on your list), then the GDPR applies to you.
And if you run an online business and have an international audience, then you probably do! And remember: you don’t really know where people reside who join your list. So for best practices, familiarize yourself with the GDPR.
What steps should you take if you email people in the EU?
- Identify those on your list who live in the EU. If you have ConvertKit, they’ve put together this super helpful article about how to see everyone on your list who lives in the EU.
- The GDPR requires you have offer them the opportunity to essentially “erase” themselves from your records — (aka. the right to be forgotten). Contact your email marketing company (i.e. ConvertKit, MailChimp, AWeber) to see what features they’re offering now to help you comply with these new laws. ConvertKit talks about it here.
- Consider adding a checkbox to your opt-in forms for an extra layer of consent. ConvertKit can make sure that checkbox only appears when people are visiting your site who live in the EU.
- Think about whether you’d like to reach out to those in the EU and confirm their consent, for extra caution.
You can learn more about the GDPR here.
What questions do you have? I know this stuff can feel so overwhelming, but I’m in your corner! xo, Sam
If you want to learn more about email marketing, or all of the other super important legal info you need to know to run your online business, check out my online course for women entrepreneurs, Fearlessly Legal HERE.
Use of this information or any other products on do not establish an attorney-client relationship between you and Sam. The information contained herein does not constitute legal advice. You should always work with your own attorney before implementing any information here or anywhere else online. Always work with a local attorney licensed in your state where you live and do business to be sure you are in compliance with Federal, state and local laws.