Building Your List: Know the Rules

List Building

We’re blacklisted at the IP level. Our whole business is online and I can’t send an email. To anyone. How on earth are we going to fix this?

Lists. For an online business, a list represents everything important about the health of the business. Brick and mortars, and other offline businesses can track success by sales and customers through the door. For an online business it’s all about the list. But, in some cases, building your list isn’t as easy as it sounds

And, if you’ve had a successful offline business, understanding the rules of who you can and cannot email to in our online business can be particularly confusing.

Unlike advertising to customers via ad, billboard, or other commercial media, the way you build and grow your list has definite legal repercussions. Failure to follow them can lead to your email service shutting down your ability to send any emails at all.

Email started gaining popularity about the same time we were all being bombarded by telemarketers on the phone day and night. Lawmakers saw the writing on the wall and determined they needed to be proactive before our email inboxes became full of unwanted junk like our phone lines had.  In the United States, these lawmakers created the CAN SPAM law. Several years later, the European Union created GDPR and Canada created Anti-Spam Legislation.

CAN-SPAM and What it Means For Building Your List.

Here’s what the law means in common lay terms courtesy of HubSpot:

CAN SPAM definition

CAN SPAM definition courtesy of HubSpot


GDPR Rules About Spam

The EU has additional rules concerning emails and privacy, and they are much more stringent than the CAN-SPAM laws of the U.S. You can find more info on GDPR here. 

Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation

To find out more about the email protection and anti-spam laws in Canada, check out this article. 

Pretty clear, right? No matter where you or your clients and email subscribers live, it’s likely you need to follow email laws protecting them.

Yet time and time again I find new online business owners aren’t aware of this very important law. Or, even more commonly, believe their business doesn’t need to comply?

Newsflash: You need to comply to anti-spam laws. It doesn’t matter how small you are, where you are located, how long you’ve been in business or how much you think your customers love you. If you are going to be an online business building your list, the law applies to you and protects the people on your list based on where they are located.

Okay, now that I’ve scared you. Let me explain in general what you can and cannot do. The laws of specific countries be more stringent but this covers the basics.

  1. Don’t send business or commercial emails from a personal email address. Even if your address is your business name followed by or, etc. you can’t use it. You must send bulk business emails from an email service provider like Aweber, Active Campaign or Get Response.
  2. All business emails must have a working link that allows people to “unsubscribe” with one click. Asking someone to respond with the word “unsubscribe” in the subject field doesn’t cut it. One click unsubscribes.
  3. Don’t add people to an email list without their permission. That means, if you tell someone in your brick and mortar clothing store or pizza restaurant that they will get discounts if they give you their email address, they are not giving you permission to add them to your online list on “How to Increase Profits by Hosting Pizza Nights” or “Create a new wardrobe style in this three week course!” They are giving you permission to send them discounts.
  4. Don’t add people to your email list just because they gave you their business card and said they wanted to stay in touch. This tends to be a grey area, but the honest truth is, most of the people who hand you their business card aren’t going to be a hot lead for you any way. If you’re sure they are dying to hear more about what you have to offer, send them a personal email first to explain how you met, what you’re up to and offer them something of value to be added to a list. Not only is this legal, it’s much more likely to be successful.

Those are the basics. The rules go a bit deeper than that, but these are the areas that most confusing when building your list. In some cases, people just don’t know what they don’t know.

At the top of this post I mentioned being blacklisted. That’s what happens if you send emails that violate the CAN-SPAM act. And it’s every bit as bad as it sounds

If you are blacklisted by an email service for not following the law, getting your account reinstated can be very difficult indeed. You can also be fined big bucks for ignoring the law. And the biggest mistake you can make is thinking it won’t happen to you or that your business is too small to get noticed. All it takes is an abnormally large number of bounced email addresses, a few people marking your address as spam or people complaining they didn’t ask to get added to your list for you to suddenly find that none of your emails are getting through or that your account has been suspended.

Think you can get around this by just switching email service providers? You know tech isn’t fooled that easily. Once you are on a black list, it goes deeper than your email service provider. Trust me, I’ve untangled this same situation for a client in the past. It isn’t pretty.

If the worst happens and you DO get blacklisted, contact your email service provider immediately to plead your case. They have procedures in place to get removed. Don’t pretend it didn’t happen and don’t try to beat the system. It will just make it worse.

Finding out the list of hundreds of emails you’ve collected isn’t legitimate can be a real let down. I get it. Building your list is hard. But it’s worth it to take the time and the effort to rebuild your list into one that absolutely hangs on your every word and cannot wait to hear from you each week. You’ll get there. I’ll help. 🙂

Would you like more information on email and how to improve your deliverability? This may help!

Build an Email List



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