When it comes to federal laws…I think I see a lotta lawbreakers up in this house.
You. Me. We’re all lawbreakers whether we know it or not. That’s because the feds have written so many laws, they don’t know how many actually exist. Seriously…in the right context, buying lobster at the grocery store could violate the Lacey Act. (entertaining YouTube video about it here)
One federal law coaching business owners (and anybody sending emails) should know about is the FTC’s CAN-SPAM Act. It stands for Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing. The law regulates how businesses send emails to people and features fines of up to $16,000 PER email for violations. 1,000 people on your list = $16,000,000 for one email blast.
Here are the basics if you are sending commercial messages
- Commercial messages are email messages primarily meant to advertise or promote a commercial product or service.
- They’re not just talking bulk emails sent to your list. One email to one recipient is subject to the law.
To comply with CAN-SPAM, Uncle Sam tells you to:
- not use false or misleading header information. Basically you should accurately identify yourself or your business.
- not use deceptive subject lines. Make sure it matches the content of the message.
- identify the message as an ad. Tell recipients you’re advertising! (More about this later)
- tell recipients where you’re located. This is where your business is or where you get your mail.
- tell recipients how to opt out of receiving future email from you. Let people know how to stop getting messages from you.
- honor opt-out requests promptly. Take people off your list within 10 business days.
- monitor what others are doing on your behalf. Just because you didn’t hit send personally doesn’t take away your responsibility to follow the law.
The good news is if you use an email campaign manager like MailChimp, Aweber, ConstantContact, etc., they help you comply with the requirements under the law.
Opt-In & “This is an ad”
CAN-SPAM has no “opt-in” or “double opt-in” requirements. You can send an email to anybody you like, but you probably know you can piss people off with unsolicited email.
If, however, somebody HAS opted-in to your list, you don’t have to identify your message as an ad. You can sell or promote any product or service you like without telling the message recipient that you are making a pitch.
This is how I most frequently see the FTC CAN-SPAM Act violated. I meet a coaching business owner, we exchange cards, and suddenly I am on their list without permission. This doesn’t bother me (and it’s not illegal) since I enjoy seeing what people are sending out. If somebody is sending out too much stuff, or crappy stuff, then it’s no big deal to opt-out.
What I see though is when I am added to a list without my consent, I start to get offers, or offers within newsletters, for somebody’s service (Mastermind, VIP day, coaching program, etc.). These messages do not include a notice of advertisement and that is what makes them violate the CAN-SPAM Act. Personally I don’t care, but the FTC might care. Get caught doing this and you could face those hefty fines.
So what’s the point?
If you are sending out emails to people who have not opted-in to your list (either on the web, in writing, or verbally) don’t send out emails that are promoting your products or service. If you are going to send emails with these promotions, put some wording in your message that makes it clear you are advertising or promoting your service. That (in addition to the previously mentioned requirements) should keep you safe in regards to the CAN-SPAM Act.
Clear as mud? If you have any questions about the CAN-SPAM Act and your email activities, shoot me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or call us at (206) 219-9559.