25 July 2014

Is your Sign-up Form CASL Compliant?

You already know about the identification requirements that need to be in the footer of commercial electronic messages (CEMs) to be compliant with CASL: name, mailing address, plus either phone # or email address. Do you know that this information must also be near, or "easily accessible" from, your sign-up form if you want to gain express consent?

Take a moment and check your website to see if this contact information is there. Perhaps you have a contact page with this info on it, or have it in your page footer - that's good. You might also put it on your redirect page if you have one. (That's your web page where a new subscriber ends up after clicking 'sign up'.)

Also note: "An individual must take action to opt-in to a stated purpose." Is there a description of what people are signing up for? (It's also a good time to test your form by signing up to make sure it works.)

While you're there looking, think about how you can make your sign-up form more enticing. Have you got a call to action? Here are some tips to make the most of your sign-up form.

photo by hfabulous / Flickr

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20 July 2014

List Size Matters

While enjoying coffee with a client last week, we talked about the challenges of selling training programs strictly by email advertising. Doing some quick mental math, we figured we'd need a list of 100,000 minimum to have any small chance of success.

Building a large list is no easy task and to do it fast would require buying or renting email lists, or scraping email addresses off the web. I'm not very comfortable with either of these list building tactics, however, "quantity" email marketing is extremely successful for a lot of organizations. Take note: big list campaigns require a big budget - not just at the start, but continuously.

On the other hand, you can accomplish a lot with a small list - quality instead of quantity. A different strategy, this is all about information (or content) marketing - giving something of value to your target market. It requires having a good reputation to be successful AND it also helps build your reputation. If you own the type of business where having a good reputation is a success factor, informational marketing is just right for you.

mailing list size comparison

Don't dream of having a big mailing list - that's a lot of money and work. Dream about what you can do with the list you have! (Tweet this)

15 July 2014

Prospecting Perils

For the first time in 4 years, I've been working to build a list of prospective clients. Mary Jane Copps, aka The Phone Lady, asked me to describe my target market for her. That was easy to do when we were sitting in Starbucks enjoying lattes. I have a pretty clear picture of my ideal client – I’m fortunate to have several of them already.

Translating that description into a prospecting list has turned out to be more of a challenge than I anticipated.

First, I decided to take my own advice and check out who’s been reading my newsletter. Because my own newsletter isn’t about what I do though, it isn't easy to identify readers who might be interested in starting a newsletter just by looking at who’s opening it.

On to LinkedIn... After a little grunting and groaning about the search process, I was able to make some progress, but not as much or as easy as I had imagined.

There are 2 lessons I've re-learned through this venture:
  1. It’s easy to give out and read advice about prospecting – less easy to translate it into action steps that get results.
  2. I have to be focused because I get attracted to ‘shiny things’. For me, that’s those types of businesses that have a visual brand, like veterinarians with photos of cute kitties, or art galleries with wonderful creative pieces to share, or clothing and accessories I’d like to own. None of these fit nicely into my defined ideal client profile, but what fun! And I would certainly not turn them away.
I've decided to start being on the lookout for prospective clients more actively on a daily basis, and to keep a running list. I suspect that it will be a higher quality list if I make it part of my daily routine.

PS: Are you looking to start a newsletter? I've got room on the list!

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originally published in Work Better, Not Harder July 15, 2014

10 July 2014

7 Reasons you need a Content Strategy

Wondering why you might need a content strategy?
  1. To stay current, sharp, and develop opinions
  2. To build your reputation by demonstrating your expertise
  3. To inform about your products and services
  4. To get found when people are looking for the services and products you provide
  5. To have consistent messaging everywhere that people may run into your brand and where they expect to find your brand
  6. To provide direction to your team, such as your social media manager or email marketing campaign manager
  7. To have a reason to connect with potential clients

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04 July 2014

A Reason to Reconnect

Your newsletter has just gone out and your inbox is filling up with out-of-office auto-responder messages. Are you deleting them unopened? They might be worth a closer look.

Other than vacation notices, you might also find that some of your contacts have changed their email addresses due to new jobs or other reasons. You’ll want to search them in your list and replace their email address. (If you delete them and add them as a new contact, you’ll lose the electronic trail of your contact history.)

The Phone Lady told me a nice story about reconnecting with someone as a result of following up on a change notice. The lesson is that you can use this as an opportunity to reach out and touch someone that you haven’t talked to in a while.

photo by rich115 / Flickr

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30 June 2014

How to Spoil the Spammers

You're receiving emails that you consider to be spam and it's frustrating. As small business owners, we're prone to getting on mailing lists.

Consider that spam is in the eye of the beholder: what is spam to one person, is not to someone else. In Canada, we now have a legal definition of spam which may not match your own perceptions.

As business owners that engage in email marketing, I feel we have to be a bit lenient and open to the efforts of others like us. After all, we know the effort that goes into creating an effective campaign. Before you start reporting fellow business owners as spammers, make sure you know if the email really is spam by the legal definition. In most cases, I encourage you to simply use the unsubscribe mechanism to get off lists. If there isn't one, that's a sign it's spam.

And then there is real spam - we all know what that looks like. Clicking an unsubscribe link might be risky. So here's what you do instead: click the 'Report Spam' button/link in your email software program. This has 2 benefits:
  1. The email address will be recognized as spam in the future and be filtered out of your inbox.
  2. The sender will get blacklisted if enough people flag them as sending spam. This makes their 'job' more difficult.

GMail screen shot - report spam
GMail screen shot

Please, save the 'Report Spam' clicks for those who really deserve it. If you have your email address "conspicuously published" on the web, you are giving implied consent for business-related communications.

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25 June 2014

Count your Contacts: In or Out?

I get it... this anti-spam stuff is onerous and complicated. So you might be thinking that you’ll send your current subscribers a consent request just to be safe. It can’t really hurt anything, can it? Safe, not sorry, right?

This is a situation where safety has a significant price tag.

Here is an example to show how your current email marketing efforts will be impacted.

Let’s say you have a list of 1000 subscribers. (Keep in mind that you may already have express consent from some of them.)

We’ll be generous and say you get an average open rate of 25% (industry average is 20%). That means that 250 people open your newsletter, but not always the same 250 people.

Out of those 250 who open your email, how many do you think will opt-in? Statistics (and my experience) show that it will be about 30% - in this case, 75 people.

With one swift move you've reduced your mailing list from 1000 to 75. Will you continue to publish a newsletter for 75 people?

And what about those 925 subscribers you lost? Well, you asked for permission and they didn't provide it, so you can’t email them again... even to ask again. Your permission has been revoked.

Before you sabotage all your hard work, take the time to understand how the legislation (CASL) impacts your business. Three-minute news spots and brief newspaper articles do not address all of the exemptions and exceptions – they’re only telling a tiny portion of the story.

It’s a serious business decision, not a mandate.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder June 25, 2014

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19 June 2014

Re-opt-in: a Messy Word for a Messy Process

It's a word that didn't exist a few years ago... and maybe still doesn't? For those of you still on the fence about whether to ask your current mailing list to re-opt-in before July 1st, here is some information copied exactly from this page of the Government of Canada website:
Under section 66, consent to send commercial electronic messages (CEMs) is implied for a period of 36 months beginning July 1, 2014, where there is an existing business or non-business relationship that includes the communication of CEMs. Note however, that this three-year period of implied consent will end if the recipient indicates that they no longer consent to receiving CEMs. During the transitional period, the definitions of existing business and non-business relationships are not subject to the limitation periods that would otherwise be applicable under section 10 of CASL. Businesses and people may take advantage of this transitional period to seek express consent for the continued sending of CEMs.
You can delay asking your current subscribers to re-opt-in, at least until you understand the requirements and the impact on your email campaign. Put a note in your calendar for early in 2017 to give it more thought - others will have worked through all the kinks by then.

Visit our web page dedicated to this topic for more info: Anti-spam Resources.

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14 June 2014

6 Tactics to Turn Visitors into Subscribers

Getting someone to your sign-up form is one thing. Getting them to actually subscribe is quite another. To make that happen, here's what I recommend:
  1. Have a sign-up form on its own page, or at least immediately visible on the web page (aka landing page) where you send people to subscribe. (read more about this)
  2. Avoid other calls to action that may distract your potential subscriber. (read more about this)
  3. Clearly describe what’s in it for your subscriber and how often they’ll get it. (see our sign-up as an example)
  4. Provide examples via links to past issues in your archive. (our archive)
  5. Include a brief disclaimer that you won't sell or share contact info.
  6. Ask only for an email address unless you have a pressing need for more information. The more you ask for, the less likely someone will be to sign up.
With the new Canadian anti-spam legislation (CASL) coming into effect July 1st, building our mailing lists via 'express' consent will become increasingly critical to email marketing success.

10 June 2014

Current Contacts and CASL

If the new Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) has you upside down in confusion, you're not alone.

The part of CASL that seems to be the most confusing for business people is how it affects their current mailing list. The answer is not especially straightforward because the regulations spell out the law... and then there are supporting documents which help to explain what the law means and how to be compliant. By their nature, those supporting documents provide interpretations, and those interpretations will become more explicit as the law is brought into effect. As such, the following is my informed opinion and best advice. (Consider this my disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer.)

To ask your current subscribers to re-opt-in... or not

How many emails have you already received asking you to re-opt-in to a mailing list that you have already subscribed to? Kind of pain, isn't it? How many have you re-subscribed to? I bet not all of them.

Even before you understand the details needed to make an informed decision about asking your subscribers to re-opt-in (or not), you should know the impact of that decision.

If you ask your current contacts to re-opt-in, what percentage of your subscribers do you think will do that? I’ll give you a hint: it’ll be less than your average open rate. You will lose some regular readers, even more of those occasional readers, and all of the people who only remember you because they see you in their inbox when they delete your message. Note that you can only send one message to ask people to re-opt-in. If they don’t, you can’t ask again.

What to do right now... or not

You have until July 1st, 2017, to seek ‘express’ consent from your mailing list. During this 3 year period, if you do not already have ‘express’ consent, it is ‘implied’.

That means you can stop thinking about this decision now. Put an entry in your calendar for February 1st, 2017, to “decide to seek express consent or not”. Five months to decide and act, or not – plenty of time.

This is the advice I'm giving my clients and also following myself: do nothing... at least in the short term. A lot can happen in 3 years: your contacts will change, CASL will become better explained, and maybe your business situation will change, too.

In future articles, I’ll write more about the different types of consent – implied and express – and what you need to know to make an informed decision. For now, you really don’t have to make any decision about your current list. You do need to become compliant with the other aspects of CASL though!

05 June 2014

The Anti-spam Revolution

There’s a bit of a kerfuffle lately about the new Canadian anti-spam regulations (CASL). Organizations are busy pushing out emails asking us to re-opt-in to their mailing lists before July 1st. Are you wondering what it’s all about? Or are you ignoring it, hoping it will never impact you?

As a small business owner, you should know the basics because, unless you plan to stop doing emails, text messages, and social media posts, your business communication is regulated by the new law. It’s not just about these enewsletters.

First, only commercial electronic messages (CEMs) fall under the regulations. Your message is a CEM if it encourages participation in a business transaction or activity, regardless of whether there is an expectation of profit. Many emails, texts, and social media posts sent on behalf of your business are going to be CEMs.

Now you know that you need to know. Read my blog post CASL Basics for Small Business for a quick overview. You can find lots of information online at fightspam.gc.ca.

These new regulations are not meant to hinder legitimate business in Canada. But they may mean that you have to consider some tweaks in your processes.

Do you realize it’s been 6 years since the National Do Not Call List changed the way many sales people prospect? That was also a big kerfuffle at the time.

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder June 5, 2014

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31 May 2014

CASL Basics for Small Business

If you own a business and are using email, text messaging or social networks to promote products and services, you should know a bit about Canada's new anti-spam law (CASL), which comes into effect on July 1, 2014. The regulations, impact summary, bulletins and other resources are detailed and lengthy. I've been asked about this a lot over the past few weeks so I'm starting here with the very basics.

First, determine if your electronic message is commercial in nature. The law applies to commercial electronic messages (CEMs) only. A CEM is defined as encouraging participation in a business transaction or activity, regardless of whether there is an expectation of profit. Many messages sent in the process of doing business would be considered CEMs.

Here’s what you’ll need to do for those CEMs, starting July 1st:
  1. Get the consent of your recipients. The legislation requires obtaining "express" or "implied" consent. Express consent means that a person has clearly agreed to receive a CEM before it is sent. Consent may also be implied in certain situations, for instance if there is an existing relationship.
  2. Identify yourself in the message. Provide contact information, including your business name, postal address, and either a telephone number or email address.
  3. Include a mechanism that allows the recipient to unsubscribe from receiving additional messages. This must be at no cost to the recipient.
  4. Ensure that no part of the CEM is false or misleading, including your identity, subject line, web links, and text.

B2B organizations should take note that there is an exemption for persons sending CEMs to persons at another organization, where the CEMs concern the activities of that other organization. In this case, the requirements above do not apply.

What about those business cards? If someone gives you one, that is "implied" consent, as long as:
  • the message relates to the recipient's role, functions or duties in a business capacity
  • the recipient has not said they do not wish to receive marketing messages

There will be more in future posts about consent and what to do about your current subscribers. You can learn about the law at fightspam.gc.ca. (Note that some of this text has been copied word for word from the regulations and resources.)

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26 May 2014

eMail Marketing has an ROI

Unlike some of the other marketing initiatives we undertake, email marketing can have very specific measurable results.

  • The marketing consultant who locked down a $5000 contract as a direct result of a call to action in her newsletter
  • The speaker who was asked to write a column for a national magazine in response to his newsletter
  • The advisor who launched a speaking career when a speakers bureau responded to her newsletter
  • The trainer who filled a workshop
  • The entrepreneurs who filled a conference
  • The therapist, the nail technician, the coach and the spa that each booked many appointments
  • The wine store, the shoe store and the health store that sold more products
  • The author who sold more books
  • The many sold out events!

Certainly the ROI of some email marketing campaigns can’t be measured as specifically as this. And there are lots of smaller benefits which accrue over time. If you're wondering how an enewsletter might benefit your business, contact me for a chat.

21 May 2014

The Wrong eMail Marketing Advice

These questions about email marketing should never be answered, “It doesn't matter.”
These are just a few of the things you'll need to know and decisions you'll have to make when you start your own enewsletter. The answers to these questions can have a significant impact on the success of your campaign. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

15 May 2014

Loyalty isn't Instant

I've been keeping an eye on our blog because I know I’m approaching 250 articles and I want to celebrate that milestone. I've been feeling pretty good about that. Four years of consistent blogging is an accomplishment, don’t you think?

Jessie Toope stands by the Girl Guide monument in Bowring Park in this 2010 photo.
Jessie Toope by Girl Guide monument in Bowring Park 2010.
Now, here’s some perspective. I just finished reading this article in The Telegram (St. John’s, NL) about my aunt who recently passed away. Among her many other accomplishments, she wrote the Guiding column for The Telegram for 50 years (starting the year I was born). During that time, she wrote over 2000 columns! (The link above includes her last column.)

In a world where we now seem to measure success in months and even weeks, 50 years and 2000 articles seems rather daunting.

I have seen, though, what a long term consistent approach can do for a small business, at least as far as newsletters and blogging go anyway. When you demonstrate your loyalty to your readers by being consistent over time, they become loyal in return. Once you have loyalty, you have fansDoesn't every small business want fans?

originally published in Work Better, Not Harder May 15, 2014

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10 May 2014

Commit to Consistency

Every single month since June 2011, Peter Chapman of GPS Business Solutions has been sending out an informational newsletter. It’s a shining example of commitment and consistency. I asked Peter recently to share his insights, tips and successes.

Peter is a consultant focused on increasing the sales of producers, manufacturers and retailers in the food industry. Because he’s an expert, he’s also in demand as a speaker on these topics. Now, unless you work in the food industry, you may not be interested in what Peter has to say. It’s very specific... and very valuable to folks in his target market.

One key to Peter’s success is advance planning. He told me, “I have a spreadsheet with my ideas for each section of the newsletter and I try to plan at least 4 months out. It makes it much better for me to know I just need to write it, as opposed to coming up with the ideas and then writing it. I also find there is better continuity. If you start from scratch every month there is not the same flow. I like to pick themes and use that for the main article. When I start on a theme, I will do the plan for all of these. For example, right now I am working on a summary of each of the retailers operating in the Canadian food landscape. This will be at least 8-10 month’s worth of content.”

When I asked Peter where he gets ideas for content, he said, “I get ideas from clients, walking the stores, and just trying to think about what my customers need to know. People want it short and quick, so sometimes one idea can work for 3 month’s worth of content.”

Peter told me that the biggest benefit from his newsletter is that it positions him as an expert and gets him in front of potential clients every month. “They see value in it and I have their permission to send them something 12 times per year,” Peter said. He gets calls when his newsletter goes out because it reminds people of him and what he does. He also told me that another benefit of doing a newsletter is that it forces him to stay current. “I have to be on top of what is happening to write about it,” he said. Would you believe Peter gets all those benefits from spending one hour writing and less than $200 per month?

I asked Peter what advice he has for anyone considering starting a newsletter. “The biggest thing is to have content that is of value to your potential clients.” Here is some more advice he offered:
  • Planning is key. Having the topics planned ahead ensures that it is not a big mountain to climb every month.
  • Do not give away too much each month – readers want it short and quick.
  • Stay current. We live in a world that is changing fast so make sure your newsletter is relevant.
  • Use a consistent format to keep yourself on track. Peter uses a format of one main article and three small sections. He says, “The format keeps me on track and allows me to throw in items that are important at the time.”
  • Build your list with people who might want to hire you. “Doing the work each month for people who will not open it or ever call you is waste of time and just gets frustrating,” Peter said. “And if you’re a speaker, offer the newsletter to bureaus and other people who hire speakers. It never hurts to get in front of them every month, too!”
  • Analyze the results. You can tell from the response if the content, your format, and the overall concept are successful. Be objective.

05 May 2014

Why I use iContact

I’m often asked why I choose to use the iContact bulk email application exclusively. My reason is not that iContact is so great (although it is), but that I have to be great at one thing to really be an expert.

I've tried and used several of the other bulk email applications. I’m capable of figuring out the technical bits and learning how to troubleshoot. I've been courted by potential clients and prodded by current clients to adopt other apps, such as Infusionsoft or AWeber. I've passed on business because I wouldn't do that – not because I couldn't, but because I shouldn't.

While I love to learn and experiment with new apps, I learned early on that when I spread myself too thin:
  • I can’t truly be an expert.
  • My productivity suffers.
When it comes to producing polished campaigns, it takes a lot of mistakes and near misses to truly learn how to troubleshoot, plus tricks to keep trouble from happening. I would wager that I have more experience using the iContact Message Builder than many of their own staff.

PS: For those interested, I think iContact is superior to the other apps I've tried because:
  • I don't code from scratch and iContact's Message Builder offers me lots of flexibility for layout and design. Because I like to create unique designs, this is my #1 reason for using iContact.
  • Multiple lists, campaigns and segments allow us to really manage what goes to who.
  • Integration with social media platforms is more robust than many other email apps.
  • Pricing is competitive with other similar apps. We have an agency account which allows us to offer clients bonuses that usually cost extra.
  • Response time to service requests is fast, and almost always appropriate and useful. By email or phone, the people are friendly.

29 April 2014

Be Outstanding

be outstanding

I became an entrepreneur at the ripe old age of 43. Before that, I was ‘corporate’, working in the chemicals industry no less. I received my management training and experience while working at BASF in the Toronto area during the 1990s.

I relished in the chance to attend an advanced leadership training program at head office in New Jersey with other managers from around the world. It was pretty intense – theory, case studies, and business simulations. Fifteen years later, here is what I remember most from that program:

“Be outstanding without standing out.”

More than anything else up to that point, that one brief line summarized for me how to be a successful (and promoted) manager at an international conglomerate, like BASF. At the time, it felt like I’d been handed the secret sauce.

I've had to unlearn that mantra since becoming a small business owner. My challenge was always the second part – I wanted to be outstanding, and also be conspicuous!

Now my goal is more like: “Be outstanding and stand out from the crowd.”

23 April 2014

Do you want to be an eMail Marketing Campaign Manager?

Potential clients are sometimes a little uncertain about what we do as campaign managers. Others might not see the immediate value in working with a campaign manager instead of doing it themselves.

Assembling and publishing a polished, error-free newsletter is our most visible contribution. But did you know about these invisible - but critical - contributions campaign managers bring to your marketing effort?
  • Consult with you, making strategic recommendations about content development, timing, layout, list building, promotion, extending your reach through social media, new tools, and other ways to make the most of your newsletter.
  • Manage the schedule and keep you on track with reminders and deadlines.
  • Review your statistics with you periodically to monitor progress.
  • Stay current with changes to the bulk email application software; troubleshoot as necessary.
  • Periodically refresh your design and layout to prevent staleness.
  • Stay current with industry trends.

These contributions to your marketing efforts can make the difference between success and failure. Do you want to be a campaign manager? Or would you rather be an expert at what you do best?

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16 April 2014

eMail Marketing: Informational vs. Promotional

I often become frustrated when reading email marketing advice online. Many times I've thought, “I wouldn't recommend THAT to my clients.” Of course, while there may be a few best practices, if you want to stand out, you can’t do the same thing as everyone else.

I used to think there was a clear division between promotional and informational marketing – specific strategies that applied to one or the other. While that is certainly true, the line is somewhat blurred. After all, our inboxes are full of things we call newsletters, advertisements, announcements... and spam. What we call these things often reflects how we feel about them.

I've defined a successful newsletter as being useful or interesting, or both. I admit to a negative attitude about blatant advertising, yet I’m happy to find out about a networking event, or see the latest shoe styles. Those are products I’m interested in hearing about. And THAT is what will make your email campaign effective: finding readers who want what you’re offering, whether it’s interesting information or this week’s bargains.