Preserve the Sanctity of Your E-mail List

By Steve Windhaus | Posted May 07, 2004

Dear Steve,
My company maintains a huge, non-opt-in b2b e-mail list. This list is so effective that many businesses would like to advertise to it, but only if such a mailing wouldn't be considered spam.

Do you know how we can turn the list into an opt-in mailing without losing 95 percent of the companies on it? Or failing that, how to direct an e-mail campaign to a non-opt-in list without getting multiple complaints? Thanks, T.R.

Dear T.R., You've touched on a hot and controversial topic — e-mail marketing. The unsolicited type (spam) has made a mess out of e-mail communication. Opt-in, the process that allows the sharing of e-mail addresses, with approval of the e-mail address holder, is the only acceptable means of sharing that e-mail address with third parties. Some companies, for fear of losing business, simply do not engage in this sharing process.

Online magazine subscription forms are one of the most common means of opting-in. These online subscription forms usually have a question at the bottom asking whether or not you want to share your e-mail address with other companies. Personally, because of spam overload, I avoid opting in at all costs.

Prior to answering this inquiry I decided to take a tour of your company's Web site. I discovered that you have no published privacy policy — a fact I find surprising given that your business is Web hosting. Most people working with in Internet circles consider a privacy policy statement equally important to any other Web site content.

Since your Internet firm contracts Web hosting services, I don't think you should sell that list. However, if you insist on pursuing this income opportunity, I strongly suggest sending an e-mail to each address holder, requesting their permission to provide the e-mail address to third parties. While drafting this e-mail, consider what the recipient's reaction will be and how they're likely to feel about your company. You may have second thoughts.

In the meantime, I urge you to draft a privacy policy to post on your Web site. I wish you well in whatever decision you make.

S.W.

Dear Steve, We would like to make it possible for the taxpayers in our town to be able to access and retrieve property records cards, sketches and other property information from our Web site. Each property would have its own digital folder that appraisers, title companies and taxpayers could view and then and print the information. Do you know where we might find software vendors who can help us with our goal?

Thank you for your time. P.R., Township Assessor

Dear P.R., According to Gartner DataQuest research, almost all of the 40,000-plus city, county and state governments don't offer online interactive solutions for their constituencies. Yet government IT spending will exceed $101 billion by 2005. You, Paul, are entering the frontline of government innovation with interactive Web sites.

I'm still searching for the city or county government Web site that offers easily accessed, online information about real estate, maps and property tax data in that jurisdiction. I find the sites, but you need an engineering degree to read the instructions. They're not written in a terminology that typical landowners can understand. And they're slow, too. A broadband connection seems like a dialup modem waiting for some of those pages to open. If wrong, I willingly stand corrected, but show me one.

Government software vendors aren't highly publicized on the more popular search engines — understandable given the infancy of this business sector, the highly sensitive nature of public security and privacy laws versus the public's right to access government information. And as you well know, doing business with government agencies requires extensive face-to-face networking between vendors and government officials. Still, I found the following information:

It appears the first group takes a comprehensive approach to the total online interactive process. The second group focuses exclusively on issues of real estate, property tax assessments and mapping. Whether or not one vendor can address all your needs is a matter you want to pursue. While considering the options, contact fellow assessors throughout the United States for their suggestions. The International Association of Assessing Officers and the National League of Cities may be a good starting point, and some of the vendors' Web sites also offer listings of government agencies served.

S.W.

Dear Steve,

I volunteer with a local community center whose main form of keeping up with their members is e-mail. We have our contact database on Access (using a contact program such as Act does not work as we need many user specific fields), and I'm looking for a cheap, easy to use program (the staff is not technical) which will allow us to e-mail to our database (about 2,000 e-mail in total), either directly from Access or via an export to a text/Excel file. With the new rules limiting blind cc's to 49 at a pop, the process has gotten very unwieldy. Thanks, L.R.

Dear L.R.,

E-mail software solutions come in many packages, some geared to professional bulk e-mailers and others for people like you and me who look for ease of use and low cost. Over the years, I typically start out a well-known software program, but I always seem to end up using little-known gems that not only meet a limited budget, but don't require a high level of computer skills. For example, Mighty Fax is no match for WinFax Pro when it comes to features you can perform with online faxing software. WinFax Pro is an excellent product, and we use it here in the office. However, I am an equally strong supporter and user of Mighty Fax for its functionality and low cost. The same is true for Xara Webstyle . It is not as robust as Dreamweaver, Adobe Go Live or FrontPage , but it provides excellent Web site development tools. We use elements of all four Web site development applications.

So what did I find for you? I surfed the Net for e-mail software vendors offering the types of product you need and contacted several. Not all of them responded — so much for CRM, but here are three software applications I suspect may be of great interest to you:

  • Arial Software offers Campaign Enterprise Small Business Edition. A company spokesperson said the software easily handles up to 10,000 addresses, noting a database of 2,000, "should be sent rather quickly." The menu of features and benefits is extensive, but I was told the application can be setup to operate as simply or as comprehensively as you want. The downside to this is the cost - $1,495. A new, scaled-down version with Access compatibility should be available within a month of this writing, and the price won't be as steep. You may want to check the Web site in about a month, or contact a company representative.
  • Mach5 Enterprises is another vendor many of us haven't heard of, but it offers Mach5 Mailer . Priced at $99.95,it offers a rather basic, but neat list of features like e-mail templates and is compatible with Microsoft Access. The competition may be hard pressed to beat Mach5's lifetime customer support and the fact that Mach5 offers discounts to educational and non-profit institutions.
  • Xellsoft , offering Turbo Mailer , just may be the sleeper in this group, and you simply cannot beat the price - $9.90. Xellsoft touts the compatibility of this product with Microsoft Excel and Outlook. It appears to be a very simple software application, and you can try-before-you-buy by download an evaluation copy from the Web site.

Campaign Enterprise offers lots of user-specific fields and is compatible with your Microsoft Access database. Mach5 seems user-friendly, offers lifetime customer support and is definitely much cheaper. However, you do want to give equal attention to Turbo Mailer for the apparent ease of use and the unbeatable pricing. There are many others programs available, but the three applications listed above stand out for their customer support, company feedback, pricing, compatibility and simple functionality.

Steve Windhaus

Steve Windhaus is principal of Windhaus Associates, a business plan consulting firm serving small, existing and startup ventures throughout the United States and overseas. His clients range from technology-based firms in software development, e-commerce and telecommunications to retailers of ATV's and watercraft and a variety of service firms. Steve is a published author who also conducts training in business plan development and participates as a judge in business plan competitions. Steve can relate to small biz environments relying on computer technology. His skills and use of many related technologies are all self-taught. If you have a question your would like to see Steve address in a future article, send it to us today.

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