FAQ: Complying With This Harsh New Email Law

The Canadian Anti-Spam Law (CASL) recent has garnered a lot of interest — and a lot of questions from you.

I trust that the “email police” didn’t beat down anyone’s door, but for small businesses especially, the compliance effort can still seem overwhelming. With the law on the books for nearly a month, let’s take a look at some of those big questions, as well as others that may remain.

canada-spam-imIs the new law unfair to legitimate businesses while letting real spammers off the hook?

It’s natural to feel unfairly targeted just for trying to communicate with your customers.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to determine gray areas — how much communication is right? How long should former customers remain on your list? — so rather than making judgment calls, the CASL just errs on the side of “inbox zero” and puts all the burden on the email sender.

Rest assured that everyone, across the board, is subject to the new regulations and enforcements.

How will the new regulations be enforced?

Here’s a bit of good news: July 1, 2014, actually started a three-year “transition period” for the CASL.

That gives you some breathing room to figure out how best to comply, and to seek legal advice for any issues you’re really unsure about.

As far as enforcement, after the transition period, businesses can be sued for noncompliance, with penalties up to $10 million. Scary, yes, but following the strict opt-in and opt-out rules should help you steer clear of such situations.

How are small businesses supposed to comply?

Great question, and when news outlets are covering compliance difficulties for big companies like L.L. Bean, it’s tempting to throw a pair of hiking boots at the computer.

For small businesses, record keeping becomes more important — it’s helpful to know which customers open and read your emails, and who is most engaged with you. That behavior, along with other factors, can serve as “implied consent.”

What the heck is “implied consent?”

Rather than a strict opt-in where a customer expressly says “Yes, send me email,” it’s an action that implies an existing business relationship — and compliance with the CASL.

It’s still as weakly defined as it sounds, but one acceptable measure for “implied consent” is anyone who’s ordered from you in the last two years. You’re not alone in hoping for further guidance as the law continues to take shape.

Are the “email police” really going to come for me if I make a mistake?

Common sense says “no,” but with legal matters, you want to do absolutely everything in your power to comply, and most importantly, if you’re unsure, don’t risk it.

The potential penalties far outweigh the benefits. But as lawyer Ryan Black says, “If you do your best to comply, and somehow technically fail, you’re a lot safer than someone who didn’t try to comply.”

So what do I do now?

Relationship building can do wonders for your brand. Remember that purely informational email is still OK — just no commercial messaging, not even an ad on the side. Getting quality content in as many places as possible — in your emails, on your website and beyond — can also help bring customers to you, rather than having to chase them through outbound emails.

The CASL is certainly a big problem for small businesses, but an inbound marketing mindset can help.

Note: The CASL has been in full swing for years now, but there has been plenty of other changes to best practices in email marketing since the launch. Subscribe to our newsletter to stay up to date with the latest.

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