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21 Oct 15

Am I Really Allowed To Email Strangers? (Isn’t That Spamming?)

Alice has a dilemma.

She’s designed a workshop that’s perfect for the clients she loves to work with, but she’s feeling awkward about how to promote it authentically. Every time she goes to mention it – by email, on social media, in conversation – she can’t seem to shake the notion that she’s annoying people.

And yet, if she doesn’t let people know about the workshop, she feels she’s letting them down. She knows she needs to give them the opportunity to hear about it and decide for themselves if they want the benefits.

She also knows that if she doesn’t sell enough places, the workshop can’t run and she won’t make any money and she’ll be no closer to leaving the 9-5 job she hates.

How can Alice promote this great offering without becoming an annoying spammer?

And how can you promote your products and services, authentically and freely?

The key is to promote to an email list that has given you permission to do so

You’ve probably heard marketing guides (like me) banging on about your “email list” like it’s the be all and end all for growing your business. And in many ways it is. One reason is that a professionally managed email list (in other words, using software like Aweber or Mailchimp) is one of the strongest vehicles for “permission marketing”.

Let’s backtrack… Once upon a time, the world became saturated with what’s known as “interruption marketing”. A lot of the marketing messages we’re confronted with on a daily basis would fall into this category – for example, an advert on the side of a bus, in a magazine or on TV, or a flyer you get through the door.

These “interrupt” your experience. You didn’t ask to see a large movie poster at the bus stop, you were enjoying looking at the scenery going past. You may have absolutely zero interest in that movie – for example, it’s a horror movie and you hate horror movies.

Permission Marketing by Seth Godin“Permission marketing”, on the other hand, is about communicating with people who have said they want to hear from you. They voluntarily give you their email address (for example, by signing up on your website or on a sheet of paper you pass round at an event) because they want you to send them useful content. They know that much of this content will be free (like blog posts, videos, webinars or teleclasses) and that some will be information about paid offerings. That suits them just fine because the services you’re offering are likely to be useful for them – they’ll be solutions to needs they have.

If you’ve felt uncomfortable emailing people about your offerings, it’s important to check your set-up. If you’re using your regular email account (like Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo or AOL) and are sharing the information with all your contacts, it is spamming because those people haven’t asked to receive the information. It’s unsolicited and they also don’t have an easy, polite way of unsubscribing. Your recipients can perceive themselves as trapped – too polite to let you know they don’t want to hear from you about these things, but simmering with resentment every time your name appears in their inbox.

With a professionally-managed email list, people can easily unsubscribe. They can take away their permission away – namely, by clicking the “unsubscribe” link in any email you send.

This means that anyone who stays on your list is telling you that you can keep communicating with them. So it’s your duty to keep communicating with them!

Disclaimer: Some interruption – or disruption – is okay

Even with permission marketing, you’re still interrupting something. You’re interrupting your reader’s norm, sharing with them the message that something else is possible for them. You’re disrupting their notion that things have to stay as they are: stuck, painful, unsatisfactory or unfulfilling.

Could you disrupt the notion that mums are expected to endlessly and selflessly give to others without thought of themselves? Could you disrupt the concept that back pain or RSI is forever and incurable? Could you disrupt the belief that divorce is the only solution? Could you disrupt the notion that writing a book is hard, that someone will always look terrible in photos, or that a stammer will always hold someone back?

Just as your subscribers are giving you permission to market to them, give yourself full permission to let others know about what you offer. Give yourself permission to disrupt their unsatisfactory norms.

Take this mantra, write it down, reaffirm it often: “It’s okay to let people know I exist and that I have something of value to offer”.

Over to you

What ways of marketing are you already using that feel “permission” based? When marketing has felt icky, was it because permission wasn’t there? How do you imagine it would feel different to communicate with people who actively want to hear about what you offer? Leave a comment below, let us know…


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© Corrina Gordon-Barnes

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  1. claire stone

    I so love this – your post really sets emailing/marketing in a new light! Yes, people have asked to join me! Yeah! I won’t feel bad when I very occasionally mention that I actually do what I do for a job!!!
    thank you!

  2. Nick Robinson

    My newsletter recipients have said just what you are saying here – that the interruptions it causes have been good ones for them, timely reminders that they need something.

    By the way, the pricing on AWeber seems very good – compared to Constant Contact which I used to use. Have you personally used AWebber and, if so, what’s your opinion?

    1. Corrina

      Nick – Yes, I do use AWeber and am very happy with their service.

    2. Leah

      Hi Nick,

      I’ve used Aweber for the last 3 years too and find that it totally fulfils my needs at this stage of my business. If you have any specific questions about it, I’m happy to answer. The only slight annoyance I’m finding right now is that I switched my site over to Squarespace at the start of the year and Aweber and Squarespace don’t integrate quite as seamlessly as I’d like. Still, there are workarounds and no system is ever perfect!


  3. Jo Bradshaw

    I think that there is actually a real safety and beauty in using mailing lists. Because you get to be much more intimate and open. I get to say things I don’t want to say on the public web. It’s like talking to a close friend.

    Also, it gives me accountability and routine. I’m a writer too, and it means that I’m slowly building up a back catalogue of material to use for future books.

    I really feel the fear and resistance we have to putting ourselves out there. There’s also a lot of pressure to build our lists. But by being selfish, by saying ‘this is as much for me, as it is for you,’ I’ve made huge progress staring down the chimp!

    Great post, as always Corrina
    xx Jo

  4. Janet Winter

    A useful post, and yes I am finding my email newsletter one of my most effective tools, even if it takes someone 2 years to make up their mind as they see their health continue to decline! I often get phone calls and emails a day or so after I send out my monthly newsletter. I am a Buteyko Breathing Educator by the way, natural control of asthma and allegies, anxiety and stress, snoring and sleep apnoea and more.

    1. Rinka van Zundert

      Thumbs up for you Janet! I’ve almost completely healed from my asthma because of the Buteyko technique (had a lung capacity of a 80-year old according to my doctor – while being 32) and am eternally grateful for it! So your work is so so valuable!!

  5. Daniela

    Everyone who sends out newsletters or marketing should read this post! Unfortunately, I still find that people add me to mailing lists (or quote me in testimonianls) when I haven’t given my permisison. It really gets my goat… If only they would understand that for some people this is completely off-putting and betrays the trust you thought you had with them.

    I hadn’t seen that book by Seth Godin so thanks Corrina for educating us, as always! x

  6. Leah

    Thanks for this post, Corinna,

    Like lots of others here, I also love writing to my list. They tell me it’s like hearing from a friend and that’s exactly what I want to hear.

    More recently, I’m experimenting with more marketing on social media. Specifically Instagram. Instagram doesn’t feel icky to me because you can share so much value at the same time. I usually post a story/tip/encouragement along with my photo and then post a p.s. with details of whatever it is I want to tell them about – whether that’s classes I’m running or encouraging them to sign up for my newsletter.

    I’m really enjoying the process of connecting with people on Instagram and am just beginning to see the value in it.

    1. Corrina

      Leah – I LOVE this, and funnily I was on a webinar just last night where the presenter was saying how much impact she’s having with Instagram.

      My position is that the social platform where you’re most comfortable and able to express yourself most authentically is where you’ll make the most useful connections for your business.

      I can hear your ease and comfort with Instagram for this, which will be encouraging for others who aren’t getting on with e.g. Twitter or LinkedIn.

  7. James

    Thanks for such a super helpful blog-post around permission marketing Corrina and pointing up Seth’s book as well
    As I begin to develop our new organizing platform for stress support, information and service providers (Less-stress Living) this whole area of auto-mailing has been much on my mind.
    We’re highly specific in our focus regarding stress and yes, email overload can play a part in adding to feelings of overwhelm. Clearly there are others on this thread with the same concerns.
    My thought is that with every brand wanting relationships with all of us, all of the time its really important that within the health and wellbeing space we actively make a really big point about the permission aspect and not just keep it in the small print.

    1. Corrina

      So good, James – and that we email because we have true value to share, not just for the sake of emailing.

      All best wishes for your new platform – stress and overwhelm are worthy of great remedies and support.


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