Spam Has Made Small Business Owners Fear Email Marketing

Dennis Francis
12 min readJul 26, 2021


Picture of hooded computer hacker stealing information with laptop. Photo by Master1305
Hackers and spammers have small business owners scared of email marketing.

I’m a small business owner. I’m not a spammer. Unfortunately, spam has scared the average small business owner away from one of the most amazing tools for engaging with their customers and prospects.

Whenever I mention email marketing to local store owners, they would give me the look. You know that look that you give to someone in an old grubby raincoat who’s trying to sell you French postcards. Their first inclination is to think that I’m trying to talk them into becoming a spammer.

You know, those Nigerian princes who never seem to have a handle on how to keep their money, so they need your help. Over the last 20 years, selling through email has taken a nosedive in public perception. Even if the Nigerian prince email scams still bring in over $700,000 a year.

Although this isn’t an article about spam, I’ll at least point out that the cost of email spam is going up, while the return on investment is shrinking. Your parents or in-laws may still open up those scam emails that are forwarded to them by their friends and relatives. However, technology is making it more difficult for the bad guys to get in. Sort of.

Does email marketing really work?

The real question that small business owners are trying to ask is does email marketing really work? The answer is yes (when done correctly) any company can see a boost in revenues through this tool. I highly recommend it as an essential part of ongoing communication and follow-up with prospects and customers.

An email list is one of the most important assets a business can have. I’ve made the mistake myself of neglecting my email list over the years. Cultivating a list of followers who you can reach at the touch of a button is a marketer’s dream.

Everyone complains about an overcrowded email inbox. Yet most Internet users check their email several times a day. People today are finding it less annoying to check and keep the important information from their inbox. That’s because spam filters are getting smarter.

When email marketing is considered spam.

So how do you, as a business owner, connect with prospects by email? After all, no one wants to be known as a spammer. What’s the best way to deliver your sales pitch to people who don’t know you? My simple answer is always the same; never try to sell by email. Use email to qualify and invite prospects and customers to check out your relevant information outside of their inbox.

Most business owners are working on a budget and need to figure out how to save every nickel and dime they use for marketing. So when I tell them that the best way to use email to bring in sales is to avoid selling by email, I get my second favorite look. It’s the look of the guy who seems to wonder how he can get away from the snake oil salesperson as fast as possible.

I’ll share with you my favorite crude analogy. Never ask a stranger on the street to marry you and have your children. That’s far too big a commitment to thrust on anyone who doesn’t know who you are and what you offer. The same is true with marketing and sales. Sure, spammers make a lot of money. But they don’t really do much selling. Spammers rely on numbers and psychology, it’s all about social engineering and math.

Spammers use the law of averages and economies of scale to make money. They’ll send out millions of messages for their clients. Back in the good old days, spam companies could pull in $10-$15,000 a week selling pharmaceuticals, porn an online gambling.

Small business owners need to cultivate relationships with likely prospects. A local tire company can send out an email with a link to a video teaching people how to save money on gas through proper tire maintenance. Once someone clicks on the link and watches the video, the tire company can offer a sales pitch, once the video is done.

This type of two-step process can offer a win-win situation. Someone who is interested in saving on gas and wear and tear on their vehicle is more likely to click the link. Such an offer coming to an inbox is less likely to be spam. The local tire company gets to enjoy the kudos for helping consumers.

Consumer friendly email marketing campaigns combined with relevant content in the links can increase brand awareness. This type of email is more likely to be welcomed and opened more regularly. Small business owners who focus on helping consumers will find that their email list will continue to grow and remain effective in converting prospects and customers.

They will not be seen as spam; especially if they follow a few simple rules.

Be aware of the rules for email marketing in your country. Unfortunately, there is no uniform code of conduct regarding email marketing. Even in North America, there are different rules for sending emails. The CAN-SPAM Act in the United States offers four simple rules to avoid being legally considered spam. Canada has different rules for email marketing.

· Never email to a recipient without permission.

· Your emails should include a mailing address.

· Avoid deceptive subject lines in your emails.

· Include an opt out option at the end of your email.

You can collect emails in several ways (legally) so there’s no need to buy bulk email lists from shady characters in rumpled trench coats. Including your physical address when you’re a brick-and-mortar store is fairly simple and preferable. When you work from home, it might be a bit more problematic.

The post office and parcel companies have now made physical addresses from their establishments available to small business owners working from home. Internet only businesses can now feel more secure about posting a physical address on the Internet.

Photo of woman in front of her laptop at home. Photo by DCStudio
Email marketing is not the same as spamming, but it’s important to learn how to do it correctly.

Avoid deceptive subject lines, that should be fairly easy to do in theory. Even the most innocent email header can be mistaken for spam by the filters if they contain trigger words. There are very specific words that trigger spam filters. Avoid them like the plague. Unfortunately, a pretty useful word like “free “has been ruined by spammers.

It’s not that difficult to find the latest updated list of spam trigger words. My last count was 550. You can also use software that will automatically look through your email copy and flag anything that may resemble spam.

Give your email recipient ways to opt-out. Even if they gave you permission to contact them, they should have a way of telling you when enough is enough. If you’re using an email marketing service, this will be a built-in feature.

How to do email marketing step by step

There are a few essential differences between business-to-consumer and business-to-business marketing, with email. The strategy for collecting email recipients and executing an email marketing program for B2B and B2C requires unique planning. This is because the target audiences have different expectations and different levels of access.

In many respects, B2B email marketing can be seen as easier to execute. Cold email marketing is much more acceptable within the business community. Cold email refers to contacting someone who is unfamiliar with you to start a conversation. A professional approach to an email header may attract a business person if it seems like a legitimate opportunity.

The more effective cold email campaigns are more like introductions than sales pitches. The goal is to get the recipient to take a small action toward building some kind of rapport or relationship. They will usually link to relevant content or ask for a brief meeting.

B2C email marketing usually starts with some form of advertising. An Instagram post or Facebook ad may lead prospects to a free offer. Prospects will then trade their email addresses in return for the ethical bribe. A brick-and-mortar store may invite their customers to join their club. Customers exchange their email addresses for exclusive offers or discounts.

Let’s not forget good old-fashioned snail mail. Direct mail is a great way to reach a local audience. Direct-mail companies can perform micro-targeting within a specific region. A direct mail campaign that offers an online invitation can be a great way to reach very specific people in a local region or neighborhood.

One of the least effective ways (but still effective) to gain email addresses is a sign up form on your website. The reason I consider this one of the least effective ways, is because most small business websites really don’t get a lot of traffic. The worn-out adage “If you build it they will come “has led to the downfall of many Internet aspirations.

I often recommend that small business owners establish a framework or template for their email marketing program. Not only should it include online advertising, there should also be in-store promotions for brick-and-mortar stores. These specific avenues for generating email leads can be cost effective and in the end pay for itself.

What are the benefits of email marketing?

I’ll warn you that there are quite a few moving parts to email marketing. If you’re a busy entrepreneur and you want to establish your own campaigns and set up your own email system, you’ll spend a good chunk of time navigating the ins and outs of the progression. The good news is there are many apps available to help you through the process.

Here are my top 10 benefits of small business email marketing that you can post on your wall when things get really stressful. Well-executed email marketing campaigns can:

· Help you build an enormous following for your brand.

· Offer you a valuable marketing asset that keeps paying for itself year after year.

· Promote brand loyalty while helping you build authority in your market.

· Put your business in a global arena.

· Offer you a cost-effective entry point for marketing and promotions.

· Be your go-to resource for market intelligence gathering.

· Help you develop additional income streams.

· Open two-way communications with customers and prospects.

· Easily be measured for effectiveness.

· Give you a glorious return on your investment.

What is the best time of day to send email marketing?

Most of the research done around email opening statistics has concluded that early morning email delivery offers the highest open rate. Emails delivered between 9: AM and 11: AM, Monday through Friday seem to do well. Open rates can go as high as 22% with equally high click-through rates.

However, it’s not that simple for everyone. Your best bet is to test your emails for your market. You may find that certain days are more effective than others. You also need a tracking system within your email client that will allow you to generate reports.

Remember that the effectiveness of your emails will also depend on the quality of your subject lines and the content of your email. Your email marketing campaign must be congruent with the rest of your marketing strategy in order to be effective. All components need to work seamlessly together.

Picture of hand pressing envelope that is sent around the world.
Email marketing combined with content marketing can dramatically improve sales.

In order to discover the best metrics, you may need to do some homework. Keep in mind that the reason for crunching the numbers is still about converting prospects into customers and gaining more sales. It’s easy to get bogged down into email open rates and the best times of day to distribute them. Keep your focus on results.

Is email marketing content marketing?

This brings me to another important point that I bring up with small business clients. Email marketing is at its most powerful when it’s combined with effective content elsewhere. Your marketing strategy should include a content marketing component. Every business is unique and the content you create will depend heavily on your market. If most people in your market gravitate more toward podcasts, you need to focus on podcasting first.

Content marketing is basically delivering your message through the media preferred by your target audience. It’s unnecessary to be all things to everyone. Small business owners don’t have the time or resources to be everywhere. Pick one or two media sources and be consistent about delivering your message.

Use email marketing to drive traffic to your medium of choice. Use advertising to build your email list. Convert your prospects through your content.

Start by defining your target audience and do some research to uncover where they hang out on the Internet. Look at who they admire most; who they follow online and who are the biggest influencers for that demographic. This will help you determine which media sources will be most appropriate to deliver your content.

How to use email marketing for business?

How can small businesses use email marketing to boost lead generation? One of the most innovative ways I’ve seen this done is the tell-a-friend program. A local gym in my town had a bright idea for increasing the sign-ups of seniors. They built an entire campaign around the idea of bringing a friend for 2-for-1 membership. What was special was the demographic they pitched to offer to.

“Older adults are more likely to stick with a group exercise program if they can do it with people their own age, a new University of British Columbia study has found. Working out with peers of the same gender doesn’t seem to make a difference, — it’s the age that counts.” According to

It was billed as a three-month trial offer. At the end of the term, both members could get a discount on continued membership by bringing in more friends. Since they signed up to specific group activities, they get to take part with other seniors regularly.

Another study points out the importance of peer influence on sticking to an exercise program. “The people you work out with can influence your interest in sticking to a fitness routine. A new study suggests that it pays to exercise with people of your own age group.” This one is from the University of British Columbia.

The senior discount program was a gigantic success because it allowed for a trial period with a discount offer for continued membership. The seniors not only had more faithful attendance than their younger peers, they could build new friendships and benefited from the social atmosphere of the health club.

Email marketing played an important part in the follow-up and retention rate of his clients. Emails with information relating to fitness and longevity were posted three times a week. The posts included links to his YouTube fitness and nutrition channel; leading to content specifically designed for seniors 65 and over.

Since the links specifically contained material that was important to his target audience, this led to greater engagement. He also experienced increased open rates for his emails. This is just one example. The opportunities are limitless when using email marketing for small business success.

Which email marketing service is the best?

You’re now convinced that email marketing is a great way to share your message and build a relationship with prospects and customers. Now, you’re probably wondering how do I choose an email marketing platform or the right email marketing software? The right answer is going to depend on a few requirements.

You’ll need to consider response handling and automation based on the quantity of emails being sent every month. Since you’re not a spammer, and new to email marketing, I’ll venture to say that you’ll probably look at reaching less than 2,000 people each month initially.

Most small business owners will usually end up with an email list of 2,000 or 3,000 respondents. There probably won’t be any need for sophisticated automation up front. However, if you’re using a CRM (customer relation management system) it’s important to ensure that your email platform integrates well with the software.

The same is true if you’re using sales funnel software such as ClickFunnels or Infusionsoft. There is no need to over-complicate things. Be sure that all your components are compatible. Your email delivery system should work across all platforms and devices. More people than ever before are using their phones to read emails. Therefore, your delivery system should be flexible.

There are many great email marketing automation tools out there. Invest a little time in testing out a few, since most come with some initial 30-day money-back guarantee. Take a few courses on email marketing even if you’re turning the process over to the pros. You’ll want to develop the practical understanding of the system.

So now, if you are a small business owner and some guru or marketing consultant mentions email marketing, you won’t flinch reflexively. You have a working understanding of the power of the tool. Now, go forth and communicate with your prospects.



Dennis Francis

Retired content marketing consultant. Author, artist, husband, father and owner of Still helping small business owners daily.