How to Stop Being a Lemming in Your Business

 A strange phenLemmingsomenon occurred in my inbox around mid-June. I received 67 emails begging, bribing, poking, prodding and cajoling me to subscribe to their e-newsletter (which I was already receiving) in order to continue to receive them. I was sternly told that because of the new Canada Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) (http://fightspam.gc.ca/eic/site/030.nsf/eng/home), if I didn’t opt-in, they wouldn’t be able to communicate with me anymore… and wouldn’t that be a shame for our relationship.

Ironically, I only recall signing up for about 8 of the newsletters I was receiving. The rest were from people that I must have met through networking who had plunked me on their list upon receiving my business card. So I took the opportunity to do nothing and have them remove me from the list that I never joined in the first place.

These emails poured in like lemmings leaping off a cliff. And I say that because as a coach who works with business owners, I saw how they were shooting themselves unnecessarily in the foot. In an effort to be compliant with CASL, they were cutting off their newsletter list up to 3 years in advance of the deadline.

I also noticed that how businesses approached this topic affected my impression of them – without even having any direct interaction with me. Did they sound like they were freaking out or just abiding by the rules? Did it seem like they knew a little of why they were doing what they were doing or blindly following all the other businesses falling off the CASL cliff? How did they respond when I didn’t respond? The funniest example of this was a realtor who first sent out his “you must respond to keep hearing from me” email and then replied to an email and cc’d all 241 people on his list – exposing all the email addresses. Yikes! Not only was this a dumbass move… it also showed he wasn’t using a proper mail program to manage his newsletter.

While this is annoying and amusing, it raises a bigger issue than CASL compliance: why aren’t business owners thinking critically about the decisions that they make? Here are three steps that you can take to stop being a lemming and step up as a wise leader: one who applies knowledge properly to further their business.

1.  Know what you don’t know.

Addiction programs have it right when they say that the first step is to admit that you have a problem. As it applies to small business, most owners are trying to save in as many areas as possible and often using DIY (do-it-yourself) to shave dollars off the budget. And while business owners do wear many hats, it is important to recognize when trying to do things on your own are going to cost you in the long term. Bring in an expert when you are out of your league. It will save you in the big picture.

2. Go to the source.

When the experts disagree or you aren’t sure whose advice to follow, take the time to do your research and find out what the rules or best practices are for your current situation. There are many independent organizations that provide great resources on business topics. Small Business BC (http://www.smallbusinessbc.ca) and Canadian Federation for Independant Business(www.cfib-fcei.ca/) are great places to start.

3. Align your tactical with your strategy.

This implies that you have a strategy. The choices that you face on a day to day basis are much easier to choose from when you know where you are going a.k.a. have a plan. Ask yourself:

  • How does this decision fit with my plan?
  • What do I want my customer’s experience to be?
  • How will this bring me closer to my goal?

If the answer is murky, talk it through with a trusted advisor or mentor. Your time and energy are a precious commodity so make your efforts count. In the case of addressing CASL compliance, maybe it was time to clean up your list and so you want to sort out who doesn’t ever open your emails or respond. Or you may want to delay cleaning your list until you’ve re-engaged with the majority of the people on the list through a downloadable product or promotion – which could be used as part of your opt-in process. The important things are to make an informed decision that fits with your overall strategy.

How to ace the test…

The best CASL related email was a mention by professional organizer Rowena List (http://gettingittogether.ca) who wrote ? “As most of you know by now the Canadian anti-spam regulations went into effect today. The great news is that you have all given me your consent when you first signed up to receive this newsletter. From the very beginning we have adhered to all regulations by having an unsubscribe button on all correspondence.” Wow. I was impressed that not only did she know what she was talking about – she was already compliant and handling my subscription responsibly.

Our businesses are impacted by many circumstances outside of our control and the natural response is to react quickly to put out the fire. The next time you are faced with a quasi-crisis, take a breath and then get expert help, get the facts and choose tacticals in line with your strategy. And go show them who is ace. (That’s you!)

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