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Spam or direct marketing - are they allowed?


I've been looking at some of the practice discussions about marketing, and I remember reading something several months ago about contacting potential clients by email, letter, leaflet etc, but can't find it on the site.

My website is being delayed (not sure why as techy gone very quiet, and don't want to hassle him yet in case something tragic has happened at home, because this isn't like him).  So, I need to try and spend free time focussing on other ways to try and bring in business.

Daughter suggested but I think I need a website for that.

But what about emailing small businesses, or dropping them a leaflet, letter etc? Is that ok to do or is it illegal?  I'm not talking about flooding their inboxes or anything, just a little 'nudge' now and then to say I'm here if they need me.

Any thoughts?  Sorry (again - I seem to say this a lot!) because I am sure this subject has been done to death but struggling to find the threads on it.  I even clicked on FirstTab's name because I thought he'd covered it, but I think he's further down the line and already established (sorry, assume FT is a 'he').




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17th Oct 2011 16:29


what sort of budget are we looking at?

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By eve2206
17th Oct 2011 16:50

Hi Tony

I've been working as a 'consultant' for a month or so and they haven't paid me yet, so I have £4.19 in the bank!!! So, I'm unsure about committing to a budget right now - I could probably set aside £100 after I get my invoices paid.  So you can see I'm talking very small amount of marketing which is why, at this point in time, I need to target carefully. 

I can have leaflets and business cards made quite cheaply - just to start me off - but any major marketing is out of the question.

Before I used all my redundancy, I did manage to buy all the software though, so ready to roll in theory.



Edit: I knew this was never going to be a quick walk in the park etc, and was happy to work to subsidise the start up, but this firm has really dragged it's heels in paying me and I need to take a more proactive approach to getting in touch with potential/target clients, because I don't want to keep finding myself at the mercy of one firm's BACS processes.  I'm angry with them, but also with myself for not kicking myself up the backside sooner!


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17th Oct 2011 16:54

with a limited budget

I guess the best plan is to write directly to local businesses you think you would like to deal with. This is better than leaflets etc, as it is more personal. With leaflets, people just tend to chuck them in the bin.

You can then follow-up a couple of weeks later with a phone call.


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17th Oct 2011 16:55

you can direct market, but it tends to look pretty desperate.

With a budget of £100 (are you serious????) then I would print up a 500 good quality business cards and network, network, network and network some more until everyone you know knows what you are doing, all their friends and their friends also.

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By eve2206
17th Oct 2011 17:09


Thanks both for your helpful comments.  I will try both methods.  I agree that direct marketing might look desperate if I was already established, but if I pitch it as a new business (which it is) then it might look less desperate :)

And I think I'll invest the money in business cards for now.  My marketing budget will grow once I get a steadier income, but at present I just need to make the best use of what I have available.

I always intended to start marketing once website was in place, but everything seems to be going a bit pear shaped right now - budget gone, website not live etc.  So I need to toughen up, get out there, network, approach businesses etc and stop relying on other people because it seems you can only really rely on yourself and your own efforts.




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17th Oct 2011 17:22

be wary of direct marketing ---- and here's why!

I regularly set up Ltd companies for clients often using my own office address.

In 99% of cases the new Company is set up as follows;


c/o ABC Accountants (i.e. me)

1 The Street (my address) etc etc

Now, everytime I set up a company I get 2 letters (with very glossy and no doubt expensive brochures) from two local firms of accountants who use marketing companies to mailshot new Ltd co set ups in the area.

I do know the owners of these practices and get on v well with one of them but have not yet had the heart to tell him I keep getting their expensive mailshots.

So, be warned, direct marketing companies take your money and do not do a good job (or at least none I have come across have ever provided good value for money but I am happy to be proved wrong)

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17th Oct 2011 17:22

Try visiting some businesses

If you really have so little money to spend on marketing, but do have time available, I would actually try calling on some businesses and introducing yourself.

You would be surprised what this turns up if you can get the business owner chatting.

I bet you virtually sign up some work straight away. As long as you do not get an outright rejection, just make a note to follow up at a later date, and make sure you do, as you will not be cold calling the second time.

You need to be confident about talking about your services though, so I would practice on a friend beforehand, and get them to try out some likely objections so you can have some counters ready.

Good luck !


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17th Oct 2011 18:03

Spot on Zarathustra

I am looking at the same marketplace as you right now, but fortunately have more than your £4.19 to play with. I really like the idea of you wandering round small industrial units looking for business. Every now and then you come across a huge multioccupancy building with all sorts of occupants. Just the sort of building you are looking for.

A printer client who is just starting up told me she did this last month. She took brochures and cards. You could have a cheap leaflet printed with your name, address and tel no. on the back designed so that the leaflet could be pinned on the inevitable noticeboard. When my client visited local units, the boss was always in and because she is friendly, she got some business out of it.

You need to read something like "how to win friends and influence people" by Dale Carnegie beforehand - a lovely book - and then get your family to psyche you up by practicing being friendly prospects before you go.

Just think, recommendations from just one new client could really help you on your way.

I wish you lots of luck!

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By eve2206
17th Oct 2011 19:22

Thanks to all of you - this is all really helpful advice and I feel so much more positive after reading it.

I will do a mixture of all the above, leaflets, cards, cold calling etc - and will certainly bear in mind all the pitfalls as well so as not to totally waste my efforts.  I am a friendly person and can wing it when it comes to confidence, but I agree it would be really useful to practice on some non-customers first.

I will let you all know how I get on at some point.


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17th Oct 2011 23:36

Direct Marketing

Hi Eve. you are right about the he.

In my early days direct marketing did get me some clients. I was sending  out 100 mail shots a  week. I remember buying a leads. I cannot remember the supplier.

The mail shot consisted of a letter and a good quality leaflet.

The mail shot was then followed up by a telemarketing company. It got me clients. All this is very expensive. Some clients  to my surprise retained the brochure and called me months later.

For me at the time I felt I was doing something rather than just worry about where my next client will come from.

I understand you are on a tight budget. I still think it is worth doing and follow it up by a call.

Good luck.

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18th Oct 2011 00:53

You need more £££ (sorry)



This is a business where spending money on marketing is an investment that will repay itself many times over.  


First Tab and I have met (along with Red Leader) and I showed him the two niche magazines that I write a monthly column for - i started both for zero cost. after a while, it was obvious to both editors how much biz was coming through so they "suggested" i might like to take an advert each month. 


this builds my profile as an expert in my niche - and the mags are read by 10000 people a month.  i now spend £500 a month on ads in the mags.


i also got back from a 3-day trade show this weekend - i paid £2k to attend, take a stand, and present to paying attendees each day for an hour.  its monday night and i have finished a 15-hr day after managing to clear my inbox ... all enquiries.  


sell your car ... downgrade your house ... borrow from Aunt Edna ... take out a loan ... use your redundancy money  - whatever it takes, but spend some money and invest in your biz.  i have my 4th member of staff starting in november, and am approaching 200k in fees since my june 2010 start.  its hard work and needs some money, but this biz is not that hard ... getting your first 100 clients (and I mean quality clients) is the hard part.

PM me if you like ....


(FT - howdy - hope ur well ...)




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By eve2206
18th Oct 2011 09:29


Thanks for these recent responses.  I can see I still have more stuff to get to grips with.  A good advert, promotion at outlets where my clients might be and so on.  I will try not to get caught out on the Spam thing too which was my original concern as well - I'd heard somewhere before that there were laws against it.  Not that I want to spam or aggravate potential clients anyway, but it looks like it would be easy to fall foul of these laws.

Through all the responses I've had, I think I've got an idea now of how my marketing strategy (sounds grand!) is going to look like, do's and don'ts and so on.  Budget? Yes, I know it's pathetic, but I will work on that.

thanks again


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18th Oct 2011 09:56


Hi Lancsboy2, great to hear you have moved even further since we met. Well done!


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18th Oct 2011 13:50

Lets catch up again

hi FT, 


as you know, i've been building the fee bank, at the expense of my "life" - i used to have one, i dont any more!


but, things are now in better shape, in that i did recruit that CTA i mentioned, and a couple of AAT apprentices, and a newly-qualified ACCA is joining soon. so the team are doing most of the tech work, and i do the client meetings & answer the client emails.  


its the practice management side that i am weaker on than some aweb bods ... so have had some fun trying to juggle the biz development with the work.  thats why i wanted to meet up with you and red leader & anyone else that can meet in london or elsewhere.  the next stage for me is to consolidate and improve the back office into the slick machine that i dream of ...


and ... thanks for sticking your neck out and asking the questions that me and loads of other peeps would like to ask...i know you've taken some stick for that, so fair play to you for that.  



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By honesty
18th Oct 2011 10:29

Agree with Zarathrustra

Write to local businesses and then follow up with a visit. More effective than a phone call. Also,  seek advice on how to word the letter and how to make an effective visit. I'm sure there is advice on - line for this.

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18th Oct 2011 16:06

Email is best avoided

You are allowed to spam "corporate subscribers", which means email addresses where the account is held by a company, an LLP or a Scottish partnership, but not an individual, a sole trader or a partnership anywhere else in the UK.  Even if the prospective client is a limited company, the email account might be in their own name.  Most of the free email providers don't have an option for putting in a company name, and if they work from home, personal accounts tend to be cheaper than business accounts.

The other reason you should avoid spam is that people hate having their inbox flooded with it, and if enough people click the spam button, you will be blacklisted and unable to send any emails out to people.

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By pawncob
18th Oct 2011 16:58

Be careful what you put in your marketing leaflets/letters. A local firm wrote to one of my clients and I immediately  reported it to ICAEW.

You can't take clients away from their existing auditors/accountants by making false promises/statements.

 Read the Institute guidelines first.

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19th Oct 2011 12:10

Let there be light - at least a little bit

Eve, most of this advice is right for your circumstances. I work in marketing. The common combination of no money/plenty of time is a no brainer - get out there and meet people face to face. That is the most powerful form of marketing.

Do your homework on them first so you know who they are, what they do etc. If you meet at a networking event you won't be expected to know who everyone is - but it still helps.

But once your time/money balance changes you won't be able to do as much networking and should consider spending money. And here I must defend email marketing which many businesses - even accountants - use successfully.

Firstly, don't be put off by anecdotal horror stories or follow any dodgy pieces of advice above ("... you are allowed to spam corporates..." - don't!!).

Secondly, email marketing is never spam if done properly and it won't upset reasonable people. It still has the best return on investment of any direct marketing.

My advice to you is to identify your market first, then find out which means of reaching that market are most appropriate.

Should email marketing be one of them, the first challenge will be getting email addresses of potential clients to send to. The best are those you gather yourself but this is a task in itself (keep those business cards from networking events!).

You can buy email addresses in or rent them but use a reputable agency as there are cowboys galore in this field (some reputable ones will help you devise campaigns too - especially if you're renting their data rather than buying it - as it's in their interest for campaigns to work).

And you must use a reputable email marketing provider to equip you with the right tools for sending out mass emails that look good, get into inboxes and aren't spam. Google "email marketing" and choose the bigger providers. Make sure they are UK based for reasons of timely IT support, data protection and general reliability.

Some even offer free email marketing packages which may be of use intially. They're basic but sound and designed to encourage you to upgrade to a paid-for package further down the line.

Good luck.

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19th Oct 2011 12:16

Invest But Invest Wisely


A couple of comments on earlier suggestions.

I suggest you don't send letters to be followed up with phone calls.  Start with the follow up call and, if they're at all interested, send the 'better' letter.  If you feel the need to use it as an intro, ask if they've received your letter, knowing you never sent it!  Again, if they're interested you can offer to 're-send' the letter.  Form your own opinions of those who say they've received it but aren't interested.  This saves a fortune on stamps and envelopes!

Invest some - no, a lot - of your time in creating powerful, compelling, value-outcome based messages to use in your promotion.  Base these on fixing the things you know your target clients already know is hurting them.  Avoid BS and 'so what' messages, and be extremely sparing with things they'd expect to be able to take for granted, the things none of your competitors would ever say the opposite of.  For example 'high quality' isn't going to set you apart; I expect to be able to take that for granted.

Don't confuse people with lots of different things they could do next.  Know what you'd like them to do next each time and focus on just that at every step.  It might seem counter-intuitive but it's actually very difficult to sell a list!

I hope this is helpful.

David Winch

Make Sales Without Selling and Get Paid What You're Worth

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19th Oct 2011 17:11

direct marketing

Hi Eve

B2B email marketing is allowed, and may be a good tool for you to use. All emails will have an unsubscribe button so you dont need to worry about repeatedly annoying people!  You might like to have a look at to see how it can help you to keep in touch with existing clients with newsletters, and reach out to prospective new ones, and there is a free 30day trial, so no obligation. A previous poster suggested follow up with telesales, but you download reports to see if the recipient was interested enough to read the email, so you dont waste time and money calling them if they have not.

good luck


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19th Oct 2011 17:48

Simon, you state "email

Simon, you state "email marketing is never spam if done properly"

This is simply not true. The literally dozens of messages we get on a daily basis are spam, pure and simple. Its annoys the heck out of me that I have to pay my assistant to sit and read and delete the rubbish (and yes we have a top notch spam filter in place and block domains left right and centre) as well as deal with the idiot cold callers. 

I reckon I waste £20 a week on it (ie hour or her time including taxes), thats a lot of money out of my wallet each year just dealing with idiot marketers who will not take the hint. It not really the time taken to hit "block" etc, its more the DISRUPTION to the task that was in hand dealing with the intrusion they cause.

Moreover for a small accountancy business its commercial suicide to go spamming all local businesses, it would be a GREAT way of ensuring your name is mud in your area.

I for one never knowingly put any business the way of people who cold call or send out spam.

Eve - ignore the marketeers flogging their tawdry services. Go speak to people, its far more fun and whats more it WORKS!



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21st Oct 2011 11:54

Legitimate email marketing .v. spam; an explanation



The scenario you describe is definitely spam which I would never condone. I too get spam and it angers me just as much as it does you.

But there is a world of difference between sending one email to somebody offering them your services - a quite reasonable thing to do - and bombarding someone with repeated emails while ignoring their response (or lack of it).

The responsible email marketing systems I describe all have built in to them an "unsubscribe" button at the bottom of EVERY email sent which allows recipients to remove their email address from the database at the click of the link. And these systems will not allow that email address to be added again without express permission from the owner of the address. If the emails you’re receiving had this, once you'd unsubscribed you wouldn't receive another email from that business – unless they operate more than one account which the email marketers I work with definitely do not allow.

This mechanism also helps the businesses sending the emails by not wasting their email quota on recipients who aren't interested and by not irritating people who could take up their valuable time by complaining.

Spammers, on the other hand, do not behave in this way but ignore business etiquette, complaints and even laws.

I should also point out that not only did I encourage Eve NOT to send spam but also NOT to take up email marketing at this stage of her business cycle. Who knows how her business will evolve but perhaps, depending on which line she goes down, email marketing may suit her at some stage. She did, after all, enquire about it.

BTW, one hint for those not wishing to get spam is to keep your email address out of online circulation, so take it off your website if it is there and just link to an email form from your name, as this very post does. And don't let others publish it online either. This is where most of the spam I get comes from but in my line of work - I write a lot of articles for publication online (public relations work) for clients – it’s an unfortunate occupational hazard.

But I use Outlook for email and find the Rules and Alerts (in the menu bar under Tools) can keep 95% of the spam at bay – just remember to scan your Junk Mail folder once a day to make sure nothing legitimate has gone in there.

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20th Oct 2011 10:03

Sanitising SPAM email ....

@Simon Newsam

Have to take issue with you on ' marketing is never spam if done properly..'

Any unsolicited email is SPAM and it really doesn't matter what spin those in marketing put on the matter you cannot change this situation

The fact that it is not an offence to SPAM different categories of recipient (business .v. personal) is a different matter which boils down to legal v illegal

One only has to look at the hoops email marketing firms go to to confuse/avoid recipients email blockers to recognise that these emails are aiming to decieve in order to reach the recipient

So basically if one is comfortable trying to decieve the recipients spam filters/blockers etc. in order to send marketing material then that is down to the business in question

But please recognise it for what it is and don't try to sanitise the matter


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21st Oct 2011 12:00

... and a further explanation


I can't agree that any unsolicited email is spam. If we all adopted this standard of only communicating when invited too we'd be a pretty isolated and uninformed bunch.

The emails you’re describing certainly ARE spam if they’re designed to deceive you. Legitimate email marketing, however, does not work in this way. It would not benefit any legitimate business to try to deceive recipients who they often want to forge long-term relationships with. The deceptions you refer to would almost certainly be spotted as soon as the email was opened, if not sooner.

Businesses using email marketing properly may buy or rent email data so they want their recipients to be as interested as possible otherwise they’re wasting their money. “Double opt-in” is often the standard they pay for, where the owner of the email address has agreed - twice - for their email to be used for marketing.

They then try to provide genuinely useful content which is likely to be of interest to those recipients. If it isn’t useful or interesting it is pointless and the recipient may unsubscribe – after which any further contact would be a waste of their time and email quota (ie their money).

Believe it or not, a huge number of legitimate, considerate and ethical businesses and organisations work - successfully - in this way (including small accountancy firms with a local client base).

But perhaps you never receive any emails that fit this description.

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21st Oct 2011 13:00

Disagree ......

@Simon Newsam

There are a number of points that arise:

In this respect I do not refer to those who have opted-in to receive emails. Nevertheless on the opt-in front:

Many web sites have the default as opt-in whereas it should be opt-out; with a positive action to elect opt-in. Clearly unethical practice!Lots of spam arrives with the 'catch all' statement that one has opted-in to one of their associates/affiliates. In a large number of cases this is simply untrue and if you try to track down the original opt-in it is virtually impossible and all that happens is that the marketing firm offers to remove one from their list - NOT GOOD ENOUGH. I want to know precisely how an email address was obtained and if it is not possible then the marketing firm should be heavily fined through lack of audit trail

To move on:

Define 'bombarding' - once (is enough for most people), twice, three times .....The acknowledged wisdom is never to respond to the unsubscribe link because that simply lets the sender know that they have reached a valid email address. There are many in the Far East using this facility to confirm email addresses from block spamming. You demonstrate this very succinctly with '.. Spammers, on the other hand, do not behave in this way but ignore business etiquette, complaints and even laws..'I am afraid that the following is flawed - '.. I can't agree that any unsolicited email is spam. If we all adopted this standard of only communicating when invited too we'd be a pretty isolated and uninformed bunch ..' The fact that I don't want or care about what somebody is selling hardly renders me 'isolated' or 'uninformed'. Furthermore, spammers take time from me which I don't wish to give them purely to deal with all the rubbish they send through - so in one sense every unsolicited message is a theft of the recipients time.

MailChimp definition - T&C's

'.. The word "Spam" as applied to Email means Unsolicited Bulk Email ("UBE").

It is a concern to us if you use MailChimp to send any unsolicited email to anyone with whom you have no relationship. It is much more of a concern, and more likely to cause our system to be blocked by various ISP's, for you to send an unsolicited email to an entire list of people you don't know ..'

We are probably poles apart in our views on this subject and I can understand your stance coming from a marketing perspective - nevertheless 'No Relationship' is one of the attributes of spam



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21st Oct 2011 13:45

Re disagree...

@JC - brief responses to you points;

Kind regards,


Many web sites have the default as opt-in whereas it should be opt-out; with a positive action to elect opt-in. Clearly unethical practice!
Double opt-in avoids these "default optin-in" practices which, as you rightly say, are deemed unethical by legitimate email marketers.
 Lots of spam arrives with the 'catch all' statement that one has opted-in to one of their associates/affiliates. In a large number of cases this is simply untrue ...
Whenever this is "simply untrue" as you claim, then I agree with you, it's spam.
 Define 'bombarding' - once (is enough for most people), twice, three times .....
"Bombarding" - varies depending on the circumstances. But none of my clients sends anyone more than one e-newsletter a month for this very reason and never to people who've opted out.
 The acknowledged wisdom is never to respond to the unsubscribe link because that simply lets the sender know that they have reached a valid email address.
Sympathise, but don't agree with this. Most scam (correct) emails stand out as being slap-dash, badly written, riddled with mistakes etc ... certainly avoid responding to these in any way. But other spam (correct) emails are genuine attempts to do business with you by people who either don't realise they're causing offence or don't care that they are. Unsubscribe - if available - is pretty safe then. They already have your email address - the fact that it's valid is of little interest to them unless the whole point of the exercise is to try and sell it on and I think there are much easier ways for people to gather valid, random emails than this.
 Furthermore, spammers take time from me which I don't wish to give them purely to deal with all the rubbish they send through - so in one sense every unsolicited message is a theft of the recipients time.
I fear we may be guilty of stealing valuable time ourselves from the other users of this site.
 Shall we just agree to disagree?

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By pawncob
21st Oct 2011 16:45

What was the topic again?

Spam is OK for Monty Python.

Please consider the OP.

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16th Nov 2012 11:11


I don't like spam. For one, the ROI is terrible. Secondly, it's horrible for my brand to be associated with marketing of this kind.

I'm looking for a website company just now... would you recommend your web guy?


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