When I started Better Small Business Solutions, one the 1st gigs I got was to find contact details (preferably email addresses) of Bloggers in a “certain Industry”.  It was a relatively easy job and the client liked it so much they told everybody about “how good my work was”.  Soon I was getting enough tailored lists requests to make a comfortable living. Not only blogger details. I have found contact details of many “decision makers’ across a number of industries all over Australia, even some in Europe.

From a researcher’s point of view, this type of work is exceedingly dull, boring as bat guano. However, it did pay the bills while I was waiting for the more interesting desk top scans and literature review requests came my way. So, I stuck with it, and got a reputation as a bit of an expert on how to provide  SPAM Act 2003 compliant contact lists.

I also got very good and finding the best places to get email addresses in a time where businesses were doing their best to hide this type of information.  It was almost becoming an “arms race” of sorts. An arms race which after almost five years I am (glad to say) losing. The main reason for this is because as an ethical researcher there are certain tools and databases out there which I will not use. This is mainly due to the fact using them breaks the law (I’ll go into that more a bit later).

How my contact details service differed from others.

There are basically three ways to collect contact details. These being;

  1. Use “Bots” to harvest email addresses
  2. Offer some reward to collect email addresses
  3. Desk top scans of business websites.

Most companies which provide Australian contact details use either methods 1 or 2. Sometimes they use a combination of both. Mostly they will use method 2 or purchase lists from companies which collect mails this way, (think of “pizza places” which ask you to provide emails and offer you to apply for rewards).

I on the other hand used option 3, the desk scan approach. I would Google or Bing, sometimes I would even Dogpile, but I never Yahooed (one should never Yahoo — #sorrynotsorry). Then I would scan each website for the details my client was interested in.  I would also look at the business’s social media to find what I needed.  You’d be surprised how much “contact information” is on a business’s social media site. I would also be assessing the website to see if collecting contact details from this site contravenes the Spam Act. Then I would cut and paste the relevant information into a spreadsheet which I would send to my clients.

This type of method is very time consuming. On average it would take me about one hour to assess and collect the information from 10 websites.  Well that what it would take 4 years ago. Recently it is taking a lot longer. The time it takes to collect 10 websites has almost doubled.

This is because more and more businesses are not publishing the contact details of their employees.  I believe this is a good thing as businesses should be protecting the privacy of their staff.  On top of this, more businesses are not disclosing their own email address to avoid spam bots. Instead they are using contact forms for their enquiries.  

I used to charge $275.00 for 50 business contact details. Yes, that is quite expensive however, when you consider that I was offering a Spam Act compliant list, the list has more value because it protects the client from litigation attacks.  However, I just can’t bring myself to raising the price any further, as doing so prices most small businesses out of the market.  Also, I really can’t afford not to raise the prices. So, I have decided to drop this service.

The problems with contact detail lists – why you shouldn’t buy them

There are some risks with contact detail lists which every small business owner should be made aware of.  The main risks are:

  • Risk of breaking the law:

If a list is going to be compliant with the Spam Act it needs to be:

1) Made up of email addresses which have passed the permissions test. 

The Spam Act says you can’t send an email to a person unless you have their permission to do so. According to the Spam Act there re two types of permission. These are 1) explicit permission and 2) inferred permission. I have talked about this in detail here.

Pre-made industry contact detail lists are just that i.e. they have been made in advance. They are generally focused on one industry. Unless the industry you work in has a close working association with the one your interested in it is going to be hard to find a list which every item in it passes the inferred permission test.  To ensure your purchased list does pass the inferred permission test you will have to manually check the list and assess each item, deleting any item which fails the test. This process can take time and you end up paying for redundancies.

2) Not collected by email harvesting software.

Using harvesting bots to collect email addresses are a big NO NO. The Spam Act says you can not contact a business in Australia if the email has been collected by harvesting software.  Most companies located outside of Australia collate their lists using harvesting bots. In my 5 years of doing this type of work and have not come across a foreign company who does not use harvesting bots.

Whereas companies operating within Australia say they do not use harvesting when asked. However, they do tend to be reluctant in saying how they collect their information. I am not suggesting they are lying, as they may want to keep their sources to themselves.  But, if they are hiring people to collect by using the methods I was using; they would be paying them a very tiny sum indeed if they wish to make any profit on their lists.

If you want to buy a premade list, ask the seller how they collected information and if they are vague or try to avoid the subject, then my advice would be to err on the side of caution and not use them.

  • Risk of using old dated information:

Lists are by their very nature a snapshot of how things are at one particular point in time. The problem with lists is they lose currency over time. People move on, change positions even companies. Some-time companies merge or even closes. I have tested most of the lists I have produced for clients and they tend to drop to about 75% effective within 12 weeks.

If you want to buy a pre-made list, ask the seller how old the list is. Ask for a precises date.  Ask when the last time the list was updated, added to and validated. Again, if they are vague, caution is advised.

  • Risk of alienating your target audience:

Generally, people don’t like to be emailed by someone they don’t know. There are a quite a few myths associated with cold email marketing. The biggest myth is that all cold emails are illegal.  I think the main reason for this is that there is much confusion between the word spam and scam.

Another reason has to do with the confusion between inferred and implicit permission.  A Lot of people believe (rightly or wrongly) that they need to give you permission personally before you can email them. I see this opinion voiced in many a business forum. 

I think the big issue here goes back to the definition of what spam is. It seems to be one of those subjects whose definitions means many things to many people. It ranges from “SPAM is stuff I don’t want to see” to “SPAM as defined by the Spam Act”.

Where someone falls into this spectrum is going to influence how they engage with the cold e-mailer. If your prospective client belongs to the “I didn’t ask for this, therefore you are a spamming me” camp or the “Cold emails are illegal” camp, then you are going to have a difficult time engaging with them.

Even if you have passed the inferred permission test, you will be wasting your time and as such wasting the money spent on that list.  

One last thing.

I understand that this article might come off as sour grapes because I am no longer offering this type of service. There is a bit of truth to that. A tiny bit.

 However, the three risks mentioned above are real. They are also one of the reasons as to why I am no longer offering this service. Please consider these risks if you do decide to purchase a contact details list.

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

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