With a proliferation of telemarketing calls and business solicitations, small businesses seem to be constantly fending off unwanted marketing offers. Sorting through solicitations can take up valuable working time for a small business, and opportunities can be lost if you cut short a customer call only to find out that on the other line is a telemarketer who wants to sell you toner.
While most federal regulations apply to business-to-consumer and not business-to-business telemarketing, small businesses can still cut down on unwanted solicitations. These resources may not stop the problem completely but could at least cut down on the number of robocalls—pre-recorded messages that come from a computerized auto-dialer—and spam emails.
Telemarketers are prohibited from calling personal phone numbers listed on the National Do Not Call Registry (with the exception of certain nonprofit and political organizations). If you use your home or cell phone for business, this could be to your benefit.
You can list your home phone or cell phone on the Do Not Call list as long as that phone number is primarily used for personal calls and is not owned by a business, explains Roberto Anguizola, assistant director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Division of Marketing Practices.
“If a cell phone or home phone is primarily a personal number but occasionally used for business, a consumer is entitled to list that number on the Do Not Call list,” Anguizola says. But if you use your home phone for work and distribute that number to a trade association, then you might expect your number to get out to other trade organizations, and you will likely see an increase in unsolicited phone calls.
According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) website, “While you may be able to register a business number, your registration will not make telephone solicitations to that number unlawful.” So if your land line or cell phone is registered to your business, you may still get calls.
Keep in mind that under the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Telemarketing Sales Rule, business-to-business calls for sales of nondurable office or cleaning supplies are restricted. Examples of nondurable office or cleaning supplies include paper, pencils, solvents, copying machine toner, and ink—anything that can become depleted and must be replaced.
The rule is in place, Anguizola explains, to prevent “toner phoner” office supply scams in which businesses are bilked to pay for goods and services they never ordered. If you feel this rule is being violated, you may want to contact the FTC directly.
The federal CAN-SPAM Act requires that a commercial emailer give each email recipient an opt-out method, such as a return email address or a link allowing you to request that it stop sending future email messages. If you request to opt out, that company must stop emailing you, whether for business or personal email accounts.
The Direct Marketing Association (DMA) also has an Email Preference Service (eMPS) to help reduce unsolicited commercial emails you receive from DMA members. Registration is free and good for six years, but, according to the DMA’s website, “does not apply to advertising emailed to your business address.” The eMPS therefore will apply mostly to small business owners who use their personal accounts for correspondence.
And although registration will get you off of some email lists, it won’t completely clean up your email inbox because not all advertisers participate in the service. If you’re a small business owner who uses a business email account to correspond with clients, you may be better off just setting up a good spam filter.
Junk mail and faxes
Unsolicited advertisements sent to fax machines are restricted under the Junk Fax Prevention Act of the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). Specifically, the policy restricts the use of “any telephone facsimile machine, computer, or other device to send an unsolicited advertisement to a telephone facsimile machine” for residential as well as business fax machines.
The Act does permit the sending of advertising via fax to both individuals and businesses “with which the sender has an established business relationship.” However, the rules require senders to provide notice and contact information on the fax that gives recipients the ability to opt out of future faxes from the sender.
In addition to the eMPS, the DMA maintains a Mail Preference Service (MPS) for consumers to opt out of receiving unsolicited commercial mail from national companies that participate in the service.
But the service isn’t designed for businesses, explains Jerry Cerasale, senior vice president for government affairs of the DMA. “The problem with requests to stop business-to-business marketing is: Who is authorized to request it? Does it apply to the entire company? If it applies to an individual in the company, does it apply to that individual’s replacement when he or she leaves the company?” he says.
Instead, Cerasale explains, if a small business is receiving unwanted mail, the business should contact the marketer and request that the marketer stop sending any more advertising.
While you may never be able to completely rid yourself of telemarketers and spam, these services may be able to help you cut the problem down.
A Chicago-based writer and editor, Eve Becker writes about personal finance, health and other topics. She is a former managing editor of Tribune Media Services.