Want a legitimate list? Don’t buy it – create it.

No one likes spammers any more than you like your mailbox at home cluttered with dopey offers, unwanted coupons, fliers, menus and catalogs. But I’ll bet you don’t mind receiving offers from companies whose sites you’ve explored, entered a contest or attended an event. They aren’t the same type of “strangers” and if you entered a contest – you should know by now, you asked for it! I remember as a child after I learned to write legibly passing for someone much older, I would attend RV, auto, boat and garden shows with my parents. I would fill in every opportunity for them to win a car, great trip, new boat. I meant well. But the calls began and the phone rang off the hook, usually during dinner.

The Filter Queen – same one they demonstrated. (not my dad)

My dad was one to “give it a shot” if all he had to do was give up a weekend to drive to Las Vegas, stay somewhere for free, eat a Sterno buffet and listen to a pitch – it was worth it. My mom didn’t exactly agree, but those weekends were in the budget. They never won anything great, but had some silly memories. Were they the target market for the companies? Probably not. Were they qualified leads? Probably no more than those selected for juries are actually qualified to form an opinion that may affect the life of a human; but that’s a topic for another day. Don’t get me started on juries.

I learned from this. In 1978, from one of these entries, we had the first stranger call to set an appointment with a promise of a great chance to win a trip. Then another stranger came to the house to show us a $400 vacuum that could suck up screws and sand, double as one of those blow dryers you put on your head with cap, transform into an air freshener if you added in the “free gift” of air “flavors.” This demo earned the folks another Las Vegas weekend with casino chips to play at specified tables, hotel night, and yet another Sterno dinner. They thought it was worth it. We didn’t buy the vacuum.

As I grew into a young adult and would occasionally experience the sting from the spurn of a man, I would take the skill I learned as a child and enter him into various contests and fish bowls. This is not unlike Taylor Swift’s M.O. of creating an album after every sullied, spoiled or ruined relationship. Difference is, she makes money from her crooning revenge; I didn’t get to see the results of mine. But I was able to fantasize about many dinners ruined, mailboxes crammed and uninvited guests showing up at the door for the demo appointment. I still chuckle when I think of how I was then. Thank goodness I was done with that phase before the internet was invented by Al Gore.

These companies were my unwilling pawns to my sincere or less than sincere motives. None of them were qualified leads. I wasted everyone’s time, except that of my parents.


If you want to test a new product, service or change in your business model, existing customers are a great resource, as are suppliers and staff. Asking existing customers for their opinions has more credibility all the way around. If you have a survey you would like them to take, offer the opportunity to win a prize out of respect for their time. Those existing customers or even forgotten customers that have slipped through the cracks over the years may come back for more products or services from you. Suppliers, staff and customers will feel valued and that increases credibility and loyalty.

Whitepapers are all the rage. The form you fill out for access to the information is the price of the freebie. You wouldn’t fill out the form if you were not interested in that topic. So you are a more QUALIFIED lead. THIS is a good promotion; not a contest. It’s also a better way to qualify the lead.

If you sponsor a contest – don’t forget:

Set up your contest to promote and reward sharing across many venues: 1 entry for commenting, 1 entry for filling in the form, 1 entry if they use a hashmark (#) on Twitter, pin your landing page image – another entry. Make sure your instructions are clear and have someone outside your team test it for logic, errors and process flow.

If you have a contest – don’t forget to announce the winner(s). In this age of social media, people’s egos are easily fed to your benefit. Photos, creative entries – they will gladly share them and drive others to your site. The more reach, the more indexing. Will it guarantee qualified leads? Not likely. However, the shotgun effect may help reach a small percentage of people you would never reach and you don’t even have to work for it.

Every legitimate contest MUST have a set of official rules. The official rules should state any restrictions or limitations about your promotion. For example, how many times do you want people to be able to enter? Many who first sponsor online contests don’t specify how many times a person may enter, and realize after receiving tens or hundreds of entries a day from the same people, they should have considered that factor in the beginning. Give everyone a fair shot.

If you plan to use the entrants’ information in any other way (for example, subscribing them to your mailing lists) state that as well. Again, entrants must be aware of and accept your terms, otherwise you may be a spammer.

If you buy a list and send to that list – you are a spammer. Accept it. Decide if that’s for you and weigh the consequences carefully.

If you legitimately collect a list on your site but don’t warn subscribers that you’ll email them about promotions, contests, etc. and they don’t have a box to “accept” those terms, you are a

In a digital world, we have endless options to build legitimate mailing lists that subscribers will be glad to receive and share. Just because your information may be valuable doesn’t mean everybody wants it. Be upfront and clear with your subscribers and you’ll keep them coming back for more!