Email Compliance Guide: 5 Steps Small Businesses Can Take to Stay Secure

Email Compliance Guide

Email is a vital communication resource that many small businesses rely on to send sensitive, confidential information both inside and outside of the organization.

But the prevalence of email as a business tool also makes it susceptible to exploitation and data loss. In fact, email accounts for 35 percent of all data loss incidents among enterprises, according to a white paper from AppRiver, a cyber security company.

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Data breaches are not always the result of malicious activity, such as a hacking attempt. Most often, they occur due to simple employee negligence or oversight. (Employees are the leading cause of security-related incidents, according to a Wells Fargo white paper.)

In 2014, an employee at the insurance brokerage firm Willis North America accidentally emailed a spreadsheet containing confidential information to a group of employees enrolled in the company medical plan’s Healthy Rewards program. As a result, Willis had to pay for two years of identity theft protection for the nearly 5,000 people affected by the breach.

In another instance, also from 2014, an employee of the Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego erroneously sent an email containing the protected health information of more than 20,000 patients to job applicants. (The employee thought she was sending a training file to evaluate the applicants.)

The hospital sent notification letters to the affected individuals and worked with an outside security firm to ensure the data was deleted.

Small Business Deals

These and many other such incidents point to email’s vulnerabilities and underscore the need for businesses large and small to secure, control and track their messages and attachments wherever they send them.

Here are five steps, from AppRiver, that small businesses can follow to simplify the task of developing email compliance standards to safeguard sensitive information.

Email Compliance Guide

1. Determine What Regulations Apply and What You Need to Do

Start by asking: What regulations apply to my company? What requirements exist to demonstrate email compliance? Do these overlap or conflict?

Once you understand what regulations apply, determine if you need different policies to cover them or just one comprehensive policy.

Example regulations that small businesses many encounter include:

  • Health Insurance Portability & Accountability Act (HIPAA) – governs the transmission of personally identifiable patient health information;
  • Sarbanes-Oxley Act (S-OX) – requires that companies establish internal controls to accurately gather, process and report financial information;
  • Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA) – demands that companies implement policy and technologies to ensure the security and confidentiality of customer records when transmitted and in storage;
  • Payment Card Information Security Standards (PCI) – mandates the secure transmission of cardholder data.

2. Identify What Needs Protecting and Set Protocols

Depending on the regulations your company is subject to, identify data that is deemed confidential — credit card numbers, electronic health records or personally identifiable information — being sent via email.

Also, decide who should have access to send and receive such information. Then, set policies that you can enforce through the use of technology to encrypt, archive or even block transmission of email content based on users, user groups, keywords and other means of identifying transmitted data as sensitive.

Email Compliance Guide

3. Track Data Leaks and Losses

Once you understand what types of data users are sending via email, track to determine if loss is occurring and in what ways.

Are breaches taking place inside the business or within a particular group of users? Are file attachments being leaked? Set additional policies to address your core vulnerabilities.

4. Identify What You Need to Enforce Policy

Having the right solution to enforce your policy is just as important as the policy itself. To satisfy regulatory requirements, several solutions may be necessary to ensure email compliance.

Some solutions that organizations can implement include encryption, data leak prevention (DLP), archiving of emails and anti-virus protection.

5. Educate Users and Employees

An effective email compliance policy will focus on user education and policy enforcement for acceptable use.

As unintentional human error remains the most common cause of data breaches, many regulations require the training of users on behaviors that could potentially lead to such violations.

Users and employees will be less likely to let their guard down and make mistakes when they understand proper workplace email usage and the consequences of non-compliance and are comfortable using appropriate technologies.

While no “one-size-fits-all” plan can help small businesses comply with every regulation, following these five steps can help your business develop an effective email compliance policy that safeguards security standards.

1. Determine What Regulations ApplyIdentify relevant regulations and compliance requirements such as HIPAA, S-OX, GLBA, and PCI DSS.
2. Identify What Needs Protecting and Set ProtocolsDetermine what sensitive data needs protection in emails and establish access and transmission policies.
3. Track Data Leaks and LossesMonitor email data to detect potential breaches or data losses, including internal and attachment leaks.
4. Identify What You Need to Enforce PolicyChoose appropriate solutions like encryption, DLP, archiving, and anti-virus to enforce email compliance.
5. Educate Users and EmployeesFocus on user education and policy enforcement to prevent unintentional errors that could lead to violations.

Email Compliance Guide

Maximizing the Impact of Email Marketing

Email marketing remains a potent tool for businesses, and understanding how to harness its potential is crucial. Here are some strategies to maximize the impact of your email marketing campaigns:

  • Segment Your Audience: Divide your email list into segments based on factors like demographics, purchase history, or engagement level. Tailor your messages to each segment for more personalized and effective communication.
  • Craft Compelling Subject Lines: Your subject line is the first impression you make. Create clear, concise, and engaging subject lines that entice recipients to open your emails.
  • Focus on Content: Deliver valuable content that resonates with your audience. Use storytelling, informative articles, or exclusive offers to engage and build trust.
  • Responsive Design: Ensure your emails are mobile-friendly, as a significant portion of recipients view emails on mobile devices. Responsive design improves the user experience.
  • Call-to-Action (CTA): Use clear and actionable CTAs that guide recipients on the desired next steps. Whether it’s making a purchase or signing up, a compelling CTA can drive conversions.
  • A/B Testing: Continuously test different elements of your emails, such as subject lines, content, or CTA buttons. A/B testing helps you refine your approach based on performance data.
  • Automation: Implement automation for tasks like welcome emails, follow-ups, and abandoned cart reminders. Automation saves time and ensures timely responses to customer actions.
  • Personalization: Incorporate personalization, such as recipient names or tailored product recommendations, to make emails feel more relevant and engaging.
  • Monitor Analytics: Regularly analyze email campaign metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates. Use these insights to refine your future campaigns.
  • Compliance: Prioritize email compliance by adhering to data protection regulations, including GDPR or CCPA. Respect subscribers’ preferences and include clear unsubscribe options.
  • Integration: Integrate your email marketing platform with other tools like CRM systems or e-commerce platforms for seamless data management and campaign coordination.
Segment Your AudienceDivide your email list into segments based on demographics, purchase history, or engagement level.
Craft Compelling Subject LinesCreate clear, concise, and engaging subject lines that entice recipients to open your emails.
Focus on ContentDeliver valuable content such as storytelling, informative articles, or exclusive offers to engage and build trust.
Responsive DesignEnsure your emails are mobile-friendly with responsive design to improve the user experience.
Call-to-Action (CTA)Use clear and actionable CTAs to guide recipients on desired next steps, driving conversions.
A/B TestingContinuously test elements like subject lines, content, or CTA buttons to refine your approach based on performance data.
AutomationImplement automation for tasks like welcome emails, follow-ups, and abandoned cart reminders to save time and respond to customer actions.
PersonalizationIncorporate personalization with recipient names or tailored product recommendations for more relevant and engaging emails.
Monitor AnalyticsRegularly analyze email campaign metrics like open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates, using insights to refine future campaigns.
CompliancePrioritize email compliance by adhering to data protection regulations like GDPR or CCPA and respecting subscriber preferences.
IntegrationIntegrate your email marketing platform with other tools like CRM systems or e-commerce platforms for seamless data management and campaign coordination.

Email Compliance Guide

Best Practices for Email Marketing Success

Achieving success in email marketing requires a combination of strategies and best practices. Here are some key guidelines to enhance your email marketing efforts:

  • Build a Quality Email List: Focus on growing a list of engaged and interested subscribers. Avoid buying email lists, as they often result in low-quality leads and spam complaints.
  • Optimize for Mobile: With many recipients checking emails on mobile devices, ensure that your emails are responsive and display well on small screens.
  • Personalize Content: Use recipient data to personalize emails, addressing subscribers by name and tailoring content based on their preferences and behavior.
  • Segment Your Audience: Divide your email list into segments to send targeted, relevant content to specific groups of subscribers. Segmentation can boost engagement and conversions.
  • Test and Refine: Continuously test different elements of your emails, including subject lines, content, images, and CTAs. Analyze results and refine your approach based on what works best.
  • Prioritize Deliverability: Maintain a clean email list by removing inactive subscribers and adhering to email best practices to ensure your emails reach the inbox.
  • Frequency and Consistency: Find the right balance in email frequency. Consistency in sending emails helps build trust and expectations among subscribers.
  • Clear Call-to-Action (CTA): Make your CTAs stand out and guide recipients on the desired action. Use compelling language and design to encourage clicks.
  • Aim for Value: Offer valuable content, promotions, or exclusive offers to your subscribers. Demonstrating value can keep them engaged and loyal.
  • Compliance: Stay compliant with data protection regulations and provide clear unsubscribe options. Respect subscribers’ preferences and privacy.
  • Monitor and Analyze: Regularly monitor key email metrics, such as open rates, click-through rates, conversion rates, and unsubscribe rates. Use analytics to improve your campaigns.
  • Engage with Subscribers: Encourage two-way communication with your audience. Respond to inquiries, feedback, and comments promptly to build a connection.
  • Learn from Competitors: Analyze what successful competitors are doing in their email marketing campaigns. Identify trends and strategies that resonate with your audience.
  • Educate Yourself: Stay updated on email marketing trends, best practices, and emerging technologies. Attend webinars, read industry blogs, and invest in continuous learning.

Email Compliance Guide


Email marketing is a powerful tool for startups and small businesses to connect with their audience, drive engagement, and boost sales. However, its effectiveness relies on strategic planning, adherence to best practices, and a commitment to meeting compliance standards.

To succeed in email marketing, businesses must define their goals, carefully consider costs, prioritize customer service, leverage analytics, and ensure email compliance. Furthermore, they should stay vigilant against data breaches and security lapses, which can have far-reaching consequences.

While crafting compelling subject lines and choosing the right email marketing service are essential components, they are part of a broader strategy that encompasses list building, personalization, segmentation, and continuous improvement.

By embracing these principles and staying informed about industry trends and regulations, small businesses can harness the full potential of email marketing, driving growth and building lasting relationships with their audience. In a digital landscape where email remains a cornerstone of communication, the opportunities for success are boundless for those who navigate this terrain skillfully and ethically.

Email Photo via Shutterstock

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Paul Chaney Paul Chaney is a Staff Writer for Small Business Trends. He covers industry news, including interviews with executives and industry leaders about the products, services and trends affecting small businesses, drawing on his 20 years of marketing knowledge. Formerly, he was editor of Web Marketing Today and a contributing editor for Practical Ecommerce.

One Reaction
  1. There are so many things you have to consider nowadays. And since technology has advanced so much, there seems to be a greater threat when it comes to data leaks and losses.

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