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Practice Management > Building Your Business

Block That Spam!

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If you don’t like to get junk e-mail, try Choice-mail. Choice-mail is a small company, and its eponymous application has 5,000 users. It’s not a perfect solution–there may be no such thing–but it will put an end to receiving e-mail advertisements for penis enlargement devices, notifications that you’ve just won a vacation sweepstakes, and impassioned pleas from relatives of foreign dignitaries trying to recover $300 million that is rightfully theirs but that they can only get at if you set up a bank account for them in America with your name on it to receive the funds–for which they will pay you a $10,000 fee.

Choice-mail will end that nonsense abruptly. I’ve been using it myself for two months on my computer, which has about as complicated a configuration as you might see deployed at an independent advisory firm: a Windows 2000 laptop, which synchronizes e-mail and calendar to our Windows 2000 Server Professional network with Microsoft Exchange. Despite all the network complications, Choice-mail has worked smoothly. It’s a simple solution and the $40 price is right.

When you install Choice-mail, it scans your contact management list and displays all your contacts’ names and e-mail addresses for you. You then check off the people on your contact list that you want to get e-mails from. When someone not on your “whitelist” e-mails you, the e-mail does not come into your mailbox, but instead is held on your computer in Choice-mail. You can go into Choice-mail whenever you want to scan through e-mails and make sure Choice-mail is not holding up something important that you need to see. You wind up spending a lot less time reading through junk mail.

Choice-mail does not just hold on to the e-mail from the unknown senders, but it automatically sends out an e-mail message to the unknown senders saying that you are using spam-blocking software. The automatically generated e-mail gives an unknown sender a link to go to. When the sender goes to that link and sees a Web page set up just for you to handle your known senders, the sender fills in his name, e-mail address, and a few words explaining the reason for contacting you.

To make it really tough to crack this system, prospective senders are also given a unique passcode.

When the unknown sender fills in the code and quick answers the three questions and clicks “submit,” you receive an e-mail notification asking you to approve or reject the sender’s request to contact you. If you approve the sender, he or she remains on your whitelist and can e-mail you anytime. If you reject the sender, he or she goes on a blacklist.

David Jameson, the CEO of Choice-mail and a programmer behind the application, says junk e-mail senders will not take the trouble to fill out the information and get permission to e-mail you. And since most junk e-mails are generated automatically or use bogus return e-mail addresses, they are not going to take the trouble to manually come to your approval page and get your unique code–and that randomly generated code string cannot easily be filled in cybernetically because it’s an image. Problem is, you have to wonder if there are some people that you want to e-mail you who may also decide that it is too much trouble.

I’ve used the product for about six weeks, and I received hundreds of e-mails before planner Bruce Dzieza of Willow Creek Financial Services in Sebastopol, California, sent me an e-mail complaining that it’s “a lot of work” to send me an e-mail. And this is why it is a less than perfect solution: advisors are in a service business, and some people whom you want to contact you may not do so if it is too much trouble. This is a price you have to pay for having your e-mail filtered. On the other hand, people who are not willing to take the one or two easy steps involved in getting permission to e-mail you are probably not worth hearing from.

The other fault of the software is that the default message that goes to unknown senders plugs Choice-mail too much and is too lengthy. Fortunately, you can edit the message. If you e-mail me at [email protected], you can see the language I’ve used to make the approval process as brief as possible for my unknown senders.

Still, even after fixing the words, some advisors may not like sending their clients, prospects and colleagues to a Web page dominated by Choice-mail’s banners to get approval to e-mail them. During my test of the software, however, Jameson showed me a new add-on for the product that will solve this problem: Choice-mail will place your logo and corporate colors and the text you want on the Web page where unknown senders ask for your approval, which makes the application much better for businesses. For advisors, this premium solution is best.

After talking with Jameson over the past several weeks about customizing his private label approval page, he seemed to better understand the need of independent advisors to have a big corporate image and not use Choice-mail’s default approval page. Jameson says he will be charging $300 to customize Choice-mail approval pages with your logo and corporate colors, but agreed to do it for $200 if you mention this column. You can go to his site at and download the 14-day free trial version. If you like it, buy the full version and mention this column to get the discount on customization.

Setting up the software is a little difficult because you must know the address for your inbound and outbound e-mail server before installing. But if you’re tired of spam, Choice-mail is the best solution I’ve come across.


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