Any freelancers who have coded HTML emailers will be familiar with this process:
- Client says they need it doing, usually at short notice
- Freelancer is involved in a bigger project but says yes as they feel like they have no choice and the client says it’s a simple job
- Freelancer drops what they’re doing and codes the email putting them a bit behind on that main project
- Once they finish coding it they think they’re done and resume their other project
- The freelancer then gets caught in a seemingly endless cycle of amends due to the client’s original design/spec being wrong, using some version of Outlook the freelancer doesn’t have access to, the test email not reaching the boss (who doesn’t know how to check a spam folder) and so on
- They finally get it done and then the freelancer gets sent an Excel file of poorly formatted, inconsistent recipient data and is expected to upload it even though they didn’t quote for doing so
- It’s finally sent out and not only has the job overrun the freelancer is now really behind on the bigger job since they lost my focus every time I broke away from it
Of course, not all jobs play out like this but this is a pretty good summary of the issues you sometimes encounter.
One thing I am grateful to the GDPR for is that I used it as the catalyst to do something I have been promising myself I will do for years: stop coding HTML emailers.
I don’t think HTML emails are often worth the effort as a marketing tool
- The coding experience is awful; it’s actually a worse experience than when I was using the font tag and tables back in the early 2000s
- Many clients use Outlook; I don’t own any version of Outlook nor do I ever plan to
- I never coded emails often enough to justify paying for an email testing service so never felt I could test anything properly
- Mailing lists often need reformatting
- Emailers tend to be very last minute and have a detrimental effect on whatever else you are working on at that time
- Really small jobs are inefficient for me since I have to spend the same amount of time invoicing and chasing payment as I do for a job that’s worth fifty times more
- Mailing lists naturally contain personal data and the client should really not be passing it over to me without getting me to sign something detailing our respective responsibilities — which I wouldn’t sign without paying a solicitor to check it over first
- I actually don’t think HTML emails are often worth the effort as a marketing tool (they sometimes are but not always)
The amount a client typically expects to pay is far too little to warrant me dropping what I’m doing and switching over to a horrible coding style to do a high-risk, error-prone flavour of web design that also exposes me to clients’ personal data — all while having the sword of GDPR hanging over me.
So, I no longer do them. I realised once the GDPR kicked in, there was no way I was going to risk a fine, no matter how small the risk, to take on this kind of work. I understand clients want them and accept that the problems that arise are largely due to the nature of the work; this is a complaint against HTML emailers, not clients. My decision to stop doing them is mutually beneficial since I don’t feel I can do the job justice while still maintaining acceptable quality of whatever I happen to be working on at the time.
Coding a HTML email should be a premium service — especially if it’s done at short notice and involves handling personal data
So, what do I do, and recommend other freelancers do, if a client asks for HTML emailer coding? There are three options available to the client:
- Don’t do it. Seriously, look and see if your time and money is better spent using a different marketing channel.
- Use a template provided by their email marketing software. This is a surprisingly good option since these templates are very well tested and can be edited by the client.
- Uses a dedicated HTML email coding service. There are plenty of them out there and they are better equipped than the average freelancer to handle this kind of work. They can be expensive and require upfront payment but I think coding a HTML email should be a premium service — especially if it’s done at short notice and involves handling personal data.