Do You Ask for Permission or Forgiveness?

You’ve heard the old saying, “It’s easier to ask forgiveness than to get permission,” right?

It may be easier. But it’s still not a good idea.

I’ve been seeing a lot of this sort of thing lately. I’m on a bunch of lists I never signed up for. I have people following me on Twitter who say things like, “Hey, if you’re looking for new writing markets, you should try this website.” I get snail mail from credit card companies who could not possibly have my new mailing address unless they scammed it off some list.

These are all examples of someone choosing not to ask permission to get me interested in their stuff.

They could have asked. I’ve happily signed up for all kinds of email lists. I have a crazy-busy RSS feed. I get lots of coupons in the mail for companies I frequent, because I signed up to receive those coupons.

Those people asked for permission. The people who sent me unsolicited stuff? They didn’t.

So what’s the big deal? Now I’m getting all this stuff I didn’t ask for, and maybe I’ll actually be interested in it, right? No harm, no foul, and other clichés that may or may not apply here.

Nope. That’s asking for forgiveness. It’s like saying, “Hey, so, sorry we stole your information without your knowledge from Facebook, but we’ll make it up to you by offering you 0% APR on a credit card! See? We’re really sorry. We can be friends now, right?”

No. No, we can’t. Because while it may be easier to ask forgiveness, it’s damned difficult to BE FORGIVEN.

I have not forgiven any of the companies who send me unsolicited stuff. I have not forgiven them to the degree that if one of these companies offers me something I actually want, I purposely go buy from their competitors instead.

Why? Because I don’t want to encourage that kind of behavior. I don’t want anyone to think it’s okay. And I definitely don’t want to purchase something from a company I can’t trust to ask me nicely to pay attention to what they’re doing. I’m mad, and I will probably stay mad at them until someone calls me personally to apologize.

I am not the forgiving sort. You probably aren’t either.

So what does all of this have to do with being an entrepreneur, a copywriter, or a freelancer? Just this:

If you are trying to give yourself a shortcut by not asking for your clients’ permission before you sign them up for your sales list, newsletter, or any other form of unsolicited information, you’re shooting yourself in the foot.

It’s easier, yes. It’s way easier to just buy a list or automatically sign people up without their express opt-in. It’s easier because you don’t actually have to persuade them that what you’re offering is something they want.

This is a lot like saying it’s easier to steal a loaf of bread than it is to work for the money to pay for it. Definitely easier. Totally unethical. And if you get caught doing it, you’ve just slimed your reputation for a good long while.

This is one instance where “easier” isn’t worth the consequences.

Get permission from your clients before you decide to put them on your list. If you don’t, you’re going to have to ask them for forgiveness later.

And while asking is easy, being forgiven is not.

Post by Taylor

Taylor Lindstrom (fondly known as Tei) is a twenty-something copywriter and journalist from Boulder, CO. She’s the team’s rogue woman who wowed us until our desire for her talents exceeded our desire for a good ol’ boys club. She loves the color green, micro-point Uniball pens, and medieval weaponry.

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  1. I understand your points here, but honestly, I get more upset at the companies that have sold my information than the ones who bought it. I trusted those companies with my information, with the understanding that they would use it responsibly. If they then go and sell that information, that’s a breach of trust.

    The companies that bought the information didn’t have my trust to begin with, so they do not have the same breach of trust.

    I don’t buy from unsolicited advertisements, but if I find out that a company has sold my information, then I not only refuse to buy from them, but I’m vocal to tell others that the company is untrustworthy.

  2. It’s exactly the reasons that you mention why I’m very careful about who I give my information to. I purposely use pseudo names with some companies because they’re the type who would sell my information… and sure enough, I start getting stuff for “I.P. Standing” or “Mike Easter” from completely random companies that I’ve never heard of.

    And let me make the point that it’s usually corporations that do this… which in my mind is expected.

    For freelancers and entrepreneurs, I’m with you 100% on this. Don’t just sign people up for your stuff.

    It’s more effective to network with your clients and build a personal relationship. And as you do this, invite them and if they like you enough they might sign up for your newsletter.
    .-= Chris Mower´s last blog ..Begin Taking Personal Responsibility =-.

  3. I remember saying the “easier to ask forgiveness than permission” years ago when it was something relating to my husband (probably spending large amounts of money) and a friend looked at me and simply said “What does that do to the trust in your relationship?” Ouch.

    I recently had a discussion via email with someone regarding the CAN-Spam Act (US) and Anti-Spam Act (Australia). In Australia a person has to actively give permission to be added to a list AND confirm it. In the US it’s legal to sign someone up to your email list without asking their permission.

    It might be legal, but is it right? Is it best practice for your business? I’m getting fed up with marketers who tell me it’s legal, as if that makes it morally and ethically correct. Not for me buddy, it might be legal but I don’t think it’s right.

    The Golden Rule comes into play here “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
    .-= Melinda | SuperWAHM´s last blog ..Why Info Products cause ’stuckedness’ and how to get unstucked =-.

  4. I’m a firm believer in forgiveness not permission. If you intend to do something regardeless, why ask?
    .-= Business Logos´s last blog ..Archer Archery =-.

  5. I would really like to know what people think of sites that take your writing and put it up on their site without permission (surrounded by ads.)
    This has now happened to me countless times, once by Business Week !
    They tend to keep my writing credit and contact information on, so maybe you could argue they were doing me a favour. But they haven’t asked first and one site even tried to attach itself to me by linking to my site.
    If they are selling ads round my work then they are making money from me without permission, I don’t think this can be right.
    .-= Lucy Thorpe´s last blog ..How To Be A Better Writer =-.

  6. Rocky Mackintosh says:

    Great article … I’ve been down both roads and the permission is easier … especially as a subcriber with email marketing companies!

  7. @ Lucy, even when they put your details up and link to you they’re still breaching copyright and stealing your work. They’re Splogs – Spam Blogs – and google hates them. I’m pretty sure James has some posts on here about how to deal with content theft, try the search box and see what comes up.
    .-= Melinda | SuperWAHM´s last blog ..Why Info Products cause ’stuckedness’ and how to get unstucked =-.

  8. I once got an unsolicited email from a new magazine, asking me if I’d like to buy ad space. There was an attachment. 6.5 megs’ worth of PDF. We live in the wilderness, and high speed Internet wasn’t yet available.

    I checked the message through webmail to see what the bloody thing was, and let morbid curiosity get the better of me. Forty-five minutes later, I open the PDF, and the first thing I see is a spelling mistake.

    .-= Stacey Cornelius´s last blog ..Email marketing gone wrong, and why size matters =-.

  9. I got four phone calls yesterday from people who were trying to sell me things, or sell things to other people. Messenger services. Credit services of some kind. Lobbying about budget cuts.

    OK, if you’re going to interrupt me, at least interrupt me about something useful to me. I haven’t used a messenger service since the invention of email. I don’t need credit repair.

    My first name is JODI not JENNIFER.

    Last name is KAPLAN, not KLAPTON.

    Apologizing afterward won’t work.
    .-= jodi Kaplan´s last blog ..Permission or Spam? =-.

  10. I just couldn’t fathom why someone would deliberately do something
    without permission from the involved party because he thinks he would
    be forgiven. That’s just like playing Russian Roulette!

  11. Permission marketing is the only way to fly. Not only is it much better for the warm fuzzie factor (WFF), but it’s also a much higher return for your marketing dollar.

    When you ask for permission, you are also pre-qualifying the prospect. It’s no longer a cold call situation, where you punch the customer in the face, take their lunch money and then ask for the sale.

    Permission keeps the customer around much longer and it also gets the word of mouth process moving along in a way that you don’t have with interruption advertising.

    Although forgiveness is much easier than permission in certain relationships, it’s a killer in small business, or any business for that matter.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire
    .-= Joshua Black | The Underdog Millionaire´s last blog ..3 Tips For Scaring Your Customers Before Halloween to Sell More Stuff =-.

  12. I have always found it easier to do business with people that WANT to do business with me. If someone finds my website, and OPT’S IN, then they are a warm lead. They have chosen me, not the other way around. It may take longer to develop a good email list this way, but in the long run it’s worth it. I always give people the choice to easily opt out as well. My email lists are not for sale, and I don’t purchase email list. My sites rank well for what I do, and I have had no problems getting people to sign up to receive additional information. Since I HATE to write my own content, I usually rely on content provided by the affiliate programs I subscribe to. Most good affiliate programs will provide all the tools you need, (content, pre-written emails, banners, etc…) There are only a few ways to get content: Steal it, buy it, write it yourself, or hire someone to write it for you. Let your ethics decide your course of action. I run script on my sites, and I know when graphics, and content leave, where it went, and if I’m getting credit for it. With all the tools and technology today, it’s getting easier to protect yourself. Just like the forgiveness/permission thing, this is also true: 1% of the people spoil it for the other 99%, but who gets the attention? By-the-way… I’m a permission kinda guy! kind of the reason I didn’t provide my website address, links, etc… Thanks for reading!

  13. @Maquis – That’s an excellent point. The company that buys your information is skeazy, but no less so than the company that sells it.

    @Chris – I keep a little notebook with me. I should start to track the name with the company I give it to and then write them nasty notes about where my information wound up.

    @Melinda – I’ve noted that legal very rarely equals right. Usually when people start protesting that something is legal, that means whatever they’re doing is not okay.

    @Business Logos – I think the more important question is: why do you think your goals are more important than their goodwill?

    @Lucy – That’s another excellent point. I confess I haven’t paid a lot of attention to sites that do this, but perhaps I should.

    @Rocky – Thanks, glad you agree.

    @Stacey – Spelling mistakes are death for advertisements.

    @Jodi – I think that’s the most essential component, really. If you’re not willing to ask permission, you’re basically saying “I don’t think you’re actually interested in this, so I have to skip straight to forcing you to listen to me.”

    @poch – Or Stupid Marketer. It’s a great drinking game.

    @Joshua – I am so writing a post on the Warm Fuzzy Factor. It would also be a great reality show.

    @Mike – You see that little form down there where we invite you to offer up your website etc.? That’s us giving you permission. If you’re going to come around and contribute to the discussion as nicely as you just did there, you’re more than welcome to use it! You give some good insights here.
    .-= Taylor – Men with Pens´s last blog ..Do You Ask for Permission or Forgiveness? =-.

  14. Here in California we almost got a tough anti-spam law about 7 years ago, but a weaker federal law preempted it — see

    For those of us who market our services — don’t we all?! — we need to be vigilant about getting permission to market to others. Even in a networking setting when someone gives me their business card, I ask whether it’s OK to put them on my list. Occasionally the answer is No. I’ll put that person in my database, but flag them as “do not mail.”

    If you want to “Give Your Lizard Marketing Brain a Boost” read my blog post at

  15. I love it when I meet someone at a networking function, we swap cards, and next thing I know, I’m getting their newsletter. I never asked to receive it. They just added me to their list. I don’t get upset at this. Just makes me wonder why they run their businesses this way. And it REALLY worries me when they’re marketing people who should know better (and DO know better!).

    But my ABSOLUTE favorite is when I get added to an email list somehow (without my consent), I try to unsubscribe but can’t because I need a user name and password or I have to jump through a million hoops to do so. And these are “reputable” businesses supposedly, not your average spammer trying to wire you $57 million.

    BAD business, people! That will get you blacklisted in a heartbeat. And it hurts your brand more than you know.

  16. I had no idea that companies were doing this….it would explain why I was all of a sudden in someone’s ‘list’ that I didn’t quite remember signing up for!

    ~Jody in BC
    .-= Jody Maley´s last blog ..Is Your Business F-Squared? =-.

  17. I agree with this post and most of the comments. And, I also think marketers should live by the Golden Rule.

    My biggest pet peeve at the moment is Twitter. I have around 600 followers and following. I’ve only actively handpicked a handful of them. I know I have to figure out why this is happening, but it annoys me that I have to spend time to do this.
    .-= Karen Cioffi´s last blog ..FREE Writing for Children Beginner’s Workshop =-.

  18. I agree with that saying for anything but marketing. I am all about permission marketing and I prefer double opt-in email marketing just to ensure that I have permission. I’ve found with marketing that the quality of the list is far better than the quantity.
    .-= Jared Detroit´s last blog ..Easy & Effective Content Creation =-.

  19. This is interesting, I’ve never quite thought of the difference of ‘permission’ vs ‘forgiveness’. I generally just stuff one company’s junk mail into another company’s junk mail envelope and drop it in the mail box. Let it clog up their own mailboxes and trash bins.

    I’ve also noticed I don’t want to use consultants and companies who use sloppy, foul language b/c it’s their ‘authentic’ self, or lie about who they really are. In all, I want to feel valued.

    Lots to think about!
    .-= susan´s last blog ..Is the Idea of Success Getting in Your Way =-.

  20. Another way of saying civility is good business. Which it is. It’s good everything.
    .-= Crescent Dragonwagon´s last blog ..Part Two, at last! "the rare hare of hope" bounds back in: with guest appearances by Letterman, Aunt Dot, Chou-Chou, Joseph Campbell, Konrad Stanislavski & Sir Francis =-.

  21. Taylor raised a good point:

    “Why do you think your goals are more important than their goodwill?”

    Someone has been sending me repeated unsolicited mail and finally, today, I got a little annoyed and fired off a reply about it. The person was unapologetic, which is absolutely fine, because she believed in her message and project and felt justified in letting others know about it.

    It’s the attitude of, “This is great, you need to know, and if you don’t care, your loss.”

    But that mindset slips right over what’s most important: If you help me care, you’ll go a lot farther. If you just simply pound me with your goals and beliefs, no, I will not care… and will not have as much goodwill that I could have, and thus will not support what could indeed have been a really good thing.

    Kind of a case of someone shooting themselves in the foot because their goals were more important than my goodwill.

  22. I’m definitely a permission person. I hate it when people send me crap that I didn’t ask for. Unless of course it’s cash. Then they can ask for forgiveness all day long. 🙂
    .-= Todd´s last blog ..Are you ready for a bucket list =-.

  23. Amen, Todd.

  24. I hear what everyone is saying on this blog, agree and I run an opt-in email newsletter. That said, I bought my business last year and none of the old customers have come over, so to speak.

    All of these people have bought from the company and I can’t decide if I email them without their double opt-in permission, whether I’m spamming them or doing them a disservice in not keeping thm abreast of new stock etc.

    What is the use of a customer database that you can’t use?

  25. Great article. There are so many beginning marketers out there that want the easy way to fame and fortune and end up wasting there money on marketing lists. Whether that’s email, physical addresses, or phone numbers. These beginning marketers need to wake up and smell the coffee…it’s not 1970 anymore, people hate telemarketers. It’s not the 1980’s people are sick of unsolicited mailings to their homes. It’s not 1999 anymore, people know how to use email and are tired of spam. If these marketers could learn how to strive for permission marketing instead of asking for forgiveness they’d actually build a business that truly helps people.
    .-= Jared Kimball´s last blog ..Creating a Welcome Email =-.

  26. I think asking for permission has its place, but when it comes to doing things that it is apparent people would question then going the forgiveness route is the best idea. Keith Olbermann is a great example. His recent suspension lasted only a few short days despite doing something he assuredly would have been told not to do had he asked permission.


  1. […] On Men with Pens Taylor was also on a rant, talking about whether it is better to ask for permission or forgiveness, “I have not forgiven any of the companies who send me unsolicited stuff. I have not forgiven them to the degree that if one of these companies offers me something I actually want, I purposely go buy from their competitors instead.” […]

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