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Regulatory knots, untied

Regulatory knots, untied

I help a small business that sends a lot of e-mail to its loyal subscribers; it is now going through the arduous process of making sure that the e-mail it sends via a big media company's e-mail list complies with that company's interpretation of government regulations.

It's eaten up tons of work hours, but if it's not done properly, the company would be liable for government action and maybe a lawsuit from someone complaining that their e-mail privacy was violated according to a 2003 federal law known as CAN-SPAM. The law was supposed to keep our in-boxes free of unwanted e-mail but has to my eye added a lot of costs to business without doing much to stop the flow of yuck.

The larger point is that with the flick of a pen, a government can radically change the way you do business and add lots of costs and hassle. Or, if you're lucky, it will do something that locks in your competitive advantage (can you say "cable TV monopoly"?) and keeps the cash coming in for years.

What can you do? It's hard to specify, because every industry is different. You may have to follow regulations on health, safety, privacy, or record-keeping or a bazillion other local, state or federal regs. You know your business best. But there are a few places to start researching, including's regulations page, the Small Business Administration's regulatory alerts page (which doesn't seem to have an RSS feed--drat--but is segmented by topic area such as telecom, health and safety, and so on), and, if you're a public company, the SEC's regulatory page. You can check out this roundup of regulatory resources from FindLaw. There are also your industry's groups.

So, visit their Web sites, get on their e-mail lists, and go to their meetings once in a while. You'll find out a lot about the regulatory buzz--and probably what to do about it, too.