Attachments Made Easy

End client frustration with inaccessible e-mail attachments.

July 1, 2003

Dear Mr. Internet,
When I use e-mail to send attached files, my recipients sometimes can’t open them. In a few cases, they don't receive my attachments at all. How can I make sure that the files I want to send always get through and can be opened?—Jim Bellow, RE/MAX Realty Group, Atlanta, Ga.

Dear Jim,
Without a doubt, e-mail is still one of the most powerful online tools real estate professionals have at their disposal. And its ability to help us send digital files is part of that power. However, because it was originally designed for text messaging only, there are some quirks to the way various e-mail systems handle attached files.

When using e-mail to send attached files, there are only two issues to consider:

  • Will recipients receive the attached file?
  • If they receive it, can they open it?

Attachment Avoidance

There are ways to send attached files so that the answer to both of these questions is always a resounding "yes!"

There are several reasons why a client or prospect may not be able to receive your attached file.

  • It’s too much. Most e-mail systems choke on large attached files or too many files sent at the same time. A good rule of thumb is to avoid sending attachments that are over 1MB in size or sending more than three files together;
  • It’s prohibited. Because of the ever-expanding risk of viruses, many e-mail systems do not allow certain types of files to be sent as attachments. The types of files that are most likely to be stopped by an e-mail security program include executable files (with the extension - .exe). Since some virtual tours come with an executable file, these may be a source of problems. In addition, some of your clients and prospects that give you their work e-mail address may not be able to receive any kind of attachment due to security features in their companies’ e-mail programs.

It may sound obvious, but the best way to avoid problems with e-mail attachments is to simply not to use them. But if it’s critical that a client see a document as you formatted it, your best option is Whalemail.com. For just $7.95 per month, (as of this writing), Whalemail let you deliver any number of almost any-sized files to anyone who has access to the Web.

Here’s how it works. Once you’ve gone online and created your account at Whalemail you are given 100MB of temporary file storage space on the site’s server. When you want to send an attachment to a client, simply upload the files with a few clicks of your Web browser. Whalemail will then send a simple text message to your intended recipients, complete with a link that lets them download your attachment via their Web browser. Recipients don't have to have a Whalemail account or log in to receive the files, which makes it very convenient for them.

Just a bunch of coding

While getting the file to your recipient is one thing, making sure it’s readable is another issue all together. Problems can arise because:

  • File data is scrambled. When you send an attached file, e-mail systems "encode" purely digital data into a text file so it can be sent over standard e-mail systems. (Remember, e-mail was originally designed only for text messaging). If your recipients use different kinds of encoding schemes than you, they will not be able to open your attached files or the files will be gibberish. This is most frequently a problem when a recipient is using a corporate e-mail account with a different encoding scheme.
  • Software doesn’t match. If your recipients do not have the same software you used to create the file, they will unlikely be able to open it.

The first issue is easily handled by Whalemail since it does not change the file in any way when uploading or downloading via the Web. The second one can be handled by creating a portable data format (PDF) version of the file using Adobe Acrobat. PDFs are universally viewable files that most people can view with a free Adobe Acrobat reader. Also keep in mind that creating a PDF format doesn’t ensure that files won’t get scrambled if the encoding scheme of the recipient is different than yours. Only using a service like Whalemail can ensure that.

Another fly in this ointment is that the Acrobat software necessary to create PDF files can be pricey ($299 for Adobe Acrobat Standard 6.0). A much less expensive alternative is PDFMailer, currently $49. The program does a good job of creating PDF files quickly and easily, although it does not have the extensive extra features, such as the ability to create forms and set passwords, that Acrobat offers.

An even less expensive (i.e., free) option for creating universally viewable files is one of my all-time favorites: eFax Messenger Plus. Like Acrobat, it creates universally viewable files that are typically much smaller than the original. However, it requires the recipient to download and install (just one time) the free eFax viewer to read these files--something that most clients and prospects are not likely to do. This leaves the PDF option as the surest way to go.

The ability to almost instantly send any kind of file directly to any person on the planet with an Internet connection is easily one of the most powerful tools available to a real estate professional today. Being aware of the limitations and how to get around them not only makes your life easier, it impresses your clients and prospects. And that is another kind of power we could all use more of!

Tip of the Month

If you use a laptop for your listing presentations, chances are you use PowerPoint. Now just imagine how cool it would be to embed your live Web site or a hot listing page directly into your PowerPoint presentations. Naturally, you have to be online to view your embedded page since it is live.

Now you can, with a very nifty and free utility called LiveWeb. This freeware plug-in for PowerPoint handles all the technical details of embedding any kind of live Web page into a slide presentation. (Note: You have to be online for this demo to work.)

The LiveWeb site includes a step-by-step guide both on how to download the LiveWeb software and how to insert a Web page into your presentation. The download may seem daunting (seven steps) but it isn’t hard once you unzip the program. However, after this one-time effort, the program guides you easily through attaching a Web page to your slide show. The inserting is even simpler: Just go to the Insert menu in PowerPoint, choose Web page, then enter the URL you want to embed.

This is a very easy and cool way to jazz-up your existing PowerPoint presentations and set yourself apart from the crowd.

Michael Russer, a.k.a. Mr. Internet®, is CEO of Russer Communications. He is a leading speaker and author in the real estate industry and has been writing about Internet marketing and virtual outsourcing since the dawn of the commercial Internet.

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