Don't laugh, but I'm working on a website idea that isn't novel in any particular way. It doesn't do anything new except service a niche industry in my world view of "better". I very well understand that building a competitor website means nothing if you can't draw people to your service (re: I can re-build monster.com but that doesn't mean people will come in droves).
What I believe differentiates me is that I do not have to charge these businesses a fee to use my service. Currently, competitor websites in this space all charge a yearly subscription fee... which I think is unnecessary. I don't want $ to be a deterrent--I want them on my site.
I think I have attractive points for enlisting them into my service and I have framed them in terms of "what does this do for me?" and less in terms of how feature-rich the site is.
The success of my service depends on my ability to enlist them onto my site.
What I am doing is compiling a list of these businesses that I want to target. My question is...
Is it okay to send them unsolicited e-mails? If so, is it best to send it as naturally as possible (conversational?)
Join an online group for the kind of business you are targeting. There are many on LinkedIn. Contribute something to the group - your ideas, helpful hints, etc. Only then, after people know and trust you, should you gently mention your service and put a link to it. Get comments from people who sign up about what you can improve.
As a rule of thumb, if you can get about 50% of your recipients to reply to the unsolicited emails, then it's probably OK. Any less than that, and it's spam. That means you better be super careful about who you target and make sure you're really targeting people that genuinely interested in what you have to offer.
For example, if I were hosting a party, and I emailed 20 people I knew, and 10 of them either rsvped to say they were coming, or responded saying they couldn't come, then I wasn't really spamming. But if I emailed 200 people and only 2 people responded then it's safe to assume that my email wasn't really desired.
"What I believe differentiates me is that I do not have to charge these businesses a fee to use my service."
You didn't say what the others pay. If it's very small then I'm not going to switch... would you change cable or phone provider to save $5 a month? (or even $10 if it only costs $10?).
If it's significant and they're willing to pay it then why be free? How about half?