“OK, we’ve got the copy for my website. I’m even writing my lead magnet! But how do I choose a reliable email marketing system to connect with my list?”
If you’re asking this question, you are not alone. And your concern is more important than many business owners realize.
Email marketing is the core component of lead generation, which triggers prospects and clients for most service businesses. When your email marketing system feels cumbersome, doesn’t deliver messages reliably, or charges you for services you don’t need, it’s time to make a change.
Several years ago I went through a long, cumbersome process to change email marketing systems. I’d been using a popular system connected to a shopping cart. Two problems arose. First, they kept raising rates and lowering service. And more seriously, their deliverability kept dropping… and dropping.
To my surprise, the online forums and masterminds provided little guidance on choosing an email marketing service. Questions appeared frequently but nobody offered helpful tips and suggestions.
So after addressing my own quest, I came up with this checklist.
Ease of Use – Do you dread signing on because it’s so complicated?
You’ll be using your system a lot. If you hate some feature that you encounter every time you send a broadcast, you’ll be miserable! You’ll find reasons not to email your list. Or you’ll pay a VA ridiculous sums for something you could do yourself, in less time than it takes to instruct the VA.
To decide if you’ll use the service easily, you have to try it out. Take advantage of the 30-day trial. Work with one service at a time till you find the perfect service.
How You’re Charged – Do they charge by the list or by the person?
Suppose you have five lead magnets. One eager follower signs up for all five. Does she count as one subscriber – or as five?
If she counts as one, you’re being charged by the person.
If she counts as five, you’re being charged by the list.
Depending on your business model, the extra cost may be “just a cost of doing business – no big deal.” Or you may find yourself paying large amounts for a relatively small list.
You may find a different type of offer. More and more email services are giving you the option to create segments. So you can have 1 list but assign a person to 3 segments or campaigns. Sometimes you’re charged for just 1 person, sometimes for 3.
It’s important to ask: most services won’t volunteer the information. When you have 1000 subscribers and half of them sign up for 3 things…your list service will either think you have 1000 subscribers OR 2000, depending on whether they charge by the list or by the person.
Be wary of committing to an annual plan. Often you must pay for the entire plan with no refunds for withdrawal, even if you leave one month into a two-year plan. Things change throughout the year. So unless you get a truly amazing deal, you’ll often come out ahead when you pay monthly.
Can you import your current list? – You’ll get “yes,” “no,” or “yes with restrictions.” If your list has expanded beyond your mom, your neighbors and your cat, insist on working with a service that will allow you to import all your contacts. This should be non-negotiable.
Integrations – What software works seamlessly with this service? Increasingly we’re seeing email integrate with landing page software, membership software and more. I use LeadPages to create my landing pages. When someone signs up for a giveaway, that person gets added to the list of my choice — automatically, with no hassle.
Currently I use ConvertKit, which has a free plan for new subscribers. I got a deal a few years ago.
Recently I’ve been looking at Birdsend, which is becoming increasingly popular among online marketers. However, Birdsend doesn’t play well with others. To integrate with LeadPages, for instance, requires Zapier. Other integrations require cut-and-paste HTML code.
Looking more closely, Birdsend seems especially beneficial to marketers with huge email lists, seeking lower-cost alternatives to Convertkit. These marketers have the budget and infrastructure to hire assistants to deal with the set-up and integrations.
Be sure to test these integrations with your 30-day trial to avoid a miserable online life with a lot of extra charges to fix things.
Customer service – Do you like a lot of hand-holding or do you like figuring things out? Will you get service by phone or email?
For some people, especially if you’ve got a dedicated VA, it’s not a big deal. Me? I believe I was put on earth to keep Help Desk staff from dying of boredom. It’s the reason I don’t use MailChimp. You’re on your own.
Affiliate marketing – If you promote affiliates in your email, you’ll need to be sure you won’t encounter resistance. Some services have rules on the books that restrict your ability to email on behalf of your affiliates. They may or may not enforce them. You may be able to get around this with a good link cloaker, such as prettylinks – something that has your own domain name — not budurl, bitly, or even nanacast. Talk to other business owners about their experiences.
And what’s least important?
Forms and Appearance. Most email services will let you customize your own forms. You can get someone to set up a form and then use it over and over, usually changing just one number in the code. When you’re using landing page software, such as LeadPages, you won’t need to bother about forms at all.
What NOT To Do
Don’t create your own email marketing software, buy software to install or choose a service from a tiny vendor with “mom and pop” support. Email changes constantly. The best services will make the updates seamlessly for you.
Don’t get frustrated. No email marketing system will be perfect. They’ll all have quirks that will drive you crazy. The one thing I wouldn’t sacrifice is deliverability, followed closely by ease of use and support.
My top 3 choices:
MadMimi is a friendly, fun service that was bought by GoDaddy a few years ago. It’s cheap and surprisingly functional; I know someone with a 10K list who uses them because their rates are cheaper than almost anybody’s and the functionality is there. You get 100 subscribers free. Their service has been exceptional; their team even helped me write code for a customized form.
On the downside, MadMimi no longer has an affiliate program, even for current customers. Since I used MadMimi, I’ve learned about MailerLite, and now I’d recommend testing both.
My current choice is ConvertKit. They combine fantastic service with a friendly interface. The functionality is almost limitless and they are extremely responsive to help desk requests.
I don’t recommend combining your shopping cart with your email. You may want to drop your shopping cart provider, but not your email provider, or vice versa. Changing a bundle will almost always be more cumbersome than changing one item.
And before making a change to a new email marketing system, talk to people who have used the system recently. Post a note in a forum and invite private messaging. Don’t just rely on a mentor: new solutions can appear overnight.
What are your recommendations on email marketing? Comment below.
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