Effective list management in the 21st century involves quite a few tasks:
- Ensuring that people on your list really want to be there
- Handling new subscriber signups and existing subscriber cancellations
- Sending confirming emails for each change in a subscriber’s status
- Sending a series of stock emails to new subscribers
- Sending newsletters on a schedule
- Tracking statistics for your email campaigns (ongoing and one-time)
It’s possible to do it all manually in the beginning when your subscriber numbers are low, but frankly, I wouldn’t. It’s time consuming, easy to get behind on (bad news – subscribers are the heart of your business), and you’d be much better off either working on your book or on the next awesome content to send to your list.
In the 21st century, paying for professional email services is a necessary and very worthwhile cost of doing business as an author. Plus, you can sign up with Mail Chimp for free until your list is big enough to where it will pay for itself.
Choosing an email service provider
Choosing a commercial service is actually an important decision: it is almost impossible to convert from one provider to another without putting everyone on your list through a second opt-in process. You’re more likely to avoid the second opt-in if your list was professionally managed by a reputable provider, but the bar is still pretty high. Every article I’ve read by people who have made this transition bemoans the number of people they lost in the process. It’s true that probably a lot of them had ceased being loyal fans for whatever reason, so in that sense the process is a healthy clean-up of your list. But it’s also probably true that many of them were just in a lull, and might have been re-energized by your next email had you not lost them. So my recommendation is to try and choose one you’ll be happy with for the long haul, not just because they’re cheap to start with.
There are quite a few acceptable email service providers out there, but to keep things simple, I recommend you look over these five:
- Mail Chimp
- Vertical Response
All five offer a free trial period so you can actually sign up and poke around for a month before making up your mind. While you’re looking, keep in mind these three criteria:
- Price: Once your mailing list gets over the 4,000 mark, everyone is priced about the same. So price is only a factor when your list is smaller. I’ve got a pricing chart at the end of this post (good as of December 2013).
- Features: All of these providers offer the same basic features, and most are closing the feature gap with Aweber, the reputed king of email providers.
- Who uses which service: I did my own survey (by subscribing on their websites) of power users (both authors and entrepreneurs) that I follow. You should do the same.
If in doubt, pick Mail Chimp
Mail Chimp has a lot of fans because of its ease of use, and the fact that can be free if your contact list is less than 2000 people. In my own survey of “who-uses-what” I found that even Michael Hyatt (the author of “Platform” and a highly respected author platform guru) thinks Mail Chimp is the best. Hard to go wrong.
I’m using it, and find that its easy-to-use reputation is well deserved. Plus there’s a great third party app for taking live signups at events!
Biggest complaints about Mail Chimp I’ve seen (and experienced myself) are the limits on customizing the email content (which is the flip side of “easy to use”) and the silliness of the name and logo (which become less prominent when you’re a paid user).
Note that there are limits on MailChimp’s free service: During the free period they don’t provide any support beyond the documentation on their website (which is actually quite good), you can’t use the autoresponder (to send automatic emails to new subscribers – but in the beginning, sending them manually is just not that big of a deal), and the number of emails you can send in one month is limited to 12,000 (so you can send 6 emails to your 2,000 contacts – plenty enough for us starters).
Main takeaway from this post: Hiring a top-notch email service like Mail Chimp is an excellent use of an author’s time and money.
Pricing Survey (as of 12/31/13):
|Aweber||19||29||29||49||69||$1 for first month|
|Vertical Response **||10||28||46||46||72||30 days/ 100 emails|
|Vertical Response PAYG – per mailing||7.50||15||26||48||96||30 days/ 100 emails|
*For lists with fewer than 2000 contacts, Mail Chimp lets you send up to 12,000 total emails a month for free, or you can pay the amount shown on the second line and have unlimited emails. Because of the free option, you have basically an unlimited free trial with limited contacts.
** Vertical Response Pay As You Go – a fixed price of cents/email sent. Note that Vertical Response’s free trial is mainly a look at the platform: you can look at the templates and see how easy it is to use, but you can’t do any serious emailing (limit 100 emails). But with the others, if you go full bore with your whole list and then change your mind about using them, its going to be a major hassle to switch.