I'm an internet marketing veteran of over 10 years. I love teaching and sharing my experiences, including fishing tips.
Email marketing is essential for small businesses, and I want to help you figure out the best way to reach your customers. In this article, I will attempt to answer the question of which email marketing services are the best for small businesses.
That's no easy task because what makes a company “best” may be different for you than someone else. That is why I will offer a few different “bests” based on different criteria such. I will also offer the best option, which is a cheap, DIY solution, a self-hosted solution, and a hosted solution. I'll explain these terms as we go.
How to Choose the Best Email Marketing Software for Your Small Business
As I said above, choosing the best is subjective, but I will attempt to measure the software by:
- Ease of Use
- List Management
- Campaign Management
By the end of this article, I hope to have clearly defined for you the best email marketing software for your needs.
My Cheap, DIY Winner: Using Microsoft Word for Email Marketing
When it comes to price, sometimes, the best option is to use what you already have! If you have Microsoft Word or a similar word process with “Mail Merge” functionality, then You technically already have a working solution!
With a properly formatted Microsoft Excel worksheet, you can create your emails, customize them with your customer's name and send them off all using Microsoft Word’s “Mail Merge” feature.
If you don’t have the Microsoft Office Suite, you can accomplish similar results with Google Docs, some plugins, and Gmail (also for free).
Price is probably the friendliest aspect of this setup. If you already have the Microsoft Office suite, then you have everything you need to use this.
Ease of Use
While it isn’t technically difficult to use, it does require some setup (your email service) and some proficiency with Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, and Microsoft Outlook.
Customizability is about on par with a lot of the email marketing services, but it will probably take more time getting your email to look exactly how you want. If you’re writing plain text emails, then this won’t be a big issue for you.
When it comes to email list management, this is where the solution starts to lose. Your email list is managed in an Excel file. That may not be a deal-breaker, but you start to miss out on the really nice features of competitor services. Signing people up is most likely a manual endeavor. Adding details to your users is also manual. Removing users from your list? You guessed it: You open our Excel file and delete them from the list.
If you want even a marginally intelligent email system, then this probably not the way to go. An example: you have an email list, and you want to send out an email letting people know about a discount on your super popular eBook. Do you want to send that email to people who’ve already purchased it? Probably not. This is called “segmenting your email list,” and with many of the other services, you can do this pretty easily.
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Organizing your emails properly is important. Not only does it let you keep track of what you have sent people, but it also lets you reuse email content where possible and keep campaigns separate. It wouldn’t be good to mix your emails about general website updates, system maintenance, and a campaign leading up to a sales pitch for leads you got through a Facebook ad. You want to keep all of these distinctly separate.
This is another area where this solution fails. Yes, you can organize your emails into folders. But it is a manual process that can easily be messed up. If you are only doing a weekly/monthly/quarterly newsletter, then this may not be a deal-breaker. If you’re sending multiple different campaigns to your readers, or list segments, then this is probably not the best option.
Just like the other aspects, tracking is possible but stunningly manual. If you want to track link clicks, be prepared to manually generate links that can be tracked. As far as I know, I don’t think there is a way for you to email opens.
Finally, everyone's’ favorite subject for email marketing: legal compliance. There are lots of laws to abide by, and this solution is not the best. You can absolutely meet all CAN-SPAM requirements with this solution; you just have to be diligent.
Summary of Microsoft Word Mail Merge for Email Marketing
It is a completely usable solution and would work fine for someone who wants to run a newsletter. Anything more robust, and the solution starts to lose its luster. For real marketing, there are better options. If you have less than 2,000 subscribers or you’re OK spending $20 or $30/month, I would highly suggest checking out MailChimp or my next option.
Video: Email Merge in Microsoft Word
My Self-Hosted Winner: Sendy.co Email Marketing Software Review
Sendy is probably my overall favorite on this list. It’s a great mixture of features and price, but the primary drawback is the technical skill it takes to get it up and running. Sendy is a self-hosted email newsletter application. If you don’t know what that means, then it may not be for you.
What Does Self-Hosted Mean?
In short, it means you need to buy web hosting (or use your existing web hosting) and install the Sendy application on it. You then log into it, set everything up the way you want, import your email list, and begin sending out your newsletters. I’ve used Sendy for years, and it does a phenomenal job on a shoestring budget.
It uses Amazon’s Simple Email Service to send your emails, so the deliverability is really good, and it handles everything out of the box (bounces, complaints, and unsubscribes). It lets you have as many subscribers as you want, as many email lists as you want, as many email campaigns as you want, the list goes on.
Its primary drawbacks are that it isn’t as user friendly to make beautiful emails as some of the other options that I’ll be discussing.
The price is amazing for what you get. As of this writing, it’s a one-time fee of $59.00 for the application, then you pay Amazon for how many emails you send. Their pricing, as of this writing, is $1 per 10,000 emails. No, that’s not a typo: one-dollar for ten-thousand emails!
Ease of Use
Ease of use is where Sendy suffers a bit. Installation requires a bit of technical know-how (no more than installing WordPress). Additionally, you have to get comfortable inside of the system and get used to its nuances.
Configuring Amazon used to be a lot more difficult but has gotten easier, but still, it may take you a while to figure out if you aren’t familiar with these kinds of things. The forum is very helpful, and the developer of Sendy is extremely responsive, so you won’t be left in the dark. You’ll just need to be patient if these are completely uncharted waters for you.
Once it is up-and-running, it’s basically as easy to use as any other content management system like WordPress, Blogger, Wix, etc.
Your emails are fully customizable, albeit with a bit of effort. You have to create your HTML template in the tool of your choice and save it inside of Sendy, or you can create emails in their WYSIWYG editor. You can also find premade HTML templates online (Colorlib has a wonderful round-up of free HTML email templates you can use).
Sendy offers complete list management and even has the ability to add custom fields in case you’re technical enough to add additional information to your lists for segmentation purposes.
Again, Sendy hits a homerun with the ability to manage multiple campaigns per list and even has an option to send a drip-feed of emails to a list.
What’s a drip-feed campaign, you ask? It’s a series of pre-written emails that start sending when someone signs up for an email list. So, for example, you could entice someone to sign up for your list with a free ebook or whitepaper, then automatically start sending them a series of emails that eventually lead up to a sales pitch. This is an awesome feature!
The main feature that it’s missing, in my opinion, is the lack of an RSS to email feed. Call me spoiled, but I love having the ability to automatically send a summary of a new post to my readers and try to entice them to come read my new post.
The developer has hooked into a service called Zapier that allows you to automate just about anything, but last time I tried, the best I could do was get the summary of the article automatically into an email, but I still had to log in to send it out. You can’t win them all!
Sendy tracks opens and clicks for you, easy-peasy! It even gives you the opportunity to use UTM parameters in your emails so you can see which traffic was sent to your site from your web analytics (like Google Analytics).
Compliance is still largely left to you. This is because you have to remember to include your address and unsubscribe links in your emails. After that, Sendy handles the rest, such as removing unsubscribes and spam complaints from your list and bounced emails.
Summary of Sendy.co for Email Marketing
I love Sendy. I really do. The pricing is great, the featureset is really good, I love supporting an independent developer, and it’s an overall great product. I love how it handles brands, and I can have as many brands as I want in the same installation. It’s a great system. With that said, if I didn’t care about saving money, then the next option would be my choice without question.
Video: Sendy Email Marketing Application Overview
My Hosted Service Winner: MailChimp Email Marketing Software Review
MailChimp has been in the game a long time. I'll just come out and say it: I love MailChimp, but it's expensive. You get a lot of amazing tools, but once you bust out of their free-tier, be prepared to pay. Now, if you're a serious business and $10/month or even $!00/month is nothing to you, then by-all-means: get MailChimp yesterday! Out of everything on this list, they are by far the most user-friendly and feature-rich option for the price.
I say "for the price" because, despite me calling them "expensive," that's just in the context of this list. There are far more expensive email providers out there with features that enterprise-level businesses need.
MailChimp is perfect for established businesses, and even freelancers who might already make a good amount from their email list. When I first started out, I needed every penny I could save, and if that's you, then perhaps MailChimp isn't the way to go.
As I said, MailChimp has a free-tier that lets you have up to 2,000 email subscribers or 12,000 email sends per month. If that doesn't sound like a great deal to you, then look around at some of the other services. That's a pretty decent free lunch if you want one of the top-of-the-line email providers on your side.
After the free tier, you start paying $10/month, and then the sky's the limit on pricing (1 million subscribers would cost you about $4,200 / month in case you were wondering).
Ease of Use
Hands down, this little mail monkey (I know, I know! Chimps aren't monkeys) trounces all of the other options on this list. It couldn't get any simpler, and I truly love their interface. I still use Sendy because I love the pricing, but I have to say, anytime I log into my MailChimp dashboard, I do get a little…
They have pre-designed beautiful email templates. If you’re on the free plan, then they do put a little watermark at the bottom of the email, but c’mon: beggars can’t be choosers here. They deserve something for their efforts. If you’re blowing out 12,000 emails per month, they’re saving you a bunch of money and giving you a top-notch experience on top of it.
Fantastic list management. Great segmenting, and they offer so much in the way of sending to specific email segments. It’s a truly impressive system.
They have great campaign management, and truth-be-told, they’re the ones who spoiled me on the automatic RSS feed to email campaigns. MailChimp is a mail champ in just about every possible way. Darn my frugalness! [shaking fist angrily at the sky].
MailChimp provides open rates, link click tracking, and you can use UTM parameters, but last time I used them, you had to add them manually by putting them on the link itself. They have a whole bunch of integrations, though, that might make UTM parameters unnecessary. You can check all of that out here.
This is another area where MailChimp shines above the other options. They automatically ensure that your emails are CAN-SPAM compliant. In fact, I have to give MailChimp some credit here: When I first started out, MailChimp is the place I learned all about CAN-SPAM and email compliance, so let’s give them a round of applause!
Summary of MailChimp for Email Marketing
MailChimp is an amazing service, but if you have a moderate following and not a lot of income, it can take a decent bite out of your marketing budget.
Their interface is great, their email templates are attractive, their reporting is great, their email list segmentation is fantastic, they give you the option to split test your email subject lines, and they compare your open rates to the industry data they have. I’m not kidding: Their feature list is ridiculous (in a good way).
On top of that, their customer service has always been great, and they are clearly passionate about what they do. MailChimp is great.
MailChimp Email Marketing Tutorial
Email Marketing Packages
I’ll only briefly touch on this, but I do have a more comprehensive article about email marketing packages. Basically, this is about as hands-off as you can get with email marketing. This is the process of hiring a marketing agency to either help you with your email marketing or take it over completely for you.
The obvious attraction to this idea is that you’re putting your marketing into the hands of a company that knows what they’re doing (if you choose wisely). With this convenience comes an obvious increase in cost. I can’t really quote prices because it will depend on the company that you choose, but expect to pay multiple hundreds to multiple thousands depending on how many campaigns and how big the campaigns are that you want to run.
The services may also include marketing to get people to sign up for your list or offer. These are all details that you need to confirm with the company you choose because each marketing agency’s offerings will vary.
I've used a lot of services throughout my career, and being completely honest, these are some of the top ones in my opinion.
The "Use What You've Got" Option
For the lowest of budgets, you have the DIY "use what you've got option." This is perfect for low volume people with a small list, or low volume people with a larger list who can't afford to take on the costs of a lot of the other services.
I won't pretend to know all of the business models out there, but if this is the option you go with, I think you should work on growing things out so you can move to a more robust system that provides you with nice reporting and features that can grow your business even faster.
To put it simply: a shovel can dig a hole, but sometimes you need an excavator. This tool is a shovel.
The "Sendy.co" Option
For freelancers and cost-conscious folks, you have the formidable Sendy.co option. This option is great because, for a very low cost, you get most of the functionality you can get from the bigger services.
You can add all of the other functionality, for the most part, that the other services have through the Zapier integration, but Zapier can get a bit costly, too, so you might be better off trying a paid service.
One thing that I love about Sendy is that it lets you own your data. You're not handing it over to some other company to care for. If that matters to you, then Sendy might be your best option.
The MailChimp in the Room
For people who are willing to pay for more convenience, ease-of-use, and features, you have MailChimp. This is a great service with great support, and your emails will look great and have high deliverability. They make email marketing as simple as it can possibly get.
The "Done For You" Option
Then there is the option of a managed email marketing. This is best for people who have a good amount of money, but a lack of time to learn how to properly market via email.
Sure, there are many other options out there for email sending services, but there's really no reason to spend too much time researching everything. I have experience with most of the mainstream offerings, and these are my top choices. The important thing is to start doing!
What do you think? What have your experiences been with these services? Have you used better ones? Share your opinions in the comments and help other fellow entrepreneurs, marketers, and freelancers.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.