Since launching Mykidstime in 2007 we have used e-zines regularly as a way of communicating with parents, so have used a few different mailing software providers and tried different things out along the way. Here are some tips on deciding on the best email service to use and how to go about setting up a mailing list for customers and/or prospects to market to:
#1. Look at what emails you already have
You may have emails already from customers buying from you, prospects interacting with or enquiring from you. So you could have a starter list that you want to get onto a mailing software service.
Compile this initial list onto Excel first of all so you can save it as CSV format which most mailing services require for import. The minimum you need to start a list is name and email but you may want other fields depending on your data and business requirements (see point 4 below). This initial number of emails will let you price what your initial mailing cost will be.
NB Mailchimp is fussy about emails that start info@ or sales@ so if you plan to have any of these on your mailing list you will need to manually add those when you set up your list.
Tip: if you haven’t directly asked people to opt in to your mailing list then make the first email you send out to them one that says e.g. we are starting our emails out to share information and special offers, if you’d like to continue receiving our emails then you don’t need to do anything but if you’d like to unsubscribe click here.
#2. Plan Your Frequency
How often are you going to send emails out? These should be part of your annual/monthly marketing plan but deciding on planned frequency will let you explore cost before you pick the service.
For example, it may be cheaper to go with a provider that does a pay per send option than a per subscriber list option depending on your needs.
#3. Shop Around
We compare prices at least once a year to see that we are getting best value for our mailing software service. When you are starting out Mailchimp is a good option as it is free to use for less than 2k mailing list however if you want to use automated email services to e.g. send out a sequence once people have subscribed to your list then you will have to pay for that. ActiveCampaign is another good option for starter list pricing.
Tip: don’t just think about your starting numbers but also be aware of the thresholds at which your mailing list costs will increase at so you know to keep an eye on that
#4. Think About Segmenting
Before you start your emails, think about segmenting. Are you going to send a different message out to customers than you would prospects? Do you want to segment your customers by high value compared to low value? Will you need to geographically segment?
This will help you decide on the fields you need to add to your list before you import it into the mailing service. Some services require you to set up all your fields first before the import, so that when you do the import it matches. Most of the services have good help and documentation on how to do this.
Tip: check how the mailing service will let you send to a segment rather than the whole list if you want/need to do this
#5. Understand What Reports You Will Get
It’s important to measure your mailings, so at a minimum you will want to know how many opened and how many clicked and what they clicked on but you may want other data like day and time of open, most popular links clicked so that you can start to understand what people respond to on your mailings.
Check what reports the mailing service will give you. For example, the Click Overlay option on Campaign Monitor is really cool, it’s a visual report of what links, buttons, and images are most clicked on to give insight into how your audience is interacting with your email and what you can do to optimize your future campaigns.
Tip: ask the mailing service provider to let you see sample reports if they don’t have demos on their website
#6. Check if there’s A/B Testing
Once you get your mailings up and running, you ideally want to do A/B testing on each mailing. This might be testing 2 different subject lines or different graphics or different layouts. Testing each time let’s you tweak and get better each mailing you send.
Mailchimp offers handy additional testing options where, for example, it will send 2 subject lines out to part of the list then depending on which one performs better it then sends the best performing subject email out to the remainder of the list.
#7. Make Use of Any Free Trials Offered
If the service offers a free trial then plan your signup time to make sure you can make most use of the free trial before you have to start paying. You will want to get your list imported and your template for your initial mailing ready so be sure to have the time allocated to do this during the trial rather than wasting the free time.
Tip: remember that time invested in a free trial will be wasted if you decide not to continue so don’t just jump on a trial, think it through carefully so that you are pretty sure this is the software you are going to use before you start the trial.
#8. Set Up Your Template
You will need at least one template ready for regular mailings so set this up on the software. All the services we used had pre-designed templates which were easy to adapt or else custom template building options that you could use to create your own.
Here are some important things to have on each mailing, and each mailing service differs in the way they handles these so just check you have them in place on your template:
- an unsubscribe link to allow people to easily take themselves off the list
- contact details for the organisation and if you are set up as a company you should have company details as the Companies Office requires
- why people are receiving the mailing so a short blurb that reminds people why they are on your list (it’s amazing how people forget!)
- your logo or header if doing an image based email
- your social media links so people can find you on there
#9. Don’t Forget To Test and Check Links
Always send test emails to yourself (and/or others) to see how the mailing looks and click every link you have included to make sure it takes people to the right place. It’s worth doing this testing because there’s nothing worse than sending a mailing out, realising there was a mistake, and then being in the situation of having to send another email apologising.
Tip: don’t forget to look on your mobile phone as many people read their emails on mobile/tablet now.
#10. Schedule Time Ahead of Mailings
You may have mailings planned on your marketing plan with plenty of time in between but send dates come around quickly in my experience. So a few days before your send date, schedule some time to start planning the email so that you aren’t scrambling at the last minute to pull it together. That’s when stress runs high and mistakes get made.
Now that you’ve read my tips, I hope you’ve got some ideas on how to plan your mailings and pick the best email service for your business.
Over to you now. What’s your experience of setting up mailing lists and picking a software service? Share your thoughts in the comments below.