Three Email Service Provider Options for Small Businesses
By : Alexandra L Watson -
Send Like a Business
*Affiliate Disclaimer: This post may contain affiliate links that provide me with compensation for clicks or subsequent actions.
Selecting an email service provider for your freelance, startup, or small business can be daunting but well worth the effort. Don’t make the mistake of sending business emails from Outlook or a Google Gmail account. It’s not as professional and lacks the automation, tracking, list management and segmentation, and reporting that commercial providers include. In this third post (of three) in our email marketing series, we’ll review and recommend three top email service providers for your small business.
Commercial email regulation compliance and email automation are just two big benefits of using a business email service provider instead. To review the full Twelve Business Benefits of Email Marketing see our prior post on that topic. Or, review the Quick Guide to Email Marketing Automation post that can get you started with a series of email autoresponders and copywriting guidelines.
When selecting a business email service provider, keep in mind the following criteria:
- Ease of use/ intuitive interface
- Reliable delivery to inboxes
- Data authentication and/or encryption
- Easy opt-in, unsubscribe, and anti-SPAM capabilities
- A design gallery with template variety or design/ editing services
- List management and audience segmentation
- CRM (customer relationship management) features
- Lead scoring
- Autoresponders and email sequencing
- Opt-in incentives and lead magnet forms
- Fair pricing structure
- Campaign analytics
- eCommerce shopping cart integration
- Point of Sale (POS) system integration
- Cloud-based vs. software licensed
- ROI calculation
Email Service Provider Pricing Structures
Pricing structures of commercial email providers vary. Pricing models may be FREE for nonprofits or small businesses with minimal lists and activity, then subscription-based or contract for enterprise-level solutions. Paid services are determined either by number of emails sent, number of subscribers within stored email lists, or some combination of the two in a pay-as-you-go sliding scale. Be sure to select a provider that is: 1) affordable for your current list size, 2) compatible with integration needs, and 3) appropriate for current email activity that will also be 4) scalable as your business grows.
*Affiliate Disclaimer: Any products or services recommended and/or endorsed on this site are based on my personal experience and opinion. I may earn compensation for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial, and/or link to any products or services from this website. External links on this site may be “affiliate links” which are links with a special tracking code that may result in a referral payment to me. Using these links does not result in any additional cost to you.
Popular Email Service Providers for Small Businesses
There are thousands of email marketing service providers available each with unique history, focus, pros and cons, and performance statistics. Here is a brief descriptive summary of three popular email marketing service providers suitable for startups, sole proprietors, and small businesses, in order of complexity:
- Constant Contact (Small businesses & nonprofits)
With more than 650,000 customers Constant Contact is one of the most well-known email marketing tools for small businesses, nonprofits, and brick-and-mortar retail stores. It offers a user-friendly interface with dozens of professionally designed email templates and a simple editor tool. Image hosting is included (with limited space) to store the images used within business templates. There is a free 60-day trial for new users, and no long-term contracts. Note that users must be on the Plus plan (rather than Basic) to use marketing automation, survey and form features, event marketing, or other advanced features like coupon integration. Pricing is based on list size, with Basic plans beginning at $20/month and Plus plans beginning at $45/month. Pricing for lists up to 50,000 caps at $335/month, and larger lists require a custom quote. With Constant Contact, drag-and-drop editing and professionally-designed templates are the core offering. Generally, it’s a system geared for customizing provided templates, so it’s best for beginners or those looking for a simple and intuitive email service provider. Advanced users may find it isn’t as robust for custom coding and offers less app integrations than its competitors. Pricing may also be more expensive for large lists. And, while reporting looks good on screen, it may be difficult to filter and export the data for use in Excel or to third-party reporting platforms.
2. MailChimp (Small & Ecommerce businesses, nonprofits)
With over 16 million customers, including over 85,000 eCommerce stores connected to MailChimp accounts, MailChimp earned Inc. Magazine’s title of 2017 Company of the Year. Ecommerce businesses are about a fifth of MailChimp customers, followed by nonprofits and educational organizations. It’s committed to making marketing and automation easier for all small businesses. That’s demonstrated in the number of useful app integrations like Google, Facebook and Instagram ad retargeting from within a MailChimp email account, in the variety of segmentation and automated workflows available, as well as in their pricing structure. The pricing is based on a combination of list size and number of emails sent per month. The Forever Free plan (no trial, contract, or credit card required) allows for 2,000 or fewer subscribers and up to 12,000 email sends per month. They also offer pay-as-you-go plans for 2,000+ contacts. Monthly plans for larger lists (and/or more robust features) begin at a low $10/month. Pro plans that offer enterprise-level services cap at $199/month for a Pro subscription fee plus a monthly list fee between $10 and $25/month by list size. The service does lack a phone support center but has a robust database of tutorials, FAQs, and guides. If you want the simplicity of a free account (for lists under 2,000) or a flexible pay structure for lists over 2,000 then MailChimp will suit you. It also sits firmly in the middle of offering design flexibility and customized integrations, while also having drag-and-drop assistance and an intuitive interface. However, beginners may find MailChimp a bit more complicated to navigate and clunky to setup than Constant Contact. On the other hand while the large number of integrations and workflows are useful for advanced users, they may find it limited in its workflows, sequences, and opt-in offers for lists.
3. ConvertKit (bloggers & online creators)
Whereas most other services focus on either small business operations or enterprise-level software-as-service (SaaS), ConvertKit is a rising star that bills itself as “email marketing for creators”. What’s a creator? In their definition it’s someone that earns their living online, whether that is as a blogger, musician, podcaster, author, YouTuber, maker, teacher, or something else. This unique positioning makes ConvertKit a bit different than the rest, because they really focus on conversions. Features include easy form integration into email messages, list management, segmentation, marketing automations and workflows, and 70+ direct app integrations for Ecommerce, landing pages, membership sites, and more. Pricing is based on list size, and plans can send unlimited monthly emails. The service is subscriber based, meaning you pay for an individual once no matter how many lists to which they subscribe. You organize lists by using tags, forms, segments, and sequences. Their conversion-focus means you can utilize multiple opt-in incentives, and because they are subscriber-based it gives account owners the freedom to do advanced tagging and even offer multiple forms per list. Billing is monthly, or you can get 12 months for the price of 10 when you pay in advance annually. Accounts with 0-1,000 subscribers pay $29/month, 1,000-3,000 subscribers pay $49/month, 3,001-5,000 subscribers pay $79/month, and 5,001+ require a custom quote but may exceed $679/month for 100,000 subscribers. One drawback is you won’t find drag-and-drop templates in ConvertKit. They actually don’t believe in layering in multi-column layouts, background images, logos, and such! For ConvertKit, simpler is better, so you’ll find plain-text emails that are boosted by elements like basic formatting (bold, italics, etc.), clickable links, open tracking, and click tracking. If homing in on segmented lists with simple email messages and advanced sequencing and tagging is your jam, then ConvertKit may be the right email service provider for you. Best of all, if you have a list of over 5,000 subscribers ConvertKit offers concierge migration service to move all your forms, automations, and subscribers from other popular email service providers for free!
Whichever email service provider you choose, be sure to tag or segment your lists in ways that will enable you to deliver the most valuable content possible to your subscribers. Consider what focused message and call-to-action (CTA) response you want from each email you send. Utilize triggers and sequences/workflows to deliver consistent messaging with email marketing automation. Comply with all email marketing laws and regulations, including America’s CAN-SPAM Act, Canada’s Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL), and the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Master the fundamentals of digital strategy, website presence, and inbound content marketing (including email) FIRST. These will give you a solid value proposition and communication plan with your prospective audience. Only then should you invest in paid advertising tactics to promote your content, gain visibility and awareness, and increase your traffic leads.