Moving to MailChimp

   I'm making a change that will save me a thousand dollars a year... I'm moving my mailing lists from iContact to MailChimp. It started out purely as a money-saving move, but I'm really liking how MailChimp handles several other things as well.

   You might have read in New Media for Designers + Builders, which tells why a mailing list is one of the twelve recommended nodes of a New Media ecosystem for those of us who design and build. Before we get into the good stuff that MailChimp does, let's take a minute to talk about mailing list basics.

Mailing Manners

   I do two types of mailings: this one is a newsletter, which I'm re-committing to send out (almost) every weekend after a gap of several months. That's what you subscribed to, and I owe it to you to deliver useful stuff each weekend. And please let me know if there's a topic you'd like to hear about, and I'll be sure to cover that soon.

   The other type of mailing is the news release. When I subscribe to someone's news releases, I want to hear from them about stuff that's really newsworthy because I appreciate their work, but I don't want a steady stream of emails from them because my bandwidth, like yours, is limited. So that's what I do for anyone subscribing to my news release lists as well: I email them when there's something I think is really worth hearing... but only then.

Mailing $

   I've used iContact for several years, and while I generally like their system, there's no inexpensive way to use it because they charge monthly based on how many subscribers you have. I have over 6,000 subscribers to my lists, so I'm paying $88/month. Because I only send news releases when there's news, most of my subscribers may hear from me only once or twice per year. That gets pretty expensive per email.

   MailChimp has more choices. Right now, I'm on their Forever Free plan, which is for anyone with fewer than 2,000 subscribers. I have one big list, so it's the one I'll move last because all of my other lists don't total over 2,000. Above 2,000 subscribers, you can go two directions: their Monthly plan is similar to iContact's, where you pay according to how many subscribers you have. But they also have a Pay As You Go plan, where you buy email "credits," and the more you buy, the cheaper each credit is. One credit buys you one email to one person, so if you have a list with 100 people and want to send one email to that list, you'd need 100 credits.

   MailChimp begins with 300 credits for $9, which is 3 cents per credit. Here's their billing plan page, so you can see for yourself what the choices are. I'm planning on buying 200,000 credits for $1,000, which is a half-penny per credit. Yes, that's a lot of money, but I spend that much in a year with iContact anyway, and at the rate I sent mailings that year, those credits will last more than three years, so it's obviously a good deal.

Why I Like MailChimp

   First, there's one thing I don't like that threw me off for a bit. Everywhere on their site, they talk about "campaigns." What's a campaign? I've heard PR people talk about advertising campaigns, but is this a long-running thing with many emails, or just one email? I experimented a bit, and it seems like you could do it either way, but it seems easiest if every email is a different campaign. But c'mon guys... we're not advertisers... we're designers and builders! With everything else you do so well, couldn't you be plain-spoken about this item?

   OK, now on to what I like. There are three big things, other than pricing. First, it's really easy to create a campaign... err... email. There are five pages once you create the "campaign:" Recipients, Setup, Template, Design, and Confirm. Each page is really self-explanatory, and stuff works the way you'd expect it to. iContact always seemed a little convoluted, and tried to push you to their pre-built templates (none of which worked for me).

   The second thing is the tone of the site. Other than the campaign thing, the voice seems really conversational and not at all corporate or PR. That's a good thing, because most of us run as fast as possible away from anything that sounds like PR because we don't have the bandwidth to sit through one more sales pitch.

   The third reason I like MailChimp is something called Groups. This lets a person tell you several things about them. For example, I have three groups titled "I've bought," "I am a(n)," and "I'm interested in." Within each of these, there are "group names" (think of them as sub-groups). Within "I am a(n)," there are things like "Architect," "Builder," "Developer," "Engineer," etc. There's one thing I haven't yet figured out, and that's the easiest way to invite people to tell you more about them after they're already subscribed. That'll be the subject of another update in the not-so-distant future.

   ~Steve Mouzon

Saturday Morning Emails

   Just last week, I finally figured out some really simple techniques for taming email. I've been testing it to see if it really works... and it does! Here's what I'm doing:


   I travel with work, and do a lot of design charrettes, so it's easy to go a few days without looking at email. I get over 200 emails most days that make it past my spam filter, so my inbox stacks up really fast. Recently, I had thousands of unread emails in my inbox, and that's so demoralizing I never wanted to deal with it because I knew it was a job I could never finish at any one sitting. So here's what I did:

   First, I made a folder called Archives, then sub-folders for each year beginning in 2000, and separated email into those folders. Beginning in 2012, I made subfolders for quarters (Q1, Q2, Q3, Q4). I was going to just mark them all "read," but then realized that most of the unread ones probably weren't ones I wanted to keep. And so I've been going through each quarter's folder when I have spare time and getting rid of them. And the cool thing is that the psychology is entirely different. For example, 2013's Q1 folder has 151 unread emails. Unlike my previous inbox where the unread emails kept growing, that Q1 folder will forever have only 151 unread emails... until I sort through them and get rid of whatever I don't want to keep. So that's not an impossible task... that's actually a fairly easy task I can do in a few minutes someday soon.

   The other great thing is that my inbox only has 78 unread emails right now because everything else before July 1 is now archived. And I have confidence I can respond to 78 emails, whereas responding to thousands was completely hopeless. I'll let you know when I get it down to zero. And when it is zero, it'll be much easier to sort through today's email, even if I have to do it late at night or early in the morning.


   I participate in a number of email listserv discussions, so the next folder below Archives is my Listservs folder, with subfolders for each listserv. I use Mac Mail, so I have "rules" set up that automatically put all listserv emails in the appropriate folders.


   The last big folder is my Sorted folder. In the early days of email many moons ago, I tried to sort all my email into various folders and subfolders before finally giving up when it just became too much. But I have a few subfolders in the Sorted folder that I still use. For example, there's one where all my Google Alerts automatically go. The most important one, however, is the Jobs folder... because of what I did to it last week:

   First, I made an Active and and Archive subfolder under Jobs so I could get all the clutter of old jobs out of the way. For every job in the Active folder, I made rules that automatically send email either to or from a client to that folder. I add anyone who works only on that job to the rule as well so that all conversation goes there. In the old days (before last week) I would regularly miss client emails because they came in during those days I wasn't able to check email, and I never responded. Now, I'm quickly responding to every one.

Three Folders

   Here's a cool thing about Mac Mail: When I close those three folders (Archives, Listservs, and Sorted) Mail shows how many unread emails are in each. So right now, I know there are 14 in Sorted. When I open it, I can see that there are 2 in Jobs and the rest are Google alerts. So it makes it really easy to quickly see what needs attention and take care of that in a timely fashion... which I have NEVER done until now.

   ~Steve Mouzon

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