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.
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.
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.