Mailchimp is undoubtedly the big daddy of all email marketing services. But there’s been a lot of talk among independent authors about some of its features and whether it's worth the price (it’s a lot pricier than other email marketing services).
So, I decided we’d take a look at Mailchimp and figure out whether this email marketing service is the best one for independent authors looking to keep in touch with their readers and manage their mailing list subscribers.
In this article, you will learn:
- What Mailchimp is
- The features it offers
- How much you can get with a free account
- Whether it's easy to transfer over from a free account to paid
- How Mailchimp integrates with other services
- How much Mailchimp costs and whether that value is worth it for you
- Whether Mailchimp is suited for authors or not
Table of contents
Just a note: there are affiliate links in this article–that’s to keep the coffee fund topped up–but those links don’t change my opinion on the product itself.
Without further ado, let’s dive in!
What is Mailchimp?
Mailchimp is an email marketing service provider that offers businesses–big and small–solutions for keeping in touch with their customers via email. Basically, it allows you to collect leads or customers (readers in the independent author’s case) and stay in touch with them via email.
As an author, you probably know that staying in touch with your readers and having their email addresses is super important for your marketing efforts. Mailchimp is one of the many providers you can look at when starting a mailing list. But is it the best one for you? Well, that’s a question we’ll answer in this review.
If you want to find out more about what Mailchimp does in the general sense, you can take a look at their Help page, which has handy guides and tutorials, or their About page.
Now that we know what Mailchimp is, let’s find out what it does…
What Features Does it Offer?
In order to determine whether Mailchimp offers the best solutions for independent authors looking to stay in touch with their readers, we need to check out their features.
1. Free Account
As an author, you’re probably on the lookout for a cheap solution that offers you what you need. That’s why I’ve added this category for review. I like to try before I buy—whether that’s through a trial or a free account.
Mailchimp does offer a free account, and here’s what you get with it:
- Up to 2,000 email contacts
- Up to 10,000 email sends a month. That means that if you have those 2,000 contacts, you can send them an email 5 times a month.
- You can have 1 audience with the free plan–so 1 list, basically.
- You can use tagging and basic segmentation.
- You can use behavioral targeting–this basically means that you can tailor your emails to specific people (eg. those who open your emails or engage with your website in a certain way).
- You have access to surveys.
- You also have access to an audience dashboard and contact profiles for each of your contacts.
- Basic templates are included with your free account when creating emails.
- You can build and publish a website with analytics, as well as having access to a free Mailchimp domain. You also have the option to buy a domain name through Mailchimp and connect an existing domain name.
- Automations are available. They’re single-step, however. So you don’t have access to the ‘customer journey builder’ as it’s called or more complicated automation with multiple starting points.
- You get access to landing pages, social posts, and Facebook and Instagram ads.
- You get basic reports and support.
I think the free account from Mailchimp is pretty good. You get what you need, and probably a bunch of functions you don’t actually need. My experience with email is that most authors need simple email campaigns, reporting, web form creation, automation, and a way to manage their subscribers. All the other stuff acts as a distraction.
Overall, the free account looks legitimate and like something starting authors could use to great effect.
Automation with MailChimp occurs in four specific ways:
- Customer Journeys
- Transactional Emails
- Retargeting Ads
Let’s take a quick look at each of them and what they offer for authors.
This feature is only available for paid plans.
Customer Journeys are basically an automation sequence that you set up for your Audience (or list) in Mailchimp. They’re split up into two sections:
- Customer Journey. These are kind of like roadmaps that your audience members follow according to the tags you add to them and the actions they take. It reminds me a little of how Convertkit operates. This is in Beta, so Mailchimp is actively working on improving it, but my initial impressions are pretty good. It’s nice to see them trying to provide more for their customers. It seems like it could be a powerful tool in the future. But, and this is a big but, I don’t think this would provide independent authors with great value, especially if they’re just starting out. Maybe for nonfiction authors with multiple products and audiences they need to manage. But for the indie fiction author, it feels like overkill.
- Classic Automations. These are the stock standard automations authors use when onboarding their readers–i.e. The welcome email with the reader magnet–and then slowly introducing them to your work. They still have value for authors. And they’re available in the free account.
This feature is only available for paid plans.
Transactional emails are event or e-commerce emails (purchase confirmations, password resets, that kind of thing) to your mailing list subscribers. There’s a demo available to try in the free account. To use this feature, you need a sending domain–so your own website, basically, though you could probably use one you created with Mailchimp. And you have to do this via Mandrill which is transactional email infrastructure.
Unless you’re going to be selling a product directly to your readers, I don’t think this is a feature you’ll need as an independent author.
Retargeting ads are basically Facebook, Instagram or Google ads that you set up through Mailchimp. You’re paying Mailchimp to facilitate these ads for you, instead of going directly to Facebook, for instance, and creating the ads yourself.
This is available in the free account. You just have to connect your Facebook ads manager to Mailchimp and allow it access to your account. But personally, I don’t see a reason why you would want to do this through Mailchimp when you can easily go set up these ads in Facebook yourself.
It seems a bit gimmicky to me.
Postcards are campaigns that send your contacts reminders, coupons, and simple messages at regular intervals. They’re actual physical postcards that you mail out to your subscribers, meaning you’ll have to collect their addresses to send them. And they ship within 4-8 business days.
Once again, I don’t see a ton of value for independent authors here, but maybe you could use this feature to make a few readers feel special.
Creating forms with Mailchimp is relatively easy. You simply click ‘Create’ and navigate to sign up forms. You can then create three different types of sign up forms:
- Embedded forms. These are forms that you embed on your site and have a design that reflects your brand. You can segment people by the source they sign up from.
- Pop-up forms. These are forms that pop-up on your website when a visitor stops by. Once again you’re able to segment people according to where they signed up from–this is a useful tool if you’re collecting different kinds of leads. Facebook leads who sign up for a freebie might be colder, where people who navigate to your site actively seeking you out are hot and ready to purchase your books.
- Signup landing page. With a landing page, you can gather sign-ups in exchange for a giveaway like a reader magnet, or a pre-sale announcement. That’s great, but you could probably do the same with one of the embedded forms or pop-up forms.
The creation process for the forms is quite similar for all of the three above (we’ll go into more detail about landing pages below).
It’s relatively simple to create forms with Mailchimp, since they link directly to an audience when you create them, and you can embed them on your site with provided code (as seen in the screen above).
The layout was initially confusing to me, though, and it took a second to figure out which tabs were important for me to edit and which weren’t.
4. Landing Pages
With Mailchimp, you can create landing pages and even your own website and have your mailing list integrated with it. It seems like Mailchimp is trying to be the one-stop shop for everything business. So, in many cases, they’re more of a business solution than just an email marketing service.
When creating your landing page, you’ll be taken to several templates you can redesign to use for gaining subscribers.
That’s great. I like drag and drop features because they’re super easy and fun to use.
And once you’ve selected your template, you can redesign it as you see fit. You can add styles and elements from the sidebar and completely change the look of the original template so that it suits your author brand.
I’m a fan of this feature. I enjoyed messing around with it. Once you’ve completed your design, you’re given an url that you can share or use to send people to in your ads on Facebook for instance.
5. Email Campaigns
You can send three types of email with Mailchimp:
- Regular. These are simple campaigns that you send out as a once-off. Like a newsletter for instance.
- Automated. These are the automation sequences we discussed under the automation section above. There are a lot of options here for what you can create and how you can target mailing list subscribers.
- Plain-text. These are emails that have no fancy text or images. They’re great for book launch emails.
Email creation is simple with Mailchimp–the steps are pretty much guided.
You progress from selecting who your email is targeted toward, who it is from (your author name or email) to the subject line, and then setting up the content. Content creation for your email is drag and drop for the regular and automated emails–and as simple as writing up text for the plain-text emails.
When creating your email content, you have several options to choose from:
- Layouts. You can choose one of Mailchimp's email templates and edit it. You get more templates when you have a paid plan, but there are basic ones to use with the free account.
- Themes. You can select an email template according to a theme, like ‘e-commerce’ or ‘event’.
- Saved Templates. You can create your own template then save it for later use so your branding is always on point.
- Campaigns. You can check out the recent campaigns you sent and use one of them as an email template for your new campaign.
- Code Your Own. For the advanced email sender, you can code your own email content by pasting in your code, importing it from a zip, or importing it from an url.
Once you’ve completed your email content, you’re able to send your emails immediately or schedule them to send later; and you can, with paid versions of the service, send at a time that Mailchimp suggests are the best times to get opens. You can also share your emails via social media.
I like how many options you have for creating email content with Mailchimp, but it’s almost overwhelming the amount you can do.
6. Extras/Important Details
Mailchimp has a lot of extras for paid subscribers. Here are a few extras that are relevant to authors and might be of use to them when using Mailchimp:
- Segmenting and Tagging. You can tag and segment and use this to separate your audience into groups that you email in different ways.
- Social Media Posts. You can use Mailchimp to post to your social media accounts–cool for managing your accounts in one place.
- Surveys. You can email your subscribers surveys which is useful if you’re curious about what they want out of your mailing list or your books.
- Integrations. Mailchimp integrates with just about every service imaginable. That makes running Facebook lead ads pretty simple–you don’t have to head into Facebook and collect them manually, they’re automatically transferred onto your mailing list instead.
What Does it Cost?
So, with all those features to consider, let’s take a look at what Mailchimp costs.
Let’s get one thing straight–authors are always looking for a good deal when it comes to paying for any service, and that includes their mailing list. They want good value for money. A free account is a bonus, as well.
While Mailchimp provides great value in its features, its costs are significantly higher than the competition. But you wouldn’t see that just from a quick glance at the pricing page.
It would seem that an essentials account (which would include basically everything you need as an author) would cost you $10 a month, right? But that’s not correct. If you had the free account with a list of up to 2,000 contacts and head over to subscribe, you’d actually be charged $30 a month.
That’s because the $10 a month price for the Standard subscription is actually for 500 contacts. That’s not immediately obvious on the pricing page until you click ‘Calculate your price’.
And the scaling of pricing is pretty steep. You’ll eventually end up paying in the hundreds of dollars for your larger lists. Whereas providers like Mailerlite and Mad Mimi charge significantly less than that. In the case of Mad Mimi, that’s because they have fewer features to offer, but with Mailerlite, they have pretty much the same features, if not more, and they charge way less.
Mailchimp also has a credit ‘Pay-As-You-Go’ system. So, if you didn’t want to pay the flat monthly rate for the paid features, you could buy credits and use them to send emails. Each email you send to a single subscriber costs one credit.
So if you have 2,500 email subscribers and want to send them an email, it would cost you 2,500 credits.
Let’s say you have a standard mailing list setup whereby you email your subscribers once a week–so four emails to 2,500 email subscribers a month. That works out to 10,000 emails, thus 10,000 credits.
But how much would that cost you?
It would cost you $200 to send out four emails to your 2,500 subscribers in a month. That’s ridiculous in my opinion, given that you can pay for unlimited sending to the same amount of contacts in the standard subscription at $29.99 per month.
Credits might be a solution for some business providers, but I don’t see them being a valuable tool for authors to use. I would suggest that if you do want to use Mailchimp, you go for a subscription instead.
If you’re interested in Mailchimp, you can sign up for a paid subscription here
What I Don’t Like About Mailchimp
Now that we’ve discussed the features Mailchimp has, let’s take a look at what I didn’t like about the service while I was working with it.
- Unsubscribes. Unsubscribes count toward your contacts count. You have to manually delete these contacts if you don’t want them to count toward your overall contact count. That means that you have to archive or delete contacts to save money, and do so manually–which takes time.
- Audiences. You can only have subscribers on one list or ‘audience’. Transferring them over to another list doubles your contact count, meaning you pay double for the same subscriber to be on another ‘audience’ or list.
- Pricing. When you upgrade, you’re sucked into the price vortex. If you now have 2,000 subscribers, you head over to pay for the basic plan, thinking it will be $10, but that’s just not true. It’s more expensive than that.
- Dashboard. I found navigating in Mailchimp somewhat frustrating–I clicked loads, backtracked and found all the features available a bit overwhelming.
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Is Mailchimp the Right Email Marketing Service for You?
I’m always hesitant to give a final word on something or even a general rule of thumb, but I can’t ignore the facts when it comes to Mailchimp’s services. While they’re a powerful tool for big business, for indie authors, they’re much more expensive than the alternative email marketing service providers out there.
The fact that you have to manually delete contacts from your list means that less savvy Mailchimp users will wind up paying for people who don’t even currently subscribe to their emails. That’s annoying. You also have to pay for extra features that come free with other services, like MailerLite for instance.
While Mailchimp has cool reporting and you can tag your subscribers (unlike with Mad Mimi for instance), it’s not nearly as versatile with segmenting as ConvertKit or even MailerLite.
It’s for this reason that I strongly suggest you check out MailerLite instead. You can do everything you can with Mailchimp but for free. Check out my review of MailerLite here.
Do you have any strong opinions on Mailchimp? Or is there another email marketing service provider that you enjoy using and would like to see reviewed? Leave a comment below!
Mailchimp vs MailerLite
To justify what I've said about MailerLite above, and how much better it is for authors than Mailchimp, let's take a look at a side-by-side comparison of the two.
|Ease of Use|
As you can probably gather from the table, MailerLite delivers in pricing and functionality. Automations, landing pages, and email creation are all simpler and easier in MailerLite. You can do exactly what you need… and for free with the service.
If you'd like to learn more about MailerLite, check out my free video course where I'll show you how to set up your account and start using it. If you'd like to research other email services, check out my Best Email Services review here.