Savvy marketers have known this for over 3,000 years…

The money is in the list.

If you have a good product and an engaged list you have a license to print money – it’s as simple as that.

You don’t need an expensive bricks and mortar premises… you don’t need a team of sales staff… you don’t need not pots of start up cash…

Just access to a relevant audience and a product or service that solves a problem for them.

The very first piece of direct mail we have a record of came from ancient Egypt in 1,000BC.

A land owner offered gold in exchange for one of his runaway slaves on a piece of papyrus. You can see it today in the British museum.

Fast forward to today and – for the most part – we’ve ditched papyrus, stone tablets and even paper in favour of digital messages…

Email is now king and if you want to attract, convert and retain customers you have to build and nurture a list.

In this article I’m going to show you some easy-to-use, powerful and free email broadcasting platforms that you can use to build up a list and send out emails.

We’ll look at 8 compelling offerings and I’ll then give you my independent take on which might be the best fit for you.

But, hang on, let’s roll back a minute.

Why email? Why not Social Media?

The short answer is do both! Social Media as another extremely valuable medium and it’s important to embrace it as part of your overall strategy but there are some very compelling reasons for placing your main focus on building and maintaining an email list. It’s worth looking at some of these now:

Email is still king

1. Everyone has email

Virtually everyone has an email address and most people check their email several times a day.

It might feel like Facebook and Twitter are taking over the world but not everyone has an account, whereas virtually everyone who is online has an email address. You can’t even sign up for a Social Media account without one.

2. It’s direct, no middleman

Twitter or Facebook requires users to be logged in to their platform to receive news or messages or – in a bizarrely convoluted twist – they have to wait for an email telling them that they’ve had a message.

You are wholly reliant on their use of a third party and it adds an unnecessary layer.

With email you keep them within your ecosystem. You control when they get the message.

3. You stay in control

With email you’re not at the mercy of giant corporations like Facebook or Twitter. Let’s face it, they are and always will be more concerned about their business than yours.

If for whatever reason they decide to slap down your account (this can and does happen for innocent reasons) or they suffer a security breach that hits your account, you stand to lose everything. Your whole business vanished in a digital blink.

An email list belongs to you and you alone. It’s not subject to endless third party user agreements or the whims of their board members or advertisers. Even if your email service provider goes bust it doesn’t matter. You can just move to another one and reupload your list. You can’t download your list from Facebook or Twitter.

Why you need an email service provider

An email service provider (or broadcaster) is just a platform that lets you send out an email to a large group of people. i.e. your list.

That’s all it is, it’s nothing to be scared of.

If you tried to send emails manually you’d be there forever hitting copy, paste and send on your personal email to get a one broadcast out.

This just makes it a simple 2 minute process.

It gives you all sorts of other bells and whistles like advanced reporting (such as what % of people are opening your emails… your unsubscribe rate and so on).

You can also use them automate a lot of boring, time consuming tasks like list cleaning and setting up emails to go out at certain times in a certain sequence.

For example you might want to have a welcome series go out when someone new signs up to receive your emails.

The good news is that there are are some fantastic FREE options if you’re just starting out or have a list with under 2,500 contacts

Most of the email service providers we’ll cover today are completely free to use until your list gets to a certain size. By this point you’ll hopefully be making more than enough of a return to justify paying.

Why are their services free?

Well, they hope that once your list size grows beyond the free limit you’ll decide to stay with them and join one of their paid plans.

You’re under no obligation to do this and if you outgrow your account (a great problem to have) you’re free to take your list and go elsewhere if, for example, you don’t like their pricing structure.

It all depends on what your individual needs and of course your budget.

The limits to the free plans vary somewhat but all of them give you more than enough to get started with your email marketing.

You just need to stick to the golden rules:

– Build up a permissioned ‘opt in’ list. You can do this by adding a webform to your website. It’s easy to do and all of the below include simple instructions to help you do this

– Never buy or rent names. Only send to your own names, never acquire names from a third party. If you do you’ll get flagged up as a spammer immediately and have your account banned

– Keep your readers engaged with quality, relevant content. Do this and they’ll read your emails, click on your links and buy your products and services

– Maintain good list hygiene – virtually every email service provider will do basic list cleaning for you such as removing hard bounces and undeliverables from your list. However it’s worth going further and trying to reengage readers who haven’t opened an email from you in 6 months or more with a re-engagement series

So without further ado let’s get cracking.

Our 8 favourite email broadcasting providers in terms of cost, ease of use and functionality

These are in no particular order and do keep reading right until the end of this article as there are a new wave of providers which I’ve listed which offer a great alternative at a fraction of the cost if you’re willing to put a little bit of work in upfront.

Mailchimp

What you get with a free account:

You can send to up to 2,000 contacts for free! (Total emails must not exceed 12,000 a month).

You get most of the bells and whistles that you would with a paid account including A/B split testing, automation, segmentation and abandon cart.

You miss out on some of their premium features including send time optimisation, advanced segmentation and premium support.

Paid Plans: $50 a month for 5,000 subscribers… $75 for 10,000… $1,500 for 350,000.

Pros: Mailchimp is a joy to use. The builder is one of the best I’ve ever used, the support documents are clear and comprehensive and the templates are clean and elegant. When it comes to list management you can deep dive and do some detailed segmentation (these people haven’t engaged for 6 months for example, let’s reengage them). It’s also compatible with EVERYTHING. Mailchimp are one of the biggest and most tech savvy out their so their platform works with most plugins and third party apps.

Cons: While the free plan is extremely generous, the paid plans are on the pricey side and unless you’re using all the bells and whistles simply might not be cost effective. I also found, in my case, that the deliverability on the shared plan wasn’t quite as good as some of the others I tested.

You can see their website here

Mailer Lite

What you get with a free account:

You can send to up to 1,000 contacts for free. (Total emails must not exceed 12,000 a month).

You get a lot from the free plan including split testing, RSS campaigns, advanced segmentation and certainly everything you need to get started in terms of growing your list and sending out professional looking emails.

You do miss out on some of their premium features including some of the newsletter templates, auto resend, deliver by time zone, opens by location and premium support.

Paid Plans: $30 a month for 5,000 subscribers… $50 for 10,000… $1,170 for 350,000.

Pros: Very reasonable pricing. Flexible design options with templates – one of the best builders out there. with Mailer Lite you also get their 24/7 Live Chat support which is very decent and a huge step up from the email support many other provide, which can often be slow and frustrating. It integrates nicely which a huge array of plugins and apps.

Cons: There deliverability is not always perfect but there is the option to have a dedicated IP. They also do not allow affiliate links in emails which will be a no no for a lot of people, especially Internet marketers.

You can see their website here

Mad Mimi

What you get with a free account:

N/A. They used to offer free accounts but now only offer paid plans. However, their paid plans are very reasonable which is why they’re included on this list.

Paid Plans: $27 a month for 5,000 subscribers… $42 for 10,000… $1,049 for 350,000.

Pros: Super simple to use. Beautiful clean templates. Web forms are easy to add to your website and compatible with a number of plugins.

Cons: Bit light on features (although this might be a plus for some). The focus is on being streamlined. Write your email, send it. If you’re looking for in-depth automation and other bells and whistles their platform won’t be right for you.

You can see their website here

Benchmark Email

What you get with a free account:

You can send to up to 2,000 contacts for free! (Total emails must not exceed 14,000 a month).

You really just get the basics from their free plan BUT to be honest when you’re starting out and growing your list, this is really all you’ll need. Features like segmentation and split testing don’t become that meaningful until you’re hit a certain level (5,000+ in my opinion).

Some of the premium features you miss out on with the free plan include: automation, cart abandonment, targeted emailing and A/B testing.

Paid Plans: $51.99 a month for 5,000 subscribers… $81.99 for 10,000… $1,526.99 for 350,000.

Pros: Easy to use and learn. They have a slick drag and drop visual editor, with basic photo editing within the platform and if you’re looking for something straightforward that’s quick to setup and run this is a strong contender. Their customer service is also very decent on live chat.

Cons: It’s not quite as feature rich as the competition, particularly with regards to automation, tracking and integration with plugins and apps. There have also been a few hiccups with deliverability.

You can see their website here

Active Campaign

What you get with a free account:

N/A. You can get a 14 day free trial but that’s it.

Paid Plans: $89 a month for 5,000 subscribers… $139 for 10,000… $459 for 100,000.

Above are the prices for their ‘Lite’ plan (which is most comparable to the other offerings in this article)

Pros: These guys are the automation kings. They’ve turned a traditionally complicated feature into a thing of beauty. Good deliverability because they are strict about who they take on. They have an excellent CRM if you’re looking to upgrade and use it as your all in one platform. Live chat support is excellent. If you’re looking for an ‘all in one’ package that lets you do email marketing, payments and CRM in a seamless, user friendly way then this is definitely worth looking at.

Cons: It’s pricey but then really this is a different offering to the others in terms of features. It’s more geared to those looking for a platform that also incorporates sales and advanced contact management further down the line. They are strict on no Internet marketing which will be a red flag for some. The email is builder is fine but if nit-picking has a couple of annoying quirks.

You can see their website here

Quick interlude… AWS by Amazon explained and why it changes everything

Before I take you through our final three selections I want to talk to you about something called AWS by Amazon.

When most people think of Amazon they think of online shopping and a vast marketplace of goods that can be delivered to your home next day (sometimes in just hours).

Although that’s what Amazon are famous for, it’s not actually what makes them the lion’s share of their profits.

In reality they make most of their money from AWS or Amazon Web Services which is their cloud computing arm.

In plain English AWS offers a huge array of digital services from data storage and video streaming to deployment services such as…

You guessed it, email sending.

The way most email service providers work is that they have a bunch of servers and create a bit of software that runs off those servers and gives end users the computational punch to upload their list and send out email broadcasts.

In other words they do two things:

1. They provide the physical hardware you need to send out emails (in the form of servers) that can most people can’t store in their home or office and would be prohibitively expensive to buy, maintain and run.

2. They provide a platform (a piece of software) that you can use to run the whole thing from wherever you are in a beautifully simple, uncomplicated way. So in effect you don’t have to worry about any of the technical stuff. You just type and email and hit send.

Obviously they do some other stuff, but this is the gist of it.

The trouble is email service providers often charge an arm and a leg for all this. You’re paying their overheads… their staff… storage… support… maintenance and so on.

That’s fair enough. But if you’ve got a little bit of patience you can use Amazon’s AWS offering instead an craft a powerful solution for a fraction of the price – as much as 10 X less (that’s not a typo).

This is a way to harness the awesome power of Amazon to send up to 62,000 emails a month for free… or 350,000 emails a month at up to 5x less

The trouble with AWS is that it’s not a user-friendly piece of email sending software, it just provides the brawn with which you can plugin something else in to do the rest for you.

That’s where the next three selections come in. They work with AWS to offer you an easy way to send email broadcasts.

But before we get to those, here’s some more information about how it all fits together.

It involves 2 steps…

1. You have to setup a free AWS account first. If you use one of the services below they take you through this process with screenshots. It’s not intuitive but it is easy to follow. This is a one time setup.

2. You link this up to one of the services below and then go about your business as you would with an email service provider.

So, yes there is an extra step involved at the beginning, but once you’re set up you have the same kind of functionality you have with the ‘normal’ email providers, with great deliverability… and at a fraction of the cost.

Let me briefly explain how the costings work. This is the ONE thing that put me off trying AWS for years. I’m kicking myself now because it really is a non-issue if you take a second to understand it.

When you do email sending via AWS you have two costs.

The first is to the email service provider. They have monthly fixed rates like every other one listed in this article – as you’ll see below.

The second is to Amazon. The first 62,000 emails you send out are free. After that they charge $0.10 per 1,000 names. This equates to roughly $100 per 100,000 sends.

As you’ll see one of the options listed below, Sendy, costs just $59 (that’s a one time fee). On top of this you only ever have to pay the Amazon costs.

That means your first 62,000 emails a month cost you absolutely nothing – compared with Mailchimp who charge $375 EVERY MONTH for the same number of sends.

After that it’s another $100 per 100,000 sends. So to use Mailchimp as the comparison, you’re looking at less than $300 a month with Sendy vs $1,500 a month with Mailchimp.

Still with me? Great, let’s look at the final three offerings and hopefully everything will become clear.

Moon Mail

What you get with a free account:

You can send to up to 300 contacts for free.

You get basic support included in your free account but not a great deal more. You need a paid account for automations, DKIM and SPF configuration and a bunch of other advanced features.

Paid Plans: $23.99 a month for 25,000 subscribers… $47.99 for 70,000… $319.99 for 1,000,000.

Moon Mail uses AWS by Amazon which lets you send 62,000 emails a month free. After this they charge $0.10 per 1,000 names which equates to roughly $100 per 100,000 sends.

Pros: Its beauty is in its simplicity. It’s extremely fast to upload your list and start using the system. The template builder is basic but it works and doesn’t lag. The deliverability is good.

Cons: It’s not the most feature rich solution out there. The editor is pretty basic and the automation facilities, while present, are behind most of the big ‘traditional’ players. However if you’re looking for something that’s quick, simple and gets into people’s inboxes then it’s a solid choice.

You can see their website here

Email Octopus

What you get with a free account:

You can send to up to 2,500 contacts for free!

This is the most generous free plan I’ve come across to date and it’s genuinely free because Amazon costs don’t kick in if you’re sending less than 62,000 emails a month.

You only get basic support with the free plan and no automation facilities.

Paid Plans: $39 a month for 50,000 subscribers… $59 for 100,000… $109 for 250,000

Email Octopus uses AWS by Amazon which lets you send 62,000 emails a month free. After this they charge $0.10 per 1,000 names which equates to roughly $100 per 100,000 sends.

Pros: Email Octopus is beautifully laid out and extremely fast loading. Because it uses AWS you also get a really good deliverability rate.

Cons: It’s no frills. Though easy to use, the editor is very basic and a tad buggy at times. There aren’t many advanced reporting or segmentation options and the automation tools – though present are pretty limited.

You can see their website here

Sendy

What you get with a free account:

N/A – you have to buy the software to get access.

Paid Plans: $59 one time fee.

Sendy uses AWS by Amazon which lets you send 62,000 emails a month free. After this Amazon charge $0.10 per 1,000 names which equates to roughly $100 per 100,000 sends.

In other words, once you’re setup you effectively get 62,000 email sends a month for free! This is by far the best value of any offering on the market that I’ve come across.

Pros: Once, you’ve bought the software and installed it sending out emails to up to 62,000 contacts a month is free. After that it’s incredibly cheap – the cheapest on this list. The reporting on Sendy is comprehensive and beautifully presented. You can also do some really decent segmentation (for example you can segment people who haven’t interacted with your emails for a period of time you define). The editor is decent and simple enough to use. There’s also automation on there as well (although it’s mainly limited to date related activity).

Cons: It’s really is not an easy thing to setup. You have to install Sendy on a web server. This in of itself is not a problem (if you’re building an email list, you will almost certainly have a website already) but the installation process is complicated.

So… if you do go down this route, unless you’re pretty tech minded, you’ll want to opt for a professional to install it for you. Sendy offer this service for $79 or you can try and hire someone on UpWork or Fiverr for around the same price (but do check their reviews first!)

You can see their website here

Hang on! What should I do? Just tell me which one to go for

I’ve bombarded you with information here because I wanted to give you the most comprehensive report possible.

It could have been worse – right now there are over 400 different email service providers on the market!

But I don’t want to overwhelm with choice here. If after reading the above and checking out their respective offerings you’re feeling a bit uncertain please don’t worry.

I’m going to break it down for you now and give you my independent low down.

#Option 1 – Just give me the EASIEST, fastest option

Just go with Mailchimp.

They have a very feature rich and easy to use platform and a very generous free account which lets you send out emails to up to 2,000 contacts.

That’s pretty amazing.

You’ll have a VERY professional tool for nothing and when you outgrow their free offering you can revisit the situation. If you’re bringing in a decent income at this stage you may want to stay with Mailchimp for ease, but if as you approach your 2,000 limit you’re feeling a little more tech savvy and want to save yourself a few hundred pounds a year, come back to this page and revisit some of the other options listed. I would personally consider looking at one of the Amazon AWS options. Moving across is fairly straightforward – just make sure you download your list to move it across!

#Option 2 – I’m a little more tech savvy. Give me the most cost-effective option

Start out with Email Octopus and their very generous 2,500 contact limit on the free plan. This gives you the longest possible free period for building up your list and sending out emails.

If you’re not doing anything too complex – and you shouldn’t be if your list size is under 2,500 – it really has everything you need. When you near your limit you can then revisit the situation.

If you’re happy with Email Octopus you can always stay with them but you’ll also have the option to move to Sendy and if you want to make further savings – your AWS account will already be up and running so you’d be part of the way there.

#Option 3 – I’ve got a product and a decent sized list already – give me an all in one solution

If you’ve already got a product, a decent sized list and some income coming in, it might be worth looking at something that can house your whole operation for you – so that you’re not bustling between different platforms that don’t always talk to each other.

Active Campaign is a very strong contender if you’re after that all in one solution – something where you can set up products, manage contacts, take payments and do all your email marketing and automation.

I hope this helps.

Everyone is different and everyone will have different expectations so whatever you do read up about any email service provider you’re thinking of using first. Then, where possible, take out a demo or free trial first as this is where you’ll really get a feel for things.

Have you had experience using an email service provider? What positives and pitfalls have you come across?