#TestWriter: Using Mailchimp (or, What the Heck am I Doing?)

First of all, thanks to all of you who subscribe to my blog, whether you’re engaged and commenting or just passively looking at my posts. You’re here, so thanks so much for being here! However, most of you are WordPress members, which tells me I’m really not getting much traction outside of WordPress. Since I’d heard so much about Mailchimp (and services like it) and how it benefits indie authors and small businesses getting noticed, I thought I’d try it.

Um…What’s Mailchimp?

I will say up front: After creating an account and working with some of the features  for a couple of months, I had no idea what Mailchimp actually did. I needed to find more people who would be interested enough in my blog to subscribe. Mailchimp doesn’t do that. What it does is “help you share email and ad campaigns with clients, customers, and other interested parties.” So they do the back office work of marketing that most of us creative types don’t know how to do. How do we tell all our blog followers that they can get a new book of ours for free? How do we point them exactly to our product straight from their email? How do we let our fans know that the content they want from us is here? This is what Mailchimp helps you with. If you have no fans, (or if they are all on WordPress), Mailchimp is not going to be your scout. (And if I had read their “getting started” post about their service, I would have known that.)

So, how do you use it?

So think of Mailchimp as your online, digital marketing department.  You create campaigns–some just for one time or one event, some of them will be ongoing. A one time event for a writer would be like a book launch, or a giveaway; whereas, an ongoing campaign maybe sending out a weekly newsletter. An event may require one campaign or more than one depending on who you are trying to reach and what you’re trying to advertise.

For instance: I want to advertise the release of Volume 3 of my Owen & Makayla Trilogy.  I’m going to create several marketing campaigns, so I can reach all my potential customers: 1 giveaway using a landing page, 1 Facebook ad, 1 email notifying my blog subscribers of the release, and 1 Instagram ad. I can use Mailchimp to create each of these campaigns, send them to respected parties when I specify, and then gather statistics and present me with reports on how each of these are doing (effectiveness).

The Positives

  1. So now that I knew what Mailchimp was for, I found it to be pretty easy to use for the amount of customization I can do. The templates for email had a lot of customizable features to navigate. While I love that ability, that’s going to make it more difficult for people who really struggle with technology. But that’s the trade-off with all technology: either it is easy to use but has less customization, or has more customization and is harder to use. The only obstacle I found is the compatibility with Wordpress–but more on that later.
  2. Even if you’re operating on a small scale, you can use a lot of features for free. The account set-up is based on features you want, number of subscribers, and number of emails sent per month: (table from Mailchimp.com, Oct. 2018)
The Basics Free Grow Pro
Subscribers 2,000 Unlimited* Unlimited*
Emails per Month 12,000 Unlimited* Unlimited*

Since I only had 6 email subscribers at the time and didn’t really have a lot to promote, I customized and created an email ad campaign for free. So, you look pretty professional, which hopefully woos your “interested parties,” and gets you increased engagement.

The Negatives/Tips to help

  1. Like I said above, Mailchimp is pretty easy to use. That is, except with WordPress.com. Some of the features have to have a special script to engage with WordPress. Others can’t be customized like you want them, unless you have the WordPress business account. I wanted to add my WordPress users, but I can’t because I only have a premium membership–no plugins. But even with that, I see more negative reviews for the Mailchimp plugin on WordPress than positive. Bottom line: the platforms just don’t work well with each other.
  2. You have to find and read the guides and tutorials (which are better and more up-front now) to understand how to use some of the tools fully. Mailchimp has updated its site since I first started using it, so finding and understanding the tools and why you need them is better than when I first started. But you still really have to do your HW before you can jump in. In the example below, I created 3 drafts of an email campaign, because I thought it was ongoing. It wasn’t. None of them were.
  3. Prep your account before you need it, or you will have to find and create everything from scratch. Every time you need it. You really need to set up your account (lists, upload logos and brand identity stuff, create templates) before you even begin an actual campaign. Otherwise, you’re going to get frustrated trying to create every new piece of marketing collateral. I didn’t set my default logo, and even though I’ve used the email campaigns for a few months, it’s like starting from scratch when I decided to create a landing page. So now, I really need to go to my account and see how functional it really is. Otherwise creating my campaigns for the release of Owen & Makayla part 3 will be torturous.

Bottom Line

A Mailchimp account is a great asset to have for an author, but it doesn’t do everything.

  1. First, have your marketing plan together,
  2. then read up on how to use Mailchimp,
  3. then set up your account so it’s ready to help implement that plan.

Follow these steps in order to get the most out of this service.

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