How Do I Choose an ESP (Email Service Provider) For My Start-Up’s Email Marketing Plan?

Email-Service-ProviderYou’ve tested your app, you’re ready to launch, and with your small staff and shoestring budget, you know you need to use all the resources available to promote your business — including email marketing. With so many email solutions companies to choose, all offering different options and very different price ranges (free for very small lists, $10-$100’s for average users, up to $10k’s per month for million-subscriber campaigns), you need to know what are the bare minimum requirements a startup should look for, and what features can you get by without?

The basic minimums should include:

  • WYSIWYG editor. A professional email newsletter should have a consistent format, based on a HTML- or CSS-coded template. But you probably don’t have an editorial or marketing team dedicated just to your newsletters. Save time and frustration by making sure your email solutions company offers an editor that lets you see the “live” version as well as the code.
  • Ability to create workflows. Make the email solution program do the work for you. It should have the ability to analyze the demographics of your customer base and send specific emails, schedule email blasts with a calendar app, and send automatic replies, just to start.
  • Clear, no-nonsense analytics that show your recipient database’s demographics, as well as involvement and open rates. The software should help you make sub-lists and target them with specific emails that will interest and involve those populations. For instance, welcome emails, or happy birthday coupons.
  • Dependability. The ESP’s servers should have multiple connections to the Internet and server backups. Since they are tracking your links, all traffic goes through them, so if their servers go down, your links will too.
  • Competent, friendly, knowledgeable customer service, by phone, during regular business hours. Their company approach to email marketing should be contemporary to today’s business world, not stuck in the 20th century. Further, their pricing plans should be clear and transparent before you pay.

Things You Can Get By Without:

  • A yearly contract. You shouldn’t need to sign up for more than a month at a time for any effective, affordable ESP.
  • Purchasing emails lists. This is a sure way for your email to get marked as spam, and may violate the CAN-SPAM Act. It can be tempting to have an instant audience, but your open rates and click-through rate will be much higher — and your unsubscribe rate lower — if you cultivate your audience via social media, sign-up lists, your web site, and other opt-in opportunities.
  • Social media integration is helpful, but may be more than you need right now. You should have a Twitter and Facebook presence, but if you’re focusing only on email marketing right now, you may not need your ESP to deliver analytics of your followers’ demographics, click-through rates, and impact on posts.
  • However, if you are planning on moving from email to social media within the next year, consider purchasing an ESP with social marketing integration. The extra cost may be worth saving you the headaches of switching software, porting files, templates, databases, and retraining staff a few months down the road.
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