Today, something a bit different. Instead of discussing The Turning Gate’s products, I want to share with you one of our marketing tools. It’s one that’s made a tremendous difference for us, a difference weighed in dollars and in peace of mind, and one that you might like to consider for your own businesses, photographic or otherwise.
As an independent business, direct marketing is an important part of The Turning Gate’s outreach strategy, such as it is. We blog, and we post to social media, but we reach our largest audience by far with our newsletter.
Many among our audience operate as independent photographers, whether as full-time or part-time shooters. I get some of your newsletters; some of you maybe don’t send newsletters, but probably should.
Thing is, newsletter service providers run quite the racket, and the cost of maintaining a large mailing list can be exorbitant for a small business. And so I’d like to introduce you to Sendy, the best $59 I’ve spent on our business in 2016.
We have a large, organically grown mailing list.
In 2015, I spent $590 USD on MadMimi’s newsletter services. Between January and October, I had sent six newsletters at a cost of $59 per month, then put my membership on hold.
Had I been using MailChimp instead, the size of my mailing list would have cost $150 per month, and my total over that same period would have been an estimated $1,500 USD, based on their pricing table.
Using Sendy, I relaunched our newsletter in Feburary 2016 and, tallying through November, have sent eight newsletters for a total cost of $69.30. That number includes the $59 purchase price for the Sendy software; my month expenses for newsletters sent have ranged from $1.27 to $1.30 as my mailing list has grown.
Now, here’s the long version.
For perspective, some background information:
The Turning Gate released its first Lightroom plugin in 2007. I cannot recall when we began to keep a contact list, but it’s been quite a long while. Without exception, contacts on our list have downloaded at least one of our Lightroom plugins, have purchased Backlight, or have manually subscribed. We have never purchased contacts, or used artificial means to inflate our list.
Since sending our first newsletter in November of 2012, our mailing list has more than doubled in size.
Getting started, I first looked to my inbox, at newsletters I had received to see where they were coming from. I quickly identified MailChimp and MadMimi as services of interest, and checked out a few others as well.
For MailChimp, I had heard good things, and I liked the look of the newsletters I’d received from others using their service. For free, they allowed a mailing list of up to 2,000 contacts, and 12,000 emails per month. Beyond that threshold, though, their prices quickly balloon.
Ultimately, I went with MadMimi. With a user-friendly interface and good statistics tracking, and at $59/mo, they were more reasonably priced for my needs than MailChimp would have been.
I stayed with MadMimi from November 2012 until October 2015, sending 28 newsletters in total.
Of that 28, only six were sent between January and October of 2015. At that time, we were deep into developing Backlight and had little need for email blasts. At that point in the year, I had spent $590 in monthly fees, and I was feeling fairly ridiculous over it, so put the newsletter on hiatus.
Ahead of launching Backlight, I knew the newsletter would be coming back, but with the previous year’s numbers in mind, I was loathe to sign again with MadMimi. I started researching alternatives, and that’s when I discovered Sendy.
I restarted the newsletter in February of this year, and it’s November now, so a comparable time period to that of our mailing period in 2015.
So far in 2016, I have dispatched eight newsletters and have spent a total $69.30, which includes the $59 buy-in for the Sendy software, then monthly fees ranging $1.27 to $1.30 as our mailing list has grown.
In March and September, I didn’t send a newsletter at all; my newsletter overhead those months was zero. Had I been with MadMimi, it would have been a recurring $59 fee, even with nothing sent.
At this point, it should be perfectly obvious why I’m in love with Sendy!
So, what exactly is Sendy? How is it different? And how is it so inexpensive to use compared to its competition? Also, why haven’t you heard of it before this?
Sendy is built by Hex, in Singapore. Like The Turning Gate, Hex is two people building web apps. You probably haven’t heard of them because, like The Turning Gate, they lack the marketing budget to be MailChimp, so largely depend on word-of-mouth advertising.
Whereas MailChimp and MadMimi are subscription-based services, Sendy is a piece of software that you purchase once, then host yourself. I have Sendy running alongside The Turning Gate’s website, on my MediaTemple server.
It can be inexpensive because Sendy mails your campaigns via Amazon SES (Simple Email Service), avoiding email limits set by your host, while ensuring a high deliverability rate.
To be perfectly honest, I found the setup of Sendy and Amazon SES, and the creation of the necessary cron jobs to be unintuitive. For starters, I had to figure out what a cron job is. Using Sendy’s documentation as a guide, though, I was able to wade through the vast confusion of setting up Amazon’s web services, and then used preexisting information in Sendy’s support forum to set the cron jobs. It took me a few hours of setup, then trial and error, before I was ready to compose my first newsletter. It’s been smooth sailing ever after, though.
For composing, Sendy includes a WYSIWYG editor, though I prefer to author my newsletters externally in pure HTML and CSS, then use MailChimp’s CSS Inliner Tool to convert my CSS into inline styling to ensure it will display correctly in various mail clients when sent.
Sendy includes detailed reporting for sent campaigns, tracking messages received, opened, bounced, spammed or clicked on, geography and more.
Sendy also integrates nicely with our SendOwl-powered shop, with SendOwl automatically updating our mailing list with new contacts when orders are placed. Sendy also keeps track of bounced emails, unsubscribed addresses, etc.
In short, I love Sendy. And in researching this article, I’ve discovered they have an affiliate program, so I’m going to jump on that before I post this. (Update: Done!)
My sincerest hope is that you will consider Backlight to be the best money you’ve spent on your business in 2016, at least insofar as software. But if Backlight and Sendy top your list together, then I’ll consider ourselves in good company and won’t fret too much over the whether or not we have the top spot.
Here’s the bottom line. If you’re mailing list is so small that you can use MailChimp for free, then do it; but get to work growing that list, because it’s too small. Otherwise, if you’re spending anything at all on your mailing list, then you’re probably spending too much; do yourself a favor, and give Sendy a look. It’s superb, and will likely save you hundreds, if not thousands of dollars in the long term.