Email marketing, out of all marketing channels, yields the highest return on investment. That’s why it also leads the list amongst these 10 completely free marketing strategies for startups and SMEs. Having an email marketing program in place can be entirely free of charge for you, so setting this up is an absolute no-brainer. The only time-wasting task is to find the perfect service for your needs, which is why I have reviewed the best free newsletter programs for startups below.
What’s in it for you: Find a completely free email marketing program to keep in touch with your fans and increase your sales.
Defining A Good Email Marketing Program
A good email marketing program should do one thing exceptionally well: Convert website visitors into paying clients. Since most first-time website visitors are not ready to buy quite yet, it is important to collect their email address and slowly build up a relationship of trust.
Of course, no newsletter program can develop and implement your email marketing strategy for you, and you will have to create the email content yourself. (Unless you decide to save time and outsource it.)
Capturing Leads And Automating Your Email Marketing
However, a good newsletter program facilitates capturing and nurturing leads. Most importantly, the best email software offers powerful automation features, so you can automate your email marketing and focus your personal skills and valuable time towards developing your startup.
Of course, the service you opt for should also be easy to understand, and in the best case even offers a helpful customer service to assist with any questions you may have.
Despite being a big fan (and active user) of MailerLite, I fully understand that amongst newsletter programs there is no ‘one-fits-all’ solution, since all startups have different requirements when it comes to email marketing.
Therefore, I decided to introduce a few different services to you, all of them having their pros and cons. If you need tailor-made advice, feel free to get in touch.
READ MORE: How To Create Great Newsletters
Rating Criteria For Newsletter Programs
Determining the best free email newsletter system can be hard, so we had to set a few guidelines.
As the headline already unveils, all enlisted newsletter systems are completely free of charge – at least up to a certain number of subscribers. But as all startups should have visions and dreams, we also compared the costs for your email marketing program in a few months’ time.
To maximize efficiency in your startup marketing, you do need a newsletter system that offers powerful automation features. With automation, you can create so-called ‘workflows’. These are email series which are sent fully automated to your subscribers. Best use case is e.g. an email series of welcome emails once a new subscriber signs up to your newsletter, which explains your product or service, builds up trust and hence drives subscribers deeper into your sales funnel.
An email newsletter system needs to be easy to understand. Nobody wants to waste a week trying to figure out their newsletter program. Especially not startups, where time is of the essence.
Since everybody has questions sooner or later, a helpful customer service is always appreciated. Unfortunately, not everybody offers that. More on this in the reviews below.
The Best Free Newsletter Programs For Startups
To make your life easy, the best free newsletter programs for startups are sorted from most valuable at the top towards the generally less suitable candidates at the bottom. As said, there is no ‘one-fits-all’ solution, but if you want to be efficient, try the first email marketing tool first. Should it not suit your needs for some reason, test the second, and so on.
As of late 2017, I have listed 3 free newsletter programs for startups, which I have all tested myself. Should you have further suggestions on suitable email marketing systems or thoughts and updates on the enlisted ones, please drop me a line in the comments below.
The beauty of MailerLite is that it includes all pro features in the free version already. The free plan allows unlimited emails and up to 1,000 subscribers. That’s less than some competitors, but in case you don’t make 10 USD a month from your list with 1,000 subscribers, chances are you never will, and you may want to review your email marketing strategy.
Amongst others, MailerLite offers an extremely powerful feature in the free plan: Automatic re-sends. After a specified time, e.g. 2-3 days, your newsletter is automatically sent to everybody who has not opened your email by then. You can alternate the subject line, to test what your recipients are best responding towards. This feature alone easily increases opening rates by 20-30%!
MailerLite User Interface And Customer Service
MailerLite is also the best free newsletter program for startups because it offers a super straightforward user interface and an excellent customer service. Yes, for free clients as well. Contact them via the chat function on their website, and count the seconds until someone replies.
MailerLite Signup Forms
The form creator, with which you create your signup forms, is sensationally easy to handle. It is not quite as versatile as some other options out there, but sophisticated creators can either code some HTML or opt for third party plugins. For most startups the onboard functions will do perfectly fine.
Costs for 10,000 subscribers: 35 USD / mth. Costs for 100,000 subscribers: 240 USD / mth.
Bonus points: When signing up for their newsletter, MailerLite sends you a pretty cool welcome video, highlighting that in the end email marketing is all about human beings. Very inspirational!
MailerLite Review Summary
Currently the most powerful and straightforward free newsletter program on the market.
SendPulse is the second big player offering free email marketing automation. The free plan includes 15,000 emails a month, up to 2,500 subscribers, hence by number of subscribers it’s the cheapest free newsletter program there is.
Customer Service Sendpulse
SendPulse also offers customer service, but it lacks far behind the MailerLite standard. Upon signing up to their newsletter, SendPulse’s Vice President of sales, Roy Weissmann, sends you an email offering a free talk to discuss your expectations of an email marketing program. Nice touch. However, once we actually found time to Skype, he didn’t seem too interested in my thoughts.
The live chat is often unavailable, but SendPulse’s ticket system works like a charm, and answers usually take less than an hour. Roy advised should I need help more urgently I can always call him via Skype – let’s see if I ever need to.
Sendpulse’s Artificial Intelligence
SendPulse’s big value proposition is their artificial intelligence. An algorithm determines when your recipients are best reachable, and schedules your emails accordingly. I wouldn’t vouch for this being the breaking point for your business, since most people also read emails they received a couple of hours ago, but certainly this AI will develop further.
Depending on your marketing strategy, SendPulse’s push notifications may prove to be efficient as well. In all honesty, I have never tried these, since I find them super annoying, and don’t want to annoy my fans and followers. But there might be a market for them out there. In case it’s for you, give it a shot – then evaluate stats and listen to your subscribers’ feedback.
One word of warning: Should you plan to scale quickly, please avoid SendPulse – their high-volume rates are ridiculous!
Costs for 10,000 subscribers: 45 USD / mth. Costs for 100,000 subscribers: 1,750 USD / mth.
Sendpulse Review Summary
Interesting approach to email marketing with lots of potential.
MailChimp, probably the world’s most widespread email marketing program, only made this list in spring 2017. That’s when they finally added automation to their free plan.
The reason MailChimp currently still dominates the market is simple: They were the first (and, for quite a while, the only ones) to offer a completely free email marketing solution. However, as the competition catches up, the giant monkey needs to get moving again, since the company has become a bit slow and clunky.
MailChimp Third Party Integrations
Up to 2,000 subscribers or 12,000 emails a month, whichever is reached first, are free, and you do get a solid package for that. Especially third party integrations work in MailChimp’s favor. Due to its popularity, it integrates with pretty much any sign-up form, e-commerce system, CRM and more. A full list of integrations can be found on their website. (Please ask yourself which integrations you actually need.)
MailChimp Signup Forms
Creating sign up forms with the onboard features, for example, often requires a bit of coding, if you want them to look good and distinct. MailChimp prefers to have all signup forms look the same, so everybody recognizes you as MailChimp user immediately. Kudos from a marketing point of view, thumbs down from a user’s perspective. Non-coders should use third party integrations.
MailChimp User Interface
Amongst the three, I like MailChimp’s user interface the least, but that is highly subjective, of course.
MailChimp Customer Service
Biggest malus: Unfortunately, the free plan doesn’t include any customer support at all. Despite having an extensive knowledge database and an active community, I always appreciate a friendly support person answering questions and offering guidance when things don’t work out as planned.
Should you be confident that you do not need customer service, then you may want to give MailChimp a try. I personally recommend trying the other two free newsletter programs first.
Costs for 10,000 subscribers: 75 USD / mth. Costs for 100,000 subscribers: 475 USD / mth.
MailChimp Review Summary
As often the case with market leaders, MailChimp got a bit too comfortable over the past years. Fingers crossed they can get back on top of the game again.
Honorable Mention: Drip
Drip needs to be mentioned for one single reason: They were the very first ones to introduce a forever free email marketing plan that included marketing automation. This was back in mid-2016, and I am very grateful that they took this important step and inspired the competition to follow.
Unfortunately, it only suffices for an honorable mention, since their free plan is limited to 100 subscribers, after which the costs rock up to 49 USD / mth. Too much, in my opinion, to make it into the top three best newsletter programs for startups.
Yes, you do need a newsletter program. Sign up for any or all of the above, play around with them for a bit, and stick with the one you feel most comfortable with.
If you find that any of the above-mentioned information has changed, or you discovered a terrific new email marketing software, please let me know in the comments below. Thank you!
And: Should at any stage you need assistance with your startup marketing strategy, feel free to reach out.