This article isn’t about how your small business should be doing email marketing.
It’s not even about why your small business should be doing email marketing.
By now, we think email marketing has more than proven its worth. There’s no shortage of research that shows that email marketing generates around $44 for every $1 spent. Or that 81% of small businesses rely on email marketing as their main acquisition channel.
Plus, there are plenty of best practice tips on how to run targeted, effective email campaigns available online (including our little guide here).
We’re just going to make the assumption that you already know that you want to run email marketing campaigns.
Or, that you’re already running them – but are wondering whether there’s another email marketing service that could help you run them better.
Luckily, there is a whole market of email marketing software specifically geared toward small business.
We’re talking about tools that are easy on the budget, simple to use, and come with all the features you need to do email marketing well – whether you want to send newsletters, transactional emails, automated campaigns, or even set up landing pages.
So who are they, and which one should you choose for your small business?
To answer that question, let’s start by examining the key features your tool will need.
Here’s our quick checklist of things to look for in an email provider. Some of these features may be more important to you than others, and deciding on which will help you determine which tool is right for you.
☑ Ease of use – If you’re running a small business, you probably don’t have a lot of time to dedicate to learning the ins and outs of a complex new tool. An intuitive platform with a fast, easy-to-use email editor (and ready-to-go templates, preferably) is your best bet for cutting down the time you spend on building campaigns.
☑ Solid deliverability – The spam folder is the last place you want your email to end up! As you’ll see in our list below, some providers do a good job of avoiding spam filters, while others seem to be a bit more hit-and-miss.
☑ Segmentation – Tools that include features like forms, tagging and dynamically-generated groups will help you target your campaigns, and make sure you only send to relevant subscribers.
☑ Reporting – It doesn’t have to be super sophisticated (although there are tools that give you deep level reporting, if you really want it). Just something that will help you quickly see open and click-through rates, and get a feel for how your campaigns are performing.
☑ Autoresponders (and automation) – Because you don’t want to be manually sending a welcome email every time someone signs up for your service! Autoresponders are an absolutely crucial part of small business email marketing (think order confirmations, renewal reminders etc). And if you want to take them to the next level, choose a tool that offers advanced automations, such as web-triggered campaigns and lead scoring.
Now let’s take a look at the best email marketing tools for small business, and how each one delivers against these criteria.
This powerhouse of a platform is for small businesses that are really serious about email marketing. By that, we mean businesses who want to run laser-targeted automations, and integrate their email with other key tools (such as CRM, website, online store, or support desk). With an inbuilt CRM, SMS distribution, and the ability to manage personalized Facebook ads and site messages, there’s very little that this US-based provider doesn’t do, so it’s an attractive option for marketers who want an all-in-one sales and marketing solution.
What we like: Automations are ActiveCampaign’s specialty, so the different automations on offer are almost limitless – you can build complex workflows based on email engagement, web events, and events in third-party tools (e.g. purchases or support tickets). Segmentation features are advanced, with the ability to use automations to organize people into lists. As you’d expect, the reports are excellent, with options to view reports on deals, automations and contact trends. And finally, ActiveCampaign have consistently performed well in our deliverability tests. Solid choice, all around.
Where they can improve: With so many complex features, ActiveCampaign can take a bit of work to get used to. It hasn’t really been built with complete beginners in mind. The comparatively higher pricing also reflects the extra features, so you’d need to have a good amount of budget allocated for it.
Recommended for: Small businesses and online stores looking to run advanced automations, and to centralize their online sales and marketing processes.
GetResponse is another powerful email automation provider, offering triggered campaigns, automated segments, dynamic content, and tagging. But it also includes some very handy extra features, such as landing pages, CRM, and even webinars. It’s little wonder, then, that customers worldwide are signing up to GetResponse – they currently serve over 350,000 clients in 183 countries.
What we like: GetResponse’s automations are first-rate, letting you run all kinds of campaigns, including automated ecommerce and subscriber management campaigns. You also get free stock photos, and a bucketload of integrations. And of course, the fact that it comes with both a landing page editor and webinars sets it apart from the competition.
Where they can improve: The email designs could do with a bit of a refresh (although they’re mobile-responsive, at least). Our deliverability tests also show that GetResponse aren’t the strongest in this area.
Recommended for: Businesses looking to run complex automations, and who want to integrate landing pages and webinars.
This relatively new email provider is steadily building a reputation for itself as a decent, value-for-money tool. Why? Because, for the low price you pay, you get a surprisingly generous amount of features, including landing pages, marketing automation and advanced segmentation. What’s more – MailerLite make the tool super accessible with an easy-to-use interface, and by offering a decently-featured free plan for up to 1,000 subscribers.
Note: 30% discount available for yearly payments
What we like: MailerLite ticks all the boxes – it’s simple to use and offers good deliverability, great segmentation, reports and autoresponders. The landing page editor is a handy bonus, too. Plus, the relatively low pricing (and free plan!) makes it extremely affordable. In short, it’s a tool that caters perfectly to small business.
Where they can improve: Autoresponders are on the basic side – just enough to set up the most simple triggered campaigns. It doesn’t come with a huge template range, either (and none on the free plan), so you’ll probably need to use their visual editor to create your own. Finally, it doesn’t offer a spam or design testing feature – if you wanted these, they’d need to be performed externally.
Recommended for: Small businesses looking for a low-cost (or free) solution that offers ease of use and a good range of added features.
It’s probably the world’s best-known (and loved) newsletter tool, and for a small business, MailChimp is definitely worthy of consideration. It comes with some with useful features, including automations, landing pages, A/B testing, and advanced reporting. You can also choose between a monthly plan, pay-as-you-go credits, or even a free plan (with 12,000 emails per month for up to 2,000 subscribers).
What we liked: MailChimp places a strong focus on design, which is evident in its easy-to-use editor and modern-looking email templates. If you’re an ecommerce, MailChimp offers some of the best automation options out there, including abandoned cart and purchase confirmation emails. Reporting is superb, too, with data around social media and conversions. There are also hundreds of integrations available, making it one of the most versatile email marketing tools.
Where they can improve: The automation editor lacks a workflow view, so isn’t the most intuitive to use. List management isn’t the best, either – it doesn’t remove duplicates and lists are kept isolated from another. It also has one of the strictest acceptable use policies, and isn’t ideal if your business deals with affiliate marketing, healthcare products, real estate or novelty products. And it’s certainly not the cheapest provider out there – surprising, given its popularity (which just goes to show the power of great marketing!). Note – we’ve noticed that emails from MailChimp tend to go to Gmail’s Promotions folder.
Recommended for: Businesses who don’t plan to send many emails regularly would benefit from MailChimp’s flexible pay-as-you-go pricing, or even its free plan. Ecommerce businesses might also find MailChimp’s range of automations useful.
SendInBlue is something of an email marketing all-rounder, offering a feature list that would make some other better-known tools blush – and at extremely competitive prices, too. We’re talking about automations, transactional emails, SMS, landing pages, and dynamic segments. And prices that seem almost too good to be true (not to mention a decently-featured free plan). Let’s take a look in more detail.
What we liked: SendInBlue’s prices are hard to beat, with their lowest plan starting at $25/month for up to 40,000 subscribers. And the fact that you get so much for the little you pay is incredible. For instance, we love that you can send transactional emails (invoices, password resets) straight from the tool. Automations are also pretty advanced, with options to build campaigns based on email clicks, opens, and web visits.
Where they can improve: Deliverability rates for SendInBlue could do with an uplift. Also, we experienced a few issues with the email editor being a little slow at times.
Recommended for: Budget-conscious businesses looking for a tool that does a little bit of everything.
If ease of use is at the top of your list, Benchmark is a worthy contender. Offering a simple, stripped-back interface, and a fast, intuitive email editor, Benchmark offers a pleasant user experience all around. Feature-wise, they have all your basics covered, plus some nice extras such as marketing automation and spam and design testing.
What we liked: We think Benchmark have done a great job of design, in both their minimalist interface and their modern, mobile-responsive email templates. We also like that automations are presented in a workflow editor, and that they offer automation templates to help you start setting up your workflows quickly and easily. Plus, there’s a free plan that gives you access to most features, and lets you send 14,000 emails per month (for up to 2,000 subscribers).
Where they can improve: In our tests, deliverability rates were a cause for concern. This may not be the case for you but it’s worth keeping in mind. Automations aren’t as advanced as you’d find in tools like ActiveCampaign or GetResponse, and you have to pay extra to upload more than 10MB of images (which you will).
Recommended for: Business owners who need a gentle learning curve in their email tool. As deliverability could be an issue, we’d also only recommend Benchmark for smaller mailing lists.
Omnisend is an email service that helps online store owners take their email campaigns to the next level. Aside from a long list of clever ecommerce automations like abandoned cart campaigns and product recommendation emails, Omnisend also offers unique features such as online scratch cards, gift boxes, and ‘wheel of fortune’ incentives. A/B testing and website tracking are included, too.
What we liked: Ecommerce is definitely Omnisend’s strong suit. The range and depth of integrations available with online stores is impressive. There’s even integration with Google ads for retargeting campaigns, and options to segment lists based on purchase data. The tool also includes some very nice landing page templates. Plus, there’s a free plan that lets you send up to 15,000 emails per month (max. 2,000 per day).
Where they can improve: There’s just a handful of templates available that more closely resemble layouts rather than thoroughly-designed templates. Outside of ecommerce, there aren’t a heap of automations available.
Recommended for: For online stores, the integrations, automations and extra features are really hard to beat.
Once upon a time, Mailify was an email service that needed to be installed on your computer. After witnessing the explosion in popularity of cloud-based tools, the company launched Mailify Sunrise, a brand-new web version of their app. It’s slick and modern, with some gorgeous-looking templates and extras that include automations, landing pages, and SMS. Data-conscious businesses will be pleased to know that you’ve still got the option to keep your data saved locally, if you’d prefer for it to not be hosted in the cloud.
What we liked: The tool just looks cool, with a black background and icons that pop with colour (imagine Spotify, but for email marketing). It’s also easy to use, and has a zippy and intuitive email editor. We really like the effort they’ve put into their email templates, too, which are some of the nicest looking we’ve seen. Plus, they’ve baked plenty of flexibility into their email editor, allowing you to tweak templates pretty much as you please.
Where they can improve: Automations and segmentation features are a little on the basic side. For example, just a few autoresponders come included within their automations. One thing to note – Mailify’s plans are priced based on number of email sends, so if your volumes change from month to month, it’s not the best deal you can get.
Recommended for: Businesses who want access to a good range of email templates, and a tool that’s generally easy to use. Also highly recommended for those wanting to keep their data offline, as not many tools offer this option.
Maybe you have big plans to automate your email marketing and get serious about using it as an acquisition channel.
Or, you’d just like to send out a simple little newsletter every now and then.
As we’ve shown you, there are a whole range of email marketing services available – and at least one that would suit your needs.
So, consider your budget, as well as the features that are absolutely essential. You can even compare the different tools here.
Don’t have any budget to spend? No worries – there are plenty of free tools that can work for you.
And if you’re still not sure, you can always use our Newsletter Service Smart Finder to point you in the right direction.
Email marketing doesn’t have to be complicated, and if you’ve got the right email service, you can be confident that you’re doing it in a way that’s easy, secure, and will get you results that will make the effort worthwhile.
Got any questions about the small business email marketing tools we’ve discussed? Post them in the comments below!