When we started our business and needed a newsletter solution, we chose Mailchimp because I was familiar with it from a previous job and because its free tier of 2000 subscribers seemed quite generous when we had zero. We set up our first integrations, started using automations and tagging and our lists grew. After a while, we crossed the 2000 subscribers threshold and began paying for the service. We always knew we’d pay for it at some point and we are generally very happy to pay for services if we get good value for money.
Looking for a Mailchimp alternative
Shortly after we crossed the 5000 subscribers mark we started being less happy with what we were paying. On the one hand, the cost by now was quite significant, but on the other we didn’t see the value for money in our scenario. Sure, there were lots of features being added all the time, but for a Germany-based company under strict GDPR rules and with a largely European audience, many of those features weren’t something we would ever be able to use.
After a lot of looking at other, similar services, which all had their own issues (from poor deliverability to similar pricing), we stumbled upon Sendy. Now, Sendy isn’t an email marketing service – it’s a piece of software that can be installed on a suitable server to run an email marketing service on. Since we run our own server infrastructure anyway, server space was not a problem and at the low price of about 60 US$ for a perpetual license (there is a charge for major version updates, but this was still less than we were paying to Mailchimp per month), we decided to give it a go.
Sendy as a self-hosted solution
What’s needed for Sendy, other than a supported server (I highly recommend using Sendy on an Apache server, since our attempts with Nginx were rather frustrating and Apache is the only one officially supported), is an Amazon Simple Email Service (SES) account. Sendy uses Amazon’s email delivery network, which guarantees great deliverability. It takes a bit of time to initially set up (we were actually already using SES for other email needs anyway), but the cost per email is very low and reliability is pretty good.
This post is about our switch from Mailchimp to Sendy, so I won’t describe the basic setup process. Maybe another time in another post. There are certainly a few things to look out for…
Making the switch from Mailchimp
On Mailchimp, we were making heavy use of tags and segments. Sendy doesn’t support tags and its segments are very limited in functionality. At first, I saw this as a major disadvantage. But then it dawned on me that I didn’t need them in order to do what I was doing. Since Sendy allowed me an unlimited number of lists and subscribers, all my segments would be separate lists. Sendy is smart enough to only send one copy if someone is a member of multiple lists that are included as recipients.
So on Mailchimp, we exported every segment to a separate CSV file. Unfortunately, the CSV format of the export is a bit different than what Sendy expects as an input, so some re-formatting was needed afterwards. Then we created new lists for every segment and imported the CSVs into them. Imported list members don’t receive any automation emails that trigger on signup, so automations can already be set up before the final import happens.
You may want to archive your lists on Mailchimp so you can keep the history – that may be helpful if you ever have a dispute about whether someone actually signed up and consented to receive emails. Since on Sendy, for your migrated users it will show that you added them manually, you don’t have proof of them opting in (especially if you are in a region where data privacy laws require a double opt-in). In that case, your Mailchimp history will still have details of their consent.
Add-ons that make Sendy better
There are a few things that Mailchimp definitely does better than Sendy – one of them is the actual email composer. My wife, who writes most of our newsletters, absolutely hated the formatting options in Sendy. But, not to worry, we found a solution that we’re very happy with. There is a plugin for Sendy that enables an import option for emails created with Bee Free (or Bee Pro, if you need more templates). We create our mailings there, then export as a zip file, import that into Sendy and have wonderfully styled emails. Any additional resources, such as images, are part of the import file and will be put in the right places for Sendy to serve them with the URL of your own server.
That leaves the question of signup forms. There are multiple ways to solve these. In our case it was very simple – we were using Thrive Leads already with Mailchimp, so all we had to do was switch the integration in the backend and our existing forms would start subscribing people to the Sendy lists instead of Mailchimp. Of course, Sendy also has embeddable codes for a signup form. And if you are using another third party signup form, you could use Zapier or – if you can do a bit of PHP programming – create a webhook that uses the Sendy API to subscribe users. We actually use a mix of everything: Thrive Leads for signup boxes on our blog, Zapier for leads generated via Mediavine Grow.me and a webhook for signing up users who purchased products on our digital downloads platform.
Cost savings – between 75 and 90%
So, what were our cost savings? When we started the migration, we had about 7000 subscribers on multiple lists and our last monthly bill was about 90 US$. We were sending out probably about 20000 emails per month. Since then, we paid a one-off license fee of 60 US$ and upgraded to a new major version for 29 US$. Our lists have grown to about 12.000 subscribers by now. Our monthly Amazon SES bill last month was US$ 2,34!! We also pay for a Bee Pro account, which is another 15 US$ per month, but it’s a luxury we wouldn’t technically need. So in the last 18 months, instead of paying 1620 US$ for Mailchimp (and that’s not even accounting for the growth of our lists), we paid roughly 400 US$, so only about a quarter (or 134 US$, less than 1/10th, if you don’t factor in Bee Pro).