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The Ultimate Guide to Setting Up Your Email Newsletter with MailChimp

The best way to connect with your true audience is not through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or even your website. Is through your mailing list. It’s also your most important asset. Your website can crash, someone can steal it, Facebook can shut down your Page, it doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got your e-mail list because you’ll be able to immediately tell your most loyal audience members where to find you.


You’ll often hear the term “permission marketing” thrown around. This term was popularized by Seth Godin, one of the most well-known online marketers. Basically, permission marketing is the opposite of interruption marketing, which is what we get bombarded with every day. TV commercials, radio ads, pop-up ads are all forms of interruption marketing because they try to distract you long enough to get you to pay attention to them. Interruption marketing is one of the least-effective marketing tactics out there.


With permission marketing, you’re asking someone whether it’s OK for you to send marketing materials their way. This type of marketing is infinitely more effective because now that audience member is telling you that it’s OK for you to become part of their life and decision-making process. They want to hear what you have to say and are interested. People that sign up for your mailing list are often your most loyal followers, so treat them well. Don’t spam them or try to sell them useless junk to make a buck. That is the quickest way to destroy the trust they have put in you. You’ve been granted a privilege, never forget that.


Because people have a lot of things going on in their life and tons of websites clamoring for their attention, they may forget about coming back to your website regularly. This is why you need a mailing list, to keep people plugged in as to what’s happening on your site, whether you have anything special coming up, promotions, seminars, etc. Sometimes you just want to let them know a new post is up.


So now that you know how important it is for you to create a mailing list, let’s look at how to go about creating one.


MailChimp or Aweber?


There are a number of competing email services you can go with, but by far the most popular for online marketers are MailChimp and Aweber. There are advantages to both, but the short version is that Aweber has more robust tracking options while MailChimp is simpler and easier to use. If you’re just starting out or don’t have a lot of experience with e-mail marketing, I’d suggest MailChimp all the way.


I stuck with MailChimp since it was easier to set up and because they offer a “Forever Free” account. This account is good for up to 2,000 subscribers and 12,000 emails and doesn’t require a credit card to sign up. I’m pretty happy with the service so far.


I also like that they offer a free MailChimp app on iTunes (and for Android phones). I can use the app to view my subscriber list and also performance reports on each email I sent out. You can even whip out the app and sign somebody up for your e-mail list right on the spot in case they’re not in front of the computer, which is pretty cool.


Creating a MailChimp Account


Signing up for a MailChimp account is pretty straightforward. Just go to MailChimp.com and click the “Sign Up Free” button.


Mailchimp Login


You’ll be taken to the sign up page. All you need to fill out is your e-mail address, and a username and password of your choosing. For important accounts like this, never choose a weak password. Create a password at least 10 characters long and make them a mix of numbers, letters, and throw in a special character or two (#, !, ?, *, @, etc.).


Mailchimp Create Account


Creating an Email List


Once you’ve created your account, you’ll be taken to your Dashboard. Here, you’ll be able to see your account information at a glance. With brand new accounts, you’ll see three options: Create a List, Design a Form, and Send a Campaign.


The first step to get started is to create a list, so click on that option.


Mailchimp List


Next, you need to create a mailing list. You’re not limited to one. In fact, it’s a good idea to have more than one, depending on the particular project you’re working on or the target audience you’re trying to reach. This is call list segmentation.


Say you have an email list set up already, which you use to communicate with everyone. And let’s say after awhile you decide to branch out into something else, like an online workshop. Instead of flooding your list with information regarding your workshop, you can ask those that are interested in signing up for the workshop to receive additional information. This works great because now you know whether people are interested and how many. You can continue to communicate with those audience members separately about that topic without annoying everyone else on the list who’s not interested on the workshop.


You can create as many lists as you want, but it’s best to start with one, based off one main topic. You’ll need the following pieces of information:

Mailchimp Create List


1- List Name: You can assign your list any name you want. It’s better if it’s descriptive about the content you’re sending out, to help you tell it apart from other lists you create in the future.


2- Default From Name: This can either be the website’s name or your name. Whatever you feel comfortable with, but that recipients will recognize where the e-mail is coming from.


3- Default Reply-To-Email: Sometimes, people will write back to you for comments or feedback by replying to your newsletter directly. Enter the address where you’d like to receive those replies here.


4- Remind People How They Got On You List: This is key. Sometimes people forget that they signed up for your e-mails, specially if you take a long time off in between messages. Some marketers go so far as to include the date the recipient signed up to jog their memory. This helps avoid the recipient confusing your e-mail with spam.


5- Is This The Correct Contact Info For This List?: In order to comply with the CAN-SPAM Act, you must include a physical address on your e-mail. This can be a P.O. Box address, your home address, or an office address for example. Failing to provide a physical address on your e-mails is a violation of the act and can lead to fines.


6- E-mail me at…: You can specify whether you’d like to be notified when people sign up to your mailing list, or unsubscribe from it. This is fine if you’re starting out, but can get annoying if you’re receiving dozens, or hundreds of notifications every week. Don’t get hung up on unsubscribes either. It happens. Try to add more value to the list to minimize it from happening.


7- People Can Pick Email Format (HTML, Plain-Text, Or Mobile): This gives people the option of specifying how they’d like to receive your emails. The debate whether you should use HTML or plain-text e-mails has been going on for years. Whichever one you choose, it’s no big deal, really. I like HTML e-mail because I can make the e-mail look nicer. But remember, subscribers aren’t after “pretty”, they’re after valuable content first.


Once you’ve set all the options for your list, hit “Save”. You’ll be presented with this screen.


Mailchimp List Done


Designing Your Sign Up Form


The next step is to create a sign up form. There are many ways to incorporate a signup form into a website. MailChimp offers a free plugin that allows you to add a sign up form to your site as a sidebar widget. I used that widget when I first started this site and it worked well for me.


Eventually, I outgrew the MailChimp plugin and started tinkering with the code to create my own sign up forms in order to blend them better with the site. Don’t stress over that at first. Get the sign up form on your site as soon as possible, then modify later when you have time.


The important part now is deciding which information to collect. MailChimp allows you to create forms that ask for all kinds of information, such as birthday, addresses, phone number, etc. It’s unlikely you’ll need any of that unless you’re planning on creating birthday promotions or calling them on the phone. The rule is the more information you ask of people, the less likely they are to sign up. Which is why some people ask for the minimal amount of information, just the e-mail address. Think long and hard whether you really need the information you’re asking for.


By default, MailChimp fills in e-mail address, First Name, and Last Name. Personally, I ask for e-mail address and first name. By asking for a first name, I can personalize the message for each recipient, which is a nice touch. Addressing someone by their last name is somewhat formal, which I’d rather avoid. You can add or remove fields by selecting the field and clicking the “+” or “-” signs.


You can also select the field and click on the tab to the right that says “Field Settings” to specify whether you’d like to make the fields required. Email is already required by default. I also chose to make the First Name Field on my form required.


Mailchimp Form


When you delete a field, MailChimp will ask for confirmation. Be careful of deleting any fields once you have an established e-mail list with subscribers, as it will also delete all the information you’ve collected on that field up to that point.


Mailchimp Delete Field


Types of Email Campaigns


Once you’ve created your mailing list and designed your form, it’s time to create your first newsletter. But before you do that, you have to decide which type of campaign you’ll be emailing out.


Regular Campaigns are those where you create a series of e-mails that go out at predetermined times (weekly, bi-weekly, etc).


Plain-text Campaigns are simpler, since no e-mail template or formatting is required.


A/B Split Campaigns are used to test the effectiveness of your e-mails. For example, you can use two different subject lines, each to one half of your list, and see which one works best and gets a betters response rate.


RSS-Driven Campaigns are good for those times you want to automatically send out new posts as they’re published. Those don’t require much tweaking once they’re set up.


Mailchimp Campaign Builder


For a Regular Campaign, specify which list you’d like to send out e-mails to. If you only have one list, you can safely click “Next” on the right to move on to the next step.


Mailchimp Campaign


Next, you’ll need to set up information about your campaign. MailChimp allows you to do various things with your campaign. You can track whether your e-mails are being opened and read and what links on the e-mail are being clicked on.  Another cool feature is that you can share your newsletter on Twitter and Facebook automatically.


Mailchimp Campaign Builder Setup


Selecting an Email Template


Once you’ve filled out the required information, it’s time to click “Next” and pick a template. Think of a template as a flyer layout. It’s the same basic design, only that you change the content whenever you want to send out a different one. MailChimp allows you to create your own, or you can choose from one of their pre-made styles and customize it to suit your branding.


Mailchimp Campaign Builder Templates


Don’t get too hung up on the design. Some of the most effective marketers don’t even bother with templates, preferring to do all their work with plain-text email. If you choose to do a template, pick one that has colors consistent with your site’s design. Avoid cluttered layouts. Simple works best. If possible, choose one of the layouts that is mobile-ready, which will allow your e-mail to be viewed well whether someone opens it on a laptop or on a smartphone.


Mailchimp Campaign Builder Template Layout


And that’s how you get a basic newsletter started!


There are many different ways that you can go about designing your own newsletter and what sort of content to provide. I recommend that you sign up for newsletters of those who are in your niche to see how they approach connecting with their audience. Learn from them, and incorporate feedback from what your audience wants into your own newsletters.


Comments? Questions?

I’d love to hear them! E-mail or comment below.


Oh, and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter here :)

About Rich Polanco

Fan of dogs + all things tech. Love a great pizza. My goal is not to travel to every country in the world. I only want to get to know my favorite ones REALLY well. Check out the big bio here. Follow @RichPolanco and connect on Facebook.
Currently exploring: Guatemala.


  1. […] I recommend you drop everything and do that now. This very minute. Here’s a detailed post on how to set up MailChimp on your site, […]

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