I’m sitting here with my triple espresso trying to figure out just how am I going to make this mind-numbingly boring topic, fingernail bitingly consumable. What can I say…I like a good challenge. In an attempt to give me a standing chance in succeeding in this endeavour, I’ve decided to make this topic a two-parter.
This article will talk about the key things you need to take into consideration when choosing an Email Service Provider while Part II, will countdown my top 10 providers and will include the pros and cons of each.
The thing is, there are some bits of starting your own travel business that are…let’s just say…a bit snore worthy. But you can’t skip over them. Kind of like playing a game of Monopoly. I hate the setup process but unless you do it, you can’t roll the dice and move away from GO.
And even if you already have an Email Service Provider, I bet there is a small piece of you that is thinking…am I using the best one? At least, I know that’s what I’m thinking…
What the heck is an Email Service Provider (aka ESP) in the first place?
Why do you need an Email Service Provider?
The one thing that almost every entrepreneur says they most regret about their early start up days is that they didn’t start growing an email list immediately – myself included. For some crazy reason, I placed logo design above audience building.
I blew all my birthday money and a wad of time going back and forth with the designer over fonts, colours, should the scarf float over to the right or would it look better off to the left… And now, that logo sits in an archive folder in my Google Doc account. It most likely will never find its way onto a T-shirt or a coffee mug. (sigh)
Often the problem when starting out is that you don’t know what your first steps should be. And that’s usually the reason why many don’t bother to start at all. Or you’re paralysed by the enormity of what needs to be done. While choosing an ESP may not be the first priority, it should come well before you order business cards and plug in your printer.
So let’s get started.
First off, know that there are hundreds of ESPs to choose from. That in itself can be debilitating. Somehow, I can’t help but think if there were only a few choices, we’d all have way less grey hair. But ESPs are like a candy store. So many options, so many price points, so many flavours. Do you go for the War Heads or stick with the Fun Dip?
The one truth you need to know before deciding…
There is no such thing as a perfect Email Service Provider.
This could actually be the reason why there are so many. At some point, someone said…” Man if only my ESP could do THIS! I know, I’ll go out and build my own ESP and that will solve everything!”
Except that it doesn’t.
What fulfils one person’s needs doesn’t necessarily mean it will fulfill another’s. But knowing this fact should give you peace. Because at some point, inevitably, a few weeks down the road, you are going to second guess your choice and think…this ESP sucks balls. Just know that they all do to some extent.
Rest assured, I am not going to break down every option available. I would never do that to you. But what I did do was survey as many of my entrepreneurial friends as I could to get their feedback. From this, I narrowed down the top ten most talked about platforms and summarized their pros and cons. And as always, my focus is on how they best serve the travel industry. The other consideration I kept in mind is that you are just starting out and price is a factor.
But before I launch into my top 10 countdown, I thought it would be important to first go over the essential things you need to consider before choosing an ESP.
Keep in mind that more features typically equals a higher price point. But the question remains…which features will be important to you and which features are as useless as a sunroof in the Canadian north? There is no point in paying for functionality that you’ll never need or rarely use.
How often will your emails actually make it into your audience’s inbox? People can’t open your emails if they don’t see them. There are workarounds to get over this obstacle, but some ESPs are just better than others – (Delivery rate scores high)
Will you be selling more than one type of travel? Will you want to send different emails to different people for different reasons? In the travel business, I think being able to segment is essential. You don’t want to be sending All-inclusive beach getaway promotions to clients who are looking for African safaris, as an example. – (Maybe not as important when you are starting out but necessary at some point.)
Email automation is crucial when building relationships with your clients. If someone signs up to be on your email list, you’ll want to send them a sequence of communications so they begin to build a relationship with you. (This is pretty important straight out of the gate and many ESPs do not offer this functionality with their free versions)
Some ESPs look like fancy chic floating websites. Some don’t. For the record, as much as I appreciate a pretty email and I might oooh and aahhhh over one when I receive it, my preference is text emails. That’s how I communicate with my friends. That’s how you communicate with your friends. And your audience should be treated as friends. (although I’ll cede that this comes down to personal choice)
It’s good to be able to see how well your email marketing is doing quickly, so reporting is important. Not all ESPs are created equal with respect to reporting – most do a fair enough job though – so I’ll give reporting capabilities a 5 out of 10.
Just like a photographer often says the best camera to have is the one you have with you. Same with an ESP. If you have a super fancy provider with a ton of bells and whistles that you don’t use – ‘cause it’s just too hard to figure out. What’s the point? Ease of use is key but then again, everything can be learned via a Youtube video.
Some ESPs won’t allow you to use affiliate links. To some, this might be a deal-breaker. In the travel industry, this is less of an issue so I wouldn’t worry about it. As long as selling travel is the primary purpose of your email and not sending people over to Amazon to monetize, then I wouldn’t let this issue sway your decision.
Word of caution…if you do choose to go to the affiliate marketing route and break the fine print found in the terms and conditions nobody ever reads, you risk having your email shut down, no leniency offered – your list is gone forever. This happened to a friend of mine so it’s not just some urban myth. Yikes.
Ideally, it would be nice to have an ESP that grows with you. It’s a benefit some ESPs tout but for me, meh, it’s a nice to have but not a must. Forget about choosing one ESP for the rest of your life. Choose what’s best for your needs right now and then migrate later. Yes, it’s a potential headache to switch later but I’d rather deal with that headache than choose the wrong email provider short-term.
If you are someone who relies heavily on a support team when you can’t figure things out, be sure to test out the helpline during your trial period to see how it measures up before putting your money down. I can’t say that I’ve ever contacted my support team – not that I haven’t needed it. I have always found Facebook groups and YouTube videos a fantastic source of support.
An ESP that offers landing pages can be attractive if you are just starting out and don’t have a website yet. If that is you..It’s critical to choose a provider that offers landing pages. This gives you the ability to collect email addresses by directing people to a form that lives on the provider’s platform instead of a website. If you have a website already, this feature has zero value.
Most providers offer tiered pricing and in the lower tiers, you are going to get hit with their branding on your emails. Meh…I don’t think this is a deal breaker – especially if you are starting out but if it is for you…be sure to take this into consideration.
I have friends who split test everything. A/B testing simply means to send out two versions of something and see which one has the higher conversion rates or, in even simpler terms, which email enticed more people to click through to your website. I could care less about this feature but if you are like one of my over-thinking friends, you might want to consider this.
CRM – Customer Relationship Management
Some ESPs will promote the fact that they have a solid CRM baked into their platform. Some ESPs do not. I wouldn’t make this a contributing factor to your choice. Having a good CRM is the lifeblood to a travel advisor but I wouldn’t expect my ESP to be my CRM. OMG.😱 (that’s a lot of acronyms)
Integrations refer to how connected an ESP is to other platforms. So many people build websites on WIX or Squarespace or other off-the-shelf web design platforms. It’s important that the ESP you choose speaks to these. Or if you are working with WordPress, will your ESP conflict with your 3rd party plug-ins? I consider the ability to integrate an essential deciding factor for an ESP. Put this at the top of your list.
Finally, when you are just starting out, every penny counts. It is so easy to get caught up in paying for “just one more thing” that you think you’ll need. A good friend of mine always warns me, “Diane, start as you mean to go on.” And maybe there is some truth to that but when it comes to ESP, again, if you can save some money in the early days knowing you can always migrate to something a little more robust down the road, that’s what I would recommend.
And a further note regarding costs, you have to be sure that you are evaluating ESPs fairly against each other. Do they charge a one-time fee per subscriber or do they charge per list? You could have one subscriber but they’ve signed up for multiple lists. Are you being dinged each time?
And are you being charged for people who find you and then decide you are not their cup of tea and unsubscribe? Ugh, first you have to deal with the heartbreak of seeing them go and then it’s ten times worse when you see they counted against your quota.
A quick breakdown…
For a snapshot of the top ESPs and their price points vs. subscriber count, this infographic from my good friend at Angel Rated breaks things down for easy digestion. Angel Rated is the Trip Advisor for online entrepreneurs. It’s a review site that offers real feedback on many courses and platforms – honestly, there is so much to choose from, it’s a fantastic resource. Check it out before purchasing anything.
And with that, I wrap up Part I of this page-turner of a topic. Darren Starr would create some sort of cliffhanger at this stage to make sure you came back next week.
Fine…I guess I won’t be called to write screen copy for Hollywood anytime soon. But be a sport and come back. And if you are looking for something riveting to recommend as a good read over the holidays, be sure to forward this article to a friend.