All affiliate links are annotated with an asterisk (*). Links without one are not affiliate links. I only recommend products and services I actually use and love.
The money is in the list, so they say.
Most online businesses spend a lot of time and money on their emails, because unlike your followers on social media, the emails are yours to keep and the people who genuinely want to hear from you.
While that’s all great and important, I constantly remind myself to see my email list as what it actually is: real people. Each and every subscriber is a person, with unique thoughts and feelings and unique reasons why they opted to be on my list. And it is a huge honour to have them give up their email address for me. I know I don’t do it easily myself.
Over the last few years in business, I’ve built a list but never actually focused on growing one, which seems to be one of the cardinal sins of being in business. It wasn’t until this year, when I finally decided to step into my own and take my business reins as a CEO, that enough was enough and I needed to get my email marketing in order. Like legit order. I mean the whole shebang - tagging, segmenting, multiple lead magnets, automations, sequences… You name it, I want to be on it.
In July I set out to test quite a few of the email marketing systems on the market - namely MailChimp, MailerLite (which I was already using), ConvertKit and ActiveCampaign. I seriously dug into each one, and even read all the pages of Drip multiple times (I didn’t want to try it because it needed my credit card to start, which was a bummer for me). I wanted to find The One. In many ways it was harder than finding the actual The One (sorry, hubby), but I did eventually settle on ConvertKit, as my title suggests, and I wanted to share a little of my findings about each platform I tried.
I want to also point out that there is no perfect system. I am still not totally convinced or in love with ConvertKit. But of all the platforms I’ve tried, this is the one that works best for me.
ConvertKit: Pricey but Fast
I am starting with ConvertKit* because that’s what most of you clicked to this post for. ConvertKit is a funny fella. It has some of the most robust automation functionalities, yet remains very basic on other features, intentionally or not.
Basically, the dealio on ConvertKit is they want to make it simple. Make it fast. Because you don’t want to spend your entire day in ConvertKit, you want to spend the day growing your list.
In my opinion, ConvertKit has very basic analytics and data. You get only what you need, and nothing more. This can be a problem for product-based businesses, where you need to know a lot more data at every touchpoint to segment your list and engage subscribers.
This took a little getting used to, but personally, I’m not a huge data nerd, just a small one, and I also mainly sell services right now. I will say this though, ConvertKit makes it easy to test and tweak, which is just about my favourite thing to do in business right now, so detailed analytics aside, I have the testing to also help me determine the best way forward in terms of email marketing.
If you are the creative type or you offer mainly services or do online business, this should be your preferred tool. It was made for selling online.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT CONVERTKIT
Interface is fast and easy to get used to. They have the best Welcome Tutorial which walks you through setting up your account and getting you acclimated to their software. Everything is kept clean and simple, with no additional bells and whistles, and organisation is clear and concise.
I have multiple lead magnets, and that’ll only grow as I write more blog posts and create more products and services, and ConvertKit was hands down the quickest from creating forms, editing the incentive email all the way to actually delivering the lead magnet (right from the double-confirmation link - easy peasy lemon squeezy). This was one of the biggest reasons I chose to go with ConvertKit.
While I would love for more filters and better organisation throughout (subscribers, forms, automations, triggers), it was always fast to set up a trigger or automation. I spent minutes in ConvertKit compared to the hours I used to spend in my EMS.
My other favourite part has to be the Sequences function. On top of normal automation workflows, you have the Sequences tab which is basically where you write out all the emails that automatically go out to your subscribers after they get your lead magnet. This means that I can create rules for automation and use Sequences repeatedly without having to manually copy and paste each email in each sequence.
That means ConvertKit makes it quick to:
Create multiple forms with different lead magnets
Tag each subscriber quickly according to what they signed up for
Give the lead magnet while double-confirming without multiple emails
Create email sequences and add them to different automations
Create different automations
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT CONVERTKIT
As a huge organisation nerd, I didn’t like that there was no way to toggle different views for your subscribers, or organise your forms, automations and triggers (rules). Everything is lumped together and if you have very many of them, it can get very confusing and messy.
The limitations to the forms are another thing to take note of. Because ConvertKit intentionally keeps things simple, adjusting things like form widths or adding custom fields to your sign-up forms are not as easy as other systems.
Lastly, the price. It is pricey for me, but I am a bootstrapper, so you may feel differently. Personally, I took the plunge after seeing how much time it saved me, and how it forced me to really view my and take email marketing seriously and create sales funnels.
ActiveCampaign: Powerful but boring
As a designer, I am a really visual person. The entire ActiveCampaign interface was unintuitive and clunky for me. I dreaded every time I had to sign into it, especially if you are on the free trial and had access to all the functionality. I am relatively quick with tech, and could figure things out, just that it took me longer than as with ConvertKit.
As a software, ActiveCampaign is very powerful. It has robust analytics, segmentation and automation functions. But they are less intuitive and is often the “older” way of doing email marketing. They also use a lot of industry jargon in their sales pages and also their systems, so it is not as user-friendly to total beginners. But if you’ve been in business for a while, it shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.
If you’re the analytical type, you will probably like ActiveCampaign the most. It is reasonable, fast, has great deliverability rates and is everything you could ask for in an email marketing service. That’s if you don’t mind the interface.
ActiveCampaign matches the price of ConvertKit at 1000 subscribers, but has a lower priced 500 subscriber plan.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT ACTIVECAMPAIGN
Automations were fast and easy. Tagging was intuitive and there was not much of a learning curve. Analytics are powerful, so that means you can create almost any funnel you could dream of in ActiveCampaign. If you were grandfathered into their old plans, the prices are really attractive, making it only $17 for 1000 subscribers as compared to the current $29 per month.
Their Customer Service is also very helpful, and it really is a professional email marketing software that is reliable and can grow with your business for many years to come.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE ABOUT ACTIVECAMPAIGN
As I already mentioned, the user experience was not great for me. It could just be me though, as different people use software differently. I didn’t like the interface and how “corporate” it felt, and it made me want to spend less time figuring things out or creating automations.
Also, they don’t have the sequences function, so if you had, say, 5 emails that you sent automatically through a funnel that you want to duplicate elsewhere with a condition (e.g. “clicked this link”) you would have to duplicate the emails one by one. This is just my experience, maybe there’s a better way to do it and I missed it, I can’t be sure.
Their Help Documents also felt very unkind and too professional, almost. I read their Refunds Policy and it made me not want to be associated with the company. Same goes for their affiliate program, which brought me to multiple help documents and terms and conditions that only made me more confused.
Lastly, their functions are robust but can be very overwhelming if you have the full plan. You don’t know where to start and what to do, which made it even harder to set things up quickly and forget about it.
I also found that their most basic plan (for those who don’t require CRM) limited things like form types (you could only use a normal, embedded inline form). Which seemed like quite a petty thing to limit.
MailerLite: Best value but worrying
I’ve used and loved MailerLite for more than a year. It is relatively easy to set up, and the free plan is super powerful. You won’t get this value anywhere else. You get access to all the functions, which are pretty robust, and also to the customer service. Which is amazing!
I haven’t wanted to move away from MailerLite, but they were recently hit by a spamming issue and it made me really take a hard look at my systems. My list was fast becoming my focus, and I wanted a platform that could grow reliably and had a direction, just like my own business. With MailerLite, the functions were great but I never felt 100% sure if it was my content causing lower open rates or deliverability.
I still recommend MailerLite to people, just as I would MailChimp to product- and Shopify-based business owners. MailerLite is great for service-based businesses as well, with landing page functionality and different types of forms. It is a great starter system that you can grow into.
WHAT I LIKED ABOUT MAILERLITE
The generosity of it all. They want you to succeed and they give you the tools. Automation is on-par with many other systems, and there are a ton of form options to choose from. Their customer service is prompt and helpful, even when you are on the free plan.
The way they organised their interface also made sense, so everything was relatively straightforward. Instead of jargony names, they named everything very clearly (“Subscribers”, “Forms”, “Campaigns” and “Automation”). They have reports that give you analytics on most things you would need, and even has a heat map-esque tool that allows you to see where readers are dropping off.
You can make almost anything you want to grow your list with MailerLite, as their forms gave you options like “Pop Up” and “Landing Page”, which is great for a free and then relatively inexpensive platform.
They even let you map your domain onto your newsletters, which is a premium feature with most other email marketing service providers.
Overall, I think MailerLite would be great for a bootstrapper, and you don’t mind having to do a little more legwork and spend a little more time to save quite a bit of money.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE ABOUT MAILERLITE
They can be really slow. Sometimes page loads take forever, other times they are pretty quick. I live in Singapore with fibre internet, but still, sometimes it takes a while.
And then there’s the spam issue. With any generous free plan (like MailChimp’s, too), this comes as a problem. People abuse the system and then get it blacklisted, which means that deliverability rates (people actually receiving the email in Inbox) are typically lower.
Since I switched providers, I’ve noticed my open rates about doubled. Which seems crazy to me, and also reminds me of how many subscribers or customers I could’ve potentially missed out on.
Similarly to ActiveCampaign, creating forms and delivering lead magnets is no way as quick as ConvertKit, and you need to set up an individual automation for each lead magnet if you want an automatic delivery. Automation is also powerful here but takes some duplicating if you are creating a relatively complex funnel.
Why I eventually, finally, went with ConvertKit
I wanted to save time. Honestly. I wanted quick and decent, so I could spend less time on systems and more time on content creation. So I could spend less time tweaking stuff, and more time actually selling. And ConvertKit provided me with that.
Even though the price point deters me a little, I’ve become much more serious about growing my list and have built more sales funnels (that worked! I had 2 sales come in just this week when I was sleeping - this has never happened for me before!) and improved my systems.
If you want to try ConvertKit for free, here’s a 14-day free trial with my affiliate link*. I would be super grateful if you used mine, as it does help my income, but I also wanted to give you another option.
The “big names” like Pat Flynn or ConvertKit’s own webinars have a 30-day free trial. Do a quick Google and you’ll find it! While I would love the affiliate commission, I also wanted you to know of this option. A 30-day trial will help offset the cost just a little and also give you more time to explore and get used to the system before you start paying the pricier fee.