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The 4 Best Email Marketing Platforms for Small Business

Our Top Pick: Mailchimp

Mailchimp isn’t going anywhere – and there’s a reason that most small businesses think of them when thinking about email marketing platforms. Because of its impressive yet simple email design tool, and the fact that you can be up and running very quickly, I’m extremely confident that small businesses will be happy selecting Mailchimp to support your email marketing strategy.

Runners-Up

Best Mailchimp alternative

Best for automation

Best for scaling ecommerce

So, you’ve been tasked with finding the perfect email marketing platform for your company?

Well, you’ve come to the right place because in this post we’ll be looking at the 4 best email marketing services for small businesses:

  1. Mailchimp
  2. Constant Contact
  3. ActiveCampaign
  4. Klaviyo

You’re probably already familiar with the idea of SaaS (Software as a Service), and so you might laugh hearing how regardless of the service – email marketing, advertising, social media management – once you’re in their ecosystem, they’ve got you. Even just a few months into using a SaaS product, you’re often already too invested to even think about switching.

Why? Hopefully, because it’s valuable! SaaS products often are, but by the same token, they aren’t exactly designed to make it easy to switch. For email marketing specifically, not only are you going to configure your website signup forms to it and build your email subscription lists, but it’s also where your templates and workflows are going to live. Moving to a new, unfamiliar email platform is often out of the question (unless something isn’t working for your company).

In this post, we’re going to take a look at the 4 best email marketing tools for small businesses. I hope that after reading these, you’ll feel that much more confident in choosing the right one and know what to think about – even if you go an entirely different route.

What is an email marketing platform?

What is an email marketing platform, anyway? I remember when I first got into e-commerce almost twenty years ago. SaaS was a pretty new concept, and there weren’t many options out there priced for small businesses like mine.

When I first started sending newsletters to customers, I was running an online t-shirt shop. Right from the beginning, we knew email marketing was vital, especially with the boom of e-commerce helping to level the playing field for small businesses. Even then it was clear you could use email to drive repeat purchases and keep customers close.

This was at a time when virtually all of the systems my little company relied on were installed on my web server. That suite of tools included a very primitive, open-source email marketing tool that I don’t remember the name of now. What I can tell you is that it was clunky, hard to use, produced ugly emails, and was generally unreliable! It didn’t provide much data beyond basic bounce notifications.

With the rise of dominant email platforms like Mailchimp and Constant Contact, those days are long gone. Their features, and especially the benefits that small businesses will feel, make it easy to forget those early days of email marketing.

Let’s jump in, and look at four email marketing platforms and how well-suited they are for a business like yours.

1. Mailchimp

Entry-Level Price: $13 / month
Free Trial:Yes (up to 2500 sends per month)
Rating:4.5 ⭐️ (out of 5)

The brief on Mailchimp

Mailchimp is probably the most widely-known email marketing platform out there.

To give you an idea of their influence on email communication, they were purchased in 2021 by Intuit for a whopping $12 billion.

If memory serves, Mailchimp was one of the first companies to make email marketing easier – and it still is, which is great news for small businesses. I remember the first time I got to use the platform, how amazing their drag-and-drop tool was, and how easy it was to build attractive templates that looked extremely professional quickly.

Over the years Mailchimp has evolved into much more, without losing its simplicity. They now go far beyond email marketing and are into the landing page, digital ad, and social media space too. They’ve always been strong in showing you good data about your campaigns without overwhelming you. 

Something else that should be music to every business owner’s ears: their powerful yet simple email builder tool ensures that your email campaigns look good across different devices and device types (computers, phones, tablets, etc). 

They’ve also made it possible to link your data up with other platforms, which is probably important to you because you’re almost certainly relying on other SaaS products to run your business. For example, if you run an online store and want to create highly personalized emails, you can connect your customer data using integrations with popular platforms like WooCommerce, Squarespace, Magento, Facebook, and more. This lets you tell Mailchimp what your contacts bought, or even where they live, making it possible to craft highly personalized and targeted emails using their ‘automation’ tool – one of Mailchimp’s best features that I recommend you learn all about.

Like many email platforms though, I’ve always found getting my head around how Mailchimp talks about subscribers to be tricky. Mailchimp uses the terms ‘audience’, ‘contacts’, and ‘subscribers’. On top of that, you can organize your contacts (or subscribers?) into things called ‘groups’ and ‘segments’. It feels overly complicated. If you do choose Mailchimp,  invest time into understanding the differences between these so that you can make full use of the platform.

Pros of Mailchimp

  • Great for small businesses and new marketers
  • Amazing drag-and-drop email builder tool
  • Provides helpful tips as you set up campaigns
  • Countless beautiful templates to use and start from
  • Lots of design options to make emails look professional
  • Easy to adapt to your company’s branding
  • Easy to understand metrics and delivery reports

Cons of Mailchimp

  • Advanced users may feel limited by email design tool
  • Free plan requires Mailchimp branding on your emails
  • Bigger learning curve around contact management
  • Many small businesses may outgrow entry-level plans quickly
  • It gets pricey as you grow

The bottom line on Mailchimp

Because of its impressive yet simple email design tool, and the fact that you can be up and running very quickly, I’m extremely confident that small businesses will be happy selecting Mailchimp to support your email marketing strategy. You may one day grow to feel limited by what their email design tool can do, but keep in mind that platforms evolve. Mailchimp isn’t going anywhere – and there’s a reason that most small businesses think of them when thinking about email marketing platforms.

Check out MailChimp here.

2. Constant Contact

Entry-Level Price: $9.99 / month
Free Trial:Yes
Rating:4 ⭐️ (out of 5)

The brief on Constant Contact

Constant Contact is another behemoth in the email marketing service space. It was established way back in 1995, and now employs more than 1200 people after being sold in 2015, and then acquired again in 2021.

Like Mailchimp, Constant Contact offers many features you’d expect of a large-scale SaaS platform for marketing and packages them well for small businesses. Much like Mailchimp, the drag-and-drop builder (where you’ll spend most of your time) is solid and will help you create stunning email designs quickly. The company even markets its hundreds of pre-designed templates as one of its top features, which small businesses should love.

In addition to that, if you’re looking for top-notch reporting for your business Constant Contact may be for you. They’re big on data, and with the right plan, they want to use it to save time for you and your (likely) small team. If this speaks to you, I think you’ll like their engagement reports and the ability to compare campaigns without drowning in data. Specifically, the click-tracking heat map tool they have can show you where people clicked on your campaign (warning: this can be very disheartening if you pour everything into designing every last detail of your emails!).

Something you may want to think about as a small business is the evolution of email marketing. To me, and most digital marketers, email is a channel that delivers and drives more than just sales. Brand loyalty and storytelling must create brand champions. That being said, you might be aware that several email marketing platforms are getting into SMS/text messaging services, and Constant Contact is one of them. If your small or local business would benefit from this feature, I’d keep it in the running. 

The bottom line is fans and followers want more control over how they hear from companies. One big reason to seriously consider using Constant Contact as your email marketing provider is that not only does it stack up well to others, it’s now in the SMS game and that gives it an edge over Mailchimp.

Pros of Constant Contact

  • Stacks up really well against Mailchimp
  • Drag and drop editor, and hundreds of templates
  • Looks great on every screen and device
  • Supports marketing automation and segmenting
  • Cheaper than Mailchimp (‘Core’ versus ‘Essentials’)
  • Numerous integrations with other platforms

Cons of Constant Contact

  • May have to jump right into the Plus plan to get features you need
  • Has a free trial, but no free tier that you can operate in while growing
  • Some reviewers have cited Mailchimp as being more polished overall
  • Very limited automation tools versus Mailchimp and ActiveCampaign

The bottom line on Constant Contact

If you’re minding your pennies, and still looking to get great value for your money, Constant Contact may be the best choice for your small business. It offers many of the same features that you’ll find at Mailchimp, but from what others have said, while very usable those tools may not be quite as well-developed. For me, the big consideration that may sway me is their SMS feature, which Mailchimp simply doesn’t have yet.

Check out Constant Contact here.

3. ActiveCampaign

Entry-Level Price: $9 / month
Free Trial:Yes
Rating:4 ⭐️ (out of 5)

The brief on ActiveCampaign

ActiveCampaign, established back in 2003, is the third and final email marketing service we’re looking at in this article. Unlike Mailchimp and ConstantContact, ActiveCampaign doesn’t position itself as simply an email marketing tool.

Some may ActiveCampaign is too advanced for their needs, but I’m including it here for a specific small business niche who are ready for a more advanced email platform.

It’s important to call out that ActiveCampaign has set out to be a fully-featured CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tool that includes a powerful email marketing component – which may be exactly what some small businesses are looking for.

When I started trialling the ActiveCampaign, I could immediately feel that it was aiming to be more than email. Its interface is more utilitarian than Mailchimp and ConstantContact. That being said, navigating it was no issue.

Versus the happy, hand-holding interface you get with Mailchimp, Active Campaign is more attuned to advanced users looking for more flexibility and the ability to customize their campaigns to a higher degree.

Their email builder tool is similar to MailChimp and Constant Contact, but more foundational. ActiveCampaign wants users who can spend time designing each element, and who are looking for a high degree of customization. That’s not every small business, so they’re carving out a niche for themselves.

In keeping with the advanced feel of ActiveCampaign, their automation builder is no exception. Automations help you send emails based on customer data and actions. For example, if a customer opens an email but doesn’t click, you can set a trigger that waits a certain period, and send them a follow-up.

That’s a very basic type of automation, and ActiveCampaign seems to give you the architecture to build some truly in-depth workflows. Again, this isn’t a platform for every small business but I can see how there’s a big enough niche of companies that need this degree of customization and control.

Pros of ActiveCampaign

  • More advanced features
  • Perfect if you’re looking for a high degree of design customization
  • Automations builder is powerful and slick
  • Includes lots of features, including SMS
  • Serves as a CRM as well

Cons of ActiveCampaign

  • Advanced features may not be aligned to most small businesses
  • Much bigger learning curve because of all the tools included
  • Feels designed for medium-sized businesses with bigger teams
  • Suite of advanced tools likely more than what you need as a small business

If you’ve got the subscribers and the team to learn it, this impressive platform is worth investing in. You’ll love the ability to customize just about everything and that’s something you might not get on Mailchimp or Constant Contact. Another reason to truly consider ActiveCampaign? It seems to be just as much a CRM as it is a powerful email platform.

Check out ActiveCampaign here.

4. Klaviyo

Entry-Level Price: $20 / month
Free Trial:Yes (free up to 500 sends per month)
Rating:4.5 ⭐️ (out of 5)

The brief on Klaviyo

Klaviyo is a marketing automation platform that leans heavily on email marketing. It was founded back in 2012 and is one of the “new” email marketing platforms that’s currently getting a lot of buzz. Keep reading, and I think you’ll find out why.

Klaviyo, much like Constant Contact doesn’t just offer email marketing. They also specialize in SMS/text messages. I’ve already talked about the benefits of having the SMS option and communicating with your followers on their terms, so let’s focus on its email functionality specifically.

What I love about Klaviyo is that like Mailchimp you can use it for free. You can have 250 active profiles (subscribers) and 500 sends per month for $0. That’s perfect when you have a small list you’ve just started building because it enables you to learn the platform while you’re growing.

Much like Mailchimp, Klaviyo is big on the tips/helpful hints – to me, that makes it perfect for small businesses, especially those with junior marketing teams. The drag-and-drop editor is much like the others, and there’s no shortage of great templates to start with either. Out of the box, Klaviyo is one of those solutions that’ll get you up and running quickly, so that you’re able to focus on crafting great communications for your customers.

There’s also no shortage of integrations you can use to connect your other SaaS products. One to call out specifically is Shopify. If you’re running an e-commerce storefront, Klaviyo may be a really good email marketing solution for you. It’s actually the platform of choice for Shopify Plus – not to mention they made a huge $100M investment into the marketing automation company recently.

Pros of Klaviyo

  • Very user-friendly, not overloaded with extra features
  • Simple to use, and easy to craft beautiful messages
  • No shortage of integrations with other platforms
  • More pricing tiers than other competitors
  • Gives you SMS marketing options, too
  • Huge investment by Shopify to support future development

Cons of Klaviyo

  • Relatively new player compared to the competition
  • Builder tool may feel limited to advanced designers

The bottom line on Klaviyo

Without a doubt, Klaviyo is a real contender to be your small business’ email marketing platform – especially if you find yourself enamored by the new kid on the block idea. With that big investment made by Shopify recently, you should expect Klaviyo to really start making some moves and building out its features. It’s already a great email marketing platform if you’re just looking for tried and true email marketing tools and SMS options, and I’m excited to see what they do next.

Check out Klaviyo here.

Is email marketing going to die?

I’ve seen way too many first-hand results of the effectiveness of email marketing to say that email marketing is dying!

As a small business owner and someone who has worked in several companies of all different sizes, I can tell you that email marketing has always been a critical component of a good digital marketing strategy. I think that it’s especially true for small, local businesses looking to retain every possible customer. Why? Email marketing is a special type of marketing. Most often you’re preaching to the choir, and so there’s a distinct voice that you get to use in your messages because you’re reaching people who want to hear from you.

There aren’t a lot of marketing channels that do that.

Why is email marketing important?

Email marketing is important because when done well, sending your customers marketing messages helps drive LTV (lifetime value) and repeat purchases. It also helps create brand champions – the people who want to be in your corner, and know the important work you’re doing before everyone else (so that they can share it!).

Of course, cultivating a loyal email following enables you to promote your business’s sales, and tell the story of your small business.

As a small business, how do I build an email following?

Small businesses have so many opportunities to build an email following. There are so many types of email marketing messages you can send. Beyond promoting sales and products, here are some ideas on how to build an email following for your business:

  • Customer success stories + crowd-sourced content
  • Employee spotlights
  • Highlighting partners that make your business possible
  • Talking about your company culture and values
  • Community involvement
  • Showing how products are made
  • Anniversaries and important dates
  • Career opportunities
  • Case studies that align you as an expert
  • New client announcements
  • Q&A content, and so on!

Final thoughts on email marketing tools for small businesses

Email marketing, specifically the tools that enable it, has come so far since when I first began in digital marketing. I’ve seen both ends of the spectrum, and there’s simply just no comparison or question about whether what we have today is better for helping small businesses achieve their marketing goals.

Depending on your unique flavour of needs, those are the 4 of the best email marketing platforms for small businesses that you’ll find out there right now. Mailchimp, Constant Contact  and Klaviyo are simply great for their ease of use and the ability to get you going quickly while ensuring ensure your messages look great. ActiveCampaign, while a bit heftier overall, is a solid option for any small business needing more ability to customize and truly leverage the power of email marketing.

Hopefully, you’ve found these overviews helpful, and you’re feeling confident to take the next steps and start playing with each one to see how it suits your specific needs. At the end of the day, email marketing is incredibly powerful.

You need to find the right platform that lets you send the messages you need, without making it feel like a chore – and I’m certain that one of these four options is the perfect one for your small business.

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