Five questions to ask before you set up a DIY email system

Freddie_wink (MailChimp)Hey, I like DIY as much as the next person (who likes to Do it Yourself). If you have high in-house tech capacity, for example, you can get a long way with CiviMail thanks to CiviCRM/CiviMail tutorials like this one (especially if you combine it with a testing service like Litmus). But from time to time I encounter grassroots groups without much in-house tech capacity who are considering building their own mass email system. Then I get concerned.

If you don’t have significant in-house tech capacity, here are five questions to answer before you invest money in building your own system for sending mass email instead of using a commercial service.

1- What other online services will you have integrations with?

For example, let’s say you would like new email signups to get added as records to your CRM. Are you going to create a means to pass information from one piece of software to another? Commercial mass email services routinely set up ways to communicate with other online software services — those connections are called integrations.

As new online tools appear, these services keep up with them and build integration pathways. For example: Emma offers integrations, MailChimp has integrations, Vertical Response has integrations.

You probably will not be able to discover new useful tools and adapt your email setup to them as fast as commercial services can.

2- How much time are you willing to spend reviewing and dealing with email layouts?

Most mass email services have preview options and ways to test your layouts that are built into the design process. MailChimp offers separate mobile previews for your campaigns. Campaign Monitor has some nice testing options.

People with the necessary tech skills can use software to test your layouts — but are you really going to do that? If yes, then great. As long as then you keep testing it regularly for the most common email clients in use by your list recipients. Assuming that your system collects that data for your list.

And this is related to my third reason…

3- Do you really know all the features that you want?

These services often know what you want before you know it. These companies have access to lots of organizations that have similar needs to you. You are paying a small price to have access to a lot of expertise.

Features like A/B testing, email client statistics, ranking your list members by their social media activity, tracking mobile opens: these providers are better than you at staying ahead of the curve of desirable features even if you do have dedicated tech staff for this.

4- Are you going to provide better security and backups?

These services have entire departments that focus on securing data. They use secure pages for login, and monitor their servers for unusual activity. They have greater resources in this area than you. I hope you’re backing up your data anyway, but these commercial services are going to provide better security than you.

5- Do you know the rules of mass email better than these companies do?

I am amazed at how many groups send mass email without a a clear unsubscribe option and a physical mailing address (a sure indicator of DIY email). Separate from being mildly rude, these are two things required by the CAN-SPAM Act. You can argue that you aren’t obligated by the the federal CAN-SPAM Act because you’re a nonprofit, but c’mon! People should be able to unsubscribe from your list with a single click. And you may know you’re not commercial, but ISP spam filters can’t necessarily tell.

Commercial services want to help you to comply with the law as well as the ever-changing rules of transmitting email among different service providers.  Many won’t even send your email without an unsubscribe link. Why? Because they know the rules better than you and they make it easier to follow them.

Just be honest about your capacity

Although I respect the DIY ethic and I share the privacy concerns that permeate our web experience, using a mass email service will save you time, money and frustration. Sure, you can build and maintain your own powerful email system from scratch, but I would prefer you were out there using your time and energy to change the world.

Let the monkeys manage your mass email needs.

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