Getting to know Mailchimp

Creative business

28 June 2019

Mailchimp is one of the most used email marketing programmes out there, particularly by small and startup business thanks to it’s free basic plan. It can be confusing to get your head around though, so in this post I’m going to give an overview of Mailchimp to help you understand some of the basic functions, as well as offer a few links to resources if you want to take your learning further.

Is Mailchimp right for you?

I think Mailchimp is a fantastic tool to use if you’re running a small or solo business, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right tool for your needs. Mailchimp wins for me because it has a free plan (up to 2,000 subscribers) and competitive rates after that, good email templates (although other companies have caught up on this in recent years), good integration with a lot of online programmes such as WordPress and Wocommerce, and in my experience works well with spam filters, so I trust subscribers will largely receive their emails.

HOWEVER that’s not to say Mailchimp doesn’t have faults. It has it’s limitations, and understanding the system to make the most of Mailchimp requires a bit of time – although that’s hopefully where I’m going to help! If you’re just setting up your business, or your mailing list is smaller, Mailchimp is a great place to get off the ground cheaply. If you have a larger list, need some really complex functionality or want something with a specific focus for Creatives or an online store, you might want to check out other solutions and invest in something with more capabilities.

Ultimately, I’d recommend you take a look at the various options out there and choose one you like best that most suits your needs and budget. There’s no right or wrong.

I notice a lot of creatives using Convertkit at the moment, which costs more but has capabilities Mailchimp simply doesn’t. It’s built specifically for creatives wanting to grow their business so if you’re wanting to really invest in your mailing list and/or run an ecommerce website it might be worth checking out.

A few other companies are Constant ContactGet ResponseSmartrmail (ecommerce) and Drip (also ecommerce). There are so many more, I can’t list them all – but try an online search!

Understanding Mailchimp

If you’re a complete newbie and never used Mailchimp before, I’d recommend opening an account and getting to know the very basics first. There’s a Mailchimp 101 page if you need help getting going.

The 5 menu headers at the top of your account page are the basis for everything you’ll want to do within Mailchimp: Campaigns, Templates, Audience, Reports & Content Studio. Templates is fairly self-explanatory (it’s where your email templates are stored if you create any), Reports is your report area, and Content Studio is where all your content (images, files, video) is stored. Campaigns and Audience need a bit of explaining however, if you want to get the most out of Mailchimp.


I start with audience because logically, it’s where you’ll start too. An audience is basically a mailing list; it’s where all your contacts are stored. It’s your audience list. Mailchimp have recently changed to calling a list an audience, because their intention is that you only have ONE audience list, not many different lists like you might use on other platforms. If you want to send emails to certain people in your audience only, you can use groups, tags and segments (I’ll get to that shortly).

Having one audience means that if somebody clicks unsubscribe then they are definitely being unsubscribed from all of your emails. This makes being GDPR compliant much easier, not to mention it’s better for your subscribers. Have you ever clicked unsubscribe on an email, only to find you’re still receiving emails from the company promoting a slightly different thing a few weeks later, which you then also have to unsubscribe from? Annoying, right? With Mailchimp, you can offer an unsubscribe button as well as an ‘update your email preferences’ button on all your emails so people can choose which emails to receive if they don’t want to completely unsubscribe.

When might you want multiple audiences?

When the purpose and content of the audiences is completely different. For example, you might want an audience for ‘Customers’ and an audience for ‘Suppliers’. If a supplier then bought something, became a customer, and then unsubscribed from your customer audience, they are not also unsubscribing from all their supplier emails.


Groups are effectively a way to create mini mailing lists within your audience. You can set groups up so they are visible to your audience in their preferences, and even on your signup forms, and allow people to select what emails they want to receive. Say you sold marshmallows, had a stall selling your marshmallows at markets around the country, and also put on special offers and giveaways. You might want to set up 3 different groups called ’Newsletter’, ‘Market events’ and ‘Special offers and giveaways’ for example. This would allow people to select what emails are most relevant to their interests.


Segments are a way to choose who to send an email to based on the information you hold about them. You are literally choosing a segment of your audience based on some of their details. This could be a variety of different things such as when they signed up, where they signed up from, what tags they have or don’t have, whether they read an email or not, whether they are a new subscriber, a new customer, a long-time customer, what country they’re in; you can even choose to send an email to everyone in your audience called Julie if you wanted to (truly). There are so many more possibilities than I’ve given examples of here as well.

This can seem overwhelming at first. The trick is not to start by thinking about what Mailchimp can do, it’s to start by thinking about what YOU want to do.

What would be helpful for your business?
What would give your customers a great experience?
What are you wanting to do that you aren’t doing right now?

Sometimes the answers to these questions can be quite complicated, or require thinking through a whole process of events. It can help to draw or write the whole process out before creating emails, especially if you want to set up autoresponders. If you’re creating autoresponders, it helps to consider the following for each email:

Who do you want – or NOT want – to receive the emails?
When should they be sent?
Why are they being sent? (what is the purpose?)
What does each need to say?
How is this best achieved (tags, groups, segments?)

If you’re finding it confusing, try talking it through with a friend or business buddy for some fresh perspective.


Tags are labels that you can create and apply to your contacts which are based on information only you know about them. A tag can be whatever you want it to be. The purpose is so you can categorise your contacts in whatever way you want to, for example:

Workshop participants
Programme participants
Saturday class students

…whatever you want.

You can create segments based on tags, which means you can choose to send campaigns to contacts with certain tags, or send campaigns to everyone except contacts with certain tags.


This is where you create any kind of campaign action. It’s where you can set up regular campaigns (normal emails) automated emails, landing pages to encourage sign-ups, ad campaigns, postcard campaigns (actual printed postcards sent in the post) and social posts (social media campaigns).

These can all be highly useful tools depending on what you want to achieve, and it’s worth getting to know them. The two most used in my experience are the normal emails and automated emails. If you want to start somewhere, start with these two – just on their own you can do wonderful things. Automated emails are definitely your friend if you want to run a larger email campaign or plan to run something like a shop and you can learn more here.

Learning more

The best way to learn Mailchimp is to get in there and start using it. Start with the basics and learn the more complex functions gradually over time. If you need a helping hand along the way there’s a few places I recommend visiting online:

Mailchimp itself has a whole help section of user guides that are worth referring to if you need to learn how to do something in particular:

Skillshare has a bunch of courses and you can get a month free trial:

Chimp tutorials have free resources available, and a course starting soon which might be worth investigating:

And of course Youtube is always a handy tool!


There’s a lot of talk about the importance of having an email marketing strategy but all this really means when you run your own business is being clear with yourself about what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. This could be anything from “I’m going to email a letter fortnightly-ish” to a 20 page strategy plan and 6-month calendar plan. Do whatever you need right now to move forward authentically in your business. Some people send emails 3 times a week, some people only email when they feel they have something worth saying; find YOUR path and don’t be afraid to change your mind and try something different down the line.

A couple of good resources I recommend for a bit of authentic email marketing planning are:

Cerries Mooney’s Aligned List Building Workbook for $14.95

Letters From a Hopeful Creative Podcast / Episode 32: Mailing List Q&A

Happy Mailchimp-ing!

Do you have any questions? Or any resources not here you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you – post a comment below!


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  1. Ali

    Great blog Rhiannon, thank you! Content is helpful and the tone is so you – exactly how you speak. Well done! x

    • Rhiannon Adler

      That’s so good to hear, thank you Ali! I hope it helps you get a bit more out of Mailchimp – if there’s anything missing that you’d like covered do let me know. I’m thinking about creating video tutorials in future for some things too! xx


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