Why I’m Moving My Email Course Away from Mailchimp

These days I live my online life by three guidelines:

  1. Never code unless there is absolutely. no. other. option.
  2. Choose tools that make my life easier and help me avoid future pain
  3. Always keep it real (what the kids call “keeping it 100”)

What the heck do these rules have to do with email courses? I'll explain at the end of this post. For now, let’s talk about my misadventures with Mailchimp and how it can help you.

(By the way, this isn’t a comparison post on all the email service providers (ESPs) out there. This is a post about how three providers handle your email courses to help you chose the right one.)

The Situation

I’ve been married to two ESPs during my online life, AWeber and Mailchimp. I switched to Mailchimp in 2013; for the most part, our relationship has been great. But lately I've been feeling misunderstood.

To create an email course in Mailchimp, you need to use their Automation feature. If all you need is a simple email sequence—and that’s it—you’re fine with Mailchimp. The challenges begin when two scenarios pop-up:

  1. You want to offer multiple lead magnets (opt-ins), like pdf downloads or video courses and give your audience the option of signing up for your course if they wanna
  2. You want to tag people based on their preferences so you can follow-up with personalized, specific content later

For example, maybe you signed up for the handy LMS comparison guide on the Zen Courses home page, but didn’t signup for the email course. Well, to make sure you don’t get the email course, I had to take the following tribillion steps:

  1. Sign up for Leadpages.
  2. Then add hidden merge fields into my Mailchimp form
  3. Give that merge field a specific name
  4. Setup a Leadbox
  5. Connect it to Mailchimp
  6. Make sure that the Leadbox puts a “Yes” in the hidden merge field
  7. Log back into Mailchimp
  8. Add segmentation to the automation sequence that says “if X is “Yes, do not send Y” (with Y being the email course)

And every. single. time. I created a new lead magnet, I had to do this (except sign up for Leadpages). Basically, I was trying to rig a tagging system so I could see what people were interested in. And honestly, I was fine with that..until the system started to break.

(If you're interested in offering multiple lead magnets, you'll have to follow the same steps. Bryan Harris gives a fantastic primer on how to do this if you’re interested.) 

Sometimes this rig would randomly break down or email people who shouldn’t get the email course. I started to get emails from many of you lovely readers saying “I’m not getting the course emails anymore.”

One time I tried to fix it and accidentally emailed everyone the first lesson. Not cool. Finally, the proverbial last straw came when I got another “I didn’t get X” email this week.

Fix the Bridge Before It Collapses

I live my life according to this principle. Why? Because for some crazy reason I like to enjoy my life. If I see a headache coming, I go out of my friggin’ way to deal with it before it becomes a migraine.

What does this mean for you?

It means if you’re starting to have headaches with your email service provider, find the right medicine before your list grows too big and you’re sprawling on the floor with a migraine.

So what are your best options for email courses in the email marketing would? In my opinion there are two: ConvertKit and Drip.

How ConvertKit Handles Email Courses

ConvertKit handles email simply and beautifully. To create an email course, you’d use their Sequences feature. They make it easy with pre-populated suggestions for each email, when to send it, and drag and drop reordering. It looks like this:

My Early experience with ConvertKit

After working w/ ConvertKit for a couple days, here’s what I found:

  • It’s easy to use
  • You can add tags and send content based on them
  • Your audience can choose to opt-in to your email course on their own
  • Email courses are linear. To setup more dynamic workflows, you have to create another sequence and link the two, i.e. when this course finishes send these follow-up emails.
  • You can copy over your Mailchimp formatting and create a template if you’re tied to your email design. This was intimidating for me because you copy over all of Mailchimp’s code—what if something breaks?
  • There aren’t a lot of direct integrations. You’ll likely have to use Zapier for things like Stripe integration.
  • There’s no lead scoring version of Mailchimp’s five stars to see how engaged people are with your emails
  • It’s easy to create different forms in ConvertKit
  • You could eliminate your need (and cost) for LeadPages

So what does this mean? It means that ConvertKit is ideal for you if you're a blogger or author who creates digital products.

How Drip Handles Email Courses

Drip specializes in marketing automation. Not sure what that is? Drip's founder, Rob Walling, sums it up perfectly by saying,

The core purpose of marketing automation is to engage and nurture leads over a period of time, until they are ready to make a purchase, then (in high-touch situations) handing the lead off to a human being to close the sale.

That statement might make you say "That's not me" and run to ConvertKit, until you realize that we’re all in sales. Maybe not high-touch corporate sales, but if you have an online business (and even if you don’t) you’re in sales. (Incidentally, accepting this will change your mindset about sales if you have a mental block in that area like I used to.)

Okay, fair enough. But that still doesn’t adequately answer the question of why you need marketing automation.

The short answer is, you might not. But if you want to increase your conversion rate, you do. If you want to send automated, specific and personalized emails to your customers based on their purchases—instead of a static newsletter—you do.

My Early Experience with Drip

Now to be fair, ConvertKit will automate most of what 80% of us bloggers need. Here are the differences that I found:

  • Drip is just...beautiful. Seriously, from the UI when you log in to how the emails look (yes, plain text emails can be beautiful!)
  • You can create dynamic workflows for your email courses in Drip. You can't do that simply in CK.
  • Drip has more automations and direct integrations, so there’s less workarounds.
  • Drip has a free trial and their support team will setup your email course for you.
  • You can do everything in Drip that you can do in ConvertKit…and then some.
  • You may not need everything you can do in Drip.
  • Because of everything you can do, Drip can be intimidating for non-coders.
  • Drip has lead scoring and event tracking so you can see how people engage with your content and products.
  • There’s no easy way to natively create embeddable forms without using CSS.

So what does this mean for you? It means if you have a lot of courses, geek out on optimization, or have an eCommerce shop, Drip will do more for you. It also means that you’ll probably have to code your forms.

Next Steps

Right now I’m undecided. Mainly because of rules #1 and #2 up there.

  • If I go with Drip, I’ll have to code embed forms or hire someone on Codeable to do it, which breaks Rule #1.
  • If I go with ConvertKit, I can’t shake the feeling that I’ll outgrow it and be back at square one in a year (or wait a long time for direct integrations like Leadpages and Stripe). And everyone knows that switching ESPs is a PITA. So that breaks Rule #2.

I’ll be wrapping up my testing next week. Stay tuned for my decision.


It’s so easy to obsess over this stuff. Don’t be that person who obsesses for months and never takes action. Here’s my two cents to make your life easier:

  • If you’re just starting to blog, choose Mailchimp. (Basic Automation)
  • If you’re blogging and starting to offer digital products, choose ConvertKit. (Intermediate Automation)
  • If you’re a problogger with a lot of products, an SaaS founder or a consultant who wants to automate their marketing based on your clients or customers interactions, go with Drip. (Advanced Automation and integrations)

Both services have great customer support.

Back to You

Do you have an email course? If so, which email service provider are you using?

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