Moving from Mailchimp to MailerLite: A Guide

Mailchimp made some major changes recently which were received very negatively – causing many users to flee into the arms of alternatives like MailerLite.

I moved to MailerLite a couple of months ago, and have been very happy with the change but, there are a few things you need to watch out for. Whether you have multiple, big lists with lots of automations, or are still growing your first list on the free plans, this post will guide you through all the issues.

Warning: it’s long. But there’s a prize for making it to the end. Plus it covers a lot.

  • First we run over the differences between Mailchimp and MailerLite – things like free plans, pricing, features, and integrations, and which of those differences really matter.
  • Next we look at the steps involved in physically moving your list across to MailerLite. This is actually the easiest part of the whole process, but there are some wrinkles.
  • With that taken care of, we move on to more advanced topics like switching over your automations, what to do about those pesky website forms and sign-up links, and also how to sweep up any stray Mailchimp forms out there in the wild so you don’t have precious sign-ups going to the wrong place. That last part can be tricky.
  • Then we wrap up with a few things you mightn’t have considered, like how to maybe keep a shell of your Mailchimp account open without paying anything, and why you might want to do that, at least temporarily… but also the hidden costs involved.

This post is not a comprehensive guide to those cataclysmic changes at Mailchimp which had swarms of people dropping it like a hot potato. That breakdown is here, if you missed it: Time To Ditch Mailchimp? (Spoiler Alert: the answer is “yeah, probably.”)

Okay, let’s get to it.

Mailchimp vs MailerLite: Pricing

MailerLite is considerably cheaper than Mailchimp, but one thing can take a bite out of those savings if you are based in Europe: VAT.

Depending on the nature of your business, you may be VAT registered, but you may not be, so that charge will come out of your pocket. Even with VAT, it’s still cheaper than Mailchimp, but VAT of 20-25% is pretty hefty (depending on which part of the European smorgasboard you call home).

Americans have no such worries though.

Pricing chart Mailerlite v Mailchimp

(Click on the above pricing chart if you want to see that in more detail.)

The only other catch, of sorts, isn’t really that big of a catch anymore. Historically, one huge advantage Mailchimp had over MailerLite was that it was free for up to 2,000 email addresses, whereas MailerLite’s paid plans kicked in at 1,000 subscribers. However, now that Mailchimp has significantly hobbled the free plan and is counting unsubscribes as part of your audience, the difference is essentially non-existent.

In fact, it has arguably swung the other way because Mailchimp no longer gives you access to basic things like automations or more than one list on the free plan, whereas MailerLite gives you all that stuff. And when it comes to paid plans, MailerLite’s are considerably better value given that Mailchimp has also gutted many of the paid plans while simultaneously jacking up their prices (note: legacy paid users at Mailchimp are spared most of the changes… for now… but new and free users will see this gruesome twosome right away).

Those new basic paid plans at Mailchimp don’t even include multi-part automations anymore and are limited to three lists, which is just crazy. You could have a list of 8000 people, paying Mailchimp $75 a month, but it won’t give you access to proper automations unless you shell out for the fancier plan at $99 a month, and even then you have usage limits. It’s pretty sly.

That same list will cost you $50 a month at MailerLite, with everything included. There is no gatekeeping of needed features behind a paywall or any of that BS. And the price savings will grow with your list. (Euroheads: that $50 charge will come out at $60ish with VAT.)

One thing that might reduce your costs – on either platform – are the respective affiliate schemes. MailerLite has two versions. The Refer A Friend program earns you credit against your monthly costs for each friend you refer who signs up. It also has a more standard affiliate scheme which you can read about here. Maybe I’m missing something, but I can’t see the advantage of using the Refer A Friend program over the affiliate scheme, which seems far juicier. Mailchimp also has an affiliate program but one where you earn credits against your monthly costs rather than cash-money.

(Note: I am both a Mailchimp and MailerLite affiliate.)

Mailchimp vs MailerLite: Features & Integrations

The feature set is pretty similar. There are some differences, but they may not be anything you particularly care about. For example, I haven’t noticed any feature missing from MailerLite yet that I was using at Mailchimp. I’m sure they exist, but I haven’t personally run into anything while rejigging a couple of onboarding sequences and sending my first few campaigns. And while MailerLite does have some extra features, they aren’t really things I use that much.

The big difference is with those Free plans, and Mailchimp’s growing tendency to strip away key features for higher priced plans. Automation is the big one obviously. Free plans at Mailchimp, and even the basic paid plans, don’t allow for more than an automated welcome message now. If you want a proper onboarding sequence for new subscribers (and you should!) then you can’t do that at Mailchimp without paying more.

The other feature differences are more minor – for me at least. MailerLite offers things like a Custom HTML editor and surveys which I don’t use, and things like sending by Time Zone and Landing Pages with custom domains, which Mailchimp does have but are only available on certain plans.

However, one big point in Mailchimp’s favor is its size, meaning the selection of integrations and plugins and widgets available are far greater. There’s no getting around that, but the number of MailerLite integrations is considerable and growing fast. Check if they have what you need here.

And then one big point in MailerLite’s favor is its challenger status, meaning customer service – in my experience at least – is more responsive and helpful and just friendlier. It feels like they want the business more, whereas maybe Mailchimp is too big to care now. (Not a slight on the customer service staff at Mailchimp, more the management/policies.)

Moving to MailerLite: Lists

This really is the easiest part of the process. It only take a couple of clicks. Once you open your MailerLite account you can import all your Mailchimp lists with a few button presses via the Mailchimp API. There’s a step-by-step guide here if you need it, but it’s so simple you probably won’t. You have the option to import all your fields, and keep those lists separate too. It’s very neat.

And then if you want to set up new lists, or splice and dice things differently now that you won’t be charged for duplicates, that’s super easy too – just note that “Lists” are called “Groups” at MailerLite (and have been changed to “Audiences” at Mailchimp – in case you haven’t logged in recently).

Unlike Mailchimp, you don’t start paying at MailerLite when you exceed the Free thresholds. You won’t pay anything until you actively upgrade your plan – but you will need to do that before sending to your list if it is greater than 1,000 subscribers, of course. But you can go ahead and open your account, import your list now, and get it all set up.

You don’t have to upgrade your plan and start paying MailerLite until you are ready to start sending emails.

Whether you start off on a Free plan or upgrade right away, I recommend familiarizing yourself with the interface. Set up all your lists (i.e. “Groups”), and copy across your various automations and onboarders (more on that below). I think I tooled around for a couple of weeks before actually importing my list, so you can do it that way too if you like. Just keep in mind that you might end up continuing to pay Mailchimp during any changeover period even if you reduce your subscriber count to nothing. More on that below too.

Anyway, moving subscribers is the easy part. Switching your forms and automations is a little trickier, and requires lining everything up right.

Moving to MailerLite: Automations

For some reason, I had it in my head that MailerLite’s automations either weren’t that advanced or were clunky or otherwise hard to use. I was very wrong. The system is simpler in the sense that the interface is much cleaner and more manageable, but you can do a lot more with MailerLite’s automations. Or maybe the system is just easier to use that I’m discovering more features, I don’t know.

You’ll see what I mean when you play around with it. Once you get used to the interface differences, it’s all quite intuitive. The only real thing I’ll add here is that you should take the opportunity to optimize those automations while you are going to the trouble of rebuilding them anyway.

If you’ve been skating by with a simple welcome email to date, and haven’t been properly onboarding people, then now is the time to build that out. And if you don’t send any welcome emails at all, then go stand in the corner until you’ve read Newsletter Ninja.

If you do have a multi-stage automation to warm up new subscribers, great. But perhaps review your reports in Mailchimp one last time to see if one of the emails isn’t pulling its weight. For me personally, I actually shortened my onboarding sequence. I felt the welcome emails were not fully representative of the weekly content of my list, and what I now do instead is push people towards my brand new Email Archive, which houses all the greatest hits.

This saves me a little admin too as new subscribers were often requesting links to previous emails on Facebook Ads or BookBub or how to launch a new pen name. Now they get access to all of that as part of the sign-up process.

This also helps with my deliverability and open rates, as I don’t have to put so many links in emails. But the decision to create an Email Archive was inspired by something else: a welcome bit of forthrightness from Mailchimp customer support. I was asking them what happens to the web versions of all my old emails (like this, for example). While Mailchimp said that those old emails would initially survive my account being paused or closed, they couldn’t guarantee how long they would stay up for. Fair enough, perhaps, but something to keep in mind if you also refer back to old emails a lot.

The only remaining wrinkle is what to do with subscribers part-way through an automation sequence, especially if it’s one that plays out over multiple weeks. Well, there’s no super neat solution here, because (AFAIK) you can’t just dump people into Step 3 of your new MailerLite automation. If you add those subscribers into the group which has a new automation attached, that will start them back at Step 1. But you can also choose to not have the automation fire at all and just throw them straight into your regular pool of subscribers. That’s what I chose to do as it’s easiest.

If you are having any trouble with setting up your automations, or just getting a handle on the interface, as this aspect is quite different to Mailchimp (but better, once you get it), then check out this helpful video guide. There are lots more guides like this on the MailerLite site too if you want to delve into segmentation or anything else.

Moving to MailerLite: Forms & Sign-Ups

Rebuilding automations in MailerLite is actually fine. It’s not quite the button pressing ease of importing a list, but I got through it way quicker than expected. Switching those forms across, and hunting down everywhere you might have scattered sign-up links is a bear though.

Well, it actually depends. If you were smart when dropping sign-up links in your books or during interviews or on social media etc., you would have linked to a page like this – a clean, optimized sign-up page on a domain which you control. Switching this to MailerLite just requires changing the place the form is pointing at. You can do that with plugins/widgets or you can get into the code itself, if you prefer.

This is really important: you must remember to re-authenticate your domain after switching to MailerLite. This will improve the deliverability of your emails. The guide to doing this is here and it basically involves going to the website of whoever your hoster is (e.g. GoDaddy) and changing the DNS records.

Just don’t do what I did, i.e. start the authentication process, get distracted by a sandwich, and then forget to finish it. This will break your sign-up forms and have everyone at customer service scratching their heads (sorry, customer service people).

That’s not the only wrinkle though. Maybe you didn’t realize that best practice for sign-ups was to host the form on your own site, rather than to use the free Mailchimp sign-up forms. If you linked to those instead, you have a more painful task ahead of you. This is what I used to do pre-2018 when I was crap at email, so I feel your pain. I still have a lot of books and posts floating out there in the cyber-ether pointing at Mailchimp forms.

I know that will describe some of you too, so here’s a workaround. Actually, I think everyone should do this to make 100% sure you have closed off all the pipelines going to Mailchimp.

Closing Down Mailchimp & Monitoring Pipelines

After I switched everything over to MailerLite, I turned off my automations at Mailchimp. I knew there would still be some people trickling in from somewhere, but I also knew that if they didn’t get the free books they were promised, they would email me to complain. I wanted them to complain!

Why? Because it gave me the opportunity to ask them where they signed up (and to apologize and give them their free book, of course). I find a couple of little pipelines into Mailchimp through this method, but it also gave me piece of mind too. I then took that handful of people and dropped them into my onboarder which started automatically firing and whisking them through.

Maybe you want to monitor that kind of thing over a longer period, but you don’t want to pay Mailchimp a hefty sum just to make sure you have switched all your forms and links across. There’s a way, but let me explain something about Mailchimp billing first, so you don’t get stung too badly.

Mailchimp determines your monthly fee based on the size of your list, but it makes that calculation based on the highpoint of that number in the last 30 days. I presume this is to stop people gaming the billing system by importing 20,000 subscribers, sending an email, then exporting them all again and paying nothing. So whatever the high water mark was in the last 30 days, that’s what they use to calculate your billing.

In other words, if you have 3,500 subscribers, and then move them all across to MailerLite and then export the records to your computer (which you must do to comply with GDPR – you must maintain records of how everyone signed up, and I don’t think importing your list to MailerLite will suffice), and reduce that subscriber count down to zero just to see who trickles in, you will get charged for 3,500 subscribers on your next billing date.

Closing your account or pausing your account means you will dodge that bill, but just reducing the account to zero won’t do that. But there is a workaround if you want to keep a shell of your account open for monitoring purposes, and you can follow the steps here – scroll down to “Downgrade to the Free plan.”

You have to actively downgrade your plan, simply removing all subscribers won’t trigger that for you. Note that if you have downgraded to the Free plan previously, and subsequently upgraded to a Paid plan, you will not be able to downgrade again.

Also of note: Mailchimp says this will keep your old emails from getting purged – remember, Mailchimp can’t guarantee that for paused or closed accounts.

However, there is a kind of hidden cost to doing this. That Mailchimp policy of charging you based on the high water mark of your subscriber account is going to kick in here, at least for the first month you are back on the Free plan. It’s only the subsequent month where you will commence paying nothing.

So, I made a clean break – I just wanted to outline the option to you, and the associated cost. To permanently close your account, follow these steps. Remember this will permanently delete your account, all your lists, reports, and maybe those old emails too. Make sure to back up all your data first. That process will export all your lists, reports, templates, campaigns, and any content you uploaded like pictures. It’s quite handy. However, if you ever deleted any audiences or contacts, those are gone permanently.

Moving From Mailchimp: A Checklist

That’s it! Moving is really not as bad as you think. You will be glad you did it, especially if you take my advice and use this as an opportunity to buff up your automations. Here’s a handy checklist to help you order your tasks:

  1. Sign up for your MailerLite account. Familiarize yourself with the interface and Help pages (they’re great, actually – with lots of video too if that’s how you roll).
  2. Import your list. Don’t worry about this automatically triggering payment. It’s not like Mailchimp, and you don’t start paying until you want to. (You can’t send to lists over 1,000 people until you do though.)
  3. Organize your account into the various Lists/Groups you want to use.
  4. Build your Automations/Welcome Emails/Onboarding Sequences.
  5. Switch Your Sign-Up Forms/Plugins/Widgets (plus your links in your books, if necessary).
  6. Export your audiences/lists to your computer for safekeeping – even though you have already imported them to MailerLite. You will need to keep records of how everyone signed up to comply with GDPR so this is very important.
  7. Start sending your newsletters from MailerLite.
  8. Close your Mailchimp account once you’re sure all sign-up forms are switched and data is exported. (Or revert to a free account by downgrading your plan to monitor that temporarily.)

One last thing…

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David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.