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Freelancer's Hourly Rate Calculator

A lot of our MailChimp customers are freelance designers and web developers.

So we thought you'd be interested in this hourly-rate calculator over at Freelance Switch:

At one point, when our company was developing websites for a living (as "The Rocket Science Group"), we had an hourly rate. Even if you charge "per project" you still need to know a baseline hourly rate as a reference point. We revised our hourly rate every year, using some crazy Excel spreadsheet that we hacked together by trial and error.

I just tried the Freelance Switch calculator using numbers that I remember from our web-dev days, and it was spot-on. Wish this thing was around back then.

One thing to take note of---it'll ask you how many days you can work, and how many hours you can work each day. That's common sense. But the real question to ask is, "how many hours do you realistically expect to BILL for?" Very few people ask that question. Kudos to Freelance Switch for including that. IMHO, it should be in a big red box, because it's the most important question to ask a freelancer.


Most freelancers think, "Well, I work 12 hours every day, so I'll bill for 12 hours." But if you actually track your invoices (note that I didn't say track your "time," such as with a stopwatch) you'd be surprised how few hours in the day you can realistically bill for. In our company of high-strung, burn-the-candle-at-both-ends workers, we found that 3-4 hours a day was a good average (depending on the role). Shocking. It's why we included that metric in our PunchyTime product. It's not really for freelancers (who also need billing and invoicing). But if you're a small agency with multiple designers (and you already have invoicing/accounting software), PunchyTime will tell you what the average billable time per employee really is. It's crucial for agencies to know that.

Anyway, very few hourly rate calculators actually take that question into consideration, but the Freelance Switch one does. Very nice.

June 30, 2007 in Emarketing, Business | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

HTML Email Mistake: Image-based unsubscribe link

We've already talked about some of the dangers of image-based HTML email (See: Common HTML email design mistakes).

I'll say it again, though. All-image HTML emails look like spam, so they trigger spam filters. Even worse, most of them display with the images turned off by default, so your recipients don't always see your message (which is why you should always test your campaigns before you send them).

All this time, I've neglected to mention that it's a bad idea to make your unsubscribe link an image. Kinda thought that was common sense.

Well here's an article from Ken Magill at DIRECT magazine about a woman who reported a marketer to the New York attorney general’s office, because her email program never displayed the unsubscribe image:

It even suggests that you might be breaking CAN-SPAM law if you send email marketing with an image as your unsub link.

One tip the provide is to also include the full URL of your unsubscribe link, just in case your clickable hyperlink doesn't work.

MailChimp users: the built-in templates we provide for your campaigns already have a text-based, one-click unsubscribe link embedded. If you want to display the full path for the unsubscribe URL, insert it with this tag: *|UNSUB|*

June 27, 2007 in Email Design, Spam Topics, Tips, Tricks, Best Practices | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Vonage Abuses Refer-a-Friend Program

Wow. I learned about this from Mark Brownlow's blog.

Apparently, Vonage asked customers to refer friends to their service. You've probably done it before. You fill out some tell-a-friend form, and if your friends sign up, you get a little something in return. But you assume that any legit company would never abuse that information, right? If they did, it would be like shooting themselves in the foot, right?

Well, looks like Vonage just shot themselves in the foot.

Check out this story from Andy Sernovitz' Blog. 

And this one from Cnet's Daniel Terdiman. He got an email from Vonage that tried to make it look like it was recently sent from his friend---but his friend has been in the hospital, unconscious, for the last 2 weeks. Ouch.

Sadly, this is not the first time we've seen this sort of thing. We've posted something from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) not too long ago.

If you've got one of those tell-a-friend or refer-a-friend systems in place at your company, now might be a good time to review your privacy policy.

At MailChimp, we occasionally get phone calls from newbie email marketers who want to offer some kind of "tell-a-friend" or "forward-to-friend" tool in their email campaigns. And they ask us if we "track the emails of those friends, so we can add them to our list too."

Um, no---that would be evil. And now, thanks to Vonage, we know what can happen when you do this kind of stuff.

We do offer a forward-to-friend tool, but the only thing it tracks is "total number of times your email was forwarded."

Related: Refer-a-friend best practices

June 25, 2007 in Spam Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Unsolicited Snail-Mail Preferred over Unsolicited Email

Pitney Bowes just published a study that shows (are you sitting down for this?) people don't like spam.

Sarcasm aside, there is something to learn from this report. If you want to send unsolicited messages about your business to a whole bunch of people at once ("get the word out!"), don't do it with email. That would be spam. See Spamhaus' Definition of Spam. Basically, you can send one person an unsolicited email about your business. That's called "doing business." We all do that, all the time. But send an unsolicited email to a whole list of people at once---that's spam. For example, let's say you walk over to the local Chamber of Commerce, and get a list of local business owner emails from them (apparently, a lot of people do that). It's spam if you take that entire list of emails and send them an unsolicited HTML email newsletter (no matter how relevant or cool the email looks). It's not spam if you send individual emails to each person about your business. I wish all the Chambers of Commerce would give that disclaimer. 

So use snail-mail to get the word out. According to Pitney Bowes, people are more likely to read it, and less likely to trash it. Best of all, include a URL in all your snail mail, asking people to visit your website and subscribe to your email list (and make it worth their while).

June 21, 2007 in Emarketing, Business | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Weeding Out Your Email List

Getting started with permission email marketing? Helping a client prepare their first campaign?  You don't want to hit "send" then get flooded with spam complaints, or even worse---get blacklisted by a major ISP. Here are some things you can do to make your first campaign go smoothly...

  1. If your list is very large, remove any email address that you haven't contacted in a long time. People cancel email accounts as soon as 6 months nowadays. Sending too many emails to bad/cancelled/expired email addresses makes you look like a spammer who purchased an old email list somewhere. Too many "undeliverable address" bounces, and ISPs will start blocking emails from your company. Some large ISPs take old/expired email addresses (that haven't been used in ages) and turn them into "spam traps." They figure any email sent to such an old address is obviously spam.
  2. Are you exporting from Outlook Address Book? Weed out any email addresses from tech-support@my-isp, or sales@amazon, etc. Many email programs automatically add email addresses to your address book simply because you replied to an email from that person in the past. If you send an email newsletter to everyone in your address book, you're bound to accidentally send to someone that you never even knew was in there (here's a real life example).
  3. Are you assembling a list from some kind of CRM? Make sure you're not grabbing lists of "Prospects" or "Maybes" from your sales team. Your sales team gathers contact information for every single person they meet at trade shows, conferences, whatever. Anything that moves is a "prospect" to the sales team. That's the way it should be. But those prospects did not opt-in for email newsletters from your company. Those prospects probably wouldn't mind a one-to-one email from that sales guy she met at the tradeshow 3 years ago. "Oh yeah, I remember that guy" is how she might respond. But if you suddenly send an email newsletter from your company, she'll react by clicking the "This is spam" button in her email program, which sends a report to her ISP. The ISP will then scan the email, and potentially block all future emails from your company, no matter where you send it from.
  4. Separate your lists. One campaign does not fit all. Do you have one big, ginormous list of email addresses? Break them into groups. Some of them might be "People who bought something from me." Some might be "People who signed up for my newsletter." Some might be "Members of the press/media who follow my company." Some might be, "People who entered a prize drawing, and didn't opt-out from future emails from my company". Don't send one blanket campaign to all of those people at once. ISPs have a "threshold" for spam complaints. Too many at one time, and you're blocked. Break them into separate lists, and put together relevant content for each list.
  5. Take a glance through your list and look for catch-all type email addresses, like "" or "" or "info@" and especially "webmaster@" (web masters are perhaps the grumpiest of all people, because they get so much spam). There are pranksters and jerks (your competition) who will sign up someone else's email address to your list without their permission. Just to get you in trouble. Also, very few people subscribe to lists with their "sales@" email address. So when we see something like that on a list, it's a good indicator that the list was "scraped" from a website somewhere. If you spot a lot of these on your list (or your client's list), you should ask if perhaps any employees in the company took it upon themselves to add "people who should want our campaign" as opposed to "people who actually do want our campaign." Unless you used double opt-in and confirmed every email address, it's a good idea to try to avoid these kinds of emails.

More specific to MailChimp, people often ask how they can remove dupes and typo'd emails from their lists before importing into MailChimp. There's really no need to do that. We clean duplicates and incorrectly formatted addresses from your list automatically during the import process.

June 19, 2007 in Tips, Tricks, Best Practices | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Email Marketers: You Deserve A Raise

"According to the study, which surveyed 630 marketing executives, salaries have increased from an average of $50,526 in 2005 to $63,547."

June 14, 2007 in Emarketing, Business | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Esquire Magazine Interview

When I was in grade school, I was one of the first kids to wear checkerboard Vans, parachute pants, and Swatch watches. I also carried a Trapper Keeper notebook with a bitchin' Lamborghini Countach on the cover (jealous?).

Being such a fashion pioneer, I've always fancied myself on the cover of Esquire Magazine.

Well folks, until that day comes, I'll just settle for tiny little side quotes in articles like this:

June 13, 2007 in MailChimp News | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Zeldman's Rant Against HTML Email

When someone pointed out Jeffrey Zeldman's rant about HTML email to me a couple days ago, I thought, "Great. Another nut-job like this guy over here."

See, when we first started MailChimp back in 2001, anybody who Googled "HTML email" would get a link to our free email design guide for web designers---after the link to that nut job who proclaimed HTML email as the work of the devil. It bothered me back then, because we really saw HTML email as a potentially useful tool for business. The fact that people saw his page before ours pissed me off to no end. I tried everything to get my page ranked higher than that guy. I even tried making a page called, "7 reasons HTML email is a good thing" where I tried using the same META-tag tactics, but sort of in an opposite-dimension kinda way. Didn't work. Thankfully, Google (and Father Time) decided that guy's web page is no longer relevant (kinda like Zeldman's rant) and that content showing people how to actually do it right and get work done should float to the top. Oh yeah, and the invention of Google AdWords helped, too. Anyways.

Some people have pointed out that Zeldman's rant was a bit ironic, considering MailChimp had an ad running right there on his website. I got an email asking me if I was mad about the whole thing. Meh, we enjoyed the traffic. Truth is, we saw an uptick in signups from web designers who wanted to learn how to properly code and then check their HTML emails. I even got a few emails from people who were thankful for the rant, because that's how they discovered MailChimp. So all in all, the post was good (and a big thumbs up to The Deck).

Zeldman has since posted a followup, but it's not really worth reading if you're experienced in any way with email marketing. Basically, "Don't spam." And if you're a good designer, there's nothing new for you, either. Basically, "Don't do useless stuff." If you're a web designer, and you're interested in seeing some common mistakes that web designers make with HTML email, read this instead.

For what it's worth, I've had my own "nut-job" moments. There was a time, long ago, where I called any designer who used Flash in any way whatsoever a "Flashole." To my defense, back then Flash was primarily used for those annoying website intro pages (which I still believe was the single cause of the dot-com fallout). Nowadays, I quite like Flash, because it's being used for all kinds of useful stuff. I hate to admit it, but I'm even reading "Flash for Dummies" in my spare time.

I also called CSS a "pipe dream" back when it was first introduced, because it didn't work in all the browsers, and it was more work coming up w/hacks than just using friggin' tables and font tags. And I don't care what you say, but having a CSS file that's hundreds of lines long is not gonna help you maintain a website any faster, or save you time on redesign. Nowadays, I quite like CSS too (I still suck at it, but I like it). I should probably get myself a copy of Zeldman's book (cough).

If we've learned anything from all this, it's that posting silly rants only results in: 1) web traffic, and 2) showing people what an angry old fart you've become.

But XML---that's just plain stupid. Mark my words. It'll never, ever, ever catch on.

June 13, 2007 in Email Design | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Tiny Fonts Trigger Spam Filters

One of our users just designed a nice email campaign for his client, and tested it in our Inbox Inspector. Overall, he received a passing score, but we noticed something in the spam filter checker.

Spam Assassin and MessageLabs didn't like the fact that his email footer used "tiny fonts" in it:


As you can see, Spam Assassin gave it a full 2.6 points for that! They say the default threshold for Spam Assassin is "5" but we tell people to try to stay below "3" (because c'mon---who really keeps their threshold at 5 these days?). Better safe than sorry.

Our customer really had a nice looking template, and wasn't trying to hide anything. But spam filters think that tiny fonts are a sign that some spammer is trying to embed a whole bunch of confusing content into their message to throw off their scent.

Our customer's footer had text specified with: "font-size:9px." Interestingly, our own email templates specify our font size to be 10px, but we've never been flagged for that.

So if you have fonts in your footer that are really, really small (like we all tend to do), make sure they're no smaller than 10px in size.


See what else Spam Assassin scans for in your email.

Learn how you can use MailChimp's Inbox Inspector to test your email marketing campaigns and transactional emails

June 6, 2007 in Deliverability, Tips, Tricks, Best Practices | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Email Marketing Mistake: The Old Address Book Dump

A very nice web designer from a small town in North Carolina sent out a promotional email campaign for her client, a local beauty salon. It invited recipients to "come in and get a manicure" at a discount. It was her client's first email campaign.

Immediately after she sent her campaign, we got an email from a very, very angry man about how "this woman is using MailChimp to spam me." Hmm, it is a little weird for a man to be getting an email to come in for a manicure.

I checked out the man’s email address, and noticed the domain was for an ISP located in the same small town as the sender.

That’s too much of a coincidence to be spam, but I suspended her account temporarily (just to be safe) and investigated...

I asked him, "any chance your wife signed up for this newsletter?"

Nope. No wife. No kids. And nobody who would ever have access to his computer. "She obviously purchased an email list from somewhere," he tells me.

Now, if some local plumber sends an email to 3,000,000 recipients, that idiot bought a list. But this woman sent to a couple dozen people, with no other complaints. Nothing out of line for a local salon. Hmm.

He also tells me that his email address has been dormant for years, and he was shocked to even be receiving any messages to it. Hmm. Did she scrape the address from some old website? Did she buy an old list, or get some list from the local Chamber of Commerce (another very common source of spam complaints)?

I sent the woman some questions about her client's list. She was mortified about being accused as a spammer, and went to her client to find out what was going on.

The client had absolutely no idea why she was being accused of spamming. "It was only sent to my clients" she says.

After hours and hours of back-and-forth emails and phone conversations with the sender, her client and the complainer, we finally figured it out. The client simply dumped her entire Outlook Address book and imported it into her email list. She figured the only people in her address book were her clients, since that was her "office computer."

But the complainer wasn't a client. So how did he end up in her address book?

Turns out he used to be the tech support admin for her ISP, way back before they were bought out by a bigger ISP (hence the old, dormant email address that he hasn't used in years).

We resolved the issue, and the complainer, now an admin at a much larger ISP, thanked us for taking his complaint so seriously. If this were handled differently, or if he wasn't so patient, he would have had the power to blacklist the sender (and MailChimp) at his ISP. Whew.

Time Wasted: One day

Lesson Learned: Don't just dump your entire address book into your email subscriber list, for Pete's sake. You're bound to have a handful of email addresses from your ISP, tech support, Amazon sales, all the free trials you've ever signed up for, etc. If you don't sit down and really weed through that address book to remove these other email addresses, you'll inevitably get reported for spamming.

June 5, 2007 in Abuse Desk Stories | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

MonkeyBrains! is the official MailChimp Blog. MailChimp is a product of The Rocket Science Group.