Affordable MailChimp Email Automation

Are you in the midst of deciding which email automation tool you should use for your next marketing campaign? As you've no doubt seen, there are a lot of different tools out there that promise smooth-functioning, hassle-free email automation for all of your lead capturing needs. And, a lot of those tools really do work well. The main question, instead, can often become, "How much should I spend on this?" At Trail 9, we've recently moved our marketing platform away from HubSpot (a pricier option), and we're now doing many marketing tasks in MailChimp (a much more affordable option), including our email automation.

HubSpot is a great platform that has a lot of functionality, and it's pretty easy to use. Sure, it has its limitations, like any tool does. But, it really is robust in various ways. The problem with using a high-end tool like HubSpot, though, can be the monthly bill that comes with it. Simply put, it isn't cheap. MailChimp, on the other hand, is a much more affordable option to carry out your email marketing campaigns. You can even use MailChimp's Email Automation tool for free.

However, MailChimp isn't exceptionally user-friendly if you haven't all of its tools before. So, today, I'm providing you with a step-by-step process of launching your first email marketing campaign using MailChimp's Automation feature. So, you too can work your marketing magic without crushing your wallet!


Checking Your MailChimp List

First things first: for email automation in MailChimp, you'll need to have a MailChimp List (an individual group of contacts stored in MailChimp). Each time you create a new email automation workflow in MailChimp, you'll need to choose which list is used for that automation.

You have a few options for creating a list in MailChimp. You can either:

  1. Add your contacts individually,

  2. Upload a CSV file and merge your fields, or

  3. Integrate MailChimp into your website's forms or eCommerce activity. (Using this option, you can set up your website's forms or eCommerce so that each signup/purchase is automatically added to one of your MailChimp lists. If you're interested in learning more about MailChimp integration, feel free to comment below, or send us a message at trail9.com/contact.

MailChimp Lists Category  MailChimp Lists Section

Setting Up Your Automation

Once you have the list that you're planning to use for your automation, you'll need to navigate to the top menu in MailChimp and select the Automation menu item. The resulting screen is where your email automations will be stored, once you've created them. So if you want to view, edit, or activate your automations at any time, you'll want to go to this screen first. You'll also be able to organize your automations by categorizing them into different folders if you choose to.

MailChimp Email Automation Category

To continue creating your automation, you'll click the Add Automation button on the right side of the screen. On the following page, you'll see quite a few different pre-made workflow options that MailChimp has available for you to choose from. If your needs fit any of the given categories, it may be well worth it to try using one of the pre-made workflows for your automation. For our purposes, though, we look to the bottom of the left-hand list of categories and select CustomOnce you've navigated to that section, click Automation when prompted.

MailChimp Email Automation Folders  MailChimp Email Automation Custom MailChimp Add Custom Automation

Following the next prompts, you'll name your automation workflow and select which list you want to use with it. Once that's complete, we're finally at our automation workspace!

Checking Your Email Trigger

You'll see that MailChimp has already made a default email in our workflow for us. Before editing the email's contents, it can be helpful to check its trigger and see if it needs to be changed. An email's trigger is the condition that causes that email to send. By default, every automation's trigger is set to '1 day after subscribers are manually added to workflow'. This can work fine for some purposes, but there are many other types of triggers that you can choose from to make your process more streamlined with what you're doing.

MailChimp Add New Email Automation  MailChimp Email Automation Trigger

To change your trigger, click the Edit Trigger link. Then, you'll see the time that the email is set to go out. It will always be set to 'delay sending for one day', by default. If you click this setting, you'll see a selection of more options, including immediately, hours, days, and weeks. In our automations at Trail 9, we usually set our first email's trigger to the immediately setting, so that it sends right after a contact joins one of our website's lists. This option works especially well for immediate email follow-ups, like for downloadable content or notification emails. 

MailChimp Email Automation Trigger Delay

If you want to change the trigger's condition so that your email sends according to a different prompt, click the Change Trigger link. Here, you'll see a selection of subheadings that each contain a different group of triggers. As this is the first email of the automation, you'll most likely find what you need under the List Management subheading (unless you're making an eCommerce workflow; then, you'll want to look under the eCommerce subheading). At Trail 9, we typically use the trigger, Signup: A subscriber joins your list, for the first email of an automation, as our forms are integrated with MailChimp. This way, a user who fills out one of our forms is automatically added to the MailChimp list associated with it, and we don't have to add them manually.

MailChimp Email Automation Trigger Categories

Once you've chosen a trigger, you'll need to click the Update Trigger button in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. You'll be sent back to your workflow page, where you can begin designing your email.

Designing Your Automation Email

Once you click Design Email, you're given four tasks to complete.

First, you'll need to create an internal name for your email, that only you will be able to see (not your recipients). This is so you can keep track of your different emails. Then, you'll need to create an email subject and fill in the rest of your sender information.

MailChimp Design Automation Email  MailChimp Automation Email Information

Second, you'll need to choose your email's starting layout. MailChimp provides various options for you, including pre-built layouts that are ready to fill in with your own text and images, further customized layouts, or themes, that only need your text, a list of your own email templates (if you've made any previously for MailChimp), and a list of your previously sent emails (MailChimp calls each email a Campaign), so that you can make just a few edits if you want something similar to what you've sent before. For this example, we'll choose our regular Trail 9 email template.

MailChimp Email Automation Template Categories

Next, you'll need to finalize your email's content. You'll see that your screen has been split down the middle, with your email on the left-hand side and tools for further edits on the right. By default, layout editing tools will be on the right first, which you can click and drag to your left-side email in order to add new blocks (or sections) for various content, like text, images, videos, or social media icons.

In order to edit your text, however, you'll need to click on a text block on your left-side email and then edit the text on the RIGHT side of your screen. Remember, the left-side email mainly functions as a preview— what the email will look like to your recipients. Anytime you want to switch back to your layout tools, just click the 'Save and Close' button at the bottom of your email. Then, the right side will automatically switch back to the layout tools.

One additional note: You'll need to edit the text of your email's preview area. The preview area is seen in small text on the top gray section of your left-side email. By default, it says, 'Use this area to offer a short preview of your email's content.' MailChimp won't allow you to activate your automation workflow if any of your emails still have their default preview area text.

MailChimp Email Automation Layout Options  MailChimp Email Automation Edit Email Text

Once you're finished editing your first automation email, you'll click the 'Save and Continue' link at the bottom of the screen, in the gray bar.

Adding More Emails & ACTIVATING!

You've finished the hard part! Once you have your first email in your automation, you'll want to click the Add Email button below it. This will generate a new default email for you. It's exactly the same as the first default email was before you edited it, except for the email's trigger. Every email AFTER the first one will have the default trigger '1 day after subscribers are sent previous email'. Just like before, you can edit this trigger to fit your needs, whether you need more time before your email sends or you want it to send based on a different condition. A trigger we use often for our later automation emails is, '3 days after subscriber does not click a link in previous email'.

MailChimp Email Automation Add New Email

Once you have the trigger you want for your second email, you'll simply design and edit the email just as you did before. And, you'll repeat this process until you have your desired automation workflow.

Once your workflow is ready to activate, simply click Next in the bottom right-hand corner of the screen, in the gray box. Then, you'll go over your workflow settings, fix any errors, and finally save and activate your workflow. Once it's activated, your automation will be working! Try testing it out to make sure it works just as you want it to, so you'll be sure of what your recipients will see from you.


We hope this tutorial has been helpful for starting your free automation workflow! If you have any questions or comments, send us a comment below or contact us at trail9.com/contact. Thank you!