Recently I started a small paid subscription newsletter for my music company. It doesn’t make a lot of money, but it’s a great way for people to support what we do and get some added value.

Unfortunately, the way I had it set up – simple subscriptions in Paypal – required a lot of maintenance on my part. I had to add subscribers into Mailchimp, and then manually remove them if they canceled, or if their payments lapse.

I looked into a lot of subscription management software like Recur.ly and Chargify, but they’re really expensive – close to $149 a month for the amount of subscribers I wanted to maintain. Since I’m not making much of anything from the list, that would mean that a huge percentage of my profit (which is meant to support the actual business) would go to simply maintaining the list itself.

Instead, I decided to set up a home-brew version of a paid subscription email newsletter using systems I’m already using for other things (like automating my social media marketing).

The video above will show you exactly how I set up my automated subscription newsletter using automation tools like Zapier, virtual assistants from Fancy Hands, a free newsletter from Mailchimp, and Paypal to process payments. Check it out!

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Hey! I'm Dan. I help awesome small businesses connect with more clients online. I love writing about solid web design, online marketing, SEO, growth hacking, and other nerdy stuff. Also, I love burritos.
  1. Howdy Dan,

    Great resource.. I love Zapier as well.

    Quick question in regards to the fancy hands.

    How many requests do you get charged for each one of those emails?

  2. Hey!

    I currently have 15 requests a month, for which I pay around 45$ a month. I find that to be more than enough requests for me.

    There are cheaper plans with fewer requests, as well as an unlimited plan. For me, I save more than enough time and money through FH each month that it’s worth it.

    Dan Barrett (Author)
  3. Hey Dan – I’m looking to get started with a newsletter service and found this video as I was searching for how to automate some of the process… so thanks for putting it together. Any chance you could email me a copy of the email you send to Fancy Hands with your all of your login info obviously removed? Thanks!

    -Michael

  4. Hi Dan,
    thanks for creating this video. I found it superuseful.

    One small question: with Fancy Hands, one articulated task like yours, where one has to go and search for specific emails, assign them to groups and so on, how many tasks is that worth?

    The only other point that surprised me was giving access to your Gmail account, but I guess one could create one dedicated to this without taking too many risks with privacy. What’s your thought?

  5. Hey Robin!

    1. The task I lay out here is only 1 task for FH. It’s doable in about 15 minutes, which is more or less the limit (although they’ve done hour long tasks for me in the past when things got hairy – they’re great.)

    2. FH has access to my Gmail account, yes. The privacy issue doesn’t bother me, but you’re absolutely right that you could separate out the accounts if you wanted!

    Dan Barrett (Author)
  6. Thank you!! This is exactly what I needed. I’m signing up for zapier and fancy hands right now. Great video!

  7. Hey Dan, this is really a super cool idea. The only thing that would be better would to eliminate the human element (and the Fancy Hands subscription costs). Have you looked into using Mail Chimp integration with MediaPass? http://mailchimp.com/about/press-releases/2012-01-31/

    I’ve been checking it out and trying to figure out if it will do everything automatically. MediaPass does charge a % of the transaction but also handles the merchant account for you so there is some value there. As I’m contemplating a daily email paid subscription model, I’d have to update it everyday (or use a virtual assistant) so that’s a bit too labor intensive for my tastes.

    Tom Foote
  8. Yeah – it’s very hard to completely automate this with no human element, especially using so many 3rd party systems. You’d probably be better off paying someone on elance or odesk to develop a script that would process this for you – since I had Fancy Hands already, that was a much easier route for me. Your situation will vary! 🙂

    Dan Barrett
  9. I have been trying to do this using GetResponse and MemberPress on WordPress. MemberPress handles subscription payments and integrates with GetResponse to maintain the list — so lapses and unsubscribes are automatically handled.

    MemberPress costs maybe $100 a year. GetResponse costs maybe $15 a month. GetResponse can also integrate with aWeber and MailChimp, although the aWeber integration has limitations.

    I have not gone live with this solution, and I may never do so, because of a problem you may also have with your solution. It is the “unsubscribe” and “update account information” links that the bottom of e-mails that GetResponse (and all similar providers) place at the bottom of e-mails.

    A user who wants to unsubscribe may try to do so with these links. That might stop the emails from going out to them, but it will not stop MemberPress from billing them. You can receive e-mail notifications from GetResponse when people unsubscribe and address this problem with FancyHands.

    But the “update account information” links are more problematic. GetResponse will not and cannot send you notifications when users update their contact details. If someone has a new email address and enters it into GetResponse via one of those links, I am not sure (I suspect not) that MemberPress will update its own email address for that user. More problematic is instances where people want to update their payment method and use one of those links…. Obviously, they can’t update payment method by clicking on a GetResponse link, so they are going to be frustrated and confused.

    I am not sure where to go with this, so feedback from others is welcome.

    Another option I am looking at is Drip (http://getdrip.com). They are a startup that competes with GetResponse and the rest. They offer a turnkey solution for doing this, integrating payments with newsletter delivery, so unsubscribes, lapses and account updates are all automated and integrated. That is the claim. I haven’t tried to implement it yet.

    Their basic plan costs about $50 a month.

    My big reservation about Drip is their lack of visibility. Until a couple days ago, I had never heard of them. If they are not good at marketing themselves, will they still be around in 18 months? If anyone is familiar with Drip and can ease my concerns about their viability (or confirm them!) I would appreciate you replying to this comment.

    Glyn
  10. Dan,

    Awesome video and setup. I have been searching for a service and like you, found nothing but super expensive options. Tinyletter (now owned my mailchimp) use to be able to accept payments, but alas they no longer do. Out of curiosity, how many unsubscribes, lapsed payments do you experience a month as a percentage of the list?

    Thanks again!
    Chris

  11. Hi Robin,

    I’m setting up a paid subscription blog for subscribers from Haiti. Most Haitians don’t have checking accounts. They use their smartphones as debit cards and conduct everyday transactions by tapping into the money/time balance in the phone. I’d like to get paid every month through an automated withdrawal program.

    Any thoughts on how to facilitate this?

    Thanks,
    Gus

  12. Thank you for all the great information! It’s nice to know others are willing to share inexpensive ways to set up a paid subscription newsletter. I appreciate all the advice.

    Elizabeth

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