There are numerous benefits to trying a service for free before making a purchase. Test driving a free email marketing service like SendGrid can be beneficial for many reasons. In this post, I’ll walk you through the main decision-making points you should consider and will start by sharing how a free email marketing service is a lot like a free food delivery subscription. Seriously. I recently started cooking. After [insert an embarrassingly large number of years here], I finally realized that I can’t live off of Velveeta macaroni and cheese and takeout forever. So, I decided to ease my way into the kitchen, by starting with a home cooking and delivery service. As a novice cook, I also didn’t want to fully commit to a monthly subscription from the start. What if there were too many steps to follow or the recipes I wanted weren’t offered? Fortunately, many of these services offer free trials, so I was able to try a few out to see what worked best for my (admittedly picky) needs. As I was going through my food delivery selection, I was reminded a lot of the process email marketers go through when evaluating a new provider. Sound like a logic leap? Bear with me because there are actually a lot of parallels. Just like I found my way to a quick and healthy food delivery service (I’m still a loyal subscriber!), I’ve seen many email marketers find their way to a stress-free and engaging email marketing experience with SendGrid’s free email marketing option. Why Free? Like in my cooking examples above, there are many hurdles that email marketers face when evaluating new solutions. Including: The time committed to learning a new platform Email design capabilities Workflow changes How to import and organize recipient lists and segments Buy-in from our bosses and team members Insight into our recipient engagement stats Compatibility with our transactional email provider Oh yeah…and budget And this is just the start! How can you commit to figuring out all of these questions without giving your platform a test drive first? As marketers, we all work our own way (just like we all approach new recipes our own way) and we each have unique time constraints and workplace pressures. To accommodate that, you need an email marketing service that works for you and with you. Of all of the points mentioned above, there are 4 that I think are the most important to focus on and are the ones that we often talk about with our fellow email marketers. 1. Email design and code editing When trying a free email marketing service, ensuring that there’s an easy way for you to access customizable templates and to edit and build your existing templates is paramount. How your emails look are not only a direct reflection of your brand, but also have a direct impact on your engagement. Every click counts, so make sure that your email design connects with your recipients. (For more email design tips, check out this interview with one of our experts!) For those of you in a time crunch (or for those, like most of us, who are email writer, designer, analyst, etc. and don’t have the time to design our own templates), ensure that your email provider stocks you up with some pre-existing templates (SendGrid Marketing Campaigns offers 12 responsive, ready-to-use templates for free!). Also, make sure that their editor doesn’t break your code while you’re editing. This can be one of the biggest headaches for email marketers. You spend so much time perfecting your HTML—you have to protect it! To help, SendGrid’s tackled this issue with our error-free code editor. Take a look. Issues like this are why it’s so important to try a free version of your email marketing platform first. Don’t commit before you know what your every day will look like! Bonus tip: One thing to look out for with free email marketing trials is that many providers will insert their name and logo at the bottom of your templates as a “fee” for using their service for free. Most of us don’t want to advertise for another brand in our marketing emails, so be sure to vet this out during your search. (Fortunately, SendGrid Marketing Campaigns does no such thing! Your emails are all yours!) 2. Connecting your marketing and transactional emails It’s always a plus to have your marketing and transactional email programs under one roof. It’s one login, one bill, and one collaborative process for your team. If you don’t know already, check with your developers, or whoever manages your transactional emails, and see what email provider they use. When you’re both using the same platform, you can share templates and analytics, and you can keep your program consistent. Use your free trial period to see how collaboration changes with your dev team. I bet that you’ll see that you’re duplicating less work and you’re improving how you optimize your campaigns because you’re learning from each other’s success and failures. (And it’s ok if there are a lot of failures—we’ve all been there!) 3. Time! Time. We don’t have a lot of it (hence the popularity of the meal delivery services!)—so learning the ins and outs of a new email provider can be hard. That’s why it’s important to look for a free email marketing service that offers detailed resources and support to help you. While it’s commendable to troubleshoot on your own, it’s a whole lot more efficient to get answers right when you need them. SendGrid offers a detailed knowledge center, a step-by-step in product tour, and ticketed support to help guide you. Bonus tip: Work your way workflows! An even better way to learn a product is to test its features when and how you want to. Most email marketing services require you to follow rigid, pre-determined workflows and steps you have to complete before testing other areas of the product. But, what if you don’t want to do that? SendGrid’s Marketing Campaigns allows you to build, design, and edit your way. This is especially helpful when you’re first learning the tool—you don’t get held back by someone else’s rules. (Just like in cooking, sometimes you want to prep as you go, other times you want to do it all up front—but the choice is yours!) 4. Sending volume and contact storage Most email service providers will provide a free trial that then rolls into a paid plan after a specified period of time. So why not free forever? Many providers also offer this (SendGrid does too—after 30 days of 40k emails for free, you can send 100 emails a day for free to a list of up to 2k contacts, forever) but at some point, if your business is growing, you’ll need to send larger volumes of email. Larger email volumes require more care from your sending infrastructure, greater insights into your sending behavior, and more control over your IPs (see bonus tip below). That care and insight will inevitably come with a cost. Also, as your email program grows, so does your email list! At these higher stakes, it’s important to have a tool that allows you to segment your list and track historical engagement for each of your segments. These learnings help build the foundation for a high-performing email program. When you reach this point, you know it’s time to move on from a free email marketing service to a paid plan. Bonus tip: Dedicated IPs are one of the best tools you have to positively impact your deliverability. They keep you in control of your reputation, instead of having you share with other senders at your ESP. (Learn more about shared vs. dedicated IPs here). But, dedicated IPs are not offered during free email marketing trials. There’s just too much at risk with test sends that happen during trials and IPs don’t grow on trees (though that would be awesome)! So dedicated IPs play a huge role in why free email marketing trials have an expiration date. You can (and should) only share IPs with other senders for so long before it’s time for you to build your own reputation. Takeaways Trust and reliability are key to making the right product choices. I like to know what recipes are being sent to me every week in my food delivery, just like I like to know what editing and support features will be available to me in my free email marketing service. With so much on our minds and our plates (pun intended) at work, we have no room for surprises. Use the tips above to help assess your choice of a free email marketing trial and be sure to add SendGrid to the list. We’ve put a lot of thought into building our email marketing feature set that helps you as you grow your business. so you’re ready to benefit from it right from the start.