The 8 Marketing Tools I Use to Run My African Digital Media Project, The Flint
Why I chose them, how I have them set up, and how they’re helping me automate subscriber acquisition and engagement.
The Flint (theflint.io) is a magazine about internet culture in Ghana and Nigeria.
It’s also an opportunity for me to become familiar with productivity-enhancing marketing automation tools I’ve been curious about for a while.
This is a living document of the various tools I’m using to make The Flint. Last updated: April 30, 2017
🤔 A quick note about the cost of tools
I’m using a combination of free and paid tools to run The Flint, and those paid tools currently cost me a total of $93/month, which is steep, considering the fact that I’m not making any money from The Flint.
I pay it gladly.
- I have a professional incentive to learn these tools. People frequently ask me for advice about how to get stuff done with the internet, and I realized recently that my knowledge of best-in-class tools had grown stale. The Flint provides a great opportunity to learn by doing. I think of $93/month for The Flint as an investment in my learning and growth.
- At some point, The Flint will become a custom website and I’ll be able to consolidate some of these tools. The early upfront cost is a small price to pay to be able to ship quickly.
All that said, if you spot an opportunity to reduce my costs, please let me know! I needed to move quickly so I optimized for speed over cost, so I’m almost certainly spending more than I need to. Please recommend your favourite alternatives at firstname.lastname@example.org.
🔗 The Domain — Namecheap ($32.80/year)
I buy all my domains from Namecheap, including the one for The Flint— theflint.io.
Why I buy domains from Namecheap
- Super intuitive user interface
- On the rare occasion where I’ve needed to contact Contact Support, the support staff has been incredibly helpful. I’m able to get a reply via livechat within minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Namecheap is easily one of the top 3 customer support experiences I’ve had online.
- Namecheap is popular enough that when I need to do any funky URL-related stuff with other tools, there’re usually Namecheap-specific instructions, so it’s all very easy.
- They have monthly discount codes and big discounts at the end of the year
Why did I specifically get a .io domain instead of .com or .net? I covered this (and much more) in the Live Q&A followup to this story. Enter your details below to watch the free video.
I’m super happy with Namecheap, and I see myself using them for many years.
🏠 The Website — Medium ($75, one time)
The Flint website is built on top of Medium, an online publishing platform.
It’s free to write on Medium, but if you want a custom domain (as in, if you want to make it so that when you enter a URL, it goes straight to a Medium publication), you need to pay a one-time fee of $75, “which covers setup, SSL certificate and on-going support.” More info about custom domains on Medium.
Why the Flint website is built on top of Medium
Why did I choose to build The Flint on top of Medium, versus using a another publishing platform like Wordpress or website builder like Squarespace?
- Medium stories get lots of reach: I’ve been writing on Medium for four years, and many of my most viral stories got the reach they did because Medium works hard to surface stories to the people who’re most likely to enjoy it. As a brand new digital publication with a niche audience, leveraging Medium’s distribution network helps me reach more people more quickly.
- Simple, intuitive writing interface: Medium has the most intuitive writing interface and content management system (CMS) I’ve used online. It’s fast, has lots of features, and is improving all the time. I haven’t enjoyed writing inside Wordpress or Squarespace when I’ve tried them.
- I wanted to ship quickly: I overthink things, and as a designer, it’s super easy for me to get lost in a design project. I needed to quickly validate if The Flint was something people would even care about before investing months in a custom website design.
While I’m happy with Medium right now, I know I’ll move off eventually to a custom site, almost likely built on top of Craft CMS (stay tuned to be hearing a LOT more about Craft in the near future).
Medium is limiting in lots of ways:
- It’s not possible to publish subfolders: so if I wanted to publish theflint.io/ebook, for example, that wouldn’t be possible.
- Medium owns the relationship: Like Facebook and similar social platforms, Medium doesn’t make it easy to collect direct contact information of readers. (Note: You can get around this with Upscribe — I talk about this below)
- Can’t embed Facebook pixel on Medium pages: so not possible to retarget people later
- Limited customization options: Beyond changing colours and logos, there’re few opportunities to make the website look and behave uniquely.
All that said, I’m mostly happy with Medium as the home of The Flint for now. If I were doing it all over again, however, I’d have taken a serious look at new entrant Verst, which launched a few weeks after I launched The Flint. I kinda wish Medium had all of Verst’s features, to be honest…
What other platforms did I consider? I go into this and a lot more in a live Q&A. A free video of the Q&A is available below - enter your details below to watch it instantly.
Okay, this is going to need a simple diagram.
Drip is my email marketing system, to which all subscriber info is sent. It’s fed by two sources, Upscribe forms, which are embedded on the story pages, and the subscriber info entered on the Subscribe page, subscribe.theflint.io, which is built on top of Instapage.
Now let’s break it down tool by tool, starting with the most important one, Drip.
(If you’re wondering why I have Instapage connecting to MailChimp and Zapier, instead of going straight to Drip, I cover that in the Instapage section.)
😍 Email marketing automation — Drip ($41/month)
DRIP! I think I might need to do a looooong story JUST about Drip and how awesome it is (in fact, this story started as a post about Drip :D), but I’ll try to do my best in this summary without rambling for too long.
Why did you decide to use Drip for email marketing?
I used Drip for the first time with a client’s project, and loved it so much that I decided to use it for The Flint. I’m currently only using a tiny fraction of Drip’s features, but this is definitely a tool I want to gain mastery in, so I’m building my list on it.
- Drip is technically not an email marketing tool, but a marketing automation tool, which opens up a more powerful suite of user engagement possibilities. For instance, in future, I can set up my system as follows: “If this subscriber frequently reads articles about Digital Marketing in Africa, send them a 24 hour offer for 10% off a paid video course called ‘How to use digital marketing to sell offline products in Africa.’”
- There are almost no marketing automation tools on the market that provide as much functionality at Drip’s price point. Competing marketing automation tools like Hubspot and Marketo start at many hundreds (even thousands) of dollars. Drip has a free tier for up to 100 subscribers and the paid plain starts at $41. If you’re looking to get into marketing automation, there simply isn’t a better way to ease into it.
- When Drip is integrated with your website, it provides a visual timeline of the user’s engagement with you all the way back to when they first visited your website. This example shows a snippet of a subscriber timeline from one of my clients’ Drip account. As you can see, you get a detailed individual subscriber all the way to the exact date and time when they first landed on the website.
- Drip has in-built lead scoring, which means that you can assign points to a subscriber depending on their actions (eg. if user visits “pricing page, +3” or “if user clicks a link in an email, +1”). This lets me very quickly pull up a ranked list of my most engaged subscribers. The following screenshots show what it looks like.
- You can quickly set up emails so that the emails are personalized for each person who receives it. This can be as simple as swapping out the first name in the greeting, all the way to sending out completely different emails based on who the person is.
- I used to hate the fact that Drip doesn’t have an in-built drag and drop email builder like MailChimp, but that has become one of my favourite things about the product. Without the distraction of shiny buttons, I’m so much more focused on the CONTENT of my emails, versus the DESIGN of them. Look at this serene writing area (below). I’ve come to look forward to sending emails again.
- You can take this personalization even further, outside of emails. A developer can use Drip to change the content that displays on the website based on who is looking at it. The site content, therefore, becomes personalized, and will convert a lot better than generic copy. eg. Say you sell to designers, developers, and consultants. You can build on top of Drip to make it so that when anyone who is tagged “Designer” in Drip sees different, targeted calls to action. If dynamic personalization is interesting to you, you should check out RightMessage and Logic Hop. These videos show the idea in action.
How I’m using Drip right now
Right now I’m using Drip to
- Send an automated email sequence to people who subscribe to The Flint email list.
Here’s a screenshot of the simple drip sequence I have set up right now.
Each email in the drip sequence has a very specific purpose. I’ll go deeper into this in a later story.
2. Send broadcasts to subscribers
3. Discover who’re my most engaged subscribers — doing this using lead scores.
How I intend to use Drip in the very near future
I’m itching to put together a short email course delivered through Drip. Even this usecase will only be using a small fraction of Drip’s power, but I’m excited to learn a lot about how to set up these sorts of things.
Drip is very much the beating heart of The Flint — I couldn’t imagine doing this project without it.
I intend to build something truly special on the back of this incredible tool.
🐎 Send subscribers from MailChimp to Drip — Zapier ($20/month)
Zapier is a nifty little tool that helps you connect various digital tools. I use it for a variety of things, and one of them is that I use Zapier to make it so that when a new subscriber hits MailChimp, the subscriber is also created inside of Drip.
To be honest, if I were using Zapier JUST for the Flint, I’d likely qualify for the free tier, but I’m using it for other things as well, which tipped me into the paid plan. Still super worth it.
✨ Collect subscribers from Instapage— MailChimp (Free)
I used to be a big MailChimp fan — I’ll write something later about why I moved on. Right now, I’m only using it out of necessity as a bucket to collect subscribers from Instapage and send it to Drip. I explain why in the next section about Instapage.
🏆 Official subscribe page — Instapage ($29/month)
Why’re you using Instapage for the subscribe form?
- Drip’s default forms are a dull grey — I worried that they wouldn’t convert very well if I drove traffic to this page.
- It was important that the link to the subscribe page was something like subscribe.theflint.io or theflint.io/subscribe, but I couldn’t figure out a way to link the subscribe.theflint.io subdomain to the Drip hosted form. (There’s probably a way to do this — please hit me up at email@example.com if you know!)
Why was it important for me to have the custom subscribe link? I go into this during our free Live Call and Q&A later this week. Register for free here.
- I needed a landing page builder that 1) had a drag and drop tool for designing simple, beautiful, high converting landing pages 2) could connect with Drip
- After exploring different landing page tools, I found Instapage to easily be the most intuitive, most affordable tool I found. It’s an absolute delight to design with Instapage, and I kinda wish they’d become a full-blown competitor to the popular website builder Squarespace.
Major downside of Instapage
Instapage is near-perfect…with one big downside: they currently don’t support direct Drip integration!
There’re a number of workarounds (1/ I could embed the HTML of a Drip form directly on the site, 2/ I could connect Instapage directly to Zapier, 3/ I could use Webhooks), but all three require being on the more expensive Instapage paid plans, which cost $55/month (Professional)or $127/month (Premium). The only workaround I could think of to connect Instapage to Drip (while staying on the more affordable Basic plan) is to connect Instapage’s forms to MailChimp, and then use Zapier to send the MailChimp subscribers to Drip.
It ain’t pretty, but it works 🙈
I’ll no longer need Instapage when I have a custom site, but it works for now.
Instapage is one of the best tool discoveries that came out of embarking on this project! If you’re looking for a landing page builder, I definitely recommend it.
😘 Collect emails directly from inside stories — Upscribe (Free)
Upscribe is lets you embed simple email collector forms directly inside Medium stories. I use Upscribe so that readers don’t need to go to a different page to subscribe. It looks like this (this is a live form, try submitting your email).
Just started using it. Will try it out for a few months to see whether it converts better than linking away to subscribe.theflint.io.
📅 Scheduling interviews and requests to connect— Calendly (Free)
Calendly lets you quickly schedule meetings without the email back and forth.
The way it works is:
- You sync up your calendar and specify your available dates and times
- When someone wants to put time on your calendar, you send them a link where they can quickly select the time that works best for them.
The people I interview are inevitably extremely busy, so Calendly helps make the interview-scheduling process extremely efficient.
Additionally, I’ve been getting increasing numbers of requests to meet or do a call, and while I enjoy them and accept almost everyone, a single ill-timed meeting can destroy a day’s worth of productivity (See Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule for more on this).
By marking off Thursdays and Fridays as meeting days with non-clients, I’ve experienced a surge in productivity for the rest of the week. I have hours at a time to make things! Bliss.
I’m loving Calendly and I’m kicking myself that it took me so long to start using it.
☎️ Want more? Watch the video recording of the LIVE CALL follow-up to this story.
Soon after publishing this story, I did a LIVE call and Q&A follow-up to go into further detail. You can watch the free video below.
It includes a live screenshare walkthrough of exactly how I have these tools set up, and further info I couldn’t fit into the write-up. Enter your email below to watch the free video instantly.
👏🏿 That’s it for now!
I’ll be constantly updating this story as I start and stop using tools, and as my opinions about them evolve. To make sure you get an alert whenever this document is updated, subscribe to The Flint at subscribe.theflint.io.
Have recommendations for tools I should check out? Message me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article is exclusive to The Flint, a magazine about internet culture in Ghana and Nigeria. Subscribe to The Flint to receive the next article in your inbox.