How to charge your clients for email marketing

Like most services a web designer can offer their clients, there are many different ways to approach charging your clients for email marketing. At Campaign Monitor, we're in a unique position in that we speak with designers charging their clients for email marketing all day every day. Over the years I've seen a huge range of billing approaches taken, some which make sense and others that seem plain crazy.

We occasionally get asked by customers how they should charge their clients for their services. The truth is, there's no one approach that works for everyone (you knew I was going to say that, right?). Having said that, out of the different models I've seen over the years, there are a few that make the most sense. The purpose of this post is to present you with some of these options and let you work out which approach suits you and your client's budget best.

The popular areas to charge for

Over the course of pitching to your clients, designing them a template, getting it delivered and then measuring the results, there are a number of points where you have the opportunity to charge for your services. Of course, most designers won't charge for all of these areas (though some do), these are just examples of what can be deemed billable work.

1. Template Design (flat fee or hourly rate)

This one's pretty straightforward, just like designing a single page site or a landing page, you charge your client for putting the concept (or concepts) together, then coding the approved design and finally testing that design in the most popular email environments.

2. Delivery (usually dependant on the number of recipients)

This is where the range of billing approaches starts to surface. Here are a few of the more popular billing approaches for covering delivery fees:

  • Charge your client a flat monthly fee that covers any campaigns delivered that month
  • Charge them based on a pricing bracket for the number of subscribers being sent to. For example, 2,000 to 5,000 recipients is $150.
  • Charge them a set per/recipient fee. For example, 4 cents/recipient with a flat delivery fee on top, such as $10.

3. Reviewing the results (flat fee or hourly rate)

Once the campaign has been delivered, the designer reviews the reports and makes recommendations to the client to improve or maintain results for subsequent issues. For example, you might have tried a different design approach for the newsletter's "featured product" which yielded a 17% better click-through rate. This is explained to the client and further recommendations might be made.

4. Subsequent changes to the creative (flat fee or hourly rate)

Obviously each campaign you send for the client will include new content. These changes can be made much more cost effectively than the original template design. If the client approves any recommendations you made after reviewing the results of a sent campaign, these may also be included in any updates you make. Because of this, 3 and 4 or often billed as a single item.

5. Other services we've seen designers charge for

While the 4 areas above are the most commonly billable areas of email marketing, I've seen designers also charge for the following separately:

  • Testing the design in popular email environments.
  • Cleaning and importing the client's subscriber list into their account.
  • Adding list subscribe forms to the client's web site.
  • Processing bounces and unsubscribe requests for the client (even though we do this automatically).
  • Giving the client access to web-based reports on the results or sending them a print-based version of the reports (usually a set monthly fee).
  • List and image hosting fees (even though we offer this for free).

The email marketing billing cycle

Just like most web sites, an email marketing program is an organic thing that changes over time. Each issue needs to include new content or a new offer, there might be a design tweak you need to make or a new email client to test in. As well as improving your clients relationship with their customers or driving sales, an email marketing program can also provide a great cashflow injection each month. Here's a quick example of how you might charge a client for your email marketing services on an ongoing basis.

Example email newsletter billing cycle

Campaign Monitor's pricing structure was a very deliberate decision on our part. We wanted a system that meant you only had to pay when you got paid, and you weren't left short if you had a quiet month. Because of this, the "Charge them a set per/recipient fee" approach from the delivery options above usually makes the most sense for our customers.

Try and keep it simple

From my own experience charging clients for email marketing and also the feedback we get from our customers, it seems that simple is almost always better than complex. Splitting the costs into template design, delivery costs and making subsequent charges is about as granular as most of our customers get and that model seems to work best for most.

Hitting your clients with fees for every little detail in the process can certainly be a profitable way to offer email marketing, but you're also running the risk of confusing some customers. Worse still, you may end up alienating some customers by giving the impression you're trying to milk them for everything they've got (even if you're not).

Finally, email marketing is often sold to clients as part of a wider package that might include a web site or some paid search advertising. Billing for the range of these services can get complicated pretty quickly, so the simpler you keep your email marketing component the better.


I'd love to hear how you guys go about charging for your email marketing services. Do you use the approaches I mentioned here or take a different approach to billing your clients?

Posted by David Greiner

8 Comments

  • riki
    27th February

    I wouldn’t feel comfortable adding a markup. I just charge an rate fee for the template design.

  • Brian
    27th February

    Great analysis and breakdown.

    I think a markup is perfectly acceptable. There’s billing for time and billing for value, and I think that adding a markup is a good way to be compensated for all the time and energy that goes into understanding everything behind the scenes and managing the whole meal deal. I don’t get paid directly to read all these articles and understand the best strategies for my customers. But they benefit from my knowledge and expertise, and pay for that value through what we charge for our services.

  • Todd
    27th February

    good list you made, thanks David

  • Damien
    27th February

    We tend to undercharge for template design and updates to each newsletter but charge a prcessing fee for each email (to cover CM’s minimum chrage)  plus a fixed (marked-up) distribution fee.  Our theory here is that we’re making the money long-term as opposed to all up front - its a partnership with the client.  Its also a lower barrier to entry and an easy sell. There are no lock-in fees and we dont charge for access to the results etc as effectively they’ve paid for that with the campaign update and distribution fees.

  • Email Marketer
    28th February

    David Great List! I would add to the ‘Other Services” section Basic and Advanced Web Analytics Reporting, if their mailings are designed to create hits on a website. Tracking Links or some sort of click-stream analytics would be really nice for your clients! If your client has a web analytics package or vendor and you are familiar with that provider, find ways to show how their emails generate volume and income from their mailings. This ultimately adds value to their email marketing and a way for you to help them strategically grow as a email marketer and as your client.

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    26th July

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    It’s 7/25/07. Here is your chance if you’d like to contact me.

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  • Dave Greiner
    26th July

    Hi Alex, both of our apps are self-managed tools, so if you want to use us, you’ll need yo track down a designer to task care of the creative and management for your marketing. I recommend checking out our gallery and approaching a designer you like, or dropping a note about the project in our forums.

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