MailChimp Basics: All You Need to Get Started

Mailchimp Basics - all you need to get started on Mailchimp


When I was first setting up my business online, I was so caught up in getting my website, marketing collateral, and packages set up, that I left an e-mail service like MailChimp to last.  The whole idea just seemed frustrating and overwhelming enough that I pushed it to the back burner.

After procrastinating for months, I finally gave in and was actually quite surprised.  Once I understood the basics, I realized it didn't take much to get going and the functionality it provided was actually pretty darn important.  So, no procrastinating for you!  

This tutorial includes videos, screenshots, and step-by-step instructions so it's all super clear.  Oh, and if you'd just rather download this entire post (the WHOLE thing) as a handy PDF that you can keep on your desktop, click below!


What is MailChimp?  

MailChimp describes itself as a "marketing automation platform," which is a markety way of saying it sends out automated messages via e-mail and other social media platforms (such as Facebook and Instagram).  At it's most basic, you'll be using Mailchimp to send out e-blasts, newsletters, and campaigns.  

Here's Why I Like It

MailChimp has one of the lowest bars for entry amongst its peers.  First off, the free-version of its service has huge amounts of usefulness, and the second tier is actually pretty darn inexpensive at only $10/month, which allows you to send unlimited e-mails, send them based on time-zone, and set up automated sequences of e-mails to send to clients (again, amongst some other things).  

Here's What We'll Cover

Here's what we're going over today, which is all you'll need to get up and running.  

  • How to create your first e-mail list

  • How to add contacts and set up a signup form so you can start snagging those e-mail addresses

  • How to deliver a content upgrade

  • How to send your first newsletter campaign

Creating Your First E-mail List

If you prefer watching over reading, click below for the video walkthrough of this section.

If you want to send out e-mails, newsletters and campaigns using MailChimp, the first step is to create an e-mail list which will hold your e-mail addresses.  It's possible that you're going to have several lists going at once, especially if you are creating Content Upgrades (click here if you're not sure what Content Upgrades are - I did a whole post about them), but we're just going to get you started here on your first, primary list.

Basics of Mailchimp Curious Life Header

Once you've created your account with MailChimp, at the very top toolbar you'll see your options.  They are Campaigns, Templates, Lists, and Reports.  By clicking on Lists, you'll be brought to your Lists page, which is where alllll the magic happens.  On that next page click "Create List" on the top right, and you're off to the races.  

Mailchimp basics list details The Curious Life

MailChimp List Details

In the next page you'll actually create the details of your list.  You'll name it, specify the e-mail address that you'll say the e-mail is coming from, the name it's being sent from (you can use your name or your company's name or even just "info"), as well as a reminder on the bottom of how people signed up for your list.  Don't worry about "Campaign URL settings" — MailChimp automatically generates this, so you can skip over that part.


Yup, this is a big one: MailChimp requires your physical address to create a mail list.  Sounds slightly invasive, but did you know it's actually the LAW in many countries?  It is!  It's essentially to help suppress SPAM and try to keep things a bit more honest (the jury is out on how effective it is, but it matters not: it's now our civic duty).  If you are not comfortable placing down your address, and I do not blame you if you are, I'd heartily recommend you invest in a local PO Box at your post office.  The cost is usually mere dollars per month and it's worth it to keep your privacy.

The last step is to specify how often you want to be notified of the absolute DELUGE of e-mail addresses you'll be receiving.  Your options are a daily summary, a one-by-one notification of anyone subscribing, and a one-by-one notification of un-subscribes.  Select whichever floats your boat: you can always change your mind later.  

How to Add Contacts & Set up Your Signup Form

If you prefer watching over reading, click below for the video walkthrough of this section.

To find the list that you just created and to access all the bits we're going to talk about in the next couple of sections, you can always go back to the top toolbar again and select "Lists."  Just click on your new list and you'll be brought to the area where you can get started on adding contacts to it, edit the list name or other details, and creating your sign-up forms (amongst other things). 

Adding Contacts

You'll notice that, front and center, MailChimp lets you know that you don't have any contacts (thanks, MailChimp — we're working on it).  Contacts can be added one of three ways: by either manually typing them in, importing a list, or by having people sign-up.

1. Manually Adding Email Addresses

  • Click on "Lists" on the top toolbar and then click on the list you'd like to add a subscriber to.

  • Click on "Add contacts," as noted in the image below, and then click on "Add a subscriber" and add their information
    *Note: As those added are not opting-in themselves, It's assumed you have permission to add them to this list.

Add Subscriber to Mailchiimp

2. Importing a List

  • Click on "Lists" on the top toolbar and then click on the list you'd like to add a subscriber to.

  • Click on "Add contacts," as noted in the image above, and then click on "Import contacts"

  • Select what method you'll be using to import your contacts. Most programs and services allow you to export contacts as a .CSV or tab-delimited text file, which you can then import here. Or, if you use a service such as Google, Salesforce, Zendesk, or others that MailChimp has partnered with, you can automatically import these by selecting "Integrated Service".

Setting Up Your Signup Form

Ahh, now for the fun part!  We're going to quickly lay out your signup form so you can start collecting those e-mail addresses on your website and social media.  All you have to do is to select your list, and click "Signup forms" from the top menu.  (You'll see it in the above graphic next to "Add contacts").  The select "General forms" and you'll be in the "Create forms" section.  This is what the top part will look like:

Mailchimp create signup form

If you click on that grey drop-down menu, you'll see ALL the forms you can create and edit from here.  We're just going to focus on your Signup form.  

Super Important: Also here is the URL link that will go directly to this form.  You can share it directly on Facebook or any of your social media accounts, or even create a button or link a graphic image on your website to go to directly to this signup form by using that URL!  Super easy, right?

Design Your Form

The second half of your screen will look like the below screenshot, split between a live-view of your form as you build it, and the right-most portion where you can either add a field, or edit the field settings.  Note: Those two headers on the top right, "Add a field" and "Field settings" can be toggled back and forth.  If you find yourself accidentally in one and want the other, just select it here.

My recommendation is to keep it simple.  I usually ask for only e-mail addresses, but others like to include things like their full names, birthdays, website, etc.  Generally the less people have to fill out, the more likely it is that they'll actually do it, so try not to make it overly-burdensome.  You can edit the design of your form in the "Design it" tab, and you can change the names of the various fields and buttons under the "Translate It" tab.  Have fun!

Mailchimp Design List

How to Deliver a Content Upgrade Using MailChimp

If you prefer watching over reading, click below for the video walkthrough of this section.

Now that you're a little familiar with MailChimp, this will be a piece of cake.  If you're not sure what a Content Upgrade is, I wholeheartedly urge you to get caught up to speed by clicking here, which explains ALL THE THINGS. (They're essentially one of the keys to building your e-mail list).  

First, an answer to a common question: Yes, each Content Upgrade that you create will require its own list.  Yup.  No getting around it.  If you have several lists, it is possible to combine them later using a built-in "Combine List" functionality that MailChimp has, but that will be covered in a future post.

So, what we're going to do here is customize the automated opt-in process so it includes delivery of your Content Upgrade.
First, let's review the sequence of events when someone signs up for your list:

  1. They submit their e-mail address using the Signup Form

  2. They are forwarded to a website with a reCAPTCHA "I'm not a robot" checkbox

  3. E-mail 1: An Opt-In confirmation e-mail is received in their inbox, asking them to confirm their e-mail address

  4. E-mail 2: They receive a "Thank You for Confirming" e-mail. This is where we're going to insert your Content Upgrade.

Super Important: The full opt-in process must be completed by subscribers in order for them to be added to your mailing list.  If they do not complete it, you'll never know and they'll never be fully added to your list.  This is why we have the Content Upgrade added to your "Thank You for Confirming" e-mail instead of that first opt-in confirmation e-mail.  

What we're going to do is customize these automatically generated e-mails (both E-mail 1 and Email 2). 

  • Go back to the Create Forms page (same directions as above: select your list, and click "Signup forms" from the top menu, select "General forms" and then you'll be in the "Create forms" section.)

  • Click on the drop-down menu and select "Opt-In Confirmation E-mail".

  • Write something engaging, witty, clever or all of the above! I usually say something like, "Oh, you are SO close to getting your XYZ Guide! Just click the confirmation button above and it'll be on its way!). If you'd like, you can change what the confirmation button says by going into the "Translate It' panel. I usually have it say something like, "Yes, Send On The Guide!", etc. This automatically saves as you go, by the way!

  • The next step is to go back to the drop-down menu and now select "Confirmation Thank You Page"

  • This is where your readers will get the goods. Go ahead and tell them how great they are, how happy they've joined, and then write, "And click here to download the Guide to Wearing Fancy Pants" (or whatever it's called). Just click on the link button in the text editor menu (image below)

Mailchimp link files content upgrades
  • The link pop-up box will appear. Where it says, "Link to", click on the drop-down menu and select "File". From here, you can upload your guide and it'll automatically link! Boom! Done!

Congrats! That's all it took to have your Content Upgrades link up and get those opted-in e-mail addresses flowing into your list!

How to Send Your First Newsletter Campaign

If you prefer watching over reading, click below for the video walkthrough of this section.

An incredibly powerful method of keeping in touch with your readers is to have regular newsletters, and it's all done out of the Campaigns tab at the very top of MailChimp.  And now that we have your list all set up, it's super simple.  Here's how to do it.  

  1. Go to the Campaigns Page and click on "Create Campaign" in the top right.

  2. Click on Create E-mail in the pop up

  3. Follow the instructions to name your Campaign (Maybe something like, "Test Newsletter" to get started), and select the list you're going to be sending it out to. For this first run-through, select that you'll send it to "Entire List" for now.

  4. Click on the blue "Next" button on the bottom right corner of your screen (it's tiny)

  5. In the next screen, you'll have your opportunity to create your subject line (I recommend it be very eye-catching). There's loads of other options on here about tracking and social media: just keep the defaults selected and don't stress too much about this for now. Press the "Next" button in the bottom right corner again.

  6. Templates! This is the fun design part, so have at it. There's no wrong choice here as they're all designed to be streamlined. Choose a template that works for you and take advantage of the easy drag-and-drop features of MailChimp. Add in social media buttons, your logo, images, a great headshot, video, etc. Get creative here and use the full breadth of your marketing and branding assets. Don't have any assets? Create them using something like Canva or Photoshop.

  7. Once you're all designed and ready to roll, press "Next" on the bottom right and schedule it to go out at a specific time, or send it right then and there! First newsletter: Done!

Hints, Tips, and Tricks

  • You can easily preview your newsletter by clicking on the "Preview and Test" button on the top right when designing it.

  • Right next to that button is the Save as Template button, which is a GREAT idea to use. That way you don't have to start from scratch for your next newsletter, but it saves it as a template to use going forward.

  • What content can you use? A great idea could be to preview the first part of blog posts that you've written, having a button link directly to the rest of the post, or you could simply send a letter or update out to your followers. Promotions, free stuff, or even a marketing survey would also work well here.

  • Your campaign CANNOT be changed after it's sent out. Once that puppy is sent, it's gone, so make sure you've copy-edited beforehand (and if you can have a friend also do a once-over, that may be a good idea).

  • There's no best time or best frequency to send out newsletters. I'd recommend knowing your clients and their schedules, and working within that scope. Do they check their e-mail first thing in the morning, or are they more active in the evening? Do they want to be e-mailed once a week, once a month, or once a quarter? You'll know best and you can always change things up as you go.

So that's it!  We got you up and running on the basics of MailChimp.  Getting comfortable with the design and "their" way of doing things can be a bit of a curve, but it's nothing you can't overcome with some exposure and practice.  

And, if you haven't downloaded this post as a guide yet, click here! 

It's a super-handy way to keep this on your computer for whenever you need it.  Enjoy!

6 Easy Content Upgrade Ideas
What are Content Upgrades? (and How You're Missing Out)
How to (easily) Make Crazy Amazing Worksheet Forms

Scott Robson Coaching Curious Life


Scott Robson is a branding and entrepreneurial coach who helps new businesses and leaders focus on what matters.