Marketing Automation CRM… Inside Of WordPress? Would It Work?

Last Updated on October 7, 2020  

For most online businesses (including mine), email list hosting is a big expense. And it just gets higher as your list grows.

It is a kind of "success tax", in a way. You do a good job to grow your email list and your bill goes up.

Now, I'm not going to complain about it. Your email list is pretty much your most valuable business asset... and the amount of money you can make with a well-maintained subscriber list far surpasses what the hosting will cost.

But, still... 🙂

But, can you host your email list inside of WordPress and save the money?

This is something I have always recommended against, frankly. The reason is because it is a really, REALLY bad idea to send mass email from your own server. That hasn't changed. However...

With many options for outsourcing your email sending to remote SMTP services, things change. Even though you're hosting your own email list, you aren't sending those emails from your server. And that changes the game.

I have been pretty resistant to change in this regard, I admit. However, things have changed.

In fact, now there are real marketing automation CRMs that you can run on WordPress and compete with the likes of ActiveCampaign or Drip.

In fact, I recently just bought a lifetime license to a brand new WordPress-based CRM that I will likely use to fully replace Drip at some point in the next few months.

This move will save me between $1,500 and $2,000 per year. And that's not chump change.

So, let's take a look at this option. It just might be worth look into.

The Cost Of Hosting Your Email List

There are numerous options for hosting your email list out there. A lot of people just starting out end up looking for free options that, frankly, usually suck.

The usual free options include:

  • Mailchimp. Free up to 2,000 subscribers, with very basic capabilities. Plus, I don't like their system much.
  • ConvertKit. Free up to 1,000 subscribers, but again without any of the automation capability that makes ConvertKit a nice system.
  • Aweber. Free up to 500 subscribers.

If you want to use a real marketing automation platform, you really don't have a solid, hosted option.

Now, all these hosted companies will present a pretty solid monthly bill as your list grows. To show this, let's assume you have a list of 10,000 people and see what things will cost.

Mailchimp will start at $105/month

Aweber bumps up to $146.15/month...

ConvertKit? $149/month...

ActiveCampaign is a full marketing automation CRM, so naturally it costs more...

Drip is who I'm currently using, and here's where they stand...

These are all fairly significant expenses. Most of them you will need to pay annually to get that rate and that means a pretty significant upfront expense.

And because of what is sometimes pretty significant rate increases when you cross certain thresholds, you almost feel incentive NOT to grow your list as much as you can.

But, that's the cost. Is that the only consideration, though?

The Non-Cost Considerations For Third-Party Email Lists Hosts

It isn't just about the money, although for a lot of people (especially when first starting out) those bills are a pretty big deal.

When you're paying for these third-party services, what you're paying for is:

  • The web app that you're using to manage your list.
  • The hosting and sending of those emails
  • Their management of their server reputations in order to (hopefully) give you good delivery rates on your emails

But, there are some considerations that go with putting your most valuable asset - your email list - on these remote services. 

One is the extra bit of hassle with actually getting your leads into those systems. You have to think about those integrations and setting up API access, etc. Now, this is pretty easy these days because most software we would be using have built-in integrations.

But, now that data is over there. Is the data secure over there? Are they backing things up? Are you getting local backups of your email list in case something weird happens?

Is there any risk to your email list host just having a hissy fit one day and deciding you can't use their service anymore?

In the end, using third-party email hosting IS using "rented land". You don't control it. You're paying them rent and if you ever stopped paying them rent, they delete your list. If they think you're breaking their TOS, they can turn you off.

Now, in pretty much all cases, this is fine. This is the way things have been done. But, is there another way to go?

Well, yes.

WordPress Powered Marketing Automation CRMs

So, let's first repeat what you're paying for with an email list provider...

  • The software and web app to manage your list
  • The server space and the sending servers to push out your emails
  • The reputation of their servers so that (hopefully) your email is delivered.

Now, with your regular web hosting for your website, let's look at where things are here:

  • WordPress is pretty much a web app.
  • You're already paying to host it. Plug-ins can provide all kinds of capabilities.
  • There are remote email services that specialize in sending email and you can tap into those. very affordably.

This means that, yes, you can actually host your email list "in house" and it will work fine.

How well this works for you will rely on the quality of the software you use. In the past, many newsletter plug-ins for WordPress were pretty basic. Plus, they did the seriously stupid thing of actually using your server to send email. That's just a bad idea.

Sending mass email from your own server puts a lot of stress on your server, for one. Even more importantly, though, is that it is guaranteeing that your server IP address will end up on spammer black lists.  That's not good for your business, your reputation, nor the reputation of your web hosting company. Your web host  is guaranteed to complain and likely disable your account.

But, there are numerous options for outsourcing email to outside services, such as:

Pretty much what you need is a SMTP provider. SMTP stands for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. It is how email gets sent. And there are numerous services that will provide SMTP service where you can use their servers to send the email, but your OWN server to manage the list itself.

In terms of the actual plug-in you use, there are actually many out there. Frankly, a lot of them are half-baked and not worth your time.

But, the space is maturing.

Real online businesses want real marketing automation. Not just newsletter systems.

We are starting to use visual workflow builders to design automations. We're using tags and custom fields. We're doing more than just collecting emails and then "blasting" everybody the same newsletter.

This space is maturing when it comes to WordPress. Now, we're seeing real companies develop WordPress-based CRM options. These are no longer little side projects done by some open source developer in their spare time.

A few of them are...

MailPoet

MailPoet was one of the first solid options that runs on top of WordPress. It isn't really a full marketing automation platform. I would put MailPoet into the category of a solid Mailchimp alternative.

You can use it for free up to 1,000 subscribers. The cost goes up from there. For 10,000 subs, you'll be paying $63/month. Which is an issue...

MailPoet is a nice system, from what I can tell. However it seems as if it must use MailPoet's own SMTP service to send emails. For that reason, MailPoet seems to be a cross-over between hosting your own list and using a third-party provider. For this reason, I think it is pretty expensive for a WordPress-based service.

GroundHogg

GroundHogg is perhaps the most mature real marketing automation tool for WordPress. Something that can actually compete with the likes of ActiveCampaign, Drip or something similar.

You can create full marketing automations, tag subscribers, use custom fields and pretty much anything you'd expect from such a tool.

Also, being WordPress-focused, it automatically integrates with a lot of LMS systems, ecommerce systems (like WooCommerce), membership plug-ins, etc.

GroundHogg starts at $20/month, however for the plan I would personally need it would require the PRO plan at $40/month. Thing is, there is no "success tax", so that $40/month stays consistent regardless of how big your list gets.

Clearly, with a list of 10,000 subscribers (per our earlier examples), you'd see a significant savings with GroundHogg with pretty much the same capabilities.

I still think GroundHogg feels a little pricey. $40/month for a WordPress plug-in is even more expensive than MemberMouse - and I complained about them. Of course, with MemberMouse, they barely did anything to earn their money. GroundHogg seems like a much more supportive company. Still, $40/month when you're hosting it yourself still feels a bit steep.

GroundHogg becomes way more cost effective the bigger your list is.

FluentCRM

FluentCRM is a newcomer to the space. Also...

FluentCRM is the one I just personally purchased.

It is put out by the same guys who created FluentForms, which is a pretty respected forms plug-in for WordPress. And while I purchased FluentCRM knowing it wasn't quite ready for me yet, I am very encouraged by what I see.

It has a great interface on the inside. It is designed for performance, so there won't be any weird slowdowns on your site because of it. But, the most interesting thing about it is their VISUAL funnel builder. 

While it doesn't yet compete with the likes of ActiveCampaign or Drip, I can see that's where it is going. For instance, it cannot yet do conditional logic inside an automation. But, it is coming. Word is by the end of the year.

By combining FluentCRM with other tools such as WPFusion (read my review) and Uncanny Automator, this is already a VERY capable combo. They are still working on built-in integrations and they are coming fast. But, FluentCRM does support webhooks which would technically allow it to integrate with almost anything. For instance, I would be able to send my leads from ConvertBox into FluentCRM using webhooks.

FluentCRM is currently being launched with a lifetime deal.  This deal is active until October 14th... then they will be going to annual licensing. Development on FluentCRM will be their major focus for 2021 and they've already released several updates in just the last few days, so I have no doubt this is going to be a robust tool.

The Benefits Of Managing Your List In House

So, if you were to go this route versus using a remotely hosted service, what are the advantages?

#1 - Save Money (Obviously)

By using a plug-in on your own server for this, you are obviously saving a bunch of money because you're hosting it yourself. You're basically going to be paying for the ongoing support of the developers and your email sending service.

Most email SMTP services are pretty cheap. One of the most popular is Amazon SES and they charge 10 cents per 1,000 emails sent. For most people (even with fairly sizable lists), your bill is likely only going to be a few bucks per month.

So, for instance, if you were using GroundHogg PRO and Amazon SES and you sent 50,000 emails per month, your bill would be $45/month ($40 for GroundHogg and $5 for Amazon SES).

In my case, since I secured FluentCRM during the initial launch at a lifetime license price, my only cost is going to be Amazon SES. You can see why I will be happy to ditch Drip once I feel like I can. 🙂 The bill for my email list is literally going to be a few bucks per month.

#2 - Increased Data Security

Keeping your list in house means you've removed a point of contact from your software stack and made things simpler. Your email list gets backed up automatically every time your site is backed up. No longer are you reliant on the backups of an external provider and you don't have to do any weird extra steps to download a backup of your email list.

#3 - Native Integrations

If you're building your online business on top of WordPress (and that's sort of the point here), then the idea of "integration" is quite different. And that's because you're no longer sending data out to some remote service. It is all right there on your own server.

So, a native WordPress CRM can integrate directly with other WordPress plug-ins. Without data being sent anywhere else. For this reason, you're going to get much more WordPress-focused stuff such as direct integrations into page builders like Elementor, direct integration with the WordPress user tables, direct integration with all the LMSs, etc.

If you're building a membership site on WordPress, keeping all the data right there is just.... easier. Plus...

#4 - Better Privacy and GDPR Compliance

It presents an issue for user privacy and legal compliance when you're sending data to third-party services. You have to account for that in your privacy policy and GDPR compliance.

Plus, if a user does request deletion of their data, that can be tougher when you use add-on services. But, if it is all right there in-house, you can delete it all immediately.

Plus, when a user manages their own data, it is all always be in sync. Because it is one database that controls it all.

#5 - Less Moving Parts, More Portability

So, here's an interesting thought...

Let's say you do all the work to build a functioning membership with on WordPress. You've set up a great theme, a course environment, the content permissions... the whole nine yards.

Now, you can also build the marketing automations that power the whole thing. And all the emails.

It makes your site into a fully functioning web app. All self-contained.

You can move the app around, back it up, and it all stays together. Typically, if you switch marketing automation platforms, you can bring your list, but not your automations. You have to re-build all that in the new provider. But, if all the automations are part of your website, it all stays together.

If you just built this for a client, you know all the automations will stay intact. There's no longer any weird thing about making them sign up for a third-party service.

It is like a business in a box. 🙂

It is just... simple.

So, Here's My Plan

I have purchased FluentCRM.

Right now (and only for a few days), they're in their initial launch period where you can lock in lifetime access. This is a GREAT opportunity to lock in a very promising solution and save a LOT of money on your email list hosting.

I also own WPFusion and Uncanny Automator. This combo already gives me capabilities that I don't have with Drip. Not easily anyway. WPFusion is one hell of a plug-in, so I could probably do much with that.

But, one thing I definitely need is the conditional logic of putting IF statements in my automations. I will probably need to wait for that capability before I can make the switch. Word is end of Q4 2020.

In the meantime, I will be testing some things out. My plan is to eventually move my list in-house and cancel my subscription with Drip.

I like Drip a lot. Don't get me wrong.

But, there's a certain simplicity and elegance to being able to do this in-house since my business is so WordPress-focused anyway.

Plus, let's be real...

This is going to save me a buttload of money. Yes, that's a technical term. 😉

I am grandfathered into an old rate with Drip, but I still pay them a lot of money. About $1,500 per year.

Can I afford it? Of course. I've never even winced at the cost since it makes be way more money than I spend. But, still...

Why spend money I don't have to? I am a strong believer in running an efficient business. I'm very much willing to pay for things I need, but if I can do the same thing using a cheaper option, I'd be stupid not look into it.

The tech is just getting better - and that drives down costs.

Plus, I like to be self-sufficient and not have aspects of my business be overly reliant on external companies.

So, we'll see when I eventually make this transition. But, this is something that I think holds a lot of promise. GroundHogg is certainly more established, but I firmly believe FluentCRM is going to be a major contender in this space. It is moving fast,


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  • I grabbed up a lifetime subscription to MailPoet when it ran on AppSumo, and it’s definitely going to save me tons of money. Unfortunately, I had already paid a year in advance for my GetResponse response subscription, but at least I won’t have to pay again.
    Now though I’m thinking about taking advantage of the FluentCRM deal, because it has some features missing MailPoet. I wish I could afford the agency deal for Fluent, but I might just go with the 5 sites deal. It’s so much easier to manage email marketing from within WordPress rather than a separate site.

    • I’m checking out the free version of Fluent, and I really the email funnel setup which is more visual than in MailPoet. But dang, the RSS feed fro Fluent does grab the feature images? Also, there’s not template newsletter designs. So all your emails have to created from scratch? I raising these as questions just in case I’ve missed it.

      • David Risley says:

        They’ll probably include the blog-to-email thing at some point down the road. Not sure if they’ll include templates. Personally, I don’t care as I think simple, mostly text emails are preferred anyway. For me, it would add no value to the package for them to try to make pretty emails as part of their CRM. I also wouldn’t use the RSS function, but I can see why some would like that.

  • Dana Attebery says:

    Hi David,
    This is very interesting on many levels, but since this is WordPress and my current business website is Squarespace, would I be able to integrate the two, or would I have to make a new business website that is WordPress?
    Thank you,
    Dana

    • David Risley says:

      This one runs on WordPress. You could always set up WordPress separately from your business site. That said, if you were to ask me if you should get rid of Squarespace and just run WordPress, I’d say definitely yes. 🙂

  • I ran out of 50k limit on Active Campaign (AC). I still have Aweber with $10/10k Subscribers from Profollow days. I’m debating between FluentCRM vs Switching back to Aweber.

    I sent 250,000 emails last month. It would cost $25 with Amazon SES. The aweber cost would be $40/month + unlimited emails.

    Looking back, I’m really not using real automation aspects of AC. So, leaning towards switching to Aweber.

  • Robert Dyer says:

    Thanks for bringing this to our attention David.

    I’ve always wanted this functionality but not yet been tempted by the solutions out there.

    FluentCRM could be the one that makes me switch.

    I use ThriveCart and the Thrive Themes suite of tools – neither of which FluentCRM integrates with at present.

    I would really want integration with that to make the switch to FluentCRM. I’m happy to wait several months for that integration to happen. No urgency.

    What are the chances do you think? ThriveCart is pretty popular.

    • David Risley says:

      Using webhooks, it could technically already be done with Thrivecart. But. I’m sure they’ll come out with something simpler and more direct down the road, since most people don’t know how to use webhooks.

  • Hi David, I really like this option. However, how does it affect deliverability? For example, I notice MailChimp users usually end up in my promotions tab while Convertkit usually ends up in Primary. If you’re the host, will you end up in promo or worse spam? (I’m not a tech person)

    • David Risley says:

      Where the list is hosted doesn’t really impact delivery. It is the reputation of the sending servers. Of course, in conjunction with the content of the email, your return address, domain, etc.

      But, with this option, you will be sending your emails through a service such as Amazon SES. A lot of sites use that. As long as your email sending is set up properly, with the proper records on your domain, it will send quite effectively.

      I know that’s a wee bit technical. 🙂 There is a little bit of techie stuff to attend to when you self-host your list to get the sending done. When you go with a hosted option, they take care of it.

      • Are you gonna have some videos that show how to properly configure a self-hosted list hosting AND how to send them properly etc?

        If so, any idea when? Thanks

        • David Risley says:

          Likely, yes. But, since I haven’t yet used FluentCRM in a live setup, I can’t do it yet. But, I think I’m going to use my RV site as a testbed and will post updates here on BMA as I do it.

  • Have you worked out the ConvertBox integration yet? I bought that with your recommendation and using tag flags for what to trigger…

    • David Risley says:

      No, and I’m not really sure how or if that will work, frankly. Getting leads FROM ConvertBox into FluentCRM isn’t a problem because you can use the webhooks. And, by using the ConvertBox plug-in, you can still target WP tags and categories the same as before. But, in terms of being able to hide or show a ConvertBox based on a tag in the CRM, that would be an issue.

      I have submitted the request to ConvertBox on this, but since it is so new, this might take awhile. Plus, it would require API exposure of the tags by FluentCRM. Haven’t looked into that yet.

  • Steven Davis says:

    Looks really interesting. It seems much more logical to have everything inside of WordPress and take advantage of its power…not just use it to push web pages.

    Have you looked at civicrm?

    https://civicrm.org/home

    • David Risley says:

      No, I haven’t. Doesn’t look like they’re targeting the same audience, tho. And it isn’t a WordPress thing.

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