Mailchimp is a very popular tool for small business owners who use email marketing to communicate with their clients and contacts and it’s something that most VAs will need to use at one point or another. When we’re given the job of managing a database on behalf of somebody else, it’s important to know the basics and best practise guidelines so that you can help your client make an informed decision about their strategy. Very often, your customers will understand less about this kind of software than you do, especially if they are new in business, or new to email marketing. I have come across so many small businesses who don’t quite understand the golden rule or why it’s so important, and it has caused all sorts of problems for them as a result.

So “what is it?” I hear you ask… and the answer is…

You only need one list

This is the golden rule that I tell all of my clients – you only ever need one list per company. Just one. No more. This very often goes against how most small businesses have their lists set up and they’re often reluctant to merge them. But it really is important, not least because by having more than one list, you increase the chances of people reporting you for spamming them.

This is because If they choose to unsubscribe from one list, Mailchimp won’t unsubscribe them from every list, therefore, you may unknowingly continue to send your contact information they don’t want to receive anymore, and that can get you in a whole pile of bother. Similarly, if you are asked to up date the contact’s information, or if they try to do it themself, Mailchimp won’t update all contact records automatically, you have to do each one manually, which is not only time consuming (and therefore more costly for your client) but can also lead to mistakes being made or an inconsistency in your database.

Even worse is when you have the same contact on more than one list, and then decide to send the email to both lists – so your contact ends up getting two (or more!!) copies of the same email which can often upset your recipients and cause them to unsubscribe.

Arguably, you could say that this is a flaw in the way Mailchimp is set up (and I would be inclined to agree) but it’s not something that we can change, and so it is something you need to be aware of if you are going to use their service. For me, the best way to do things is to only have one list per business, and use segments and groups to dissect this list and split your contacts up as show below.Mailchimp Groups

So why would anyone want more than one?

One reason people commonly use more than one list is if they have forms that are used for people to signup to a particular landing page or series of emails. If you have more than one of these types of marketing funnels, Mailchimp isn’t too flexible, and very often you’ll find the process feels a little ‘sticky’ when you are trying to accommodate different types of people during the signup process. What you need to remember here is that the signup process (as far as Mailchimp see it) shouldn’t necessarily be tailored to your individual product, but should be generic for all people who signup to receive your information. At this stage, people are just agreeing for you to contact them with further information.

If you are wanting to send people to different thank you pages depending upon where they sign up, or if you want to customise the signup process, I would recommend using a third party form or landing page provider, such as Wufoo, Lead pages or Squeeze Page Toolkit. This way, you can fully customise the signup process from start to end whilst still adding your contacts into one list.

There is also a way of setting up your form with customised fields, for which you set a value at the point where you add the form to the website or landing page. You can then use the value in this field to identify where the contact signed up, and therefore personalise the emails they receive. More about that in a future article… but it should be an easy task for any tech savvy VA or web developer.

Another reason people want more than one list is because they don’t understand how Mailchimp really works. To lots of people it makes sense to have one list per product, project or marketing campaign, but in these instances, it’s often the case that they also don’t understand the points I have talked about above, such as what happens with the unsubscribe process.

Below is an example of when not to set up a new list:

Bad Mailchimp List

The Exceptions to the Rule

There are a few exceptions to the rule and reasons why a company has more than one list, for example if you have two very distinct groups of prospects, who will never cross over and be sent the same information. An example could be a company such as ours, where we have lists of virtual assistants who are interested in learning more about the industry and running a VA business, and then also lists of business owners who are interested in knowing how a VA can help them and finding out how to employ the services of a VA. It’s extremely unlikely that we will ever want to sent the same email to these two groups of people, and therefore it makes sense to have them in two completely separate lists.

Of course, if you (or your client) own more than one company then you definitely need to have one list for each of them – this way you can make sure the signup forms and welcome emails sent out are completely tailored to each business and you won’t confuse your new contacts when they subscribe.

Here’s an example of when you should have more than one list in your Mailchimp account:

Good Mailchimp List


There may also be a few other times when it’s a good idea to separate your database contacts into multiple lists – if you have any other ideas, or uses for lists, we’d love to hear them. On the whole though, the golden rule is always “you only need one list”. Keep an eye out for the next article where we’ll look at how to use that custom field to direct your contacts to the correct autoresponder campaign and also how to use groups and segments correctly.