Baking Success with BuddyPress, and Newsletters

Lynn Hill, founder of Clandestine Cake Club

For our latest case study, I decided to reach out to one of our first ever users, Lynn Hill. Her newsletter needs, her site’s success, and her personal profile make her a good example for our readers.  

When Lynn set out to start a local cake club, little did she know her initiative would end up as a social network, spawning the globe two years later.

I have to pinch myself on what I’ve created“, she tells me over the phone.

Her project starts in Leeds, UK, where a group of strangers met to share each others home baked cakes in late 2010.

The meetup’s concept is straight forward. No cupcakes, brownies or cookies allowed. You only talk cake. You don’t judge each others cakes. The venue is kept secret until the day of the event. Oh, and you eat a lot of cake.

I created a website to invite strangers, purely to make it known with the help of social media, mostly Twitter”, says the 62 year old retiree. From the start, her goal was to gather everybody on a single platform.

The Clandestine Cake Club was thus born. The club’s expansion resembles expanding dough with an excess of yeast:

  • over 9000 members
  • which are in 185 local cake clubs
  • in 15 nations, as distant as the Bahamas
  • and a cookbook with rave reviews

Why MailPoet?

When I reached 2000 subscribers, I started using MailPoet instead of MailChimp”, Lynn says.

A member of her club, Becs Rivett, turns out to be an email marketing consultant who recommended our plugin. Coincidentally, we’ve hired the talented Becs ourselves for consultancy work.

For deliverability purposes, but also for the sheer amount of emails sent from the server, Becs helped her configure MailPoet to send with Elastic Email, an SMTP provider.

Our recommendation: Lynn does the right thing. Send from an SMTP provider instead of your server is a good idea, here’s why.

So why would Lynn decide to switch from MailChimp to MailPoet?

I love it because my members get added automatically to my mailing list. I’ve saved a lot of time. I find the visual editor quite easy. All I want to do is add some text and some pics and send it off as quickly as possible. My difficulty is to find what’s interesting to write.”

Lynn nails it. A newsletter is all about quality content. Read what mistakes to avoid for your next newsletter.

Read between the lines: this user simply wants to send newsletters from her WordPress website, no fuss.

Mailchimp is expensive

Cost comes into play, although Lynn didn’t explicitly mention it. Wysija is the cheaper alternative, in nearly all case scenarios, including Lynn’s.

Both Wysija and MailChimp have free versions of up to 2000 subscribers, which is not Lynn’s case.

MailChimp’s best offer is monthly plans. With 9000 subscribers, she would pay $75 a month, or $900 a year.

Lynn sends with Wysija and Elastic Email, which sells email credits. She sends two newsletters per month to 9,000 subscribers, which is about 240,000 emails per year, or less than $150.

Let’s sum with this simple cost comparison table: 

Costs$900$99 for Wysija Premium
$150 for Elastic Email
Total per year$900$249

With the quick expansion of her members to over 10,000, MailChimp would soon double her expenses for emailing. Ouch.

Design can be improved

Lynn’s newsletter reads like a personal email, with just the right amount of images and call to actions. The layout could use a designer’s help, sure.

Like most of our users, there’s no budget for a designer, or time is better spent on content. In Lynn’s own words:

If anything else, I’d like to write more newsletters. There’s a benefit for the site. I noticed an increase in traffic. It’s one way to help promote the events.

Think, write, send… here’s a screenshot of her latest newsletter:

Thumbnail of her latest newsletter

Our recommendations for Lynn: personalize by using the first name, increase the font size slightly for better readability, add your own signature for personal touch, and move the main call to action higher in the newsletter.

Good open rate

First time newsletter senders are often disappointed at their statistics, including Lynn.

Take a look at her latest newsletter’s stats:

Screenshot of her newsletter stats

Her stats are pretty good. She nearly has a third of opened or clicked emails. She’ll want to increase those, by playing with her subject lines and moving her call to action higher in her newsletters.

What are good stats? That really depends on your audience. Learn how to read your stats.

The BuddyPress setup

For Lynn Hill’s lack of technical proficiency, her curiosity and determination have transformed her to a top online community manager. Youngsters take note, she could well be your teacher in your next digital marketing class.

The Clandestine Cake Club now lives on a WordPress website turned into a social network, thanks to a plugin called BuddyPress.

Trial and errors, or simply learning by doing, has been the guiding principle of her endeavour. “Our site crashed four times in one year. I realized how important it was to have a proper hosting solution“, she recalls, still reeling from her experience.

Our own advice: we get server related issues from users every week. Spend the extra buck for decent hosting.

Consolidating all the tools under the BuddyPress hood is part of her effort to seamlessly manage her community. Not just with Wysija. For example, she monitors her stats thanks to JetPack’s Stats instead of Google Analytics.

Membership websites, watch out

When I was discussing with Lynn, I noticed her automated bounce handling feature wasn’t configured. I took 15 minutes to set it up for her.

This is an essential tool to let Wysija to remove emails that have become invalid from your lists. When you get near 1000 subscribers, you might not want to manually do this task.

Moreover, a BuddyPress installation sends plenty of notification emails. This is a separate issue where Wysija has no role.

[box type=”info”]Do you know your host’s sending limits? See our list of nearly 40 hosts and their limits.[/box]

Lynn is acutely aware of this. Her hosting company provides the necessary setup for her site to send all these automated emails.

A WordPress developer called Yoast has a good article on how he handles his own transactional emails.

Final word of wisdom

Newsletters can easily drive more traffic to your site than Facebook or Twitter. Ever more so with community sites.

But watch out, BuddyPress already sends plenty of notifications emails. Don’t flood your members’ inbox. You’ll want to stick to Lynn’s schedule: two newsletters per month.

When curating over a large group of members separated by geography, or interest, it’s always good to write about your own member’s ideas or initiatives. I love Etsy’s newsletter for just that.

Then again, you could join your local Clandestine Cake Club’s, or start a new one, and you’ll get a good idea of a proper newsletter execution as a bonus.