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What is an Email Service Provider

Have you heard the phrase "email service provider" and wondered exactly what people are referring to and if really need one for your small business?

If you spend any time learning about marketing, you’re bound to hear a bunch of jargon, like lead magnet and email service provider.

And you know what? I can’t stand it.

I hate marketing jargon.

I believe that when people throw around a bunch of marketing terms when they’re talking to people who aren’t immersed in this world, it’s to inflate their own egos. And I’m not about that at all.

But try as I might to avoid it here, there are some terms that I cannot avoid. Like Email Service Provider, or ESP for short.

(No, not the kind of ESP where you can sense things with your mind.)

It’s a phrase I find myself using over and over again because I help other business owners to set them up and get things automated. So rather than continue talking about what it is I do and wondering if you know what an ESP is or are just nodding your head while you think, “What is she talking about?” we’re gonna get down to the basics.

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What is an email service provider?

An ESP is an online software or platform that hosts your email newsletter and subscribers. It allows you to:

  • Collect information about people who sign up to receive emails from you (and your lead magnet or free offer if you have one) – this info includes, at a minimum, their email address, and also generally subscribers’ names
  • Send emails to people who have elected to sign up to receive emails from you
  • Group subscribers by certain characteristics, also known as tagging, grouping, and/or segmenting
  • Send automated email sequences based on an action a subscriber takes, such as clicking on a link (known as a link trigger), making a purchase, or even just being added to your list

Is Gmail an email service provider?

No. And neither is Outlook, Yahoo, AOL, or whatever other platform you use to directly email your clients and friends, or to receive those super cute videos of dogs and kittens playing together that your Aunt Doris emails to you at least once a week.

Do not — I repeat DO NOT — use email you created for your business as your newsletter platform. (Meaning, do not gather up a lit of emails and send giant email blasts from directly from your Gmail account.)


Well for one thing, if you’re an American-based business you’re technically breaking the law since people need to be able to unsubscribe from your email list. (Not to mention the European Union’s GDPR.

Also, from a consumer standpoint, it’s annoying since you have no way of getting off of someone’s email list that you never wanted to be on in the first place. (Been there.) And you might get your email account flagged as spam.

What is an example of an email service provider?

There are hundreds of companies out there. Probably the most widely known and used one in MailChimp. (And it’s what I started out with back in the day.) Some other examples of email service providers for business include:

Do I need an email service provider for my small business?

If you intend to do any type of email marketing — and I always recommend that you do — then yes. Even if you have absolutely nothing to send out to your business yet, I highly recommend that you start building up your list.

(Although if you want to avoid people marking you as Spam because they don’t hear from you in months and thus forgot that they signed up for your list, I do recommend emailing them at least once to welcome them and to remind them that they signed up to hear from you.)

And if you’re worried about paying for something you aren’t fully using yet, the great news is you have lots of options for free accounts. I personally recommend ConvertKit. They offer a free account for under 1,000 subscribers that will allow you to build unlimited opt-in forms and pages using their templates, send unlimited broadcasts, and tag subscribers. (You just can’t create any automations with their free account.)

Now booking Email Automation VIP Days for May 2021