With a post title like that, how can you not be interested? Transactional email – now that’s sexy. Sure, it’s no social media, content strategy, responsive, mobile first exciting topic, but trust me when I say it’s mission critical.

Here’s an example. When we rolled out our new WordPress CMS two years ago, we were running into a problem. We were sending out user accounts and password resets using WordPress’ built-in functions, which funnel through PHP’s mail() function. While it’s easy and requires no set up on the user’s end, many ISP’s see mail coming from a generic IP address or shared hosting environment as spam. Our password changes and other types of transactional email (new blog setup, password change, and so on) were getting lost in the Matrix somewhere.

This made creating user accounts very labor intensive. Instead of just emailing login details, password reset requests and more directly to the user, we found ourselves creating an account for a person and immediately resetting their password, and then giving them the login details. Same went for password changes, they were never getting the transactional email to reset their passwords, so they were calling us. Not efficient.

SendGrid Transactional Email ServiceWe turned to SendGrid. Once we started routing our transactional emails through them and not through our Rackspace server, they started immediately reaching inboxes. Our support calls dropped dramatically, and I didn’t have to spend the time setting up postfix on server and having to learn all it takes to get emails to look like they’re legitimately coming from my server. SendGrid had already figured all that out so it was a no-brainer to leave the heavy-lifting to them.

SendGrid offers a WordPress plugin to make the setup even easier, if you’re using WordPress, but they have libraries and modules for just about every platform you can think of (Rails, PHP, Node.js, and much more) and great documentation.

We’re using SendGrid not just for WordPress email but in also sending transactional email related to our fundraising, for both internal and external audiences. Talk about mission-critical – fundraising is very important for universities so it’s absolutely critical those emails reach their destinations, and they have.

I’d highly recommend trying out SendGrid. They have a free plan where you can send up to 200 emails a day (look at the bottom of this page) as well as a lite plan where you pay $0.10 USD per 1,000 emails sent. Use this link to sign-up and get 25% off.

Mandrill Transactional Email ServiceAnother company we use a bit for marketing email is MailChimp. Their marketing email service is simple to use, and we send a large amount of mail with it.

Last year, they launched a transactional email service called Mandrill. Like SendGrid, it’s a full-service transactional email service. They have libraries for PHP, Python, Ruby and much more, and, of interest to me, a WordPress plugin.

I was interested in Mandrill, so we started using it to process our transactional email for our Class of 2018 online community. Our online community, powered by Buddypress, generates a large amount of transactional email, such as password changes, friend requests, private messages, group posts and much more. I merely installed the plugin, put in my credentials and was ready to go, no looking back.

What I think is really interesting about Mandrill is that you can hook it up to your MailChimp account. This means we can use templates we designed in MailChimp for our email marketing for our transactional emails, so for the user, it’s a much nicer-looking, cohesive experience.

Mandrill has raised the stakes in the transactional email game, offering 12,000 free emails a month. If you send 100,000 emails a month and don’t need a dedicated IP address, Mandrill will cost you $17.60. If you are a current paying MailChimp customer, you get many more free emails. In fact, with the MailChimp plan we’re on, we get 112,000 emails per month free – about what we’re paying $79 a month at SendGrid for.

Here’s a pricing breakdown:

Free Sends per day2004001
WordPress PluginYesYes
Costs to send 100k emails per month2
Per month$79.95 USD$47.55 USD
Costs to send 300k emails per month
Per month$199.95 USD$87.55 USD
Additional Features
Email Marketing Built-InYesNo (MailChimp service separate)
Open,Click, Unsubscribe trackingYesYes
SMTP and Web APIYesYes

1 – You get 12,000 per month free, so I divided it by 30 days in the average month
2 – Including dedicated IP address

For more pricing and feature information, please visit SendGrid’s pricing page and Mandrill’s pricing page.

If you’re running a large CMS, web app or other service, I’d highly recommend letting a service like SendGrid or Mandrill handle the heavy lifting when it comes to transactional email. You can rest easy knowing your emails are getting to inboxes and you can focus on more important tasks.

I use many services every day to get my job/life organized and completed. I thought that I’d make a list of the services I use and rely on day to day.

This blog is hosted at HostGator and in several years, we’ve never really had any problems. Their support is quick whenever I’ve posted a question or needed help. Their pricing is inexpensive, the service is robust and if you’re looking for an inexpensive shared host, I’d recommend them. (Affiliate link)

Amazon Web Services
From S3 to CloudFront to EC2, Amazon’s tools are well engrained in my daily workflow, whether its content delivery, backups or servers to test things.

Digital Ocean

This may be a company you haven’t heard of, but you will. They offer cloud-based servers starting at $5 a month – and all VPS’s use solid state drives for better speed. I’ve spun a few up to test and have been really pleased with their ease of use and speed. We’re running a new university service on one as a test. They have a free trial period if you want to try them out. Using the code SSDGEEK20 will get you a $20 credit, basically giving you 4 free months of service.

Oh, SendGrid, you make my life so easy. You take the headache out of managing transactional emails and we’re even transitioning to using SendGrid as part of our email marketing toolkit. I wrote about SendGrid here last year. (affiliate link, but they have a free plan you can use.)

There are many project management system, but Basecamp has worked really well for me. It’s been instrumental to us keeping track of our projects, especially since my promotion to creative director last year. Now, I’m keeping track of projects and both on and off-campus service providers, printers, and staff. It really has made life somewhat bearable. This is another product that I use at JCU and Gas Mark 8.

Higher Ed doesn’t pay what the private sector does, so if you’re like me, you do freelance work on the side. The part that was always the worst was invoicing and keeping track of who paid and who hadn’t. Freshbooks takes away all that pain, and it’s been fun to watch them continue to add new features that make life easier. They will email invoices or even snail mail them out for you with a return envelope included. I use it for my personal work (friends and family) and our web consultancy, Gas Mark 8. (affiliate link)

This has proven to be an invaluable tool in our day-to-day work, whether it’s easily sharing files, screenshots and more. I have it set to auto-upload screenshots I take (and I take a few every day) and copies the link for that drop for you so you just have to paste it into the browser, Twitter client or IM conversation and it’s there. It’s that simple. It’s not just for screenshots, however. You can drag any file to it and it knows what to do. I’m happy to pay a few bucks a month for this service.

If your inbox is anything like mine, its pure chaos. SaneBox learns your email habits to help you be more productive. I’ve tried it out for a few weeks and it’s been pretty interesting. You’ve got give them access to your inbox, so just be aware of that. (affiliate link)

Last, but not least, is Spotify. It’s technically a web service, but not like the other ones. I love music. I don’t like to be without it. I open this when I get to work in the morning and close it when I leave. I listen to it on the drive home and then on my laptop while I work into the evening.