The way that I earn my living is through a combination of marketing and technology consulting as well as a bit of bespoke coding. I also do a fair amount of writing and editing marketing copy. This is in addition to this site and a number of other content related projects.
A few months ago a friend recommended that I switch up the back end marketing platform that I was using with clients. At that stage I was working with both Infusionsoft (with one client in particular on their top-end $379 a month plan) and Mailchimp for people who didn’t really need the marketing automation but wanted the newsletter functionality. At this point I will say that after years of dealing with the iniquities of these two particular platforms, I am no fan of either.
I even had one client, who was a bit of a cheapskate, who had employed me to to deploy a hybrid combination of custom Google Web Apps and Zapier to set up a “nurturing campaign” of sorts where through a combination of Zapier delays and web calls and public Google web apps we had a 3 month sequence. If anyone out there wants me to replicate this for them, please call someone else.
Then there was the client that had it all. Paying for Infusionsoft, an expensive proprietary Voip solution and Zapier to fill in the glaring blanks that Infusionsoft leaves behind.
The solution I deployed for him resulted in immediate savings of $450 a month by combining a platform called Mautic with Twilio. The native Twilio support within Mautic had the added advantage of making things like using SMS in marketing campaigns extraordinarily easy to do. We also cut his hosting costs (and improved speed, stability and flexibility big time) by migrating away from his existing web host and onto a series of Digital Ocean LAMP droplets. Mautic has also meant that he won’t need to renew a couple of premium WordPress plugins that he uses to capture leads, saving him a further $200 this year.
These cost savings did come at a time cost, it meant sacrificing the convenience of cPanel and me spending a hell of a lot of time at the command line (took some brushing up but it all came back pretty quicky), that said it gave us huge scope to do pretty much whatever we wanted.
So with the stage set, let’s have a look at what Mautic is and why is worth the pain.
First off, as the guy who put me on to it (Tony Gavin of e-marketing.com.au) would agree: Mautic is buggier than an outback beer garden in the summertime. That’s not a big drama though as the majority of them are minor and don’t bite.
However, Mautic has one thing going for it that nothing else on the market does. It is the same thing that propelled WordPress to where it is today. It is open sourced and has an active community. Bugs are stamped on pretty quickly. You do have to be prepared to deal with work arounds and, maybe even, getting your hands dirty and doing some coding of your own from time to time.
So it’s not for the faint of heart, nor would I necessarily recommend migrating (just yet) if you don’t have a decent level of technical acumen. That said, if you’re comfortable with the Linux command line and not afraid of cutting a bit of code if you need to, you’ll have no major problems.
The great thing about self hosted, open-source solutions is the freedom to customize. Depending on your needs and how your business functions then the way that our environment is configured may or may not suit you. That said, this is how I “put up our Mautic rig”:
Our server looks like this (it’s a Digital Ocean Droplet so I can upsize resources as soon as we need to but seems to run well even with the modest amount of ram):
One gig of ram, 20 gig SSD sitting on an Ubuntu 16.04 LAMP stack. So basically, our ongoing cost to maintain Mautic at the moment is $10 per month. This compares to Infusionsoft which is anywhere up to 38 times that. As the client and his clients are Australia based and our team is based in the Philippines it’s hosted in Singapore. For security and stability I gave Mautic it’s own droplet. That way if one of our WordPress sites gets hacked they can’t get to any customer data (I’m pretty cautious like that). We also set the server up to white list our office in the Philippines and his in Australia. Say what you like about security by obscurity, but the fact remains: if they can’t get to it they can’t hack it.
The only additional software I installed apart from Mautic was phpMyAdmin but with a little more time at the MySQL command line I didn’t really even need that. The first thing you’re going to need to do to get this beast working is obviously install it.
You can download the latest version from Mautic.org, I used wget to drag it straight to the server. Once you’ve got that sorted. You’ll need to configure your database. I just set up an empty one in phpMyAdmin then gave Mautic the relevant credentials. Once that’s done, unzip Mautic and set the permission for the folder the same way you would approach WordPress. Then point your web browser at the installer file.
When you first get to the installer page Mautic will check your environment for any configuration that needs to change. You’ll get two levels of warnings, critical and non-critical. I’m a bit pedantic when it comes to setting something up like this so I made sure that there were zero warnings on that screen before proceeding. Be prepared to fiddle around a bit in php.ini to get these gone. The only more serious warnings I saw were permissions based, Mautic will let you know very clearly if it needs write access to something.
You’ll then be stepped through a very simple installation wizard which is just like WordPress. At which stage you’ll be prompted to login and you’ll be delivered to a dashboard that will also feel extremely comfortable for any WordPress admin.
The client in question uses Google Apps for Business so the email set up was extremely simple. I just configured postfix to relay through gmail and we had Mautic send out from the account of one of his VAs. If you were sending out high volumes of email I suspect Google may become upset with you but at the levels that this client is doing there’s no problem.
Once Postfix is sorted then just give Mautic some credentials and it works out of the box with the PHP mail transport. There is an option for monitored email within Mautic which we didn’t need in this case. The client loves being hi-tech but also keeps up the high-touch and we’ve got dedicated staff in Manila who interact with his clients on his behalf.
For people who are familiar with Infusionsoft’s Campaign Builder, they’ll find the Mautic system reasonably intuitive. One thing that has to be very rapidly come to terms with though is that you don’t have any official support, it’s all community based. As with all things open source, don’t expect an SLA if you’re not paying extra for it. Also you’ll find that things like tags, segmentation and custom fields work a little differently.
How long does it take to get Mautic deployed, configured and up and running on a fresh LAMP stack? The first time it took me a day or two, then again I was doing a lot of reading and research about setting up the environment and generally taking my time. I’ve got it down pat now and it doesn’t take me any longer than 30-45 minutes to have a server configured, Mautic running and a basic campaign built.
What are the upsides?
- Control of your data
- Flexibility to integrate your own custom code
- Potentially huge cost savings (anywhere upwards of $6,000-$10,000 a year depending on what you’re replacing with it) – that’s enough to hire a VA, imagine what that could do for your business!
How about the downsides?
- If you’re not technically proficient get in touch with an expert to manage you through the set up. Also it’s probably best to keep one on call.
- You will find bugs, this I assure you.
- There’s no real on-call support if you’re self hosted so you’ll have to get active in the community if you hit any problems.
Is it ready for production deployment?
To my mind, yes. I have it in production, Tony has it in production and many other people around the world also have it deployed, working and solving real business problems. The only caveat I’d put on that statement is that it’s probably not quite ready for deployment and management as a novice yet. You’ll need some tech skills behind you to get it rocking.