Is it possible to make beautiful emails on the free version of Hubspot?

We recently got an inbound lead from a customer in the UK who was looking to have a quick engagement to level-up their email templates. Since it was such a simple project, we didn’t do much scoping. They said they had Hubspot — one of the platforms we love to build emails templates in — so we considered it a go and quickly sent them a mock-up of their new and improved email template:

The customer loved it and granted us access to their Hubspot instance to start building it out. What we saw next stopped us dead in our tracks…

What we saw!

What we’re use to seeing!

Totally dropping the ball, we forgot to prequalify the customer and accertain which tier of access they had in Hubspot. They were on free! (Which makes a lot of sense with what’s going on in the world and the fact that Hubspot has done a lot with their free tiers in light of recent events.)

In case you’re wondering why this is such a big deal, we have to take a step back and consider the differences between building an email versus an email template (because the free version of Hubspot only let’s you do the former).

An Email

  • Limited in design
  • Simple to use
  • Primarily focused on laying out content (specially on free!)
The limited controls when building out an email in the free version of Hubspot.

An Email Template

  • Much more flexible
  • More advanced (even expert-level functionality when designing in HTML + CSS)
  • Focused more on the structure and layout of an email — not the content
The inner works of the design editor on a paid version of Hubspot.

Time to rethink your design

No, you don’t need to settle for less! You just need to rethink how you’re going to accomplish your design.

When you think about your email, think about it in sections. Namely, horizontal sections. For some emails this is easy! You just have blocks of content. For others, it can be more challenging. (Specially when you have diagonal lines or are trying to smoothly transition between two elements.)

Here’s an example of needing to slice our email. In Hubspot’s free plan we can have images, but not background images. So in order to achieve this rather simple footer…

…we actually needed:

  • A section (change the background color to dark blue)
    • Place the Social widget inside it and change the icon colors
  • A 5px high image that has rounded corners to achieve the rounded effect (since normally this is a feature that can only be achieved in the design editor).

The next thing you can think of is putting complex designs directly in your photos (using 3rd party editing software like Photoshop, Affinity, or GIMP). Be careful of not putting all your text within an image (specially your core message) because you’ll risk a lot when it comes to readability, preview text, and perhaps even deliverability. Instead of coding a template that allowed our customer to have a background image with text on top, we hardcoded the image to achieve the same effect on the free version of Hubspot email:

Consider editing text directly on top of images to workaround not having more advanced editing controls.

That last tip we have is using full-width images (or no padding). It’s absolutely game-changer when it comes to giving your emails that finished feel!

It is absolutely possible to make gorgeous emails when your tools have limits. If you’re working through something similar or are trying to step up your email marketing game, give us a shout!