Updated September 2018
As an important part of online marketing efforts, how to set up an email list for a photographer is a key skill. Your website is important to share about yourself and your work, and social media efforts can help build relationships and share your story. Some folks will visit your website; different groups use different forms of social media, but one thing is true about the internet: everyone uses email.
If you chat with nearly anyone with a successful business on the internet, they’ll tell you they wished they started building their email list sooner. To adapt an old Chinese proverb: the best time to start your email list was 20 years ago. The second best time is now. Let’s take a look at email marketing for photographers.
As a photographer, your email list can help you stay in touch with former clients, deliver information to those curious about your services, or send periodic updates so people know what you’ve been up to.
How an Email List Works
With an email list hosted by an email service provider, folks can sign up for your list via your website (or you can otherwise add them to your list with their permission) and you can then send broadcast messages to the list. More advanced use might segment the list (for example, folks who have requested information versus folks who have been paying clients).
Choosing an Email Service Provider
Often when folks are just starting, they might be tempted to simply send an email from Outlook, or Gmail, or their regular email program to all of their clients or leads. This becomes problematic for a few reasons quickly.
- Using an email service provider means that people can sign up, or unsubscribe, by using a form on your website or a link in your email messages. That can’t happen if you’re trying to send your newsletter via your regular email.
- If you collect names, an email service provider lets you merge that into your messages so that you can address each person by name.
- Most normal email providers (such as Gmail or your cable company) place a limit on the number of receipients for a message. You simply won’t be able to send to several hundred people
- Email service providers take care to ensure a high deliverability rate for your messages. They have reliable servers and ensure those servers aren’t used by spammers, which increases the chance that all of your messages will reliably be delivered to all of your subscribers.
Which email service provider is right for you? There are several companies in this field. A lot of folks start with MailChimp because it’s free (and I was someone who did just that). After using it for a while and running into a lot of frustrating experiences to do what seemed like they should be fairly simple things, I signed up for ConvertKit and haven’t looked back. Yes, there’s a monetary investment, but the tools to manage your list(s) are fantastic.
Once you sign up for an email provider, the next step is creating your list and getting your first subscribers.
I Have a List, Now What?
ConvertKit (or whomever you chose as a provider) will have help pages that can walk you through setting up your email list, but how can you get folks onto it? And who do you want on your list?
That’s right, who is on your list matters. Because you’re probably not trying to sell or market your photography to everyone in the entire world.
If you’re offering wedding photography services, you want potential brides, probably in a specific geographic area, on your list. If you do corporate or commercial photography, you’d like to be connected with business leaders and decision-makers. Fine art photographers want, you guessed it, fine art collectors on their list.
I’d rather have a list of 100 of the right folks than 1,000 of the general public.
Give Them An Incentive to Sign Up
The most common way to get folks to sign up for an email list is to give them an incentive; they’re giving you their contact information and the ability to market to them, and in exchange you give them something of value. While you might offer specials offers to your list in the future, that’s generally not going to be an incentive that gets people to hand over their email address. You may hear this incentive referred to as a “lead magnet.”
Consider creating a short resource guide that’s relevant to your genre of photography. Your incentive should be something that’s helpful to a potential client. A few ideas for a few different types of photographers might be:
- For the wedding photographer: a tip sheet for how to manage guests with cell phone cameras
- For the corporate or headshot photographer: wardrobe tips to look great in business photos
- For the children’s / family portrait photographer: tips on how to prepare the little ones for a photoshoot
- For the fine art photographer: tips on how to choose the right size and type of artwork for particular types of rooms
You can mention that you’ll be providing additional value to your list members in the future, but up front you want to give them something quick and valuable that help with their immediate photography needs. For example, on this site I offer a free report with eight things you can do today to improve your photography website.
Subscribers Beyond Your Website
While the most common way to get new email subscribers is from a form on your website (and OptinMonster makes the best email registration forms for websites), don’t forget you can also get new email subscribers from other sources:
- Have a booth at a bridal show or other event? Gather email addresses from attendees who leave their info at your booth. An iPad or other tablet works great for this.
- As you get new clients, add them to your list (either ask permission or include this as part of your contract)
- Have a Facebook page? Add a form to capture subscribers (an email subscriber is worth far more than a Facebook fan)
What to Know About Email Laws
Various countries have laws around the sending of commmercial email. I’m not a lawyer, so take this purely as recommendations from another photographer. If in doubt about the laws of your country, check with a legal professional.
Much of my audience is in the United States, so here’s what US folks should know about sending email to a list. These apply to any sort of email that’s advertising or promoting any commercial product or service (such as your photography products or services):
- you cannot use deceptive email headers, from lines, or domain names
- you must include a valid postal address in each email message
- each message must include a valid method to unsubscribe
Here’s more information from the US Small Business Administration. Note the key points above, and read a bit more here. While email marketing is a powerful tool, you won’t want to risk running into legal trouble for violating the law. If you’re not in the United States, be sure to check into the laws in your area.
On a related note: never purchase an email list – it’s a quick trip to a bad place. You’ll end up spending money to send to a list that probably doesn’t want to hear from you, and depending on your email service provider if you get enough complaints you may find your email account suspended.
[bctt tweet=”Generate your email leads organically; never purchase an email list.” nofollow=”yes”]
On the flip side: never sell or rent your list. Your subscribers have trusted you with their contact information; opening them up to email from third parties is a breach of that trust.
How Often Should You Email Your List?
There’s no single right answer, but it’s more important to be consistent than to follow a particular freqency. For most photographers doing a general newsletter, I’d recommended email either monthly or quarterly depending on your niche. You could send mail more frequently if you have things to say, but I wouldn’t go any longer than three months between messages. One of the main reasons to have an email list is to keep your name and brand in the minds of your clients and leads, and if you’re not sending messages, you’re not keeping your name familiar. If you’re selling services or products beyond the typical photography services, it might be more appropriate to email more often if you have something to say.
What time of day is best to send your messages? Like many things… it depends. General consumer email is read most often first thing in the morning and on weekends. Business email is read most often early in the day. Are those the right times for your list? Maybe. Experiment and find out. ConvertKit (or any decent email provider) should provide statistics on open and click rates and you can see how things fare based on time of day, day of week, and so on.
What Should You Send To Your List?
Most folks get a ton of email… and I suspect you understand the frustration of receiving email that seems irrelevant or overly spammy. If you’re going to start sending email to a list for your photography business, how can you ensure you send them something they’ll find helpful? Consider the following ideas as email marketing for photographers:
- Recaps of your recent work, but in a fashion that makes it relevant for your list. “Amy’s portraits” isn’t necessarily interesting.
- Information about upcoming offers or promotions you’ll be running
- Information about changes in your business offerings
- Tips on how your clients can better use photography (teach them about why they need photography, then they can hire you for the services)
The theme is to keep your name, and your services, top of mind for your email subscribers. If they’re past clients, you want to ensure they keep remembering about the good experience they had with your business in the past. If they’re leads, you want to keep reminding them about how awesome it would be to hire you!
Subject Lines That Don’t Suck
Folks won’t know what great stuff is inside your email unless they open it, and a good subject line is probably the most important thing to get that message opened. Consider these not-so-great subject lines:
- Beautiful Moments Newsletter
- Photography Newsletter
- Email from Julie
Contrast that with these examples that give folks an idea why they want to look at your message:
- Ideas for Alternative Senior Portraits
- How I Can Help Lower Wedding-Day Stress
- Freshen Up Your Corporate Imagery
- Why Now is the Time to Update Your Headshot
You’ll use a new subject line with each newsletter, teasing as to what’s inside.
A Couple Thoughts on Design
Email providers usually offer a gallery of email templates, some featuring fairly involved design work. As a photographer, you know that visuals are important, and including your imagery with your message makes sense. That said, realize that the message is more important than the medium, and it’s probably not worth your time to spend hours obsessing over making your email template pixel-perfect and a work of art.
A mostly-text email, with a couple examples of your work, can be quite effective at selling your services.
Related to your design: your email messages must look good on small screens. Folks are increasingly reading (or at least scanning) their email from their smartphones, and if your messages aren’t readable or look bad on a mobile device, you’re going to find yourself ignored.
Random Last Thoughts on Email Marketing for Photographers
In no particular order:
- Proofread your messages. Nothing will turn off your prospects quite like an email full of spelling errors or typos.
- Look at, but don’t obsess over, your numbers. ConvertKit lets you see things like a message’s open rate or click-through rate. Check on these numbers, but don’t get too hung up on a couple percentage points. Trends are more important than specific figures.
- Set up your reply-to email address with ConvertKit, and make sure it goes to an address you monitor. Lots of folks will respond to your messages, and you want to make sure to be responsive to their inquiry.
- Don’t get mad when someone unsubscribes. If they don’t want your messages, why would you want to send to them?
There’s nothing wrong with trying new social networks, but don’t forget about email. Already have a list? Wondering about how it might work? Leave a comment below and let’s discuss!
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