Do you want to find success with email marketing?
I’m here to help you as a photographer.
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.
In this ultimate guide to email marketing for photographers, I’m going to explain:
- How to set up an email list
- The right (and wrong) ways to get folks on your list
- What you should send to your list (and how often)
- How design doesn’t matter (much)
- How to get opens, clicks, and conversions
- Thoughts on stats, numbers, and unsubscribes
- How you can automate your list to better serve your clients
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.
Email marketing can work for wedding photographers, portrait photographers, event photographers, fine art photographers, and other photographic specialties. Much like how everyone has email, every photographer can use email productively for their marketing.
You don’t have to be an online marketing wizard. You don’t have to write a bunch of code. You don’t have to use specific tools, but I’m going to recommend the ones I know and love. The biggest thing you need to do… is to get started.
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).
Ready to get started? Keep reading (since things build on each other as you go), or jump to a specific section below:
Disclaimer: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links; if you sign up for services I may receive a small commission. It helps me do things like pay bills and buy cameras. I thank you in advance.
How to Set Up an Email List for Photographers
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. You need an email service provider.
- 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.
- Most normal email providers (such as Gmail or your cable company) place a limit on the number of recipients 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.
- If you collect names, an email service provider lets you merge that into your messages so that you can address each person by name.
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 the biggest and most well-known player (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. You can get started with their free plan and then start paying once you exceed the limits. As of July 2020, ConvertKit will let you send to 1,000 subscribers on their free plan, which is more than enough to get started. For many photographers, that might be all that you ever need. The tools to manage your list are fantastic and when we talk about a company that’s a good match for email marketing for photographers, ConvertKit is it.
Another reason to use an email service provider is that they’ll help you comply with laws regarding email marketing. 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. In the US:
- 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 FTC. 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. A good email service provider will help you comply with the legal requirements. After all, it’s in their best interests to keep your email marketing on the up-and-up.
Once you sign up for an email provider, the next step is creating your list and getting your first subscribers.
ConvertKit (or whomever you chose as a provider) will have help pages that can walk you through setting up your email list. Congratulations. Now you have an empty email list. So 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 market and sell 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.
The Right (and Wrong) Ways to Get Folks On Your List
We all get a lot of email. If you want someone to join your email list (meaning they’ll get more email), there needs to be a benefit in it for them that makes it worthwhile for them to receive your emails. In exchange for their ongoing commitment to get yet another email into their inbox, you need to deliver the goods.
The reason they’re on your list has to be about them and not about you.Your email list as a photographer should be about your clients, not about you. Click To Tweet
Lead them In
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 special deals to your list in the future, that’s generally not going to be an incentive that gets people to hand over their email address. A 40% off coupon might get someone to give their email address to a craft store, but a photographer should offer something relevant that makes sense for your business1. Instead we want to create something of immediate value that they can receive in exchange for their email address and the permission to send to them in the future.
You may hear this incentive referred to as a “lead magnet” or just as an “optin” because it’s something they receive in exchange for opting in to receiving email from you.
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 various genres of photography 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 you want to give them something up front that’s 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, and on the launch page for my book on artificial intelligence and photography I offer a free chapter of the book.
Once someone subscribes to your list, your email service provider can automatically send them a message with the free information you promised.
Keep in mind that your lead magnet doesn’t have to be written! Most of my examples above would work just as well as a short video you could record, and when someone joins, send them a link to the video (an unlisted YouTube video would work great for this purpose).
When it comes to the logistics, the most basic way for folks to subscribe is to add a form on your website on a subscription page where you present your optin incentive. This is fairly straightforward to implement using various email service providers and website platforms. It’s usually as simple as copying and pasting the form code from your email provider into your website. If you’re using a popular and extensible system such as WordPress there’s likely a plugin that can shield you from the code if you wish. If you get stuck, I can help.
You’ve undoubtedly noticed more aggressive ways that websites might ask for your email address as well. Pop-up lightboxes, forms that slide in from the bottom or side of the screen, and end-of-article offers are some of the options that will greatly increase the number of website visitors that become email subscribers. While many people say they find these methods annoying, even more folks routinely sign up for mailing lists via this sort of interface. You’ll have to decide what’s right for you. I’ve found the best way to add these more advanced (and more effective) optin boxes is a service called Bloom which lets you create these sorts of features and integrate them with your website. Bloom lets you create the forms and define their behavior (popup, slide in, static form, etc) and it integrates with ConvertKit and other major email providers as well.
Single vs. Double Opt-In
One topic of debate is whether your email list should be single or double opt-in. With a single opt-in form, someone is on your email list as soon as they enter an address and submit the form. With double opt-in, they’re not on your list until they click a link in a confirmation email message. Despite a common internet myth, double opt-in is not a legal requirement.
A single opt-in list will generally get you more subscribes (because there’s one less step in becoming subscribed) but also means that you’re more likely to get bogus or spam addresses from various bots that crawl the web and submit forms. You’ll end up with a bigger list, but a smaller percentage of that list that’s really into you and what you do.
A double opt-in list makes folks go through one additional registration step. When they register for your list they’ll get sent a confirmation email and they need to click a link in that message to be confirmed. You’ll have a smaller list, because some folks might not confirm, but you won’t have spam bots and your list is going to be made up of a higher percentage of folks who really want your messages.
The choice is yours, and any decent email provider can be configured to work either way, but I’d encourage you to set up a double opt-in list. A smaller, more engaged list is a better plan that just collecting names and numbers. If you’re paying for your email list based on number of subscribers, those disengaged folks can cost you money.
Beyond Your Website
Other than your website, 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. Want to go simple? Folks can leave their email addresses on a sheet of paper on a clipboard just as well.
- 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)
Although there are several ways to get folks onto your list, there are also a few things to keep in mind about the wrong ways to grow your list. In general, never add someone to your email list unless they’ve agreed to be on it. So if you go to a networking event and get a bunch of business cards? That’s not a license to add all those folks to your list.
Another thing to avoid: 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.
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. Depending on where you live, you could also be violating state or federal privacy laws.
What You Should Send to Your List (and How Often)?
So you have an email list. Now what?
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 general ideas as email marketing themes for photographers:
- Recaps of your recent work, but in a form that makes it relevant for your list. “Amy’s portraits” isn’t necessarily interesting to anyone other than Amy’s family. On the other hand, a message about portraits in unconventional locations is likely to pique the reader’s interest.
- 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)
If you don’t ever explicitly address the fact that everyone has a good smartphone camera, you’re leaving a big topic unmentioned. Yes, you’re in competition with other professional photographers. But one of your biggest competitors is the client who decides they can do it themselves or let their friend make their pictures with an iPhone.
While you’ll be sharing information about your photography ventures, ultimately your photography email list needs to feature information of use to the readers. While the information might about about you and your work, it will become of interest to your readers by making it about how it can benefit them.
What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?
There’s no single right answer as to how often you should send to your list, but it’s more important to be consistent than to follow a particular frequency. For most photographers doing a general newsletter, I’d recommended email either monthly or every other month depending on your niche. 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. Although most folks won’t hire a photographer frequently, you do want to be around when that thought crosses their mind. Note that if you’re not selling typical photography services, it might be more appropriate to email more often than the guidelines I shared here. The main caution I would have is that consistency can be important… you want folks to start to see a cadence in your messages (either consciously or subconsciously). It’s better to send ten messages once a month than to send messages once a week for ten weeks and then run out of things to say, leading to a big pause in your emails.In email marketing for photographers, consistency beats quantity. Click To Tweet
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. If you’re in the retail photography realm (weddings, senior or family portraits, children, etc) you should consider sending messages just before these times. Business email is read most often early in the day and much less often on weekends. If your work is of the commercial nature, that’s when you’ll want to land in your clients’ inboxes. 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.
Keep in mind that any email provider will allow you to write your messages in advance and then schedule them for a time to send… just because you know you want your messages go out on Tuesday morning (as an example), that doesn’t mean you have to be up early Tuesday to write and send the email. You can compose and schedule your messages at any time.
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 Are Important!
An unopened email is a useless email.
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 Moments2 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. I put together a list of a bunch of subject lines to check out to serve as inspiration:
From that, you should be able to get some inspiration. Want to jump start things? I’ve also put together set of fifteen messages completely written, ready for you to take and use as-is or to be customized for your particular needs. It’s a great way to jumpstart your email marketing or to have some easy-to-use material to save some time. Find out more about Email Sparks.
Design Doesn’t Matter (much)
I’m going to generalize and say that photographers spend way more time worrying about the design of their email newsletters than they should.
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.
If you do have visual elements to your email template, they ought to be consistent with the brand you use on your website and elsewhere.
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.
Spend less time on making your email template look like a highly-designed print flyer, and spend more time on your content.
How to Get Opens, Clicks, and Conversions
Keep in mind that you’re not emailing your list just for the sake of emailing… the goal of having an email list is to use it as a marketing tool. Consider the nature of your photography and the services or products you provide. What are you trying to sell?
- Are you trying to book clients for in-person portrait sessions?
- Are you trying to provide information for prospective brides-to-be so that you can hopefully photograph their future weddings?
- Are you providing updates to nonprofits whose events you photograph?
- Are you communicating with fine art collectors to whom you’d like to sell your wall art?
Regardless of your specific genre of photography and whether you’re selling services, physical products, or a combination of the two, ultimately your goal is a sales goal. It starts with awareness and qualifying yourself as the best person to meet your client’s needs, and ends with getting them to make the move to purchase your services or artwork.
A conversion might look like them picking up the phone to book a session. It might look like them sending you an email to work out details for an event. It might look like them going to your online gallery and ordering a print.
In order to get a conversion, the reader has to take action based on what was in your message. In order to take action based on your messages, the reader has to have opened that message.
Working from the beginning, we now understand that once they’re on your list, the first goal is to get them to open your messages. As we discussed above, the subject line is the most effective way to increase your open rate. Once folks open your message, it needs to start with something interesting and provide them with enough information to keep going. Each message you send should have a single purpose… make it clear what you intend the reader to do. This is the call to action where you want them to take the next step. As outlined above, that next step could be to pick up the phone, send you an email, or click a link to go to an online gallery or form.
When it comes to driving conversions, an email isn’t too different from a blog post or online sales page, but here are a few tips to consider to increase the likelihood of your readers taking the next step to engage with your photography:
- Have one call to action (CTA) in each email message. You might refer or link to it multiple times, but make it straightforward as to what the next step should be.
- Speaking of multiple times, including your link or other CTA at least twice isn’t a bad idea. Have it early-ish in your message so that folks are who already to take action can do so. And be sure it’s part of the conclusion to your message as well, for folks who kept reading all the way through. Some folks will also add a P.S. on the message with another bit of info and, you guessed it, one more CTA.
- Proofread your messages. An email full of spelling errors or typos will turn some people away quickly.
- If you’re including a link in text have the link on its own line in the email message rather than be embedded in the text. It should look like the lower of these two examples:
Thoughts on Stats, Numbers, and Unsubscribes
It’s easy to get caught up in looking at your mailing list statistics. How many people are on your list? What’s your open rate (the percentage of people who open your messages)? What’s the click rate (the percentage of people who click a link in your messages)? How many people have unsubscribed?
These statistics about your list aren’t as important as the overall picture of whether or not your list is leading to phone calls, bookings, and sales. Keep your eyes on what really matters. Trends are more important than specific figures.
And those unsubscribes? Don’t worry too much about that. That’s someone who is saying that they’re not one of your people. It’s far better to reach new people who could become clients than to worry about someone who has explicitly decided that they’re no longer interested.
How You Can Automate Your Email List to Better Serve Your Clients
Let’s consider how you can make a few advanced moves with your email list to both make your list more effective for you as a photographer as well as provide more relevant information for your audience.
There are two broad categories of email that you can send to an email list through any decent email service provider such as ConvertKit.
The first is a message that you manually create and send to folks at a given point in time. This is what we typically think of as a newsletter… it generally contains timely material and goes out to everyone on the list at the same time.
The second category of email that can be sent is typically called a sequence, autoresponder, or drip campaign. Although the terminology varies by email provider, the pattern is the same: once an email subscriber is added to the sequence, they receive a series of predetermined messages on a predetermined interval. This might be easier explained with an example.
Email Automation with Sequences
Let’s say you’re a wedding photographer. When folks sign up for your list, you can promise them a three-part series via email of considerations for successful wedding photography. The first message could be delivered as soon as they sign up. Perhaps it’s about how you decide how much coverage you need at your wedding… will a four-hour package be adequate, or should you go longer? Then a couple days later the bride receives a second message in your series, where you explain about how to best manage the wedding party to ensure that the formal photos go smoothly. A couple days after that, there’s another message with helpful information about photo considerations around the reception… the cake, the dances, the partying. Each one of these messages concludes with a call to action to get them to contact you to book their wedding.
You could send them all the information at once… but by spreading it out over a few messages, you increase the number of times your name is put into their mind with fresh, relevant, and helpful information. We’ve learned over and over that effective marketing often involves multiple contacts before someone makes a decision or takes action. A sequence of automatically-timed emails is a great way to deliver content over a period of a few days or a few weeks.
Email List Segmentation
Another way to add some smarts to your email list is to segment the list based on the subscribers’ interests or activity. By segmenting your list, you end up with groups of subscribers that you can then use to send messages specifically to these folks. What sort of segments or groups might make sense on the email list of a photographer? Consider these as examples:
- People who are past clients vs. those who haven’t yet purchased your services
- Folks interested in various different types of services you offer (weddings vs. portraits)
- Folks who joined your list after a specific targeted promotion or event (all the brides who left their email at a bridal show or everyone who left their info at your photo display at the state fair, for example).
When you have your list segmented, it provides various opportunities. One option is that if you have a timely message applicable to a specific group, you send send a message to that group without also sending it to folks who won’t care. Your portrait clients don’t really need to know if you’re offering an incentive for weddings.
Segmentation can be especially powerful when combined with automated sequences. You can send sequences appropriate for one group only to members of that group.
Go Forth and Boost Your Photography Email Marketing
I’ve given you quite a bit to work with when it comes to email marketing for photographers, from how to start your list to some more advanced tips about what to send, when to send it, and how to take your email marketing to the next level.
I love to chat about this stuff. Drop a comment below and I’m happy to answer any questions!