Use an email list to add value, gain clients and expand your reach

Do you have an email list for your photography business? Why not? Is it because you think email is outdated? Or are you like me and felt intimidated by the idea of starting one? Or maybe you just don’t want to add one more thing to your to-do list!

Starting and cultivating an e-mail list is one of the savviest marketing moves a photographer can make as we head into the next decade. So let’s talk about email lists…what they are, why they are beneficial to photographers and how to start one. I’ll help you understand how one can help your photography business and generate new leads for clients, sometimes even while you sleep (oh, I forget…we’re photographers. We rarely sleep!)

What is an email list?

An e-mail list is simply a list of emails of existing and potential customers. The idea is that you collect e-mails to send offers to potential clients in the hopes of converting them to customers or to generate additional income from existing customers. You can also use an e-mail list to stay in touch with and provide additional value to your existing customers.

The benefits of email list marketing

E-mail lists are a powerful, inexpensive and fairly straight forward tool. Here are just a few benefits of starting your own e-mail list:

Most of your customers use email.

Social media has exploded in the last decade, to be certain. But e-mail isn’t exactly obsolete. Optin monster says more than 90 percent of people age 1-65 have and use email. And while social media platforms compete for users, anyone that has social media also has an e-mail.

Your customers have a better chance of seeing your ad.

Social media platforms dictate who has a chance to see your content. And then you have to hope the customer is on social media the day you post content. An email has a much better chance of reaching your potential customer AND it gets better engagement than social media. Email outperforms social media in many ways, including reach and engagement. According to the above Hootsuite graphic, the average engagement rates for Facebook vary from 2.21 to 6 percent, while e-mail open rates are around 15-20 percent and click-through rates are around 2.5%.

Social media is becoming a pay-to-play network.

E-mail is still free. Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest all have algorithms that make it harder to increase the reach of your business page through organic reach alone. These companies WANT you to pay for advertising because it means more money in their pockets. E-mail, however, is free. You may have to pay for a service that distributes your e-mails more effectively, but there’s no charge to actually reach your audience.

You own your list.

If social media went away tomorrow, would you still have a way to reach your clients? What about finding new customers? The truth is, you don’t own your social media audience…Facebook does (or Snapchat, IG, LinkedIn, etc.) But an email list? That’s yours and yours alone. You get to decide what to do with it, not Mark Zuckerberg.

E-mail lists are more personal.

Well written e-mails can still convey a sense of intimacy, like a handwritten letter. If you use an e-mail marketing service, you can even personalize your e-mails with names and personal details. You can’t do that with social media.

E-mail messages can be targeted to a specific audience.

When you post on social media, everyone sees your posts. With e-mail marketing, however, you can send specific messages to specific audiences. This lets you tailor your message and offers, which builds trust, connection and improves the odds of converting a lead to a client.

How to start your email list

Here’s a brief outline of getting your email address list off the ground.

  1. Choose an e-mail marketing service.
  2. Create a welcome e-mail
  3. Create a landing page
  4. Gather emails the right way
  5. Create and deliver content to your email subscribers
  6. Review your results, revise your efforts and repeat steps 3 and 4!

There’s nothing particularly difficult about starting an e-mail list. But it will take some time and effort on your part. Don’t expect the leads and income to start rolling in overnight.

Let’s take a closer look at each of those steps.

Choose an e-mail list service

Choose an email marketing service

You’ll need an e-mail marketing service to facilitate automatic e-mail gathering and delivery. It’s easier, safer and looks better, aesthetically speaking, to use an e-mail service than just sending something from your personal account.
A marketing service makes it easy for people to sign up and unsubscribe from your e-mail list. (The ability to unsubscribe is a requirement of the CAN-SPAM act). These services also optimize e-mails for your delivery.

Here are some services to consider:

  • Constant Contact
  • Sendinblue
  • ConvertKit
  • Mailchimp
  • Drip

Look for a service that meets your existing needs and can grow with you as your list grows.  And don’t stress over picking just the right service.  I have friends in all different kinds of businesses who use each of these services and rave about them.  They are reputable and effective, so you can feel pretty good about using one of them.

Create a welcome e-mail

When someone subscribes to your list, you need to have something ready to send them. That’s called a welcome e-mail. Here are three things your welcome e-mail should include:

  • Introductions (you and your business!)
  • Expectations. What can your subscribers expect from you, your blog and your business?
  • A personal photo of yourself. Put a face to the name!
  • Directions on how to make sure the email makes it to their inbox every time.

Your welcome e-mail doesn’t need to be fancy. Keep it authentic and true to your brand!

Freebie for email subscriber

Entice subscribers with a freebie or offer

One way to get subscribers to your email list is to offer a freebie in exchange for that precious email address. You’ve probably already done this for someone else’s free content and may not have even realized it! I gave my e-mail to Cole’s Classroom several years ago so I could participate in a free webinar. The rest, as they say, is history…
What can you offer clients? Anything you think they might value that ties in with your photography business and won’t cause you a significant capital outlay. Sure it would be awesome to offer every subscriber a $15 Amazon gift card for their e-mail, but it’s probably not financially feasible for you.

For a local photographer, some ideas could include:

  • A style guide
  • A location guide
  • Top tips or tricks
  • A free template (Facebook cover, Snapchat filter, calendar, Christmas card, etc.)
  • A printable (cheat sheets, thank you cards, etc.)
  • Video
  • Webinar
  • Presets
  • Coupons or discounts
  • Checklists
  • Advanced access to offers
  • Images for screen savers or desktops
  • Stock images

These freebies are also called lead magnets. This list isn’t exhaustive by any means. Put yourself in your clients’ shoes…what problem do they have that you can solve? What could you give them that adds value and is a good enough incentive for them to give you their contact information?

email list landing pageCreate a landing page(s)

What the heck is a landing page? A landing page is a webpage that your potential customers “land on” when they click through from an e-mail, ad, social media post or another website. This is where you’ll ask customers to leave their contact information or “subscribe” to your email list.

Your landing page can be as simple as a page on your website where you collect e-mail addresses through a basic form. Or your landing page can provide your freebie or offer in exchange for that e-mail address.

Landing pages can also be used to sell specific products. If you are running mini-sessions, for example, you could create a landing page specific to those sessions as a way to get clients to sign up for them. This is a different type of e-mail marketing though, so we’ll leave that for another tutorial. For now, it’s enough to know that landing pages aren’t just for gathering e-mails for a newsletter.

Need help with your web page?  We have you covered!

Grow your e-mail list

You’ve got your service picked out, you’ve written a welcome e-mail, you have your freebie ready and your landing page is up and running. Now it’s time to grow your list!

Give people a way to sign up for your email list. Here are a few places to advertise your opt-in!

  • Your website (top menu and widgets)
  • Social media pages and bios
  • On your blog posts. Or in your blog posts!
  • Inside of other products you provide clients, such as welcome guides, style guides, etc.)
  • In e-mails to existing customers that aren’t yet subscribers
  • In emails to partners, vendors or inquiries
  • Order forms
  • Paper signup sheets, such as in your studio or at an event like a craft fair or tradeshow
  • Postcards or paper invites, such as in volume photography order envelopes
  • As a signup form on your Facebook page (Click here for instructions!)
  • Paid social media ads
  • Work with other businesses to promote both your lists

You can use one, two or all of these methods to grow your e-mail list. Whatever works for your business and makes sense for you.

For example, if you do several volume jobs each year, it might make sense to offer an opt-in box on your order form for school and sports portraits and include a small card in each portrait envelope you send out.

If you offer micro-mini sessions, such as pictures with Santa or the Easter Bunny, that might be a fantastic place to have a paper sign up sheet.

Or you could partner with another small business and work together!  For example, you could encourage your email subscribers to sign up for a flower store’s newsletter, and the flower store could encourage their brides to sign up for yours!

Click here for some more ideas on how to collaborate with vendors!

Now what do I send subscribers?

Use your e-mail list to connect with your audience! You can send regular newsletters, notify subscribers of new blog posts, share exclusive content or provide advance notice of contests, giveaways or special sessions you are offering.

One photographer in my area sends out a “see who we’ve photographed lately” email to share their favorite images from recent sessions.

Not all of your content needs to be new. It’s okay to repeat some content from your blog or social media feed because not all of your email subscribers might have seen the content on social media. But to add the most value to that email list, you’ll want to give subscribers some content they can’t get anywhere else, or at least give them first crack at that content.

why photographers should have an email listAnalyze your efforts

It’s important to analyze the effectiveness of your freebies and emails. What gets the most open rates or click-throughs? What seems to resonate most with clients?  Your email marketing service will provide this data for you.  Use it to work smarter, not harder!

It can take some experimenting to find the right type of content for your readers and the right tone for your audience. Don’t be afraid to test and retest to hit just the right note.

Should I buy an e-mail list?

Buying an e-mail list sounds like a great shortcut. But they aren’t worth your money. In fact, the wrong email list can create more problems than they solve!

First, it’s hard to know if the e-mails you are buying are quality leads. They could be a bunch of fake or outdated e-mails. If those e-mails were harvested illegally, YOU could actually be subject to penalties for violating the CAN-SPAM Act. Also, no one enjoys receiving unsolicited emails. You might be irritating potential clients, not intriguing them. Not exactly the reaction you’re going for. And finally, you’ll likely have a poor response rate because those people aren’t interested in what you have to offer to begin with. Would you rather have 5 email addresses of potential customers in your area who might need photography services in the future or 500 email addresses of people who may or may not live in your area and may or may not be interested in photography sessions?

How often should I send content to my email list?

There’s no right answer to this question. First, make sure you have content worth sending. A single, really great email that readers will respond to is better than three full of junk no one wants.

Second, you’ll need to set the expectation for your audience on the frequency of your emails. However, make sure it’s a pace you can sustain and subscribers want. There’s a fine line between being helpful and being annoying. The number one reason people unsubscribe from email lists is that they get too many emails too often from the list.

Most small businesses send emails to their list once a month. That can be a good goal to start with. If, after looking at your data you think you need more, try every other week, then even weekly. Always track your stats so you know which frequency works best!

More Email marketing advice for photographers

A lot of different types of businesses use email marketing, from local photographers to nationwide camera stores like Adorama, to worldwide retailers like Amazon and every size and shape of business in between. Take advantage of the work these other industries are doing and apply it to your business!

Here are a few of my favorite resources:

I also like to analyze the marketing emails I receive.  What do I like about them or entices me to click through?  What resonates most with me as a mom, photographer or business owner?

There are also some really great resources on Pinterest that talk about starting, growing and providing value to your e-mail list.

why photographers should have an email list

What is the CAN-SPAM Act and why is it important for photographers?

The CAN-SPAM Act was an act passed by the United States Government in 2003. It stands for Controlling the assault of non-solicited Pornography and Marketing. Before you think “Ew, I’m not porn,” know if you are email marketing, you are still required to follow the CAN-SPAM Act. Basically, it was an act designed to cut down on unsolicited emails and make it easy to unsubscribe from email lists you were on.

Why is it important? If you are caught violating the CAN-SPAM Act, you can be subject to large fines by the FTC. Like $16,000 per violating e-mail kind of large.

Gulp.

But the good news is that it’s not hard to follow the CAN-SPAM Act if you’re operating a legitimate business with good intentions. Basically, always include your physical address, don’t use e-mails without permission, don’t mislead potential customers and make it easy for people to unsubscribe from your list.  In short, don’t be a total slimeball.

For a full list of dos and don’ts of the CAN-SPAM act, visit their page here. A good, reputable email marketing service will also help you navigate the rules of CAN-SPAM, which is one thing that makes a good service so valuable.

Harness the Power

Building and growing an email list sounds daunting. But it’s pretty simple. The most work is at the beginning. With a little research and a simple plan, you can grow your email list and your business! A list is a simple, inexpensive tool photographers can use to provide value to their clients, gain new customers and expand their circle of influence. It’s also something you fully own and control. So what are you waiting for? Make 2020 the year you start and capitalize on your email list!

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