According to research by McKinsey and Company, email marketing is almost 40 times more effective at acquiring customers than Facebook and Twitter combined. Photographers in 2022 know how to build and maintain an online presence through social media, but one overlooked way of potentially turning followers into clients is through customized email newsletters, delivered straight to their inboxes.
Personalized emails and regular newsletters are the perfect vehicles for building long-lasting relationships, helping you stay front-of-mind for new and existing clients. While we scroll through social media feeds without a second glance, our inbox is a place where we can pause and take in the news that matters to us.
Email marketing has been around for more than four decades now (the first email blast was sent back in 1978), and while it’s never gone out of style, it has grown and evolved. The internet has changed what’s possible, as have mobile devices. Today’s platforms are smarter than ever about filtering out spam and ensuring we get emails that are relevant to our needs. Below, we’ll dive into how photographers can use this tried-and-tested marketing method to grow their presence, find new clients, and stay engaged with their audiences.
Building a list
Right off the bat, you’ll likely need an email marketing service. Luckily, there are tons to choose from, depending on what you need. MailChimp and Keap are popular choices, and Substack is great for paid newsletters. Look at what some of your favorite newsletters use for an idea of what’s possible with different services and platforms, or ask photographers who send newsletters you enjoy for some quick business advice.
From there, the first step is finding the right people and making them aware of your newsletter. There are several ways to build your list, starting with adding a link where people can subscribe in your social media bios (LinkTree is good for this). Include your sign-up form in your email signature. On your website, you can also add a pop-up form so that any visitors can easily subscribe if they wish. Make it visible and prominent.
You can also get creative here by offering something of value to future clients as part of your targeted marketing strategy. For example, maybe you create a free how-to guide and give everyone who downloads it the option to sign up for your list. Another option would be to host giveaways, maybe for the holiday season, and when people enter, they can check a box to sign up for your regular newsletter. It can also be helpful to provide a link to an example so people know more about what they’ll get if they subscribe.
When building an email list, it’s important to only include people who have given informed and explicit consent. There are rules in place, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), to protect consumers from receiving marketing emails they don’t want. That means clearly outlining how you plan to use people’s email addresses and what they’ll receive. It’s good practice to implement a double opt-in system, such as sending out a confirmation email before adding someone to your list.
If you’re ever in doubt, read up on the law to see what’s allowed and what isn’t. (This might go without saying, but please don’t buy an email list from someone else.)
Personalizing your newsletter
Your email subscribers are often your most loyal and dedicated followers, so it’s important to give them something special. That starts with your welcome email, where you outline what they can expect from you going forward. You can also offer a freebie to new subscribers to thank them for joining you and give them a taste of what’s to come. Examples might include a PDF style guide for clients thinking of booking a photoshoot or a free preset for editing their photos.
Here are some other tips for engaging your subscribers in the long term.
Give sneak peeks
One of the best ways to stay in touch with your subscribers is to show them what you’re working on, whether you’re embarking on a new personal project or gearing up for mini-sessions. Sharing the news with your subscribers first, before announcing it publicly on social media and your website, goes a long way toward reminding them that you value them. If you want to offer something extra exclusive, you can give them first dibs on RSVP-ing to an event, like an exhibition opening, artist talk, or open studio.
Share exclusive content
Even if you have a regular blog, it might be worth offering exclusive articles catered to your subscribers. If your following is mostly other photographers, for example, those exclusive stories might be how-tos for creating a cool effect in the studio, or perhaps you share a regular roundup of photographer business tips. If your subscribers are mostly your clients, exclusive content could include a pre-photoshoot checklist or a guide to other vendors in your location (this is great for wedding photographers).
Depending on your email marketing service, you might also be able to send your subscribers perks for their birthdays or anniversaries, like discount codes toward a future purchase.
There’s no rule that says you have to send an email out every two weeks, but if you’ve promised your subscribers that’s what they’ll get, it’s important that you deliver on that. So start with realistic goals. If you can’t send a newsletter biweekly, maybe you send one quarterly throughout the year. The frequency doesn’t matter as much as the consistency, so see what works for you and your schedule. Only promise what you know you can give.
Relatedly, it can be tempting to “phone it in” and send off a quick email that doesn’t provide any value to your subscribers, but try to avoid that impulse. Every email should be helpful to them in some way, even if it’s small, to help build trust and loyalty. When people get too many emails, they’re more likely to hit that “unsubscribe” button. Quality is always better than quantity.
A call to action
Your emails serve a few primary purposes: educating and entertaining your subscribers and directing them to your website where they can learn more (and potentially book a shoot or buy a print). For that reason, start or end your emails with a crystal clear call to action, like a button that directs them to your blog or store. Every email you send should make it easy for people to get involved and learn more about your business. While the idea of creative marketing can feel daunting, it all boils down to knowing your value, valuing your audience, and being genuine in your approach.
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Caroline Downey is a news writer for Time Plus News Media.