Email marketing… Despite the mad rise of social media, it is the simple photography newsletter – emailed to your clients on a regular schedule – that remains as one of the most effective methods of cultivating and maintaining positive client relationships in the photography business.
You could say that the best way to a client’s heart is through their inbox, as long as you know how to approach email marketing correctly, and where your client happens to be in the buying process.
Sadly, too few professional photographers are using email marketing effectively (if at all) to build solid client relationships, and improve the profitability of their business.
Is an email marketing strategy missing from your photography business plan? Have you put off starting a regular newsletter for your photography clients because you’re unsure how to get started, what to write, which email service provider to use, or even how to grow an email list?
If so, this article should help you overcome these obstacles to get you back on the path to building rewarding relationships with your clients…
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Don’t Let Your Clients Forget You!
If you already send out a monthly email newsletter to your photography clients then kudos to you – this is a great way to “touch” your existing clients and new prospects on a regular basis to keep your photography business and your all-important brand on their radar.
Keeping yourself positioned at the forefront of your clients’ minds is critical because we all know how easily life gets in the way, meaning that they can easily forget you exist otherwise.
Perhaps the idea of writing a photography newsletter and the concept of email marketing raises thoughts such as, “I’d love to, but that’s all I need – more administrative work to keep me away from doing any actual photography!”
But we do need to put people in front of our cameras, right?
In order to get those people where we want them to be, we must earn their attention so that we can then market our services. Not only that, we have to keep their attention once we have it.
If you aren’t sending out a photography newsletter, there are plenty of reasons why you should. Before I made the decision to include email marketing in my own business model, like so many others, I mistakenly expected Facebook, Twitter and my blog to do all the work that a newsletter should do. After all, it’s no big task to write a short blog entry to announce a new series of portrait sessions or a special offer… Posting an update on Facebook or Twitter is easier still, and more fun than writing an email newsletter, which sounded a little too much like being a journalist.
Are You A Small Fish In A Big Pond?
The problem with this approach (apart from being lazy) is that your Facebook friends and Twitter followers are not paying as much attention to you as you would like – assuming that they are actually seeing your updates in the first place… Without you really knowing it, your social media messages can become lost in a continual parade of tweets and announcements that slide past your contacts glazed eyes all day long, making you a small fish in a very big pond of other [mostly] small fish.
I’m sure you don’t need me to point out how frustrating it can be to “yell” at Facebook and Twitter continually with no appreciable return on your efforts. However, the reason people aren’t responding very well could be that we’re using social media incorrectly.
Ideally, Facebook & Twitter should be used in a very social manner to augment and amplify our marketing message. Instead, we appear to be using them as the primary vehicles to carry our whole marketing message. Imagine if Wal-Mart tried to deliver everything to their stores in VW Beetles, simply because everyone else thinks VW Beetles are cool. Theoretically, it could be done, but the vehicle is simply not suitable for that type of job.
This is where email marketing and the photography newsletter can come to the rescue. But, before we move on, here are 8 reasons why you should send an email newsletter:
- Email Newsletters Focus Attention
- Portraying A Professional Image
- Newsletters Engage Your Audience
- Developing Loyalty In Your Photography Brand
- Enhances Your Brand Recognition
- Email Marketing Provides Measurable Results
- Email Newsletters Are Not Easy To Write
- Your Photography Clients Want To Hear From You
#1: Email Newsletters Focus Attention
The world is full of distractions – Facebook updates, text messages, tweets, random YouTube videos, telephone calls, TV, radio, questions and interruptions, ads, and a myriad other things.
It’s no wonder that we have a hard time attracting anyone’s attention for more than a moment or two these days!
One of the few things we have left in our arsenal that can effectively capture someone’s attention is the good old email or newsletter.
When one of your subscribers opens your newsletter, they’re focused purely on that one thing (or at least as much as we can hope for in today’s age). They’ll scan it for interesting headlines, just like you probably did with this article, and perhaps a story on the benefits of wall portraits might catch their eye, which they’ll read in more detail. Even if they don’t click any of the links, the amount of time they spend reading your photography newsletter is enormous compared to a tweet, which seems as insignificant as a blink by comparison.
The benefit of concentrating your marketing information in a newsletter is that there’s a better chance the reader will actually think about what you’re saying. For example, they might read that interesting piece you wrote about your unique emotional approach to wedding photography and how they can get the same level of service for their wedding.
The overall message you want to convey becomes stickier when presented in a concentrated and focused way like this, so the readers are more likely to remember it later.
#2: Portraying A Professional Image
You are a professional photographer, with emphasis on the word “professional“. In order to maintain that status, it’s imperative to always portray that ideal to your clients and prospects.
A social media update, or a blog entry, can be written in a very conversational, loose, or colloquial manner, without coming across as unprofessional. But, at the same time, they are not the ideal vehicles to talk to your clients in some of the more subtle and emotional ways, while maintaining a closely personal and almost intimate relationship.
This is where the power of email marketing comes into play. A properly written photography newsletter can seem more immediate and personal, and just looks more professional.
This is one of the biggest factors that can help set you apart from your competitors, giving you the advantage you need.
When presented with a newsletter that appears polished, clean and professional, your reader will take a lot more notice of what you have to say. In addition, a professional-looking email newsletter adds credibility to you and your business, creates a better relationship with your clients, and gives you more authority in your field.
#3: Newsletters Engage Your Audience
Have you ever tried some of the traditional forms of direct marketing, such as mailed postcards? I’m fairly certain that when you placed those cards in the mailbox the first thought to go through your mind was something like, “I wonder how many of those will end up in the trash?”
Inadequate engagement with the audience is a big problem with those types of marketing, although social media has made incredible advances in this area. However, by its fast and furious nature, social media can only go so far in creating the level of personal engagement you need for an effective marketing campaign.
As long as it’s written correctly, a photography newsletter will be more engaging to your clients and will be much more effective than a barrage of status updates and tweets. If you are consistent (which is extremely important) and send them out on time every month, you’ll find that your readers become more engaged as time goes by, and will even look forward to receiving your email.
Consistency is a big factor too – you must stick with it and keep going, despite any temptation to slow down or quit. You’ll find it exciting to send out the first one or two, but then it gets more difficult as it becomes a monthly chore, or you start to run out of ideas, and you might even feel despondent when you see a poor response after the third or fourth one. But don’t give up. I guarantee that people are reading them and if you show that you’re in it for the long haul, you will get responses.
Engaged clients, people who enjoy reading your photography newsletter, may also be more likely to pay attention to your other forms of marketing, such as Facebook posts, tweets etc. This is one of the huge benefits of marketing yourself through multiple channels – your name becomes more familiar and you start to become noticed and wanted.
#4: Developing Loyalty In Your Photography Brand
Basically, there are usually two main reasons why people won’t buy from us:
- They don’t need or want what we have to offer
- They don’t trust us or feel any real connection with us
Trust is the big elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, because it affects us on deeply personal levels, and can be uncomfortable to deal with. We all want to be liked and trusted, but it can be hard to earn.
A good newsletter, written from an honest and genuine perspective, both educates and entertains your reader, developing and augmenting their trust in you and therefore your brand. Increased trust leads naturally to repeat business and brand loyalty.
It’s quite simple: If your clients trust you, they will buy from you again, and they will also refer you to others.
Communicating with them regularly through your email marketing continuously builds upon that trust.
#5: Enhances Your Brand Recognition
Before you can think about brand loyalty, you need to first build a brand that people will know, resonate with, and recognize.
Brand recognition is concerned more with how people perceive you and your business, and how easily they recognize you or your work.
What makes people recognize your photography business? It could be your style of photography, how you communicate your personality, your personal story and why you do what you do, the colors and fonts you use in your marketing, the type of finished product you specialize in, and your logo.
All of these elements should be consistent across your whole business – including your photography website, business cards, stationery, and your photography newsletter. By bringing your email marketing format into line with everything else, you’re reinforcing your brand and improving its recognition.
#6: Email Marketing Provides Measurable Results
A short note of caution here: If you’re sending out your own email newsletters, either manually or through a mass-mailing program, then STOP and pay close attention to what I’m about to share with you!
Unless you’re an IT person and really know what you’re doing, there is absolutely no need to waste your valuable time reinventing the wheel. It’s already been done – and very effectively too. Even if you are a talented IT person, I would urge you to just go with those who specialize in doing this – concentrate instead on what you should be doing: Creating beautiful imagery and telling your clients about it!
I’m sure you already know that sending out email newsletters to anything more than a handful of people by yourself is a total nightmare (probably one of the main reasons why so many professional photographers give up on it).
And I can’t stress enough the importance of using a reputable email marketing company, such as iContact – they provide a robust array of tools to create, send and track your email marketing campaigns. Try it FREE for 30 Days! I use them for all of my marketing needs and they do an amazing job.
Email marketing service providers are dedicated to making sure your emails get through, they provide detailed analytical metrics, and can ensure that you stay on the right side of the anti-spam regulations. The cost is minimal and well worth it. They even provide a wealth of templates with which to build your newsletters.
One of the really great features is the ability to have HTML and text versions of your photography newsletters to ensure the widest possible audience.
Measurable results includes such things as:
- How many emails were opened (open rate)
- Which email addresses were invalid (bounces)
- How many people clicked the links in your newsletter (click through rate)
- The number of times your newsletter was forwarded (forward rate)
- How many contacts decided to opt-out or unsubscribe (opt-out rate)
- Social sharing statistics
These metrics are invaluable in giving you clues on how your clients are behaving and the kind of things they might respond to, allowing you to fine tune future mailings. For example, you can see exactly who clicked the link to a specific promotion and then further target those people with a more focused message. Alternatively, you can target those who failed to respond the first time with a different email message.
#7: Email Newsletters Are Not Easy To Write
One of the reasons why you’ve put this off for so long is because you thought that writing lots of emails is difficult. Now, you find that this is one of the best reasons to start!
I know it may not sound like a great reason to write a photography newsletter, but it really is one of the best! We already know that most professional photographers are not sending out regular newsletters to their email list. Some start out boldly, but then stop after a couple of issues because they either get discouraged at the lack of immediate results, or find that it’s harder to write than they first thought. Others don’t even keep a list of their clients’ email addresses.
[For more information on building a list, see "Email Marketing For Photographers: Why The List Is Everything"]
Oddly enough, this is great news for the rest of you. Being successful in business is anything but normal, nor is it easy. If writing a newsletter was that easy, every professional photographer would do it, and then it might not be as effective as it is.
Instead, if we force ourselves to tackle the task and get it done as professionally as possible, I believe there are great rewards to be had.
Yes, it takes time to write and format the email. Yes, it takes effort to think up articles. Yes, it takes a concentration of will to force ourselves to think creatively and not produce a newsletter that’s just a sales letter (see #8).
But, it is wholly worth it to separate yourself from the pack.
#8: Your Photography Clients Want To Hear From You
How do you feel when friends or family lose touch with you? Perhaps they haven’t called or emailed you in a long time, and you’re starting to think they’ve forgotten about you.
What about a business that you loved dealing with? All of a sudden, because you bought something from them, they stopped communicating with you, making you feel like just another faceless sales receipt.
The last reason on this list (but I’m sure there are many more) is that your clients really do want to hear from you! They even want to get to know you personally a little more, find out what’s happening in your business and, more importantly, it makes them feel more appreciated.
Think of it like this… If you don’t communicate with them then it might as well be as though you originally sold them a portrait or wedding collection by appealing to their emotions, but now you want nothing more to do with them!
That’s going to sting, no matter how you look at it, and could negatively impact any word of mouth marketing you might have gotten.
Therefore, to keep the relationship alive and kicking, it’s important for your newsletters to be fresh, infused with your personality, and interesting to read. Follow that rule and your readership should grow nicely over time and your business will start to see positive results.
Just don’t expect it to be an overnight success – it does take time.
As alluded to in #7 above, one thing I will say is that your newsletter should NOT always be a sales letter. Don’t make the terrible mistake of thinking that a sale, monthly offer, or promotion all by itself is a newsletter. Your readers will soon grow tired of receiving nothing but sales information and will quickly unsubscribe from reading it, leading to a damaged brand.
This last point can be a challenge for even the most advanced email marketer, but it is important nonetheless.
Getting Started With Email Marketing
When I talk with other photographers during coaching sessions about email marketing, and especially about approaching it correctly with a regular newsletter, or using a third-party email service provider, I’m often met with a number of objections and excuses:
- I don’t have the time
- It’s too expensive
- I already have social media
- I tried before but couldn’t keep it going
- I’m not a writer
- I don’t want to spam people
- Nobody reads emails
Some of these have already been addressed in the above points, but I do want to summarize why these are not good reasons to avoid email marketing.
Firstly, sending out email newsletters is a marketing activity for you and your business, so you must find the time for it, just as you do with other forms of marketing. The problem here is more likely to be a desire to procrastinate on the decision through lack of awareness, or fear of rejection from your clients.
The cost of using an email marketing company is very small and affordable, starting at around $10 per month for up to 500 email addresses, so the expense is not really a valid excuse in my opinion.
Social media is a totally different animal altogether, and is not meant to replace the benefits you’ll get from properly targeted email campaigns.
As mentioned before, it’s important not to give up – this type of marketing takes time to cultivate, but it is worth it!
You can write – the reason photographers get so hung up on this is that they think their readers are expecting to see perfectly written, grammatically correct text, which is not true. Write as if you were talking to a friend, in a friendly and genuine tone, and you’ll do just fine.
As I stated in point #8 above, your clients want to hear from you. Sending them a monthly photography newsletter is not likely to be seen by them as spam, unless you have nothing interesting to say to them.
The idea that nobody reads emails is also not true. Obviously, not all of your emails are going to be opened and read all of the time, but if you build a good relationship with your readers, the open rate will increase, because they will want to hear from you, and even look forward to receiving your photography newsletter.
Email Marketing For The Professional Photographer
Assuming that you’ve committed yourself to the challenge of email marketing, and you’ve selected an appropriate email service provider, the next step is to start building your list.
To be honest, like a lot of other professional photographers, the one regret I had, when I finally realized the error of not using email newsletters, was that I should have started building a list from the first day I opened the photography business!
Fortunately, it’s not that hard to get started, and any time is better than not starting at all…
You can build an email list in a number of ways:
- Capture the email address of every client or prospect you meet
- Sign-ups, contests, or guest books at events and trade shows
- Asking your current clients to sign up
- Sign-up forms on your website
- Sign-up forms on your Facebook page
- Referrals from “forward to a friend” links in your emails
- Announcing subscriber-only offers on your blog
- … and many more – be creative!
It is very important to make sure that your list is built in an ethical way – by using what’s known as double opt-in. Basically, this means someone fills out a subscription form, then they have to click a link in a confirmation email before they will be fully subscribed to the list.
Likewise, always include unsubscribe links at the end of your emails to allow people to manage their email subscriptions.
By the way, it’s totally natural for people to come and go, and unsubscribes are a fact of life with email marketing. Don’t take it personally when someone leaves your list – it could be for any number of reasons, and the vast majority of the time it’s not because they dislike you or your photography in any way!
Finally, the one thing you do NOT want to do is to just add people to your list at random in the hope that they will stay subscribed. Nor would I advise purchasing any kind of email list.
I receive 3 or 4 emails every day from companies I have no relationship with, who use a professional email marketing provider, yet they have just added me to their list without my permission hoping that I’ll buy their product or service. Because I believe so strongly in the fair and ethical use of email marketing, I unsubscribe from 100% of those emails, and report all of them as spam to the email marketing company. Don’t let that happen to you!
The Photography Newsletter
Once you have a list, it’s time to start planning your newsletters. Even if you have just one person on your email list, treat this as though you had an audience of thousands!
Your email marketing company should have a large number of HTML templates you can choose from for your newsletters, so it’s worth taking the time to look through them all to see which one best suits you and your brand.
If you’re feeling adventurous, or you are an advanced user, you can even prepare your own template, but there’s rarely a real need to do that.
Choose your template with care, because it will become a part of your brand, and you will be using it with all of your emails and newsletters in the future. Don’t be tempted to keep switching the template from email to email, as this will only serve to confuse your readers and dilute your branding recognition.
The newsletter itself should usually follow a similar format. It doesn’t really matter which format you use, as long as you stick to it. Again, this breeds familiarity for your readers, and they become accustomed to seeing things in the same place each time. It’s a little like the evening news programs on TV – we know when the weather forecast will be, and when the most important stories will appear etc.
A good format to follow might be something like this:
- Opening greeting
- Any news since the previous email
- A mini-article (optional)
- The main article
- Another mini-article (again optional)
- Low-key special offer (preferably connected to the main article)
- Closing paragraph
- “PS” – Important! A lot of readers skip straight to this for some reason.
The main article in the newsletter should be a non-sales piece and you can either have the complete article in the newsletter, or an excerpt with a link to your blog where they can continue reading. Linking to a blog post is great because you can then encourage them to leave comments and become even more engaged with you.
If you’re finding it a challenge to come up with ideas for your newsletter articles, it’s a good idea to keep an ideas file or spend a weekend to sit down and write 5 or 6 articles at a time, so that you have some in reserve for those times later on when time might be short or you need an article quickly.
When To Send It Out
A very common question is “when is the best time to send out an email newsletter?”
There is no hard and fast answer for this one, as I’ve found it can depend to some extent on who your audience is, the type of material you’re sending out, and what class of response you’re aiming for (e.g. social interaction, sales, comments etc.)
However, research seems to suggest that Tuesday afternoons or Wednesday mornings seem to be a good time for most newsletters. I would avoid Monday mornings or Friday afternoons, but weekends can sometimes work well too.
Other times might also be appropriate. For example, if your readers are mostly young moms, then you could try sending one out later in the evening on a weekday, or perhaps a Sunday afternoon. These are the times when busy moms are least busy (although with a mom, we all know that “busy” is a relative term!).
The thing here is to use some common sense, and be aware of who your target audience is in as much detail as possible.
When To Use Autoresponders
An autoresponder is a predetermined sequence of emails sent to a subscriber in a specific order, over a set period of time, with each email timed to go out after a defined number of days since they joined the associated list.
A good example of this is my “11 Days To Business Peace” mini-course. It would be nearly impossible for me to manually keep track of each day’s emails for every one of my subscribers, so the emails are sent automatically as part of an autoresponder sequence. If you haven’t taken that free course, by the way, go check it out, and observe how it works.
In the case of the mini-course, the readers get one email each day for 11 days after they subscribe to the list. The emails are sent automatically, with no intervention on my part, and I’m able to track and measure the performance of each email in the series.
For me, autoresponders are one of the biggest benefits of using a dedicated email marketing service provider, such as iContact.
What Can You Use Autoresponders For?
In your own photography business, you might want to use autoresponders for a variety of purposes, but the main one is likely to be to take your prospect by the hand and lead her through the 5 main stages of awareness:
- Completely Unaware: No in-depth knowledge of you or your brand.
- Problem-Aware: Prospect senses a problem, but not a solution.
- Solution-Aware: Prospect knows the solution, but not that your product provides it.
- Product-Aware: Your prospect knows what you sell, but isn’t sure it’s right for her.
- The Most Aware: Your prospect knows your product, and only needs to know “the deal.”
[These 5 types of prospect are described in more detail in this great post over at Copyblogger: "The 5 Types of Prospects You Meet Online, and How to Sell to Each of Them"]
Generally speaking, you could write one or two emails for each stage in the sequence, culminating in a special offer when the prospects are assumed to be at stage 5. I say “assumed” because there’s no real way to tell where each individual is, except to cater your autoresponder sequence to what you consider to be the average client.
However, you can track and measure the results of your autoresponder over time, making any necessary adjustments as you gather intelligence on the average behavior.
Good subjects for autoresponders might be:
- A short course on how to take better photos of your family
- Planning a wedding
- Educating prospects on the benefits of child portraiture
- Anything that gets them thinking and involved with you and your photography
Are You Ready To Get Started?
I hope that you’ve found this article on email marketing for the professional photographer useful, and that it’s helped to counter many of the reasons for not getting started with email marketing. Once you get into it, you’ll wonder why you didn’t start sooner, especially when you start to see the results of your efforts as time goes by.
I know that this has been a long post, and I’m grateful for you sticking with it until the end, but even then I can’t hope to cover everything in here, so if you think I missed something out, or you have an experience or idea to share on the subject, please do take a moment to leave a comment.
Oh, and don’t forget to share the post with your pro photographer friends too!