An email list is the most valuable asset for any photography business. It’s the easiest and most direct way to engage with past and potential clients and encourage them to do more business with you. Ask an email-savvy photographer when he or she booked the most sessions last year and the answer invariably comes back “after I sent out an email.”
This lesson teaches:
- The majority of emails are never seen
- Essential components of every email message
- Alternatives to newsletters that increase engagement and save time
- Do’s and don’ts of email design
- An email platform like my affiliate MailChimp is mandatory
The majority of emails are never seen
Check out these staggering statistics. Only 80% of emails get delivered to the inbox. Successfully delivered emails have an average open rate of 20-30%, and that drops over time as your messages become less relevant. Only about 5% of emails get clicked. That means when you send an email to a list of 1,000 people, 300 might open the email driving 50 clicks back to a website. A strategy for getting emails delivered, opened, and clicked is essential!
Most of your subscribers have multiple email accounts and receive dozens of emails per day. You have 3-5 seconds to convince them your email is valuable. Before crafting an email, create a value proposition. That’s a fancy marketing term telling the user what’s in it for them and what action to take. Nobody cares to read about your latest project, how is that valuable to them? Your proposition might be education (what to wear, tips for hanging prints) or an offer (discount to loyal customers, limited holiday sessions available).
Reflect the proposition in the subject line. This statement of 50 characters or less persuades users to open your email in combination with the FROM line. The FROM line includes your name or business, and therefore does not need to be repeated in the limited space available in the subject line. My subject line for this email “Build a Better Email Newsletter” may have intrigued you to open it, where “Zach’s Advice on Email Marketing” might not have. Attention to subject lines will drastically affect how many users see your emails.
Get more people to click
Every email needs a call to action that tells the user what you want them to do. The best calls to action reinforce the subject line and are repeated in various ways throughout the email. For example a subject line of “7 Tips for Better Wedding Photos” may have a link at the top that says “View examples of better wedding photos,” a button at the bottom that says “Contact Zach to get better wedding photos,” and a clickable wedding image on the right that says “Click the image to see Zach’s best wedding photos.” No matter where the user clicks, you achieve the goal to get the user to view more images or contact you.
Timing also affects a campaign’s success. You wouldn’t send an email in June talking about Christmas sessions. Similarly, don’t send an email on Sunday evening if your subscribers respond to email during business hours. The most effective time to send emails is Tuesday mornings, but you can experiment with your list to see if that holds true.
Alternatives to newsletters
I find it really difficult to come up with valuable newsletter content I can email on a regular basis. It takes tons of time to create, and users have no incentive to sign up for it. Most photographers include a subscribe link on their website without explaining the benefit of singing up, how often the user will receive communication, and what type of communication. There is simply no reason a potential new client would want to give you their email address to simply “subscribe”. Even if they do, their first email will be whatever you chose to send out that week without acknowledging that they are a new user.
I use autoresponders as a scheduled series of email that walks a subscriber through my most important information. This email class is an autoresponder. I wrote 5 emails ahead of time that educate new website visitors with valuable information… stuff I normally charge for. That gives me a perfect opportunity to present my best material to a potential client, build trust, and convert to a sale. Subscribers have a reason to sign up (valuable information), they start at the beginning, and I only have to write 5 emails instead of an ongoing weekly newsletter! My autoresponder email list grows 5-10 times more quickly than my other email campaigns, people can’t wait for the next email (high open rates), and refer their friends.
For return customers, I offer an email subscription to my blog posts. People who read the valuable content in my posts like them are likely to sign up to receive them in email. I like emailing blog posts because I can add promotional information in the emails, something I can’t do in my RSS feed (and most people don’t know what an RSS feed is). I can email a blog post in 5 minutes – much better than writing a regular newsletter. With so many users reading my posts, I get more comments on my website than I otherwise would.
Do’s and don’ts of email design
Every email client interprets code differently. Simple designs work best when building an email to work across Gmail, Entourage, or an iPhone. I save hours of tweaking by sending very simple text-based emails. This email took less than 5 minutes to paste text and send, and it works great in all email programs and mobile phones. Since you are a designer at heart and may want “prettier” emails, keep in mind these factors:
- Email width should be no more than 600 pixels, while many clients only have 250 pixels of viewable space before needing to scroll
- Top left position in the email is seen first and should include the most important information
- Add a width, height, and alternate text to every image. Images are turned off by default, exposing the alt text until the user enables images. An image of yourself helps add trust
- Avoid Flash, animated images, background images, embedded video, and forms – none of these work in emails
- People scan email, so make it easy to find information by using bulleted lists and bold section headings
- Include a physical address and opt-out (unsubscribe) link as required by law in the CANSPAM Act of 2003. It’s better to have a user unsubscribe than click Mark as Junk, which can get your email address blocked
- Include a plain-text version of the email for people and phones who can’t view HTML. Most professional email programs can create this with a click of a button
- Use Mailchimp’s free email templates for well designed email that will look good in all email clients
Professional email systems
It’s a major mistake to send mass emails from a desktop email account like Entourage. An affordable email system like MailChimp offers a number of features essential to getting your emails delivered:
- Use a dedicated IP address (unlike desktop clients) to insure the email doesn’t get blocked before hitting your client’s email account
- Data on who opened and clicked each email so you can personally follow up with those who seem interested
- Spam filters to insure you don’t use words like mortgage or text, all caps, or too many exclamation marks in a subject line. A friend of mine once used “Viagra” in the subject line, weeks later learning that all 500+ emails were automatically blocked as spam
- Automatic filter for bounces (email addresses that don’t exist) and unsubscribes so you can keep a clean record with email service providers
- Templates to create quick and professional looking emails that appear consistent in all email clients