In today’s world of TikTok and Instagram, talking about email marketing feels out of date. While photographers are increasingly dependent on social media platforms to promote their businesses, email marketing services can still be an effective component of their promotional efforts. Forbes predicts for 2023 that “email will continue to be an effective and evolving marketing channel”. Why? The vast majority of your social media posts are only shown to a fraction of your followers, while an email will land in every single recipient’s inbox without fail.
Of course, any email marketing needs to be well-crafted and communicate the photographer’s brand values. It’s therefore useful to read up on the latest in email marketing for photographers. Likewise, as photographers are visual communicators, the email design has to be spot on.
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Email newsletters are a tried and tested method for photographers to remind potential clients of their work and show that they’re busy, happening professionals.
If you only work with a few clients and send an occasional update with your latest work, your regular email account may be enough to do the job. For example, German corporate photographer Nils Hendrik commissions a designer to create his photography newsletter and then sends it out via his regular email account.
However, Email Marketing Services (EMS) can be useful for a higher volume of photographer emails or for more targeted campaigns. It also allows you to automate processes and reduce the likelihood of emails being flagged as spam, and some systems provide a link to the emailer that can be easily shared. But maybe most importantly, using an EMS can often simplify things. Marianne Lee is one of Wonderful Machine’s marketing specialists, helping photographers by managing their email marketing or even just by working to build a client list. She recommends using an EMS, because “it can help you formulate a consistent outreach strategy without too much effort.”
An EMS is a platform designed to manage and monitor your email campaigns. You can send emails to subscriber lists you have created and analyze data from those campaigns afterward. They provide several features relevant to email marketing.
Some systems are quicker to master than others, but they primarily work the same.
Like most things digital, the choice can be overwhelming, and it’s almost impossible to compare like-for-like when looking at different software packages. For example, Mailchimp, Hubspot, and Send in Blue have generous free offers, but are pricier than Constant Contact once you start to subscribe, for example.
The photographers we spoke to focus on the one or two most important priorities for them – whether it’s a great choice of email marketing templates for photographers, AB testing, or customer support. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that most EMS providers have moved far beyond that initial email service to become fully-fledged Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, designed for businesses with e-commerce operations.
Things can get confusing because many EMS are also complex Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems designed for e-commerce. HubSpot, for example, can handle more than your photography newsletter. It’s also a comprehensive CRM that can manage every touchpoint between a client and an online business, whether it’s ticketing for customer service requests, sales, billing, or any other operation.
This means, that they don’t only offer email newsletters, but a huge amount of other features, most of which aren’t relevant to commercial photographers. However, some can be, such as managing email follow-ups and billing.
Chicago music photographer Zoe Rain says,
I decided to start a newsletter to keep in touch with people. Instagram used to be a major avenue to accomplish that, but recently, the platform has been a losing game for photographers. Then, my marketing mentor at Wonderful Machine mentioned HubSpot, so I dove more into the services they provide.
Zoe regularly uses HubSpot email marketing and has started to use some of their other business tools, that allow her to manage and track her communications with her clients. She says:
Hubspot is a great starting point for organizing your business tools in a consolidated space. It handles my CRM and houses my design template for emails. I’m using all the free tools in addition to the Marketing Hub Starter pack, which is $20.00 a month. I connected my email to their Marketing Email tool and send out newsletters directly.
Some photographers found that new service providers lured potential customers with tempting free offers, only for them to be reduced to nudge people into subscribing. Likewise, new services may have lower prices than competitors or offer great one-off discounts, but these tend to be temporary.
The majority of photographers we talked to for this feature opted for established names, including Mailchimp and Hubspot. Marianne has had good experiences with both. She says that Mailchimp’s free offering was usually enough for photographer newsletters, but in order to get the most value out of Hubspot, users need to sign up for one of the paid plans. Brooklyn-based photographer Ben Franke also uses Mailchimp, relying solely on their email function for ease of use.
Once I have some new work and a few shoots done, I’ll try and send out an update email. I work with the MailChimp designer, showcasing some of my favorite images and writing a short blurb about each project. They make it easy to put an email list together and design an emailer. The platform is great, but you pay per subscriber on your list, which can get expensive.
As MailChimp was one of the first EMS providers, it’s still one of the best-known. Paris-based portrait photographer Antoine Doyen says:
I started a newsletter 15 years ago to keep in touch with people related to my occupation as a photographer. It felt like the normal thing to do, and I knew from the start I should not send a newsletter from my regular email account with all the addresses in BCC. At the time, there weren’t so many options available. They had a ton of great features available for free or almost nothing, but prices have increased significantly since. It’s now a bit too heavy for freelancers; it gets expensive very quickly if you have a large enough audience – mine is somewhere around 600 addresses.
This was one of the first EMS to go mainstream and still has a lot to offer. For example, Mailchimp offers a forever-free email marketing service plan for up to 500 contacts.
HubSpot is one of the big players and a fully-fledged CRM hub, offering email marketing, sales, service support, and so much more. All of these will not be used by a commercial or editorial photographer, but their free plan is worth consideration.
Constant Contact is an affordable and established email marketing provider aimed at small businesses. In fact, it’s been going since 1995, and regularly appearing at the top of reviews.
As another all-in-one tool for online marketing, it has a lot of functionality that is not relevant to the vast majority of photographers.
Last but not least, this popular website-building platform has just launched an email marketing service.
Using free versions of EMS may seem attractive, but they make it more likely that your carefully crafted newsletter will land in spam folders. This is because a paid subscription is often necessary to send emails from your own domain, which is preferable and makes emails more likely to arrive at their destination.
All in all, few people ever look back once they start using email marketing services. They also find that paying a small subscription fee can be well worth it. And as Zoe shows, keeping an open mind to other CRM tools could be useful in managing your day-to-day client interactions, unlocking connections that are essential to expanding your photography business.