One Thing I Regret Not Starting Sooner as a Photographer

One Thing I Regret Not Starting Sooner as a Photographer

What if I said there was something more useful for our photographic careers than any social network we've ever been on? With the ability to reach many more people than all your followers on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter combined; no restrictive algorithms, no paying to boost posts, no adverts. Do you want in?

I know many of you will think the email is as antiquated as the 56k modem or Myspace, but sending out marketing emails in some shape or form is still a relevant and underrated tool for photographers in 2018. When I say marketing emails, I mean everything from sending out promotional discount codes, to the occasional email newsletter, to updating clients of the new services you offer, to the e-card you send over the holidays. Reminding people you are alive is one of the best ways to get additional business and engagement from people who have shown interest or worked with you in the past. I also want to make it clear that the kind of marketing email I regret not doing sooner is the kind where people have signed up to receive communication from me in the first place. Sending spam out to addresses bought or obtained in some less than favorable way will very rarely have the desired outcome.

I'm sure social media will continue to have a place in helping us to grow our businesses and brands, but no social platform will stay relevant or popular forever. There will come a time when you or your followers will stop logging in and it's at that moment, that all the benefits of growing an audience in one place will be gone. Unless you have other ways of staying connected with those people, they are lost forever. While it's hard to predict what will happen to these social media heavyweights going forward, one thing which is much more certain is that email will still be around in some incarnation for a very long time yet. It's for this reason, that photographers should be taking more advantage of email as a more surefire way of future proofing the connections made online and in real life.  

If you weren't already warming to the concept of building an email list and sending out occasional correspondences, here are some of the benefits of using email over the likes of social media.

1. Your Email List Can't Disappear, a Social Media Platform Can

There have been plenty of social platforms which have come and gone over the years and the one you use to help you get clients or make sales could be the next to fall out of fashion. Even if you haven't put all your eggs in one digital basket, all social networks make it difficult to extract the data from the audience you have built. This is the exact opposite when it comes to having your own email list as most email clients will allow you to easily export your lists as a handy CSV file. This means if you ever decide to use another company for your marketing needs, you'll always have your addresses stored safely somewhere.

With one click of a button I am able to export my entire list of subscribers into one handy file for safe keeping.

2. People Have to Act on an Email in Some Way

All social media platforms are designed to digest information at record speeds. A simple swipe of a finger is enough to send your post flying off someone's screen before it's barely had the chance to load. Email is a little different in this respect in that the process is much slower and the user has to act in some way if they want an empty inbox. Even if that act is to go to delete the email, the recipient has at least consciously acknowledged what they are looking at for longer than a fraction of a second, and hopefully, this means they will realize what has been sent is worth reading.

3. There's Much Less Competition in Someone's Inbox

Thanks to the throttling of posts by the social powers that be, there is no actual guarantee that you will even make it onto someone's feed. Even if you are lucky enough to appear where you want to, you will be competing with a barrage of other posts and adverts. People's inboxes tend to be much less cluttered places so sending out the occasional newsletter is much more likely to be read. Personally, I find it a welcome and refreshing change to receive an email from someone I have subscribed to, especially if it isn't too hard of a sell.

4. Have a Deeper Understanding of What Is Working

Image by Pexels user Negative Space, used under Creative Commons.

While social media has got better at showing you how your posts are performing in terms of reach and engagement, they don't go far enough in my opinion. Add into the mix the issue of bots, fake likes, shadow bans, and dreaded algorithms, it can be hard to accurately work out if what you are doing is actually working or not. With an email client taking care of your marketing emailing, you will be able to see which links have been clicked, how many emails have actually arrived safely, and also the number that have been opened. An email also allows you to take advantage of A-B testing which means you can figure out in a more measured way what works for you and what doesn't. The sooner you can fine tune what is working, the better.

5. An Email Has a Longer Shelf-Life

I'm pretty confident that most people's inboxes don't move as fast as the most modest of social media feeds. Typically after an hour, your social media post is old news. Email, on the other hand, can stay near the top of the pile for much longer.

6. You Have Much More Control with an Email

With email, you can decide exactly how the presentation will look in terms of design etc. You can even have clickable links in an email too. We all might be conditioned to only having one clickable link on our Instagram profiles, but not having the ability to easily navigate to external web pages is a serious issue when every possible click could lead to additional work or sales.  

7. Emails Can Be Made to Feel Personal

A social media post is as generic as they come whereas an email can be tailored to an individual person. Even the simple addition of someone's name in an email can make the recipient feel like they are being spoken to directly. Various marketing services can help to give your emails an even more personal touch by splitting your lists into sets and tailoring each group especially.

8. Everyone Has Email

Chances are that if someone has an internet connection then they will probably have an email address or two. According to a recent Radicati Group study, there will be more than 3.8 billion email users before the end of the year, which puts this form of communication still ahead of any social media. While I'm sure your marketing newsletter won't be going directly to each and every email address on the planet, it does show how relevant email still is. Presuming that everyone is on social media is shortsighted and could potentially mean you are alienating groups of people who may otherwise become a customer.   

9. People Expect Promotional or Commercial Messages via Email

Image by Pexels user Negative Space, used under Creative Commons.

I'm sure many of you have seen this first-hand: mention a commercial element on social media and you'll see engagement drop on that particular post. I think the problem with social media is that it's one big melting pot of content posted by everyone from Fortune 500 companies to your grandmother. Add into that equation the ever-increasing barrage of adverts and the average user can begin to despise anything which has a dollar sign attached to it. When reading an email you are a little more primed to expect that what has landed in your inbox has probably some promotional or commercial component to it. This is always going to be a better starting point for a possible transaction.

I hope after reading these points you are beginning to look more favorably at the idea of building your own email lists. If used correctly they really can be a powerful tool in helping to give you the edge when trying to generate work or increase sales. How you go about building your own lists and most importantly what to put in those emails is something which I plan on writing about in detail very soon. The main thing I wanted you to take away from this article was how useful, less restrictive, and more future-proof email is compared to social media. I started building my email lists back in 2015 with the easy addition of a newsletter form on my website. Three years on and that list is steadily growing with people who want to hear from me and buy my work. When I look back though, I do regret that I didn't start one years earlier. Email marketing is something I think can work for almost any area of the photographic industry because at the core, it is a direct and familiar platform which almost half the planet uses every single day. Make 2018 the year you start diverting some of that time, money, and energy you spend on social media to building email lists and making them work for you.

Do you already make use of email lists? Are they really useful for all genres of photography? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Lead image by Mediamodifier via Pixabay.

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27 Comments

marcus joyce's picture

Make sure you have explicit opt in permission so you are covered by gdpr if your user is in Europe

Paul Adshead's picture

Excellent point Marcus. Will soon be the 25th of May...

Mads Peter Iversen's picture

I can't agree more! This is such a stupendously underappreciated marketing tool!

Paul Adshead's picture

Great you feel the same Mads. I really do wish I started mine sooner...

Dan Howell's picture

I'm not sure that you can really say under appreciated given that there are substantial businesses operating based on the premise of email marketing. Under appreciated by whom? Constant Contact is huge. I have been using https://www.agencyaccess.com for email marketing and targeted client research for several years. It is a world wide creative data base of advertising agencies, brand and in-house corporation and publishing creative buyers with email marketing tools built in. It was built around photographer's needs. It's not cheap however. There are other services like Bikini Lists.

I have found that targeting through research into more compact subject focused lists yield better results than blanket approaches.

Paul Adshead's picture

I'm sure Mads will let you know what he means, but I got the impression he meant underrated/underused in regards to photographers using email marketing.

The email marketing company you use looks interesting. Will have to investigate further. In a nutshell are you essentially buying email lists rather than building your own?

Dan Howell's picture

Agency Access is a database of creative buyers that was built from the ground up for photographers and illustrators over several years. A few years ago they merged/acquired AdBase which was a similar service.

There are different subscriptions N. America, Worldwide, etc. With access to a database, subscribers can create an unlimited number (I think) custom lists using search tools like geographic region, type of company, job title, hiring frequency (and possibly others). Putting in broad parameters will return a high number of results which the subscribers can then either select all or further customize. I work in different area so I have created different subject-specific lists. Once satisfied they can save or output the list to phone lists, spreadsheets, mailing labels.

Within Agency Access there is an email creation and sending function. Subscriptions come with a certain number of emailer credits. I think at one point I had 40,000 credits. My broad email list was something like 5-6000 names. At that rate it would take 8 cycles to burn thru those credits. They also offer enhanced marketing services at a premium cost.

The advantage of the database is that they have done the legwork to find valid clients and contact information that no one photographer would be able to even imagine on their own with a year of solid research. The disadvantage is many other photographers are working with those same contacts and there is ultimately a fatigue on the part of the popular targets that reduces the pick up and click-thru of photographer solicitations. Single digit open percentages from large mailings are to be expected.

note...I am in no way affiliated with Agency Access, I just know a little about them having been an off and on subscriber.

Paul Adshead's picture

Thanks very much for the explanation Dan. Appreciate hearing both the advantages and disadvantages of using it.

Will investigate it further...

Great stuff, Paul. I'm actually in the process of putting one together as well and wondering why I didn't do it earlier. I'd love to know how you go about targeting people, getting them to sign up, and building that list. Future article?

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Dylan, thanks for the kind words. It really is a win/win situation to build an email list.

Personally, I don't do much targeting (although I really should start) but i do mention it on social media & have it very visible on my site. I have also included it on printed media in a subtle way without ramming it down people's throats.

I think the way I get people to sign up is by saying that by joining my email list they will be the first to know about future print releases, exhibitions, & promotions. I think that helps to motivate people to sign up. I also try to make sign up as painless as possible & send out emails very sparingly. I do plan on writing a follow up to this article very soon...

All the best with building your list. :)

Christian Santiago's picture

I feel like email inboxes are just as cluttered and competitive as social media feeds. I open my email everyday and ignore probably 98% of them.

Only really open ones that are immediately relevant or e.g. client/ potential clients.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Christian, I can only speak for myself & those around me but we all have very light traffic when it comes to email. We all practice "inbox zero" daily & got rid of the daily junk/spam years ago. I have FIVE email addresses on my phone alone & they take very little time to look after.

I only use my email list for important news like print releases etc & as people have signed up to them to get that news I hope that my very occasional email would fall into that "immediately relevant" category you mention.

Thanks for your thoughts. :)

Vincent Alongi's picture

My take is, social media will get you noticed. It can help build your brand. Then you need to leverage that into a distribution list. But don't forget your own website. That has to be a home run.

I strongly disagree with the concept that the main social media outlets (FB, IG) will go away, or at least anytime soon. The usership is just too vast. I concede that for any photographer that has a long-standing, successful business social media shouldn't break them. That's when their email list, reputation and word of mouth is their worth.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hey Vincent, completely agree with you, although I don't actually say that social media will go away. Just that your chosen channel may become replaced with something else.

Think MySpace as an example of a social media becoming obsolete. Many photographers have great followings on Instagram & nowhere else. Unless they leverage that following elsewhere, (as you say) then they may just get a shock one day...

Vincent Alongi's picture

But I was specific about FB and IG.. not all of social media. Those two channels are so entrenched for people- and IG for the younger crowd. Now, as the current IG users age, you'll see somewhat of a shift with that platform.

Facebook isn't going anywhere. It's the true social media, off of which everything else is predicated. It connects people in the most social way of all the social media platforms. It's more interactive and conducive to conversations.

Facebook is hands down, the greatest 'invention' we've seen since the PC. I will go on record with that, and will never be swayed from that opinion. And by greatest, I mean most impactful and influential. I have a love/hate relationship with it, but have the utmost respect for how it's impacted society today. Good or bad...

Paul Adshead's picture

I said the same about MySpace once! Nothing lasts forever.

Facebook really has changed the world and is 100% engrained into our lives. I like your point about it being the greatest invention since the PC & completely agree with you on that.

Doesn't mean it will be relevant forever though. There are many who have already deleted their accounts or only log in occasionally.

Can't say the same for email. Pretty sure that will be still around, needed, & used daily in 10 years time...

I have a similar column at my blog:
http://www.cjpphotos.com/blog/2018/4/quitting-social

And I certainly agree that email is an excellent way to connect for all the reasons stated above. We have no idea what will happen in social tomorrow. However, email has proven its worth and longevity.

Paul Adshead's picture

I totally agree Chris, even if email was to ever be replaced in the future, those with email lists will be able to direct their followers to whatever it will be.

Until we are receiving messages via telepathy etc I think email will be around for a good while yet...

Thanks for the link. :)

A close friend of mine is an art buyer at a mid sized ad agency in Chicago, she gets about 100 emails an hour and about 30% of them are from photographers looking for work. If you want to make an impact send a printed piece as a follow up, printed pieces are actually rare these days.

Paul Adshead's picture

Wow! that's some crazy numbers Doug. I don't actually mention anywhere in the article about unsolicited email like your art buyer friend is getting. I agree with you that kind of email is a waste of time.

The email lists I'm talking about are made when people choose to receive communication with you in the first place. A chance meeting either in person or online can be enough to make a contact for life. Having something universal like an email signup will help you maximise & future proof those relationships.

Great point about printed pieces. If you can actually hand deliver them and have a meaningful exchange with that person at the same time even better...

Daniel Medley's picture

I mostly disagree with this article. Email simply does not return the investment of time. The main concept of email marketing is that if you throw enough stuff against the wall some of it's going to stick. That's why most people I know--me included--typically have a tiered email system; one address to give to friends, family, and critical contacts. The other to give to everyone else. The one I give to "everyone else" is NEVER checked with the exception of once a year or so to clean it out.

The sheer volume of spam/marketing emails has basically rendered it moot as a marketing device unless you're in the "throw enough stuff against the wall".

As far as the "people have to act on an email in some way" that is correct. Which is why I resent getting marketing emails. The action I typically take if I do get a marketing email in my friends, family and critical contacts address is that I instantly create a filter to route future emails to a folder I never look at.

Paul Adshead's picture

Hi Daniel, I think you missed the tone of the article as I never mention anything about mass unsolicited email or throwing enough against the wall until something sticks.

The email lists I'm talking about are made when people actively choose to receive communication with you in the first place. A chance meeting either in person or online can be enough to make a contact/customer for life. Using something universal like an email signup will help to maximise & future proof those relationships over a social media that could stop being the flavour of the month.

This kind of email I talk about takes very little money or time to do either. Setting up sign up forms on your website is a one time thing & until you get into tens of thousands of signed up users you won't even have to pay to send out emails either.

This is about quality not quantity.

I totally agree the blanket email tactics you mention are useless & annoying. I would never condone those kinds of email to anyone...

Daniel Medley's picture

Understood. And I assumed that what you were doing is more targeted for sure. I was just referencing the "against a wall" thing to indicate how it's usually done to simply justify the investment of time and the way that it's usually done.

When it comes to a customer based/generated email list, in my experience many if not most people will provide an email, but that email is the throwaway one which they typically don't check.

As far as the sign up forms on a website, yes, that is a bit different, and more viable in my opinion.

I suppose at the end of the day a multi faceted marketing approach that incorporates targeted email marketing is useful.

Paul Adshead's picture

I completely agree that a multi-faceted marketing approach is definitely the best way to be. If one of those facets is taking up too much time and money with very little return it should be removed as soon as possible.

I just find many people are so focused on social media they neglect other avenues.

Thanks for your thoughts...

Email is ancient way of marketing that just falls on deaf ears or annoys the crap out of people. You will just get your email black listed these days.

aka SPAM. i.e. the death of your reputation. It's a great way to really annoy people you don't know.

It's a great way to get your email address and server black listed too. And also it's now illegal in the EU. I'm surprised fstoppers would even publish this.

Paul Adshead's picture

You missed the tone of the article as I never mention anything about mass unsolicited email.

The email lists I'm talking about are made when people actively choose to receive communication with you in the first place. No GDPR issues here. These people WANT to hear from you...