Ready for some controversy? Well, here it goes: One of the most useless things I see a lot of photographers doing with their time is trying to get popular on social media. There, I said it! Now, please let me explain.
There are certainly benefits of having a strong social media presence. I would be an idiot not to realize that. Just look up people like Colby Brown, Chris Burkhard, Nicole S. Young, Trey Ratcliff, Hilary Fox, etc. These people get flown around the world by large and small companies because of their social reach. The fact is, most of them either have unheard of work ethics or had some big breaks along the way to help kickstart their social media presence. And guess what…a lot of them have very successful and large newsletter (email) lists.
So, how much time do you spend every week posting your images to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, 500px, etc? For a lot of you, it’s countless hours. Do you ever feel like you’re spinning your wheels? How much of your income have you earned from doing so?
I started offering workshops through my photography business in January of 2014. I had done a couple local ones before, but never out of state. I started my (email) newsletter in January of 2013 and was fortunate enough to build it up to around 10,000 by the time I announced the first workshop.
So here’s the rundown: At the time I probably had around 40-50,000 followers on Google+, 5-6,000 on Twitter, 1-2,000 on Facebook and of course the 10,000 on my newsletter. When I announced the first workshop I was pretty nervous (stepping out like that and going for something I hadn’t done before on this scale). To my absolute surprise, the workshop sold out in less than 17 hours!
Here’s the crazy part; every single person that purchased a spot on my workshop came from my newsletter. I ran the workshop with my buddy Mike and he didn’t even have a chance to announce the workshop to his followers before it sold out! Not a single spot sold from my social media following, which outnumbered my newsletter numbers almost six-fold.
You can find plenty of stats out there that say newsletter subscribers convert into sales at a rate of around 250% more than social media. In my case it’s much much higher.
Where to Start
As Lao Tzu said so eloquently, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”. I highly suggest making that first step by heading over to MailChimp (note from dPS use this link to get a $30 credit when you sign up, disclaimer: yes we get a credit also) and getting your first newsletter set up. Their account is 100% free up to your first 2,000 subscribers, which is quite insane if you ask me! That’s a LOT of free subscribers! After you exceed that 2,000 mark you will have to start paying. In fact, my newsletter is currently pushing well past the $160/month mark. That’s fine though, because it forces me to make sure I send out a newsletter on a regular basis to make sure I’m not throwing that money away. And trust me, that $160 monthly fee is well taken covered.
MailChimp is, at least in my opinion, the absolute best newsletter engine out there. The design is fantastic, it’s easy and intuitive to use, and they recently updating their pricing methods which is saving me a ton of money. That isn’t an affiliate link to their website either, I just truly believe they are the best.
How to Make Your Newsletter Successful
This section is a bit difficult to address considering it’s a bit personal, but I’ll do my best. My experience has been that simply being open, honest, and transparent is what people want. I don’t have anything to hide, I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I think people appreciate that (at least the ones on my newsletter list do). If every newsletter you send out is selling something then you are going to start losing the trust of your subscribers. I don’t sell something through my newsletter unless I know it’s going to benefit my subscribers in some way. Instead of selling stuff at every chance I get, I fill my newsletters with free photo tips, free presets, updates on my life, my travels, my family, etc. I want to make sure that when they see my newsletter in their inbox, it will bring a smile to their faces.
Don’t be irresponsible with it
Another way to make your newsletter successful is by not doing anything irresponsible with it. Everything kind of black hat tactic to getting a bigger list in a faster manner, is shooting yourself in the foot. Subscribers cost you every month, so it would be really dumb to start trying to buy up lists of email addresses from folks who didn’t actually subscribe to your list. These will not be targeted subscribers, and your list’s health will reflect that. Even if the email addresses are industry specific, they won’t be people who actually wanted to be on your list.
Your subscribers are not for sale
Another thing you should never do is sell your subscriber list. You will get caught. There are plenty of people out there smart enough to use unique email address for your newsletter so they can track whether or not you sell their information (check this article out for more info).
Be cautious with affiliate sales
There were rumours going around a few years ago saying that including affiliate links in your newsletters (specifically with MailChimp) would get you banned. This ultimately was not true (here’s MailChimp’s response) but they suggest using caution with affiliate links. Some companies are very clear about doing this when people sign up for their newsletter (think Snapndeals, PhotoWhoa, PictureCorrect) but the basic premise is that when someone signs up for your newsletter, they are signing up to hear about you and potentially purchase things from you, not someone else. If this sort of thing gets abused and your list stats reflect spam, you could easily get your newsletter yanked. All that work, gone.
Give your followers a reason to subscribe
I’m very, very picky about which newsletters I subscribe to. I get enough email as it is already. I also read articles on plenty of websites, and have a tons of things to do for my photography business each and every day. So if I’m going to allow a person or business into my inbox, it had better be worth it. I keep that in mind every time I send out a newsletter. I ask myself, is this worth sending out for the people receiving it? I have deleted three or four entire newsletters when the answer was no.
That being said, how do you make your newsletter worth subscribing to? Well, the best way to entice subscribers is by giving away something free. I put together an entire ebook just for my newsletter subscribers called: 10 Tips For Improving Your Photography Today, and it has consistently gotten great feedback. It’s short, to the point, and each tip is truly something useful that they can put into practice immediately if they so desire.
Another method is to use auto-responders (now called Automation inside MailChimp) to send out a multi-email campaign when someone subscribes. This could be a three part series, or three different ebooks, that get sent out at specific times after a successful subscription. For example, your first free gift could go out immediately after they subscribe. The second could go out a few days later and the third a few days after that. This gets the subscribers pumped up and happy to be part of your list. Just don’t set them up for a newsletter that is non-existent or not worth reading afterwards.
Acknowledge that your subscribers are your #1 fans, and act accordingly
When I click Like on a photographers Facebook page, I’m not really any more committed to them than I was before. I just want to keep up with them more. When I start reading their blog on a regular basis they have really struck a chord somewhere, and I am very interested in what they have to say. For me, to subscribe to their newsletter means that I am a huge fan of whatever they are doing. Be sure to remember that when you conduct your business!
My newsletter subscribers are first in line for everything. They get access to workshops before I announce them publicly. They get exclusive discounts that nobody else gets. They get random free stuff like presets and video tutorials. They get a deeper look into my personal life and what drives me. Essentially, I make sure they are taken care of because I truly, honestly, appreciate and value their time and their willingness to follow what I do.
So What Would You Use a Newsletter for?
I sell products (ebooks, presets, textures, video courses, etc.) and workshops through my newsletter. I realize not everyone does that. But if you are in business (making anywhere from 1-100% of your income through photography) then you have something to sell. Use your newsletter to primarily keep in touch with your clients and keep them updated on the happenings of your photography business. This keeps you in their sights and makes sure they don’t forget about you. Clients love connecting with the people they do business with, and a newsletter is perfect for this. From time to time you can send discounts for photo sessions or on print orders, do giveaways where you send a winner a free print, and so on.
I’ve been wanting to write this article for a long time now. Having a good, healthy newsletter is almost like having this huge secret that nobody else seems to be pursuing. I see so many photographers out there grinding it out on social media while their efforts could be spent so much better at getting a newsletter started.
I would be remiss if I didn’t invite you join my newsletter after writing an article about the importance of one. If you join through this link I’ll make sure you are taken care of handsomely! Not only will you get my standard free ebook and a discount code to my online store, I’ll also throw in my best selling ebook Tack Sharp as well as a set of 20 Lightroom presets – all totally FREE. On top of that, you’ll be able to read my newsletter that I work so hard on and extract some tips from how I use it.
If you really want to brighten up your inbox, be sure to also sign up for the dPS Newsletter (sign up box at the top of every article). I’ve been subscribed years and love it!