Email Marketing for Photographers: Email Sequences That Increase Portrait Profits with Phillip Blume
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Can emails really drive print sales and increase your bottom line? If so, are you confused why your sales emails seem to go unanswered?
Most photographers, especially shoot-and-burners, already use email to deliver online photo galleries to clients. For them, email is simply the easiest way to deliver final image downloads and essentially close the photographer-client transaction. Email delivery today is what burning photos onto CD’s used to be, hence the burn in shoot-and-burn. It feels clean and done. But is it smart?
This one-way airtight system is where most of us begin our professional journey. Sadly, it’s also where most businesses suffocate and die, having to close their doors within their first five years.
As educators and coaches in this industry, my wife Eileen and I want more for our students— longevity and stability—so their lives can be more than a constant struggle. So ask yourself: Instead of closing doors to my clients, what if I used email to keep the client-photographer transaction open? Wouldn’t you want to keep the door open if your clients were prepared to send you more money throughout the year, and they only needed a strategically timed email to remind them about it?
Below is our 11-email chain for post-portrait sales. Only members of our ComeUnity online family usually get this much info, and space is limited in my print articles. But Eileen and I also love the Shutter community, and believe in helping photographers build their business. So make the most of it. We also invite you to take a deeper look at our “Top 5 Email-Writing Secrets” and other sequences at www.blumephotography.com/5-email-sequence-secrets.
Inside Our Email Sequence
There are many reasons why clients may not be ordering from your online galleries. It’s usually our own fault. We make online sales sterile and robotic. Think about it. You put your product online, then you send a link and hope people might click. Then you quit. The “luxury experience” that accompanies studio in-person sales is gone. We’ve left out the human touch.
If you owned a physical retail store, you would never stand for that. If your employee failed to greet your customers, answer their questions or show them samples, you would fire the lazy employee. Yet that’s what we do online. Eileen and I have unique email sequences for every type of client: headshots, newborns, family portraits, seniors, mini sessions, engagements and more. You’ll get a sense of how these sequences work by studying this 11-email chain for post-portrait sales.
Email #1: The Teaser
The teaser offers your first sneak peek to a client. Immediately after every portrait session, this email does the important job of establishing trust between you and the client. The email can say something like, “Your session is over and paid for, but I haven’t stopped working for you! Yes, I’ll continue to communicate with you as I make progress, even before you ask for an update.”
In sales psychology, trust is the number-one feeling you need to instill in your customer to make the sale. That starts here. Photographers have it pretty easy. Our product, family portraiture, is extremely personal. We don’t have to do a lot to convince our customer about the worth of the product. It already holds value. Just don’t give too much of it away yet.
Keep the teaser brief, just one image. It should build anticipation, not substitute for the full experience you will provide later when you reveal the gallery. In this email, explain that you’re in the process of preparing the images for the big reveal. Offer two or three dates/times for the client’s online reveal, and ask her to reply to schedule. This does not mean that we are going to have an in-person sales meeting. I know that’s not what you want. This is about online sales.
Email #2: Confirmation
One day before your client’s reveal (which is basically when their online gallery goes live), send an email confirming the date and time of the reveal. Include a simple but complete menu of all prints and artwork items you offer.
You aren’t asking them to buy anything yet, but you are warming them up to the idea that they should consider purchasing options. Include some kind of sale or bundled special that is good during their reveal time only. A deadline is the only way to get people to act within a timeframe that works for your studio. You need to be efficient, placing your orders on time and in bulk when possible.
Through this process, we are holding our clients’ hands and walking them through an experience, just as if we were about to perform an in-person sales meeting.
In-person sales can be highly profitable when done right. The year Eileen and I began doing in-person sales, our income doubled and we cut the number of sessions we were photographing in half. Let’s apply those principles online. With email sequencing, our profits remain high even with long-distance clients. Meeting in person is no longer a necessity.
In this confirmation email, we remind our clients of our Skype handle. The plan is to connect via Skype for their reveal and speak for only 15 minutes face-to-face, when we introduce them to their online gallery and how to use it.
This Skype chat also gives you the chance to send a link to an emotive slideshow, and even watch their on-screen reactions as they watch it. (Those reactions keep me motivated!) We use both Animoto and SmartSlides, depending on the client type. No matter what mood you find them in, this shows them the sentimental value your images hold.
If you’re high-volume without time for Skype chats, you can easily record one generic video that explains the gallery and the slideshow link.
Email #3: Gallery Invitation
In the moments before we send email number three, we’ve had our brief Skype chat with the client. Or we include a generic intro video at the top of email number three.
Whether by Skype or recorded video, the most important bits of info you will share are these: a firsthand look at artwork samples (a beautifully mounted canvas or framed print, or perhaps coffee table books, depending on what you offer); and another link to the same menu and reveal specials that you already provided in email two.
The gallery invitation email guides your clients in how to narrow down favorite images. It helps them choose images to order. Clients will understand your studio’s expectations, and you’re not put in the awkward place of requesting sales directly or demanding a minimum purchase, as some studios do. In ShootProof, “favoriting” is simple: The client simply clicks a star icon or other custom labels you set up.
Finally, email three must emphasize the deadline. At our studio, portrait galleries are free for five days. The reveal special pricing is available for the first three days only.
This is important: We do not make digital downloads available inside the gallery during this time. In fact, our portrait sessions do not include free digitals, although they can be either purchased or received as a free gift with certain artwork purchases. In the case of weddings, yes, the digitals are included but still not available for download. And we have great wedding post-sales. Digital images will be mailed on a custom USB drive, or made available for download inside the gallery only after the order deadline has expired.
Email #4: Selection
The next day, clients receive an email that thoughtfully asks if they’ve made progress in the selection process. This email restates the sales specials that are about to expire. Because we use 17Hats, we are now able to include simple “push to purchase” buttons in the email that make it easy to purchase one of our three most popular packages immediately.
Email #5: Bonus
With this email, we begin to open up the gallery to extended family and friends. Conveniently, we have collected an entire list of email addresses during the sneak-peek process, so we can email them directly. If you’re wondering how we managed to do this, take a look at any recent sneak peek at www.blumephotography.com/blog.
The important thing is to give everyone an incentive to view the gallery right away. For portrait sessions, we offer family and friends a free Web-size image download to draw them in, then 20 percent off any order for a limited time.
Email #6: Receipt
This one simply keeps your studio running smoothly and prevents mistakes that cost money. The receipt includes thumbnails of ordered images. It sets expectations for album proofing and shipping times.
Email #7: Survey
A survey is the single most valuable tool most small businesses overlook. Businesses avoid surveys because they don’t want to hear negative feedback. But think of it as constructive criticism. Just by sending a survey, even customers who had a mediocre experience begin to see you care about improvement. You’ll learn how to improve, but you’ll also get good reviews you can use for marketing. Surveys let you know exactly which clients you should follow up with for email number eight.
Email #8: Review
Clearly, you don’t need to send this email to everyone. But because the survey helped you identify your happiest clients, you should politely ask for a review on your preferred websites, which increases your demand.
Email #9: Holiday Cards
Always stay calendar-current. When holiday season comes around, we email the appropriate card designs to all our past clients that show their photo in the template. It’s great for extra Christmas cash. Remember that all clients, not just your winter ones, need cards.
Email #10: First Anniversary
In the case of weddings, consider sending this email to the groom. You may help him out of a pickle if you get him thinking about a sentimental anniversary gift for his bride. We offer a limited-time free 5×7 print to get him into the gallery, which he can use inside an anniversary card. Once in, it’s 50 percent off his order. No excuses! And whichever images he chooses, I know what to use as an anniversary post for our couple.
Email #11: End-of-Year Portrait Contest
As many of you know (and I hope imitate), our biggest marketing push of the year is practically free to us. It’s a large-print giveaway, and it revolves around a “Favorite Images of the Year” blog post where clients get their friends to vote. The whole push is fueled by this final email, which leads to a new crop of clients next year.
What do you achieve by all this? First, your clients feel well served. With minimal automated effort on your part, you create a full-service experience. When you treat another human helpfully, that person naturally feels inclined to repay the kindness. And your client is much more likely to buy from you if she feels she is repaying your kindness, rather than paying only for images and the minimum effort you took to drop them from a camera onto a website.
Make sure your clients do more than see their galleries and then go away feeling satisfied. When you consider their bare walls, their growing families and humans’ short memories, low print sales is a tragedy for both you and your clients.