Guest Blog Post: Nicole Young – Stuck in Customs

Guest Blog Post: Nicole Young

Please welcome my guest!

I very rarely have guests post to my blog, but I made an exception for my good friend Nicole! She is an amazing photographer and author. Her most recent eBook, The Inspired Photographer, is now available over at Flatbooks. I am really excited about her latest work and asked her if she wanted to write a post on my blog to coincide with the launch of her book. I hope you enjoy both her post and her new book!

Nicole S. Young (a.k.a. "Nicolesy")

nicolesyHey everyone! My name is Nicole S. Young (a.k.a. "Nicolesy"), and I’m a photographer and author. Like many of you, I got to know Trey through Google+ (as well as dozens of other amazing people). To celebrate the launch of my brand-new eBook over on Flatbooks, Trey graciously allowed me to write a guest post here on his amazing blog.

My eBook is titled The Inspired Photographer: Twenty Ways to Seek Inspiration & Ignite Creativity. I think we all need a dose of inspiration now and then, but don’t always know how to find it, and that’s exactly what my book aims to do. But I’m not here to talk about inspiration, I have my eBook to do that for me. Instead, let’s talk business!

The Oregon Countryside, © Nicole S. Young (All Rights Reserved)

Last week I was a guest on Trey’s Variety Hour and the topic was “Business and Marketing for Photographers“. We had some really great conversations, and I felt that it would be a good topic to carry through to a blog post so I could give some more insight and get a little deeper into some of the things we discussed. Among these topics, one of the biggest ones was regarding mailing lists and newsletters. We really only scratched the surface on talking about this, so I thought I’d go a little further and share some of what I’ve learned over the years. So here are some of the top five things I think are important in regards to Mailing Lists, Newsletters and Marketing.

Mailing Lists, Newsletters and Marketing

Create Your Mailing List … Now!

If you have any intentions of selling products, services or doing business with a group of people, then you will be happy that you took this step when you did. I never thought I would have any need to contact thousands of people at once to share, market to or educate those who find an interest in my work, but I found out very late in the game that yes, I do! Photography may just be a hobby for you, and that’s fine. It was for me, too, until I discovered that I could make a living doing it full-time. Getting to where I am today was definitely an evolution; it didn’t happen overnight and it definitely was not a part of any "big plan". Building my business has been a series of baby steps, and compiling a mailing list is one of those steps in the process that is now an essential part of nearly any business (whether or not you think you need it).

Do Your Research

First of all, you need to choose a mailing list company to work with. It’s a good idea to use an email marketing service provider, mostly because these companies are much more trusted and email servers are less likely to bounce newsletters coming from their websites. Plus, many of them allow you to integrate into eCommerce websites, such as PayPal or eJunkie, as well as plug-ins and forms for blogs or social media sites, and the more popular the company the more likely you will have that capability. I use Mailchimp, but there are several others out there (Aweber is another popular one, and a quick Google search will give you more options).

One question you may be asking is, "What will it cost?" Many of the main sites allow you to start out with a free account, and then you only start paying as you start getting more and more people on your list. The way I see it, if you have a significant amount of people sign up for your newsletter, then you probably have enough people to make the list worth having it and should be able to find a way to make it pay for itself. Just do your research to find one that suits your business and marketing needs best.

Getting People to Sign Up

There’s no magical formula to getting names on your list. The thing is, you want people on your list who want to be there! It’s definitely a big "no-no" to add people to your list without their permission (that will probably just end up getting your account flagged over time). Buying names and lists is also not a good practice, you’re just likely to get the wrong groups of people and they’ll flag you (and you’re likely to end up getting booted from your account). The bottom line is that you need permission in order to send people your newsletter.

Here are some of the ways I recommend enticing people to sing up for your newsletter:

  • Give something away for free. I started out by creating a free eBook to give away when people sign up, and will likely transition that to new products over time (such as free Lightroom presets, etc.). Find something that has value, can be digitally delivered and fits your business model, and mention it on your blog, social media, etc. People like free stuff, trust me!
  • Add sign-up forms to your website or Facebook page. Sometimes all it takes is someone finding your website, liking what they see and wanting to keep in touch.
  • If you sell something, give them the option to sign up for your mailing list. Most email list services have plug-ins or apps that you can use to integrate with your eCommerce site or your blog. If so, add a check-box that allows your customers the option to sign up.

Follow the Rules!

When you start sending out newsletters, you want to be sure that you follow ALL of the rules. Many of these will be available on your service provider’s website (Mailchimp provides PFDs filled with lots of good information to their users), but it’s up to you to be sure that you follow proper procedure. And, there is a legitimate law called the CAN-SPAM Act that all businesses sending emails need to follow; I highly suggest giving it a read-through to ensure you are following the rules. Just so you know what I’m referring to, here are just a few that stick out in my mind:

  • Physical Address. When sending newsletters, you need to have a physical address posted somewhere in your email (usually at the bottom). If you work from home and are not comfortable sharing your home address, consider getting a PO Box you can use in place of your residence.
  • Email Address. You need to have a legitimate email address that the newsletter will be sent from. Chances are you won’t want it to be your personal email address (such as Gmail or Yahoo). If you don’t have one already, set something up with a more specific domain. For example, use something like "[email protected]" (where "" is substituted for your own domain name). And if you need to set up a domain name, try a website like GoDaddy to get started with personalized business email addresses.
  • Offer the opportunity to "unsubscribe". When sending messages, be sure that you include an easy-to-find "Unsubscribe" link somewhere in the email. The last thing you want is people to leave, but I would much rather have people on my list who want to be there. I know that I personally can’t stand it when a business does not give me this opportunity, or they make it difficult to follow through with unsubscribing. Don’t be that business.

This is not a complete list of rules to follw, so be sure to read the CAN-SPAM Act (or appropriate guidelines for your country) for more information.

Be Social, Professional and Consistent

A recent blog post by Seth Godin really struck a chord with me. He mentioned that, when writing copy (or advertisements, if you will), "… the best approach is to write for just one person." When you are doing any type of marketing or advertising, people need to know that you are authentic, and you are relating to them as an individual. We don’t always want to be lumped into a large mass of people. I know that I wouldn’t want someone to think a certain product appealed to me only because I was a female photographer, such as "You’re a woman, just like all the other people we sent this email to, so you will like our stuff." No way! I want them to say something like "We know you are unique, and you have style. Check out our new line of bags and see what you think!" OK, that was a little cheesy, but you get my point.

Another thing you’ll want to do is find your balance on how frequently you send out newsletter campaigns. There’s a fine line between too much and too little; too much could mean you are annoying the people on your list and get frequent unsubscribes or Spam notifications, and too little could mean that you send emails so infrequently that people forget who you are. I like to send out newsletters one to two times per month. Oftentimes it’s because I have a new book, eBook or product release to announce, or I want to share educational information, such as a video tutorial on Photoshop. What works for your business will be different, just be sure that what you send it has consistent value to your readers.

With that said, no matter how much you try to make things as beautiful, professional and balanced as you can, you will still get unsubscribes, people will not open your email and people will not click on your links. Just so you have something to compare to, here are the stats I have from my most recent newsletter campaign:

  • Opens: 47.2%
  • Unopened: 52.4%
  • Clicks: 11%
  • Unsubscribers: 0.7%
  • Complaints: 2 (0.0%)

It will take some time for you to grow your list and come up with a good rhythm, the key is to start early. Good luck!

Nicole S. Young is a photographer and author soon to be living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find out more about her on her blog, as well as on Google+ and Facebook.