The year is quickly coming to a close, and as it is wrapping
up I have been finding myself doing a lot of reflection on what worked – and
what didn’t. This year was clear and away the biggest and most profitable EVER
since I started out over 10 years ago. In the previous year I had doubled my
income, and finally hit that 6 figure mark that had felt so elusive. This year
saw even more growth AND the addition of new streams like the Updraft Podcast,
and taking on coaching students. I enrolled in courses, and have been working
on some more big ideas behind the scenes, including my own course to help other
photographers do exactly what I did – and explode their business.
This has all come with a ton of growing pains and learning. Learning how much I can handle, and that sometimes I still try to bite off way more than I can chew. Learning that while I love social media strategy I will probably need to bring in someone to help because posting on Instagram or Facebook seems to be the first thing to drop off when I get busy. Learning that I need to outsource even MORE both at home and in business – and that I need to keep working to find that balance. I have been reminded over and over how important it is to keep setting goals, and to keep moving the target as you achieve or approach each finish line.
I had some surprise slow months, which were used to reevaluate what is working, and what isn’t and figure out how to fix it. One of my favourite lessons was that I now have quite a bit of faith in my business and its ability to generate income. I don’t like it when I have slow months. I love my job. I love snuggling babies and chatting with parents, I love the interaction and their reactions when they receive the finished product – so when it gets slow I’m not thrilled. BUT instead of feeling this overwhelming panic and dread that I would never book a client again and I have no idea when the income will pick back up I was able to enjoy the down time and use it to work on other projects, to improve my marketing or to get the house put back together and hang out with my kids.
While going through and reflecting on all of this, I realized that one of THE most valuable assets this business has is my email list. The list of people that I have worked with in the past, or who have expressed an interest in my services and wanting to hear from me. Its not a super exciting topic, and it doesn’t seem to grab people’s attention the way followers on Instagram or facebook do but I’m telling you – it’s huge!
Last month I had over 110 kids come in for Christmas
sessions. A super chaotic, REALLY REALLY fun couple of weekends, with families
coming in one after another. This equated to over 17,000 in sales over just 2.5
weekends. Why is this relevant? Because over 80% of those sales (probably
closer to 95% to be honest) came from my email list. A list that has been
carefully grown over years, and is my direct link to communicating with people
and sharing things that I know they will want in on. A way to cut through the
noise, stop worrying about algorithms and share my offerings for FREE. Sounding
a little more interesting yet?? I hope so, because this is a huge key to any
For those out there that are thinking – yes, that’s great that it works for you, but I love Instagram, Facebook, Linked in or whatever avenue you use – here’s the thing, you don’t OWN those followers.
An email list is YOURS. You are building something that belongs to you, that no one can step in and delete or take away. It is a direct line to their inbox. This is not the case on social media.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE social media and believe that businesses should 100% utilize it to serve and grow their audience, to get to know their ideal client avatar and definitely to run ads and drive traffic. In fact, next week’s episode is an awesome interview all about Instagram Stories and how to use them, but the truth is that at any point you could wake up to find that your social media account has been hacked, you’ve been banned, or the algorithm has changed and your reach is nothing.
The truth is that you don’t own those followers. The owners of the platform do. I’m sure they are thrilled that we are all spending so much time hanging out there, and growing our accounts, but it is not without risk.
I have seen so many people either make a mistake and their account gets shut down for breaking the social media rules that they probably didn’t even realize existed, or have their account shut down for reason’s unknown to them. Worse, people get hacked and then someone else has access to your account and could delete the entire thing, or start posting things you don’t want any where YOU’RE YOUR brand. Sometimes the accounts can be recovered, and there is a huge sigh of relief, but often people find themselves starting all over, and when you have spent hours upon hours over months or years it can be devastating. Worse, if that was your only link to those people you don’t even have a way to communicate to them what happened, or how they can get in touch, purchase from you, or consume your content. It literally puts you starting over at ground zero.
Now add to that the fact that when we post on social media only a small fraction of our following is even going to see the post. Think about how many accounts, pages or groups you follow – now how often do you actually hear from them? Chances are there are a handful of people and groups that pop up regularly, and the rest you never hear from. This is what happens with your audience too. Some will see the content (often it’s the same people seeing it over and over) while other’s get crickets and have no idea that you are regularly sharing content that they would benefit from. According to the 2019 Social Media Benchmark report the average engagement is only 0.9% on facebook posts, and 1.6% on Instagram. Now obviously there is going to be a big variance there, but even if you had a super, crazy, ridiculously amazing engagement rate of 25% – that STILL means that 75% of the people who signed up and said “yes tell me more, I want to follow you and hear what you have to say” aren’t hearing from you!! Social media is a business and the people who create these platforms are in it to make money. They want you to PAY to play. This is smart, we can’t hate on them for it – its honestly genius. But as a business, you are going to be hit even harder by the algorithms, because they know that it is worth it to you to pay for this exposure. The harder they make it, the more likely we are to play and while I LOVE running ads on facebook and Instagram, I also love free organic marketing!
As one final downfall – being on these platforms is intentionally distracting and stimulating. In order to keep us endlessly scrolling and spending as much time as possible on their social media sites they are designed to keep distracting us with one entertaining post after another. I’m personally pretty bad when it comes to being easily distracted and side tracked – but I know I’m not alone. So even if your content DOES come up in their feed, there is an excellent chance that before they have a chance to engage, check out the link or make a purchase they have already been sent down another rabbit hole of entertainment.
Now contrast all of that with the ability to pop into someone’s inbox and directly share your valuable tips, updates and offers. They are virtually guaranteed to at least see the email and have a choice if they want to open it or not, there is way less in the way of competition for their attention and even if they did get pulled away or something else caught their eye that email will still be sitting there the next time they log in. It is WAY more personal, and allows you to create a meaningful relationship with your audience.
My holiday sessions sold out so quickly and were so profitable because I had an effective way of sharing my offer with ALL of my past clients and people who had said they were interested in hearing from me. I mean a few might have gotten sucked into SPAM folders, but we’re talking an 80% delivery rate with email instead of only 25% for a ridiculously high performing social media account. This is huge!
Ok so now that you are hopefully sold on creating an email list, and how much it can help you grow your business, it is the perfect time for me to share this week’s sponsor AND the amazing deal I was able to score for the Updraft Listeners! So recently I found myself hunting around for a new email service. I had used a few of the big names like Mailchimp, Constant Contact and had even tried a trial with Convertkit – but I didn’t love that you had to pay per subscriber and I found some of the email creation tools to be a little hard to figure out. Then a friend mentioned FloDesk, which is a brand new company offering GORGEOUS – seriously, you have to see them, they are beautiful – templates that are super easy to customize just by dragging and dropping, AND they offer unlimited contacts. Ready for the awesome deal they are offering?? They are offering the Updraft Audience 50% off for the length of your entire subscription!! Not just a month, but as long as you are with them you will receive a 50% discount. I’ve signed up and I couldn’t be happier with them – if you want to check them out as well and take advantage of this offer just head over to annyamiller.com/flodesk, that f l o d e s k
So, how do you build your list? How do you serve that list once you have it? Show up, be authentic, and KNOW your audience.
When it comes to building a list you likely already have a pool of people you can start with. If that is your Mom, your Aunt and your best friend then so be it, start there. If you have already been running a business for a bit of time then you have your past clients and you can use them as your starting point. They are already a very warm audience who will likely be receptive to your offers and hearing what you have to say.
When creating this list you do need to make sure to follow the anti spam legislation for your country, but generally past clients are safe to email. Add an unsubscribe button to the bottom of all of your email to allow anyone who doesn’t want to hear from you to opt out. Side bar – Its ok if people opt out. Try not to pay a huge attention to that number – unless there is a rapid spike, and then use it as a guide to tweak what you are doing.
If you have a large social media following you could also use those accounts to add to your list. You could do something as simple as making a post telling them how to sign up, add an option to sign up for more info to any groups that you run, or get even more creative and post an offer that requires a sign up to receive their freebie.
Offering something of value in exchange for email addresses is a fantastic way to grow your list as you will also be gaining their trust by delivering something that helps them. So make sure that whatever you are offering is ACTUALLY worth signing up for – make it good as this may very well be their first impression of you and what sets the tone for the relationship. Choose something that is relevant, and that will appeal to your ideal client. For example, a newborn photographer might create a guide to getting the most out of your newborn session, or tips for soothing a fussy baby. This is going to appeal to new parents, as well as positioning you as an expert and helping to create trust. In a perfect world they will love your guide so much that they share it with their friends, who share it with their friends and now your list is exploding with potential new clients.
Once your list is growing you can continue serving them with helpful content. If you run a business that deals with multiple ideal client avatars – such as someone who offers wedding photography, corporate headshots AND newborn photography then you will want to segment your list. This means breaking your list down into smaller lists so that you can serve them with the RIGHT content. You don’t want to be constantly sending wedding planning tips to your already married newborn clients, or vice versa, so by segmenting your list you can make sure that they are only receiving the emails that will appeal to them specifically. This will help with open rates, and reduce the number of unsubscribes that you end up with.
If you already have a list and it isn’t segmented you could try sending out a survey that allows them to tick off which topics they are interested in and use that as your jumping off point. (If you are techy there are even ways to automate this through your email management software)
If you are just starting out then you can segment right out of the gate which will streamline the process.
By making sure that you are providing top notch content with each email, and by showing up on a regular basis you are going to train your audience to open your emails. We are being spammed by messaging, advertising and media all day every day, so our ability to filter out garbage is incredible. You need to bust through those filters by becoming the person they KNOW will deliver and won’t waste their time.
Time for some total honestly – I suck at this. Or I have sucked at this in the past. One of my goals for 2020 is to become better at sending content to my lists on a regular basis. Now don’t get me wrong – when I do send out emails I am very careful to make sure it is worth their time to open it, but there are often big gaps between which might leave my audiences wondering where I went. Not ideal. Thankfully it doesn’t seem to be hurting me too much, and this is likely because of the type of business and the way I serve my clients – but who knows what would happen if I was sticking to a regular schedule and serving them even better!
Depending on who your audience is you may need to send emails on a weekly, twice weekly, monthly or quarterly basis. My goal and what I suggest for you as well, it to pick a time frame that works for you (for most people its weekly) and then stick to that. Whatever the time frame is, stick to it so that it becomes predictable and your audience knows exactly what to expect.
Now the last thing I want to touch on is the age old question of – does list size matter? Yes and no. The general school of thought is that each subscriber on a business’ email list equals about $1 of income per month. Cool statistic, but obviously this is going that vary immensely depending on the business, price point, and quality of the list.
My email list for my photography business is less than 1500 people, but I already told you – that list generated over $17k in sales for Christmas sessions from one campaign. A high quality list is going to work far better for you than a huge list – so when you are building that list try not to focus on how fast its growing and how high the number is, but on the quality of the list and how many people are opening and engaging with your emails. A local service based business is likely going to have a much smaller sized list – they can only serve so many people – vs a product based business that ships internationally or an online based business providing digital products. Don’t get hung up on the number of people, focus on who you are adding to the list and how you can serve them really well and the numbers will follow.
Finally, before we go I want to say that if you aren’t already there I would love to see you in the Updraft Insiders facebook group which is a community of women who are helping each other to grow and build their businesses, and if you are a photographer I recently opened up a new group called Newborn & Baby Photographers Beyond the Photos where I will be offering tips and support for baby photographers who are looking to grow their business. I would love to see you in either or both so we can connect directly!!
I will see you next week when we dive into Instagram stories with Allison Scholes, and for anyone listening when this episode goes live – have a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!