If clients had better memories, a lot of photographers would be out of business. Couples wouldn’t need wedding albums to remind them of the most important day of their lives and families wouldn’t need portraits to show them what their children looked like aged three, seven or thirteen. They could shut their eyes and recall for themselves the most beautiful scenes they’d experienced. Fortunately, they can’t do that so instead they hire photographers to freeze those moments for them. It’s no surprise then that one of the biggest challenges for photographers looking to keep clients is reminding them that they still exist, that they’re still shooting — and that they’re still happy to photograph for them and for anyone they know. One way to do that is through a regular newsletter.
Delivered once a month, a photographer’s newsletter can maintain relationships, deliver repeat jobs and generate referrals. It waves a greeting to former clients you might have photographed years ago, and prompts them to remember what they loved about working with you.
“A newsletter simply encourages them to keep loving you and to keep sending you referrals,” explains George Dean, a former gymnastic coach who set up a professional photography business after starting a family. “Treating clients right and staying in touch works.”
A Photography Newsletter in Half an Hour
It’s a system that Dean says certainly works for him and he now makes his own newsletter template available to other photographers. For $47 a month, subscribers can receive a fully customizable, two-page 300 DPI Photoshop newsletter file to which they can add their own pictures, testimonials, special events and public thanks for referrals. A short testimonial from a recent client can help build trust, a gallery of recent images will show off your work (and give readers whose images are featured a reason to hold onto the newsletter and show it to others), and some trivia can help to make it more readable. The whole process takes about half an hour, he claims, a large saving on the production times required to produce a unique print version. For an additional fee, it’s also possible to buy an exclusive license, locking competitors out of using the same newsletter in a 15-mile radius, and naming five additional competitors who will be blocked from using the template.
The value of a regular newsletter and its ability to maintain relationships should be familiar to photography businesses, many of which send email newsletters, but according to Dean print newsletters have a unique value. Only about 3 percent of electronic newsletters are actually read, he claims, either because they’re not delivered or because they’re automatically deleted. Email, he argues, has zero perceived value to most people, although an emailed newsletter can be a useful supplement to a print version.
And emails, he notes, can’t be attached to the fridge or left lying around for friends to pick up and read.
It’s Not About Your Studio
But just as email newsletters can be treated as spam, so print newsletters from a photography business, even one the recipient has done business with, can be seen as junk and treated the same way as brochures from Home Depot and offers from loan companies. The key to ensuring that the newsletter doesn’t just stand out but is picked up and read with interest is ensuring that the content is genuinely interesting. Articles should have “fun and entertaining stories” says Dean.
“It’s not about your studio. It’s mainly an entertainment piece that people look forward to every month,” he explains. “It’s not a blatant sales piece…. It’s a powerful sales piece in disguise.”
Content then will be one factor that will influence a newsletter’s ability to generate new work. Another is the nature and number of the people who read it. Newsletters should be sent to everyone you’ve photographed in the past but also the people you want to photograph, as well as vendors who will show it to their own clients and use it to send more work your way. It’s those referrals, as much as the reminders, that are the goal of the newsletter, and Dean does take action to encourage referrals by rewarding people who recommend him to friends and family. He doesn’t use studio credit, which might appear to be too commercial, but instead gives every referee a small gift such as a gourmet brownie or a generous Starbucks gift card. It’s a mark of appreciation given to a valued friend rather than a commission paid to an affiliate or a semi-employed sales representative.
“Clients love getting them,” he says.
But however good the content in the newsletter, whoever you send it to and however you choose to reward the people who act on it, a newsletter’s result will always depend on the quality of the photos and the feelings that clients hold towards the photographer after their shoot. A newsletter can maintain a connection, but it takes the images and the personality of the photographer to create a connection that the client wants to keep in the first place. Good photography then will always be the most important factor in a newsletter’s success.
And the newsletters do take some time and some effort to produce. Dean stresses that his newsletters aren’t for everyone, and in particular, they’re not for people who aren’t prepared to work on them and invest in them. The $47 fee doesn’t include the cost of postage or the time spent choosing and preparing the images you plan to show in the newsletter, for example. It’s an investment that should pay its way with a steady stream of referrals but like any form of marketing, a newsletter does make its own demands.
One way to deal with those demands is to fit the newsletter into your studio’s regular marketing schedule, alongside renewing print ads or checking AdWords campaigns. Once creating and sending the newsletter becomes part of the routine, it’s less likely that you’ll forget to send an issue too.
That’s important because it’s not just clients who have been known to have problems with their memories.