A growing email list is great to have, and it’s a good feeling to see new subscribers being added each day, but subscribers (aka “your new leads”) aren’t worth anything at all to you if they don’t turn into paying clients.
If all they do is sign up to receive your free lead magnet, they’ll just clog up your email list and eventually become deadwood.
How can you prevent this from happening?
What can you do to guide your new subscribers along the path to becoming a client?
The answer is to use a carefully-constructed series of follow-up emails.
Surprisingly, most of the photographers I’ve worked with who had an email list of some kind never took the additional step of following up with their new leads by email, except for sending out occasional “newsletters”.
Even then, those newsletters were often sent infrequently and on an almost random schedule because the photographer had trouble figuring out what to say in a regular email without resorting to announcements of special offers or discounts.
Fortunately, you don’t need a “newsletter” to make your email marketing work—in fact, it will most likely perform better without one.
Instead of the typical boring newsletter, you should send out a preplanned series of story-based follow-up emails.
Why Do You Need Follow-Up Emails?
The most compelling reason for follow-up emails is simply that your email subscribers will more than likely not read your lead magnet.
Yes, I know that’s a tough pill to swallow after all the trouble you’ve gone through to create one, but it’s true, nonetheless.
Take yourself as an example.
How many email lead magnets have you signed up for, only to save them to your hard drive with the intention of getting around to reading them, but then forgetting about them altogether?
More than a few, I’m sure, and I’m just as guilty as the next person. I’ve got an entire folder full of free PDFs that looked attractive at the time, which I’ve never gotten around to reading.
This means, your subscribers will quickly forget about you unless you do something to keep them interested.
On the other hand, some people will read your lead magnet.
But, will they act right away based on what they’ve read?
Most likely, not.
Their life is full of distractions, just like the rest of us, so they’ll put it off to one side and eventually forget about it.
Your follow-up emails are designed to combat these problems, plus they have several other advantages.
First, each email you send to your subscribers helps to keep them “warm” as a prospect by reminding them who you are and what you do.
The stories and information you share in each of your follow-up emails helps to nurture and grow the relationship that began when they first encountered your website or photography.
As the relationship grows and acquires more substance, this reinforces your message about why you are the right photographer for them, and it provides them with more chances to take the next step.
Rather than passively waiting for them to decide to call you when they happen to think about it at some random time in the future, your follow-up emails behave as a proactive system to nudge them along the path.
How Can You Put This Together?
On the surface, a follow-up email series sounds simple, but there are some hidden subtleties to be aware of.
First of all, you can’t just throw together a group of emails about random or unconnected topics, and expect them to work together as a whole to generate the results you want.
For example, it might be tempting to compile a list of recent blog posts, and write an email for each one with a link to the blog post. Or, you might create a set of emails where each one talks about a wildly different topic.
The key to making this work is to create a coherent set of emails that fit together like chapters in a continuing story. Each email is related in some way to the next one in the sequence, creating a sense of continuity.
You can think of this as being “episodic” in nature, much like some of your favorite TV shows such as “24”, “The Walking Dead”, or “Lost”.
Obviously, I can’t write these emails for you because there’s no one-size-fits-all email sequence, but I can give you four simple steps you can follow to put these together.
Step 1: A Simple And Consistent Format
First, make sure you stick to a simple format for all the emails in your sequence.
I recommend sticking to a simple text-style email with no fancy graphics. You can still use HTML-style emails to allow ActiveCampaign to track opens and clicks, but emails that are mostly text will more closely resemble the kinds of emails we send to friends and family.
Be sure to use the same format and style for all the emails in your sequence so that everything looks consistent.
Step 2: How Many Emails Do You Need?
Your follow-up emails will be sent out over a period of time, but you need to decide how long that will be, on average.
For example, your sequence might span several days, weeks, or even months, depending on the length of your average sales cycle and how much time you want to allow prospects to spend on making their decision.
Weddings tend to have a medium or long sales cycle because the planning process can start many months in advance of the actual wedding date. For these leads you could have a follow-up sequence that spans a couple of months.
Portrait leads will have shorter sales cycles in most cases because once someone decides to look for a portrait photographer, they usually want to find one sooner rather than later. In this case, a follow-up sequence might only last a couple of weeks.
You’ll need to choose the timespan that works best for your clients and the type of photography they’re looking for.
Having decided how long the sequence will run for, you then need to settle on an average frequency—in other words, how often will they receive an email from you?
The combination of frequency and duration will tell you how many emails you need to have in your overall sequence.
For example, if you plan a sequence to last 8 weeks (around two months), with emails being sent out every 5 days on average, you’ll need around 11—12 emails in total.
Alternatively, a two-week span with an email sent every 3 days will require around 5 emails.
This will give you a good idea of how much content you need to tell the story given the number of episodes you have to work with.
Step 3: Understanding The Episode Model
If we examine the typical structure of a successful episodic TV series, several things stand out.
- A main story that develops over time…
- Sub-plots that involve the main characters…
- Cliffhangers at the end of each episode…
These three things work together to create a series that hooks the viewer, and keeps them tuning in week after week because they want to know what will happen next.
You can apply the same principle to your emails.
Done properly, this factor alone will significantly increase the open rates of your emails, meaning that more people will read you messages.
Here’s a diagram to illustrate how you can apply these three principles to your follow-up sequence:
The orange text is your main story, divided into episodes according to the length of your series. Obviously, your text will be in black, not orange 🙂
You may include links to appropriate or related content on your website or blog in the story (shown in blue), and I recommend you do use blue for the color of any link text because it helps to stand out more.
At the end of your main story, before you sign off, you should include a cliffhanger. This can be a subtle teaser for what you plan to share in the next email, and it’s designed to build a sense of anticipation. Done correctly, your readers will eagerly look forward to the next email, making it more likely that they’ll open it.
You should also include a call to action of some kind before you sign off.
This can be a soft call to action in the early emails of the sequence, and more obvious in the later ones, especially the final email of the series.
The PS sections of your email are where you will run a continuous secondary sub-plot (or multiple sub-plots if you have a long series) through your emails.
Step 4: Write The Complete Series
Sitting down to write your email series is obviously the hard part, but there’s no way around having to do the work, sorry 🙂
Here’s what I recommend you do.
Open a new Word document, and create an outline where you can plan the overall story (and sub-plots), and the chapters (emails) within it.
Once you’re happy with the general flow of the chapter topics, and they work well together in a logical sequence, you can then start to flesh out each one as a separate email.
When you reach the end of the series, go back through the emails to add in the cliffhangers where you give a hint of what they’ll get in the next email.
You can also add your calls to action at the same time.
The PS sections can be added as you go, but you can also add mini-cliffhangers to these once you’ve laid them all out.
When you’re done, read the entire sequence to make sure there are no glaring omissions or disconnects. The series should read as a cohesive story when you’re done.
Remember to pay attention to the writing guidelines I gave you in the previous lesson, so you might want to keep that open so you can refer to it as you go.
Stuck For Story Ideas?
I understand that you may be stuck for ideas on what to write as the stories for your follow-up sequence, which is totally natural, but I know you can come up with something amazing if you work at it.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
- Take the reader on an email journey through the content you shared in your lead magnet…
- Present an imaginary client as a character and take your reader on her journey as she overcomes her own apprehensions and challenges around finding the right photographer…
- Write about your own experiences as a client if you had to choose a photographer for yourself, and how you overcame any hurdles…
- Choose a set of images and tell the story of one image at a time, making it a compelling case for the reader to want to pursue you further as her photographer…
- Create a series where you explore the usual barriers that may stop her from hiring a photographer, or make it difficult. Tackle each one in its own email, told as a story…
These are just a few ideas you can use to create a compelling series of follow-up emails.
Will they be perfect from the very beginning? No, of course not (even mine have gone through countless revisions).
The important thing is to start where you are and get something in place because imperfect action is always better than perfect inaction.
If you need help, I’m here to guide you and give advice or critique along the way, so don’t hesitate to reach out if you need some help with any of this.