Why Designers Need Email Marketing (And How They Can Do It Well)

Franziska Neumann is the owner of FZK Franziska, a creative agency that helps design-oriented clients grow and steward their online presence.

Over my years of helping designers grow online, I’ve seen a lot of hesitancy around email marketing. It makes sense: the design industry is visual-heavy, and a lot of visual creatives run away from anything involving writing or reading.

There are many reasons why you might hesitate to include email in your online marketing toolbox, but email marketing is just as relevant today as ever. In fact, Tobi Fairley recently said the most important thing creative businesses should do is to build a robust, active, engaged email list.

Designers can use email as a tool to build relationships and grow their business. Whether that’s through teasing new projects, educating your community to position yourself as an expert, or asking for referrals.

Don’t miss out – Remember MySpace?

Your email list is the only thing you own in the online space, apart from your website and domain name.

Remember when MySpace completely fell off the grid? The same could happen for the social media where you’ve earned thousands of followers. Facebook could start charging for its services tomorrow, or your Instagram account could get hacked with no way of getting it back. Then, your followers are gone and you have no way of contacting them again.

It’s important to remember we’re never fully in control of our social media. Yes, we get to decide what we post and when – but ultimately that pesky algorithm decides who actually sees it.

I recently spoke to Kyla Herbes of House of Hipsters, and she made some really great points. “The ROI on an email is better than any Facebook or Instagram post. You have full control over the communication with your email lists. There are no algorithms to deal with. You pop into their inboxes with full control,” says Kyla.

Your email list should complement your other online efforts. If you’re posting regularly on social media, email will help you build more personal relationships and eventually make an offer. If you’re updating your portfolio online, promoting it via email might be the only way to ensure your audience actually sees it on your website.

Email doesn’t require a lot of time or effort to be effective for your design business. For example, if you’re an interior designer who also blogs, you definitely want to send an email each time you post in order to drive traffic to your site. Use what you already have to provide value.

Overcoming hesitations

Even among designers who know the value of email marketing, I hear the same objections over and over again:

“Who wants emails? Who actually reads them? I don’t want to send anyone an email, it will just bug them.”

I get it. A lot of the time, I feel the same way when sending out emails about my business. Who actually wants to hear from me?

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind when overcoming those hesitations:

  • We all spend a lot of time in our inbox. Like it or not, we’re all glued to email. On days you don’t open Facebook or Instagram, I bet you’re still checking your inbox. It’s still the best way to reach people.
  • We all have people we love to hear from. I will always open some emails, simply because I really like the sender and I’m interested in what they have to say. We all have people or brands who bring true value to our inbox. As Kyla pointed out to me, “Email lists are a direct link to your customers, and these are the people who want to hear from you. They signed up.”
  • People can always unsubscribe. Sure, seeing the number on your email list go down can sting. But, at the end of the day, you only want to talk to people who actually want to hear from you. If you’re getting on their nerves, they’re not your audience.
  • No one will ever open ALL your emails. If you feel like you’re repeating yourself, that’s just because you see every email you write. Nobody else will feel that way.

Here’s what really works

Not all emails are created equal. I don’t need to tell you this – I’m sure you can think of some crappy emails that have hit your inbox. Here’s what I’ve seen really work.

Always provide value

The key to successful marketing is to build relationships with your audience – and that’s especially important when it comes to email marketing. The best way to do that is to provide real value for your audience, with content that’s actually interesting.

Send special offers to your list to let them know you appreciate them. Send out helpful tips and resources that are actually relevant to their lives, like gift ideas for an upcoming holiday, or which flowers to decorate with this spring.

Think about what the people on your email list want to hear. Answer questions that you get asked by your clients all the time – it’s their way of telling you what they need advice on.

Especially if you’re using email marketing as a way to get people to buy something from you, it’s important to first provide value and build that relationship. Show them you have something worth hearing before you ask for their money.

Write to one person

Email is the best way to build one-on-one relationships with your audience. When you’re talking to someone in their inbox, it feels much more intimate than when they’re reading your latest Instagram caption.

To keep that relationship blooming, always write with one person in mind. Even if you have hundreds or thousands of people on your list, every email you send should be personal and specific. You want the reader to think you were writing just to them!

This also means you have to get really clear on who you want to be reading your emails. If your clients are mostly high-end, high-income homeowners, you don’t necessarily want to be targeting DIY-ers. (Unless you want to offer them smaller online products or packages… but that’s a topic for another post!)

Ask questions

It’s okay to have a conversation with your email list. If you want email marketing to be a relationship builder for your business, it’s important to treat it like one!

If you’re going to a big design show, ask your audience if there’s anything you’d like them to report back on. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you really want to be featured on a podcast this month, ask your readers if they have any connections that could help.

And of course, ask for referrals. Being top of mind is so important in our referral-based industry, and past clients are your biggest and best source of growth. Don’t be afraid to pop out a friendly “this is what’s new, know anybody who might want to work with me?” email. Your list is full of people who already love your work, and they’re the ones who are most likely to send work your way!

Just try!

Email marketing is incredibly important, even in the design industry…  but it won’t work for everyone.

My biggest piece of advice? Just try. Find a way to write emails that feel natural to you. Maybe that means filling the page with images or writing just two sentences before linking to a blog post.

And if you’re still really struggling, don’t be afraid to outsource your writing to a digital agency that specializes in that kind of thing. Our team helps design-oriented clients get their ideas out of their heads and onto paper, whether it’s a casual check-in email or a full-fledged sales funnel.

The most important thing is to build your email list and provide value, whenever you have value to give! It’s the best way to stay relevant in your audience’s mind and ensure you are keeping in touch with the most important people in your design business.

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