An email list can be one of the most powerful tools in an artist’s tool belt. You’ve probably heard it over and over. For most artists, the rub happens when you actually start trying to learn how to build a list and send regular, effective communications.
Have no fear— it doesn’t have to be a colossal drain on your energy, time, or mental well-being. In this guide, we’ll lay out everything you need to know to quickly become an email marketing expert and start connecting with fans of your art. Once you have everything set up, you shouldn’t be spending more than an hour a week on emails.
This guide is a living, breathing document that we’ll be always be adding to. We’re gathering data, talking with artists, and conducting our own experiments— stay tuned as we share these new additions to the guide. As it stands, you’ll find everything you need to get started and become an expert without the headache. Enjoy!
Why Email Marketing?
For those of you who need convincing, here’s why email marketing matters…
(if you’re already convinced and just want us to show you how, jump down to the next section)
It can be the BEST way for you to create deeper connection with your art fans and maintain those connections for the long haul.
Think of it this way— a potential buyer connects with your artwork on your website, Facebook, a gallery show, a festival, or anywhere else. How often do they say, “I love your art” and then not actually pull the trigger and buy? How valuable would it be to keep them updated and give them further chances to connect with you and your work?
That is the power of an email list. Without it you’re letting potential collectors of your work float off into empty space where you’ll likely never have another chance to connect with them. People buy the art they do as much because they resonate with the artist’s vision as they buy because they like the artwork itself.
And they often don’t buy until months or years after first seeing an artist’s work. That relationship and trust is something to be developed over time. Artists who find ways to engage fans regularly over long periods of time have much more success than those who count on a one-and-done sale.
Building a list of fans and engaging them through email is a way to remind them you exist, let them see behind the veil into your creative process and vision, and fill them in on the new things happening on your creative journey.
This is powerful! It’s not only effective for leading to first-time sales, but also giving past buyers opportunities and reasons to buy more of your work.
Unlike social media or an art sales website, it’s a platform YOU control. You get to decide what you say, how you say it, and it never goes away. Social media platforms and services that sell art come and go or change their policies, but you can keep building and using your email list forever exactly how you want to.
And perhaps the biggest reason an email list is so powerful— these are people who have signed up specifically because they want to hear more from you. They like you and they like your art so much they’ve given you permission to contact them and keep them in the loop. These are your most engaged fans, which means every time you send an email you’re sharing with the people who are most likely to buy your artwork.
If you’re looking for a more effective way to sell your work, effective email marketing is the way to go. Now let’s get into the nitty gritty of how to get started.
How to Build a List
There are countless strategies for building up your email list and this is where you get to be creative.
You want to give people an opportunity to subscribe to your list every chance you get — on every page of your website, on your Facebook page, on your blog posts, when you’re at a festival or gallery show, etc.
Using Your Website to Build a List
1. Subscription Forms
Every page of your website should have at least one place a visitor can subscribe. Artist Natasha Westcoat’s homepage is a great example of a well-designed email subscription form offering 15% off to subscribers.
On ArtSquare Academy we have multiple places someone can sign up for our email list like this bar that shows across the top of every page and post.
On ArtSquare Academy we have multiple places someone can sign up for our email list like this bar that shows across the top of every page and post.
You’ll notice we give people a *reason* to subscribe. Rather than just saying “Sign up for our email list”, we tell people *what* they’ll get by subscribing: access to art submission opportunities every week and information to help their art career. You should always give people a compelling reason to subscribe.
A great tool (and what ArtSquare uses) to gather email addresses from your website is SumoMe. It’s a plugin that allows you to create different types of email subscription forms. They have a free plan that has allowed ArtSquare Academy to collect over 1,000 email addresses in less than 5 months.
2. Relevant Prompts to Subscribe
You should also give people opportunities to subscribe after they’ve engaged with a blog post or artwork. Make your call-to-action something relevant to the page the visitor is viewing. They’ve just seen something from you and if they like it, there’s no better time to get them to subscribe to hear more from you.
If you publish a blog post about the inspiration and creative process behind a specific artwork, include throughout the post and at the bottom something like, “If you like hearing about how and why I create my artworks, sign up here and I’ll send you monthly updates on what I’m working on.” Then hyperlink that call-to-action to your list signup page.
Here’s an example of how we do this on ArtSquare Academy at the bottom of a blog post about how to get art in a gallery show.
As you can see, the reason we give people to subscribe is relevant to the topic of the article. The more relevant you can be the more likely you are to get signups.
3. Offer Free Value
The number one way to get people to sign up for your email list is to be generous. Give your website visitors something they find valuable for free in exchange for their email address. What you offer is up to you and the potential ideas are infinite.
You could offer:
• a free, small-sized print of your art
• access to special discounts on your work
• exclusive access to your gallery shows
• an ebook you wrote
• the ideas go on an on…
The key is to offer something your potential fans want and that is tied to your art. This not only accomplishes the direct goal of growing your email list, but also builds trust with your fans and (in the case of the free small print) gives the fan something that reminds them how much they like your art.
At ArtSquare, we offer free educational webinars for artists and they sign up for our email list. Here’s an example of one of our free offers:
4. Host an AMA or livestream
Fans want an opportunity to get to know you more. They want to know how you work, why you create, and a chance to get a sneak peek into all the little intricacies that make you who you are. You can offer an AMA (ask-me-anything) or a live-video chat where fans sign up to your email list for a chance to connect on a more personal level.
Not only is this a great way to grow your email list, but also a way to deepen your relationship with people who are already on your email list.
For live-streaming it’s best to use the platform where you have the most followers. You could use Facebook Live, Instagram live video, or a number of other options.
Using Facebook to Grow Your Email List
Facebook is another great place to give your fans an opportunity to subscribe to your email list.
Pro-tip: If you only have a personal Facebook account, it’s very important that you create an actual Page on Facebook for your art business. Get started here.
This will give you the opportunity to give people a call-to-action to subscribe to your email list at the top of your Facebook page. You can also edit your cover photo to prompt fans to subscribe and even include an arrow that shows them exactly where to do it.
Here’s another example from ArtSquare’s Facebook page.
You’ll notice we not only have a button where people can sign up for an ArtSquare Portfolio, but also an opportunity below that to subscribe to our ArtSquare Academy email list.
Here’s a step-by-step tutorial for setting up a sign up button on your Facebook page:
1. At the top of your Facebook Page, click “edit call to action”.
2. Choose which call-to-action button you’d like to use. (I suggest sticking with “sign up”)
3. Enter the URL to your email list signup page.
4. Then just click “Save Changes” and you’re all set.
It’s very simple, but can be very powerful for converting Facebook followers into email subscribers.
The above are standard strategies to grow your list and I suggest you do a mix of them all. However, this is hardly an exhaustive list. There are so many ways to build an email list of engaged fans, so be creative and think outside the box. Here’s a list of ideas to keep your wheels turning:
- Get featured on different sites with links back to your own
- Guest blog for art blogs with links back to your own
- Create partnerships to cross-promote with other artist/art world partners
- Run discount, give-away promotions in exchange for email
- Keep an iPad or clipboard with you at festivals for fans to give you their email
- Keep thinking!
Email Marketing Best Practice
Creating an email marketing strategy isn’t rocket science, but there are some specific things you need to think about when you’re getting started. We outline these best practice suggestions below.
Writing a good subject line
The subject line is the first thing someone receiving your email sees in their inbox. It needs to be something that grabs their attention and makes them want to open the email. Obviously, if your email is about a new series of artwork, don’t choose “Growing a Mustache Can Change the World” (unless you happen to be working on a mustache series). It’s not relevant to the content of your email.
The key is to understand your audience— what would they find interesting enough to open your email? This is something to test out. You can try subject lines that are serious, funny, specific, vague, personal, etc. See what works best for you (we’ll talk about monitoring open rates later in this guide) and keep getting better at it. Be creative. Be interesting. Be different.
Pro-tip: For recurring emails you send every month on the same day like a newsletter, it’s sometimes best to keep the same subject line every time. Your subscribers will immediately recognize the subject line and get used to receiving and opening that email every time they see it.
Writing Effective Emails
1. Email Tone
You need to think about the tone and voice you want to use in your emails. As an artist, it’s best to strike a healthy balance between personal and professional. In most cases, I’d suggest using proper grammar and don’t send people tons of irrelevant cat videos, BUT write the email in your own personality. People often get caught up in being overly professional in their emails— readers connect much easier to a friendly, personal, even funny tone. Bottom line: Be yourself.
Pro-tip: If you’re wanting to sound more personal in your emails, try using contractions. It’s a very simple change, but automatically makes the text feel more personal. For example, use “don’t” instead of “do not”, “you’re” instead of “you are”, etc.
Beyond the tone, you need to think about the content, length, and format of your email. These things will be different for every individual, but here are some helpful suggestions and guidelines.
2. Email Content
As we’ve discussed, you want to use your email as a way to further your relationship with your fans— give them a better idea of who you are as a person and an artist, keep them up-to-date on the work you’re creating, upcoming shows, etc., and give them reasons to buy your artwork. In general, you want to stick to these sorts of topics.
For example, if you’ve just finished a piece of art, you could send your fans an email sharing about the piece. What materials did you use to create it? What was the inspiration? How was the creative process? Did it flow out easy or was it a work you agonized over?
Include relevant images in your emails when appropriate. Visuals are always more engaging than long strings of text.
In the end, it’s up to you to decide what you send and it will be heavily dependent on the actual events passing in your art career at a specific time. Have fun with it. Keep it interesting and relevant to your readers.
3. Email Length and Format
Again, there are no hard rules here— but in terms of format and length, people’s eyes start to glaze over when they see long blocks of text. It’s best to stick to paragraphs that are between 1 and 5 lines. Studies show this is much easier to read. Here’s an example:
This is not a hard rule, but in general, you don’t want to send gargantuan emails. People lead busy lives and reading your email should be something they can do on a 2-3 minute work break. When they open an email that’s 3,000 words long they’re more than likely going to skip over it and then forget about it.
The key here is to be mindful of the reader. Think about being courteous and making it as easy as possible for a reader to get the valuable information you’re sending them.
4. Email Frequency
Again, there is no “right” answer when it comes to how often you should be sending emails— the optimal number differs case-by-case. However, it’s largely suggested that 1-2 emails per month is a good amount for a general newsletter update email.
The key is you want to communicate with your audience as much as you can without losing their attention, or worse— annoying them. It’s often a good idea to settle into a set send schedule, so your list starts to expect your regular emails. Test out what works best for you and your audience. If your open-rate and click-rate remain healthy (which we’ll talk about later in this guide), then send away.
In addition to your regular scheduled newsletters, you might have special one-off campaigns. Maybe you have a big show coming up, but you’re in between newsletters. There’s no rule saying you can’t break off your regular send schedule and contact your fans with a special announcement. Just make sure it’s something they find valuable and interesting.
4. Best Send Times
There is no one optimal time to send your email marketing emails. Different people check their emails at different times and there’s no way around that. However, after looking at data from billions of emails sent (you can see the full article here), MailChimp has found that all the week days are relatively close in the match for best day to send an email. As far as the best times to send, they found between 8-10 a.m. in a recipients timezone tend to get opened the most.
5. Get Whitelisted
The one way you can guarantee your emails end up in your fans’ inbox rather than spam box is by having them whitelist you. It’s a good idea to prompt your email subscribers to add you to their whitelist at the top or bottom of your emails, especially in your first few welcome emails.
Something simple like:
6. Using Auto-Responders
Auto-responders are the best way to create a effective email campaigns without spending endless hours writing emails. When a fan subscribes to your email list, you want to send them a welcome email thanking them for joining and setting further expectations of what they can expect to hear about from you.
Without auto-responders you would have to manually send an individual email to EVERY person who signed up for your list. With auto-responders you create the email one time, you set send rules, and then any time a subscriber matches those rules they’ll be sent the email.
For example, if you want to send the same welcome email to every new subscriber, you would create that email and set it to send immediately after someone has subscribed to your list. Easy-breezy.
You can even create a series of emails where email #2 is sent x amount of days after email #1 and email #3 goes out x amount of days after email #2 and so on.
I’m sure you can see the value in time saved here. There are several affordable, easy-to-use services out there that allow you to manage your email list and send them automated campaigns. The last section of this guide will list some suggested email management services to look into.
7. How and When to Pitch
You create great art and you want to sell that art. But it’s important not to go overboard with pitching people to buy your art in your emails. That would just be annoying.
The better way is to be helpful, informative, and master soft pitches.
This has been a general theme throughout the guide— be helpful. Give value. Keep in mind what you want someone reading your email to do, but it’s much more important to think about what would delight your email subscribers. What can you send them that they would love to receive?
So, send them updates of your work, your life, your gallery show schedule, etc. And always provide relevant links. If you’re sharing your newest artwork, absolutely include a link and let people know where they can buy the artwork.
Don’t be schemey or salesy about it. Just share the work and the vision behind it and let someone know where they can find it if they want to buy it.
Remember that the sales period for buying art is often a long one. Keep developing the relationship over time and always give people an opportunity to take action when they’re ready.
Email Marketing Analytics
Keeping an eye on how well your email campaigns are doing is an important part of continuing to get more effective at connecting with your audience and selling your work. As an artist, it’s not something to be obsessed over, but you should check in periodically on your open rate and click rate.
1. Open Rate
Open rate (as suggested by the name) is the percentage of people on your list who open your email. In the art industry, the average open rate is 27.5%. Send high-quality emails that add value to your fans’ life and you can blow this open rate out of the water.
2. Click Rate
Click rate is the percentage of people who clicked a link in your email. These links might be to a sales page for an artwork, a gallery show signup, or any other number of links you include in your emails. The art industry average click rate is 2.89%. Again, send high-quality emails with relevant links and I’m confident you can have a much higher click rate.
These two metrics give you a general idea of the health of your list. Are people opening your emails? Are they engaged with the content enough to click on your links? If no, then it might be time to try out some new strategies. Try out different subject lines and different content types, format, tone, etc. You can always improve your metrics, but only if you’re paying attention.
Suggested Email Marketing Services
We’ve used MailChimp to manage ArtSquare’s email list and email campaigns for the last three years and highly recommend the service. They have a free plan up until you reach 2,000 subscribers on your list.
The tool is easy and intuitive with a very small learning curve. They handle autoresponder emails, one-time campaigns, list segmentation, basic list and campaign analytics, and they integrate with most other services like WordPress, Zapier, Typeform, Sumome, etc. Plus, they have a large pool of tutorials and guides to help you learn their service and email marketing. I suggest checking out their free plan here!
Also, here are a few other options for email management services: