Photographers: Why Aren’t You Using Your “ESP”?

When it comes to email marketing, it may be tempting to save some money and do it all yourself, but that’s a bad strategy in the long run. Photographers love to save money, but this is one area where I think shaving a few pennies today will end up costing you jobs (and hundreds of dollars) in the future.


Our free downloadable report, “Email Marketing for Photographers,” released this month, is a 15-page guide that outlines various email marketing strategies and practices for photographers. The report, put together by the PhotoShelter Research Team, is a modern overview for anyone who is (or wants to be) using email to reach new and existing clients.

In one section of the report, we talk about Email Service Providers (ESP), and provide a list of them to consider. In this post, I want to dig a little deeper into the subject, and list some of the biggest benefits to using an ESP vs. trying to go it alone.

Email may appear to be very simple, but it has become a very complex business as a result of the many measures being taken to combat spam. If your emails aren’t delivered, or opened, then you’re losing business, assignments, and money. This is where ESPs can really help.

9 Reasons Why Photographers Should Use an Email Service Provider (ESP)

1) Double opt-in abilities

One great way to avoid being accused of spamming is to make sure your email list only contains people who really want to get your emails. The best way to accomplish this is to have a double opt-in signup system. All of the ESPs have this functionality, and you can embed it within your website.

2) Unsubscribe functionality

If someone wants to get off your email list, an ESP will handle this for you. Trying to manage unsubscribe requests on your own can result in confusion, and quite frankly, it’s a waste of time. These services will handle that mundane task easily, and instantly confirm with the user that they’ve been removed from the list.

3) Handling spam complaints

If someone does complain about spam (and hey, it does happen even with double opt-in signups in place) the ESP is able to handle it for you. There’s no need for you to deal with it, especially if some recipient is temporarily cranky or having a bad day.

4) Reporting Metrics

If you’re sending out emails yourself, you are basically sending your emails out into the abyss. You don’t know if emails were delivered, opened, or if people clicked on any of the links. ESPs will provide you with reporting tools that will give you very useful information, including: how many of your emails were successfully delivered; how many of them were actually opened; how many people clicked on your links; and how many times your email was forwarded or shared with other people.

5) No Potential ISP Violations

Most internet service providers (we’re talking about your cable internet service, or home DSL connection) forbid the sending of bulk email from their networks, and if you’re caught doing it, you could end up in some hot water. Likewise, if you have a web hosting account that includes email services (and most do), there are rules against sending bulk emails as well.

Using an ESP will avoid these potential issues because you’re not actually using your own internet connection, or web host, to do the sending.

6) Guidelines for Improved Delivery and Open Rates

The ESPs can help you improve your delivery and open rates because they’ve built a whole system around it. Not only do they offer online educational resources, but their online tools usually have built-in suggestions along the way. This way you can be reminded of email best practices as you construct your messages.

7) A/B Split Testing capabilities

It’s proven that people who use A/B split testing have better open and clickthrough rates than people who don’t. Why? Because these people are always learning, growing, and improving their email campaigns.

This means you can divide your email list into 2 parts, and send a slightly different email to each group of recipients to see which performs best. For example, you could use two different subject lines to see which one gets opened more. Most ESPs allow for A/B split testing – and followup reporting for each part.

Over time, you can learn which keywords work best with your subscribers.

8) Segmentation

Your email list is made up of many different types of people. For example, you may have wedding clients, portrait clients, and photo editors in your list. ESPs will allow you to send a different email to each segment of your list. In addition, your users can be in different countries, in different time zones, and even speak different languages. Some ESPs provide services that will let you segment based on those criteria (so, for example, you can have all emails delivered at 9am local time for the user).

Some ESPs, like MailChimp, can even do automatic on-the-fly language translation.

9) Spam filter pre-testing

Getting your email delivered can be a challenge because you’ve got to navigate around various spam filters. If you’re not careful, you could end up creating an email that looks like spam. However, ESPs often allow you to test your email before sending, to see what (if anything) in your email might look a little spammy. This way you can address those concerns before you hit the send button.

D.I.Y. Email Service Providers

If you already have an email list, or if you want to start building a list of your own, a “D.I.Y.” (“do it yourself”) email service provider might be a good option for you. There are a variety of them – some are a better fit for photographers than others.


Offers both “pay-as-you-go” and monthly plans. If the design of its public website is any indication, Mailchimp is a winner. With an emphasis on good design and usability, the service has garnered praise from all corners of the Internet.


Founded in 2001, Vertical Response is one of the grandfathers of Email Service Providers. In addition to their pay-as-you-go service, they also offer survey software and direct mail postcards to augment your marketing needs.


Australia-based Campaign Monitor targets “designers and their clients.” Their pay-as-you-go service offers competitive pricing, a full feature set, and a referral program. Many designers set up email marketing software for their clients through Campaign Monitor, and receive a percentage of each dollar.


Exact Target provides email and social media services to enterprise size clients. As such, we do not think it’s an appropriate fit for individual photographers.


You might have seen Constant Contact’s television advertising on late night TV. The company offers email marketing, event marketing, online surveys, and social media services. The monthly subscriptions start at $15.


My Emma offers monthly subscription plans starting at $30 for small businesses looking to outsource their email marketing needs. They also offer a la carte design services to develop your own logo and branding.

Full Service Email Service Providers

A full service ESP will create the list of potential clients for you (using their own database of email addresses), and even offer email design and creative services. They’re not cheap, but they can be a good way to jump start your marketing activity without feeling like you need to become an expert first.


The AdBase database combined with their Emailer service gives photographers and other creatives an easy way to target ad agencies, periodicals and publishers. Pricing starts at $69/month.


AgencyAccess provides both online and direct mail marketing services for creative professionals. Their consulting services provide one-on-one help to maximize your marketing spend and convey your brand in an effective manner. Pricing starts at $82/month.



Speaking of email, you should also get your hands on Email Marketing for Photographers, a  FREE guide that will teach you how to turn your client emails into an effective marketing tool. Produced by the PhotoShelter research team, this 15-page guide shares valuable information that will help you grow your business using proven email marketing tactics.

Download this free guide right now!

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This article was written by

PhotoShelter co-founder and GM

There are 2 comments for this article
  1. Per-BKWine at 4:35 pm

    As soon as you get over a few dozens of contact “esp”:s become a must. There is absolutely no question about it that you should use one. For what you get, it is not expensive. One to add to your list, that can be very cost effective, is (which is short of -P

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