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This is where I share occasional musings on all things type, design, and business.
Hi, I’m Jen Wagner

In the competitive world of freelance graphic design, building and nurturing an email list can be a total game-changer. It’s not only a way to remind your audience/client-base you exist, but also a way to create meaningful connections and provide help in ways that might not fit other communication channels.

Here are a few key strategies I’ve found (and made a little specific for freelance graphic designers) to effectively develop and maintain an email list, with the goal of (of course) enhancing client engagement and boosting business growth, but also being something you enjoy.

Understanding the Importance of Email Lists

An email list is more than just a collection of email addresses – it’s a direct line to your clients and potential clients, offering a personalized way to communicate your services, showcase your portfolio, and share industry insights. Or, maybe for you, it’s a place to talk more freely about things outside your usual content (my newsletters are a bit more personal and share more on running a business than strictly fonts). Unlike social media, where algorithms dictate visibility, emails ensure your message reaches your audience. When you send an email, you don’t have to pray to the algorithm that the people who’ve chosen to follow you actually see what you share.

1. Getting Started: Building Your Email List

  • Create a Lead Magnet: Offer something valuable like a free e-book, a design template, or tips on design trends in exchange for email sign-ups. This not only adds value but also demonstrates your expertise. It’s helpful to make sure it aligns with your client base/audience and leads them in the direction you want them to go. So, if you’re a web designer, it could be a “high-converting website” checklist that also includes ways you can help them do it if they don’t want to themselves. Like a side-sell, but actually helpful in the meantime.
  • Optimize Your Website: Include a sign-up form on your website. Make sure it’s visible and enticing, with a clear call-to-action (CTA). A/B testing different CTAs can optimize conversion rates.
  • Utilize Social Media: Seriously – promote your lead magnet on social platforms (whichever you actually use). Think about people you follow who are in the middle of course launches, or sell evergreen courses. How often are they posting reels with course-related info, then sharing a CTA to learn more/sign up for the webinar/etc.? Do you unfollow them? Okay, maybe sometimes, but most of the time we don’t! So don’t be afraid to use your network to grow your list, reminding followers (again and again) of the exclusive content they’ll receive by signing up. Using ManyChat to automate lead magnet delivery and email signups is a huge hack for this.

2. Email List Segmentation

  • Segment Your List: Not all subscribers have the same needs. Segment your list based on criteria like interest in specific design services, past clients, or those who downloaded your lead magnet. This allows for more targeted and relevant email campaigns (something I’d like to get better at, but also that you could pay an agency like Social & Staple to help you with!).

3. Crafting Compelling Emails (here’s where it gets fun)

  • Personalize Your Emails: Use the recipient’s name and tailor content based on their interests or past interactions. Personalized emails can significantly increase engagement, and not just on the product interaction side, but on the heart behind what you share. This is something I’ve seen firsthand. When I switched from prioritizing salesy emails and started sharing more about my personal journey as a business owner, engagement skyrocketed (if you’re not on my list yet, sign up here!)
  • Provide Value: Share useful content like design tips, industry trends, or case studies. Occasionally, offer exclusive discounts or early access to your services. I really love using this space to provide value in ways I might typically not on social media. I share a lot more about being a business owner, strategies that are working for me, and the mindset around being a “professional” creative (plus BTS when I actually remember to capture it haha).
  • Keep It Visual: As a graphic designer, your emails should be visually appealing (I mean, duh, but seriously). Showcase your skills with a well-designed email layout. I, personally, love using Tonic’s Canva email templates; they make everything so much easier!
  • Stay on Brand: Wherever you can, use the same fonts and colors across the board to keep your communication visually consistent from channel to channel. With any of my fonts, you can use a Desktop license for your emails when the text is sent as images (Flodesk does this automatically, or you can use Tonic’s Canva email templates and import them to your email designs!)

We’re playing a different game as business owners. When people sign up for our email lists, it’s different than signing up for a discount at an online store like Everlane or Parachute. More often, your subscribers want more of YOU, not always more of your product.

It’s our job to figure out how to do both.

4. Regular Engagement and Automation

  • Consistent Scheduling: Regularly send out newsletters to keep your audience engaged. Whether it’s weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly, consistency is key.
  • Use Email Automation: Automated welcome emails for new subscribers or birthday emails can make your clients feel special without extra effort on your part. Make sure to include what’s called a “Sunset Flow” as well, so you can keep your list tidy; these flows unsubscribe people who aren’t active members of your newsletter, so you’re not paying for them to take up space. They can always resubscribe!

5. Analyzing and Improving Your Email Strategy

  • Monitor Key Metrics: Track open rates, click-through rates, and conversion rates to understand what works and what doesn’t. Then do more of what works!
  • Seek Feedback: Occasionally, ask for feedback on your emails. This can provide valuable insights into your audience’s preferences, and your audience will love you for it (especially if you implement their feedback).

6. Staying Compliant and Respecting Privacy

  • Adhere to Regulations: Ensure you’re compliant with laws like GDPR and CAN-SPAM. ALWAYS include an unsubscribe option in your emails.

Building and nurturing an email list is a crucial aspect of growing your business. My friend Jeanne Oliver told me once, “If you don’t have an email list, you don’t have a business,” and wow is that the truth. It’s about creating a community, offering value, and staying connected with your audience. With the right strategies, your email list can become one of your most valuable business assets.

Remember, an effective email marketing strategy is not about the size of your list, but the quality of engagement and relationships you build with your subscribers!

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