How To Warm Up a Cold Email List

I walked through the steps of warming up a cold email list in this Instagram live video.

Keep scrolling if you prefer reading.

Here's How It Happens

You were told you needed an email list, so you asked people to subscribe. And they did.

But you didn’t do anything with their subscription. Those poor people sat in your system. For months. Maybe years. Never hearing from you.

Your list has gone cold. Ice cold.

 Now you realize how silly it was to ask people to subscribe only to neglect them. You’re ready to commit to staying in touch with your list on a regular basis, but you wonder:

Will they remember me?
What will they think if I just start emailing them after all this time?

You’re right to be concerned.

The Value of Regular Emails and Newsletters

Regular emails—regardless of whether you call them newsletters or not—are so valuable because they keep your name in front of people. And they keep the list warm.

If you are ready to pay attention to your list consistently (and clear that you will keep the commitment), you have a little bit of work to do.

You need to reintroduce yourself to your list before you ask them to attend an opening or to buy your art because it’s not polite to call on people only when you want something from them.

There’s no sense procrastinating your first-in-a-long-time email because the longer you wait, the more painful it will be to write. Not to mention the energy it will use up in your head and heart in the meantime.

Once you’re clear on the commitment, there are three options for an opening email to reestablish a relationship with those on your list. You can use them individually or in combination with one another.

©Christine Montague, Soft Snow. Oil on canvas, 6 x 12 x .75 inches.

1. Remind them who you are.

Remind them who you are or how you met and what you intend to do from this point forward.

You were nice enough to sign up for email updates about my art and then you rarely, if ever, heard from me. As a reminder, I make . . .

Or …

As a reminder, we met during . . . [ if your list is segmented and you know the context ]

Then add …

I just wanted to give you a heads up that I have recommitted to sending an email update every month. I would love to share my work with you and you don’t need to do anything to make that happen. But if you ever want to unsubscribe, there will be a link at the bottom of any email for you to do so easily.

I appreciate your faith in my work and look forward to staying in touch.

2. Use humor.

If you have a sense of humor, anyone on your list could use a little chuckle. But you have to make sure it’s a good fit for you, your art, and your brand.

The dog ate my keyboard! I meant to send an email update earlier, but I’ve been sans keyboard and busy with canine vet visits.

Inserting an appropriate photo of Fido would be a good touch here – as long as you also include your art.

3. Give and then give more.

Nothing warms people up more quickly than a “gift” from the heart. I put gift in quotes because your present doesn’t have to cost a thing. It only has to be authentic.

I suggest an insider story about an art-related project, exhibition, or trip that will help them feel more connected to you. It might even be something you shared on your blog or social media that you repurpose for people on your list.

Consider sending a second or third email with additional gifts.

©Dorothea LeBlanc, Ascension. Up-cycled mixed media, 20 x 24 inches.

Never Ever Do These 2 Things

Now, there are two things you must refrain from doing at all costs in your long-awaited missive. DO NOT:

1. Apologize for not emailing.

When you send your first email to a cold list of names, please – for the love of all that is sacred – don’t say, “I’m sorry you haven’t heard from me.” Most people on your list haven’t been waiting to hear from you (sorry), so the apology isn’t necessary.

2. Try to catch people up.

Have you ever read an email that tells you everything that has been going on with that person since they last wrote? They’re like family holiday letters.

Obviously if there’s something the recipients need to know (you moved, you had a health scare) you can mention those things, but don’t use your opening email as a this-is-everything-that-has-happened-since-I-last-wrote message.

Stay focused on the present and future—where you're going rather than where you've been—and make a schedule for future emails.

This article was originally published on November 2, 2017 and has been updated with original comments intact.

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37 thoughts on “How To Warm Up a Cold Email List”

  1. I needed this article so bad! 🙂
    I’ve had an e-mail list for almost a year and had some people sign up, but I never sent out a newsletter because at first I couldn’t decide which service to use, and of course life happened and I completely forgot about it.
    I don’t have many subscribers, but I still feel bad about not writing to them at all! I will write a newsletter some time next week. I promise! 🙂

    1. Almost 4 months later, I finally did sent out that first e-mail!
      I ended up going with Mailchimp, after trying out a different service that didn’t work our for me.

      So here’s how I did it:

      1. First I used Mailchimp’s features of custom groups and segments to differ between new subscribers (signed up within 2 months), old subscribers (signed up between 2 and 4 months ago) and really old subscribers (4 months or more). The timeframe was based on my publishing schedule, because I had a lot of published in November, and then there was a lot of silence.
      (If you’ve been using Mailchimp from the start, you don’t need to use groups because you can just create a segment with sign up dates directly. I imported my subscribers manually from a different service so I had no information on signup date.)

      2. I made the campaign for the oldest group that was a sort of “Oh hi there, sorry I haven’t written earlier *insert excuse here*, here’s a recap of what I’ve been doing in the 2013” and listed a few latest paintings and 3 featured blog posts.

      3. I made another campaign for the less old group with just one painting (they’ve seen the ones before), and 1 or 2 blog posts.

      4. Now I’m preparing a “regular” email that will be sent to everyone. The newer subscribers don’t even have to know what happened before.

      I had no unsubscribes since I sent those campaigns, and the open rate was pretty good so I guess I did handle it ok!

      I hope this helps if anyone else encounters this problem!

    2. Nela, I use MailChimp right now. I really like it, evidenced by the fact that I haven’t switched. I do recommend MailChimp for people who don’t want to spend $.
      BUT I will be switching to ConvertKit (the only downside to MailChimp is that I can’t offer freebies for signups. That’s a big deal to me, because I hate people landing on the website ( and not signing up. (I run the website for Alvaro.)
      Also, I had big fears before sending the newsletter. I was PETRIFIED. The only way I convinced myself to hit send (and thereby intrude into these inboxes) was to remind myself of the AMAZING and ASTOUNDING power of email lists & newsletter. With Alvaro’s newsletter, his subscribers feel they are part of his fan club, and they support him so much. It’s been AH-mazing.

  2. This is a great article. Thank you for addressing those awkward social media moments. I am very guilty of having an iced over subscriber list. I’ve been thinking for a while that creating some computer desktop images of my paintings or photography with a quote might possibly be a good free gift for my subscribers. I could make it a seasonal event. Any other gift ideas?

  3. This is so perfect for me right now. I was actually just thinking two days ago how much I could use your specific advice on this issue, and here it is! I’m just now working to get back to my art after a long hiatus to go back to school, and I had no idea how to restart my newsletter. Thanks so much!

  4. Alyson! You are so right as usual. I find in my working with artists that they just “get busy” – like Nela: They just forget about it. Or they think that they need to “fix” their websites, or get better pictures, or have something Amazing or Important to announce. And then … they are embarrassed that they have been so neglectful.

    But stepping back – they also “feel” that they don’t want to “bombard” people and think that an email is going to annoy people. That “feeling” (which is really NOT at all a likely outcome) keeps some of my best artists from taking the needed step of staying in touch.

    And lastly, being a talented artist who communicates with images often gets in the way of being a good written word communicator. If you have a friend or maybe a member of your artist community who can at least proof-read your blast before sending it out, you will feel more secure. Or hire (plenty of us writers out here in the world) someone who specializes in creating marketing copy and can make YOUR words sing and/or be a bit more in tune can make a big difference. Sometimes it’s just a simple removing of a sentence or adding one adjective that can put the right mood into your email and create that “aha” moment for those who take time to open and digest your message.

    But I love that Alyson is saying: Start! Don’t worry about the past, just start with today and plan to remain in touch tomorrow.

    Your fans, collectors, and your artwork ALL deserve to be connected. When someone has entrusted you with their email – it’s a big deal. Honor your part of the bargain.

    1. Thanks, McKenna. One of the excuses in my book is “I don’t want to bother people.” In reality, you’re keeping your art away from the very people who have asked to see more of it.

      So are you saying people can contact you for writing help?? 🙂

    2. Yes, people can contact me anytime. I love helping people move their messages around the planet!

      Funny thing happened on the way back to this page: I just got off the phone with an artist who said, “I don’t want to be pushy.” Same idea….

      The difference between getting an email from your bank or and opening a email with a Beautiful Photo of ART from an artist you admire or who’s work you might even own, is the difference between feeling like a number – just another Joe/Jill and feeling like you have a connection with ART, the art, the artist and artistry in general. That feeling is never one that would be considered a “bother” to the recipient. If anything, it makes theme feel more alive and elevates their personal sense of importance.

      It’s priceless!

    3. You can set that up ANY time!

      You know I am a huge fan of yours and it would be a real pleasure to be a part of your world in such an intimate fashion!

      I am blushing….


  5. Hi Alyson. Thanks for such practical advice, as always. What really helps is that you give us sample words to get us started.

  6. I TOTALLY needed this post. I thought you wrote it for me! I’ve been gathering emails for a year and wondering how to suddenly appear in people’s mailboxes after all this time.
    I’m working on it right now and I love mailchimp.
    Alyson, what do you think of setting up an rss feed from my site to mailchimp so that future blog articles would go to the list or is that too pushy.
    The alternative is a separate mailchimp newsletter with different content.
    Thanks for all you do Alyson!

  7. I discovered MailChimp several months ago but have no idea how to use it. I would love to start a monthly newsletter. I also have no idea how to put an unsubscribe at the bottom of my postings. I didn’t start to use a computer until 1999, and then only for word processing, so I’m trying to catch up. The terminology is often confusing to me. I really need to be hand-held through using a computer to sell my art.


    1. Licita,

      You may want to try (it has a cost eventually), a free trial with Constant Contact. I have worked with many who want the kind of support that this great company offers for free. You have a Real Person to call who can jump into your account and walk you through (and teach you how while you are on the screen in question) every aspect of the program. Their service makes the modest monthly cost VERY affordable in terms of the time you save trying to figure out the bells and whistles.

      You can sign-up for free trial and if you decide it’s not worth it, you can at least get a few high-quality emails out to your list. Some of what you learn there may even help you with MailChimp if you wanted to return to that program.

      Everyone that I have brought into CTCT has really loved it.

      It’s only fair for me to announce that I am an official Solutions Partner with Constant Contact. However, I don’t get paid to tell you how wonderful I think this company and how terrific it’s support system is. I only get paid if you wanted to hire me as your Solutions Partner and help you with creating your emails. You likely can do THAT on your own since Constant Contact is one of the easiest to use with real people to help.

      All that said, I am sure there are people who can help you with MailChimp. There might even be a tutorial somewhere that you can read?

  8. Mail Chimp has tutorials. Having said that, it sounds like Constant Comment has great personalized service.
    I followed one of the MC tutorials and learned how to send out an RSS feed from a blog I manage about community events. When I post the article, a version of it goes out to my maillist and is also posted to facebook and twitter. I would like to integrate that into my art site.

  9. One of the promises I make to people to get them on my email list is that I will not send them frequent emails. Spam is spam even from friends if it is too often. I get regular newsletters from other artists and just delete them without reading. I am more likely to read an email from someone I have not heard from than I am to open someone’s frequent brag/need mail. So, unless I have some news I think they may care about I leave them alone.

    1. I am with you on this, Rebecca. I often delete artist newsletters and am afraid to unsubscribe because I know them too well. Honestly, I now pay attention more to a nice postcard and keep them.

  10. Hi! I have just stumbled my way into all this great advice – and it was all written just for me! Thank you; I will be trying my hand at connecting my (at the moment)infrequent blog posts to mailchimp or CC
    Many thanks for the help….

  11. A cool tip to make sure you always send at least one email per month is to use your email provider’s RSS feed feature. I know Mailchimp and Mailerlite have this. You will need to add a blog article or two per month on you blog of course. Then a monthly compilation email is sent automatically to your subscribers with links to you month’s blog articles. Once you set it you can forget it. Just keep your blog topped up 🙂

  12. Thank you for featuring one of my polar bear paintings on today’s blog, Alyson. Timely advice for me as well, with a recent award and a solo show upcoming. And now? I can add to the news that my art work was featured on Alyson Stanfield’s Art Biz Blog!

  13. Wow Alyson,
    Your tips are always so straight forward and clear, and I truly appreciate how you encourage an authentic voice. I think it reflects your own obvious authenticity of character.

  14. Pingback: Who Are The People On Your List and What Are They Doing There? - Art Biz Success

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

Privacy + Terms