Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists (ep. 182)

Your artist mailing list is your most valuable marketing asset.

It is the primary tool you use to share your art with the world. It’s your #1 marketing asset. Let me emphasize that by saying it a different way: There is nothing more important you can do to build your art business and career than to nurture your relationships.

In reality, most artists have 3 mailing lists, not just 1.

Jaye Alison Moscariello acrylic painting
©Jaye Alison Moscariello, Stopping the Noise - Peace I. Acrylic, latex, and graphite on paper, 12 x 16 x .1 inches.

What is Your Mailing List?

Your list is something unique to you and your career. No one has this same list. No one makes art like you do; no one knows the same people as you do; and no one has the exact vision that you have. Nobody!

Your list is almost worthless to anyone else, yet it’s invaluable to you. But only if you use it.

[ How to Warm Up a Cold List ]

It is the primary tool you use to share your art with the world. Again, it’s your #1 marketing asset. (You may get tired of hearing me say that.)

We call it a list as if it’s a single unit, but it’s key to remember that every name on your list represents a human being. You’re not mailing 1 unit. You are mailing tens, hundreds, or thousands of people over time. You can’t pretend that they are a cohesive entity.

And whether it’s 5 or 5,000 people, it’s not the numbers that are important. It’s the people. Remember to care about people, not the list itself or its size.

It may seem silly to spend time talking about what a mailing list is, but hear me out. A mailing list doesn’t have as clear a definition as it seems.

I have a philosophy around this 2-word phrase that we frequently take for granted. It’s this …

You don't have a single list.

You have multiple lists.

I use the term Mailing List as an umbrella term, but, in truth, you have three lists: (1) your email list, (2) your VIP list, and (3) your online followers.

Here’s how I see the difference among them and why you need to remember all of them when you’re thinking about your mailing list.


Sarah Phippen oil painting
©Sarah Phippen, A Modest Peacock. Oil on linen, 20 x 60 x 3 inches.

Your Email List

Your first list is an email list made up of people who have opted in to receive your bulk emails. When we think of a mailing list these days, we’re likely thinking of *just* an email list. (Not the case, as we’ll see.)

You don’t add any email addresses to your email list without consent. People on this list have raised their virtual hands and said, “Send me your email!”

Email lists are stored and automated in an email marketing platform like MailChimp, Constant Contact, or ConvertKit.

These software platforms are designed to automate the email signup process and to send bulk email messages. For legal and ethical reasons, email marketing platforms  cannot be replaced by the email program on your computer.

You cannot email tens or hundreds of people at once from Gmail, Apple Mail, Outlook, or similar.

Get the transcript for this episode
+ a 3-page Artist Mailing List Assessment

Your VIP List

Your second list is a contact list where you store your network of buyers, collectors, VIPs, and leads. It might also include friends and family. In order to provide for all of the people that need to be here, I’m going to call it your VIP list.

While every human being on any of your lists is special, those on your VIP list are the most cherished. They’re either more engaged with you already or you seek a closer relationship with them.

Pearl McCarthy oil painting
©Pearl McCarthy, Sisters. Oil on linen, 9 x 12 inches.

Your VIP list is simply a place to keep names and contact information for safekeeping. It stores potential—similar to an old paper address book or Rolodex, if you are old enough to remember those as fondly as I do.

Did you hear about someone who is curating shows in public spaces? You may not know them yet, but you want them to know you. Add them to your VIP list.

Are you on the lookout for new gallery representation or other venues for showing your work? Add the venue names to your VIP list and fill in the names of individuals at those venues as you come across them.

It isn’t appropriate to add people to your email list who don’t know who you are and haven’t opted in, so you must keep this list separate—perhaps in your Artwork Archive database. Some of these people may eventually land on your email list, but you need to stay in touch with them in the meantime.

The people on your VIP list usually require a more personal touch than those who might receive your monthly email newsletter.

The final list is …

Margaret Liversidge mixed media
©Margaret Liversidge, Dandering in Donegal. Mixed media on deep-edged canvas, 42 x 59 x 4 centimeters.

Your Online Followers and Connections

When you think about your mailing list, this final list of people—your online followers and connections—probably don’t come to mind. After all, they’re not really a cohesive group you can wrangle and view in a coherent way.

But you must include them.

They are clearly people you want to stay in front of. After all, they followed you for a reason.

Ultimately, we like to get these online followers on your email list, but we have to meet them where they are. We have to engage with them, prove that we’re worthy of their attention, and invite them to become more involved.

Get the transcript for this episode
+ a 3-page Artist Mailing List Assessment

Your Expanding Mailing List

Those are the 3 lists you have: your email list, your VIP list, and your online followers and connections.

Don’t even think about putting them into a single database, cross referencing the names, or trying to figure out who is who. You have better things to do with your time.

Be aware that they all exist. And that even if someone never signs up for your email list, you may interact with them on social media or through private emails or texts. Accept that this is the way the world works these days and be okay with it.

Your mailing list is bigger than you think, right?

And it can get still bigger.

Brenda Pinnick oil painting
©Brenda Pinnick, Painter’s Delight. Oil on linen, 16 x 20 inches.

Now What?

I am especially interested that you find more names for your VIP list. That’s what will move the needle.

It's not about a huge email list. It's the cherished people you connect with 1-on-1. That's who you want more of.

We’re going to be focusing on that in an upcoming season of Cultivate Connections (and Collectors) and The People Plan planning workshop.

The best place to get the details about these programs is to start at Your People Plan: A Planning Workshop for Cultivating Conscious Connections.

Conscious Connections make you feel good because the relationships are authentic. They're meaningful. They should never feel icky.

This post was first published on February 18, 203 and has been updated (a lot!) with a podcast episode added, and original comments intact.

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Your mailing list is your #1 marketing asset.

A transcript with the 3 lists every artist should have + a 3-page assessment for understanding the health of your list. FREE with opt-in.

5 thoughts on “Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists (ep. 182)”

  1. LOL – I still have one of those “carousel” Rolodex thingies that holds hundreds of cards!! Not that I have used it lately, mind you, but now it’s so outdated, there are probably very few contacts that are still in the same place… I like Arthur’s idea – I can see pasting paper leaves and flower petals to each card and letting it spin – OH!
    Seriously, I have an email list of people who have bought online from me but have not “opted in” to the email list. Should I send them all an introductory group email (I just set up MailChimp to coordinate with my Etsy shop) and say they can unsubscribe, or email each one individually and ask them to subscribe?

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

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