Let me guess…

You know you need an email list. So, you've signed up for an email service provider, published an opt-in form, and put it on your side bar.

A couple of hours later, you excitedly check your stats in Aweber, only to be let down. Nobody has signed up for your list. And over the past couple of weeks, you've been excited to see that a few people have signed up, but then realized that it's just your friends and family.

You don't get it.

How is it that some bloggers manage to grow their email lists rapidly when you're struggling to get anybody on your list? Is it your writing? Your website design? Maybe you're doing something wrong…

Why Nobody is Subscribing to Your List

I have good news. It's not your design. It's not your writing. And you're not really doing anything wrong. You're just asking for too much in exchange for too little. Gone are the days where you could put a sign-up form in your side bar and people would actually enter their information. Your reader's inboxes are filling up, making emails sacred. Putting a form in your sidebar and waiting to capture emails is like standing at the sea shore and trying to catch fish. It's ineffective. So you need to give them more. You need to give away the goods. Make signing up for your list irresistible. Make it so they're emailing you to ask to be added to your list. And how do you do that? By creating a freebie.

Why Freebies are The Answer to Building Your Email List

Freebies, (also called opt-in offers, bribes to subscribe, opt-in bribes) give your readers an incentive to sign up for your list. Freebies can increase your opt-in rate from 1-2% of visitors to 8-10% or more. If you have 300 visitors to your website per day, you'll only capture 3-4 email addresses without a freebie. If you offer a freebie that holds a high value to your readers, that number bumps up to 20-30 subscribers.

A screenshot of just a few of the dozens of freebies in my LeadPages dashboard.
A screenshot of just a few of the dozens of freebies in my LeadPages dashboard.

So, how does this freebie thing work, anyway? The visitor lands on your website, sees an irresistible freebie from you, and enters their name and email into your opt-in form. The freebie is emailed to your new subscriber. By offering a freebie, you're saying that if they give you their email address, you will send them something of value to them. This is far more compelling that offering only blog updates. It sounds simple, right? Yet many bloggers have heard that freebies work for growing your list, and can you guess what they do with this information? Nothing. They don't create a freebie. They don't pass go. And they don't collect their $200. They “don't know what to make” and this is a crying shame, considering how important your email list is to your business. Creating freebies doesn't have to be rocket science. It doesn't have to take you hours upon hours, and you don't have to procrastinate with it any longer.

Two Steps to Creating a Freebie Your Audience Can't Resist

Most bloggers haven't created their first opt-in offer because they simply don't know what to create. But you don't have to guess. You can do some strategic research to find out exactly what your audience wants, which you can then create it for then for an irresistible freebie. There are just two steps to doing this:

  1. Find out what your audience wants
  2. Fill that want and make their lives easier.

Sounds simple, right? That's because it is. Let's say you wanted to go on a raw food diet, but were mystified with what you would eat with such limited time to prepare your food. It seems like every cookbook you own that listed quick meals only had recipes that require cooking, and it was taking you half an hour to prepare one raw meal for the day. Then, say you landed on a website all about eating raw that had a freebie called “Busy? 15 Raw Meal Recipes in 10 Minutes or Less”. That opt-in offer would be pretty enticing, wouldn't it? That's because the blogger would be solving a pain. Filling that need is so enticing that you can't help but opt-in to get the freebie. Then, the blogger would be providing so much value to your life and goals that you'd probably stick around, see what else they're up to. The same goes for your freebie.

Try these methods of finding out what your audience is struggling with:

  • Do some “market research”: Instead of making educated guesses, find out what your audience wants by actually listening to them. Eavesdrop on your target audience's conversations by hanging out where they hang out. Find them on subreddits around your topic on Reddit, or in Facebook groups. Spend some time on Quora and pay attention to the questions your audience asks.
  • Consider what questions they'd ask: If you were to describe what you do to somebody who is interested, what questions would they ask you? For example, I was working with one of my coaching clients, Assya, and we were setting goals for the articles she would be writing and pitching to other publications for her sustainability blog, Green High Five. She had a general topic she wanted to write about – her no shampoo challenge – and we were brainstorming angles. When we considered what types of questions people would ask about taking a no-shampoo challenge, we came up with a few: how to avoid greasy hair, whether there are any alternatives to shampoo that you can use, and why anybody would want to cut shampoo from their daily routine.
  • Ask them: If you already have an email list, or even a social media following, stop guessing and just ask! Send an email out to your list – even if you only have 50 or 100 subscribers and ask what they're struggling with.

Even if you just do one of these things and find a few answers, that's enough information to create an awesome opt-in offer.

22 Types of Freebies to Blow Your Audience's Minds

There are so many types of freebies out there that there's just no excuse not to create one to further help your audience. If you're stuck, take inspiration from one of these.

1. The Checklist

Have you ever read an article, book, or even watched a video that is meant to teach you something? There are a series of steps and oh so many details, that it would be just so nice to have something that you could follow so you didn't miss anything? Something like a…checklist? Checklists are a great opt-in offer for anything you could teach your audience with a lot of elements or moving pieces.

2. Templates

One of my favorite tools of 2015 is LeadPages, and they converted me into an email subscriber – and eventually a paying customer – through templates. I desperately wanted to find a template for a beautiful landing page so I could (you guessed it) drive people to an opt-in offer. They had me with their freebie: The Ultimate List of Free Landing Page Templates From LeadPages. If you write articles or create videos that teach somebody to do something, chances are you could make their life a lot easier by doing some of the work for them with a template.

3. The Workbook

A workbook is a useful freebie to give away if you're teaching your audience how to do something that requires some work from them. I created a workbook as a freebie with my launch post, as I was teaching my audience how to beat procrastination. One of my main points include scheduling your important missions, so I included a scheduling workbook to help them through this process.

4. The Free Course

If you have a complex process to teach, or even just want to take the amount of value you add to your audience's lives to the next level, there's nothing more valuable than a free course. I listened to my audience when they told me what they were struggling with and created a free course to help them find their idea for their perfect lifestyle business: Free Course: Find a Business Idea You’ll Love.

This has converted over 2,000 email subscribers alone and is packed with value, so has driven many of my coaching clients and Power Sessions as well. You can offer a free email course, or if you prefer audio or video, whip one of those up instead.

5. The Challenge

People love a good challenge, especially if it's a challenge to achieve something that will better their lives in some way. Self improvement challenges almost always go over well. Offer a free challenge to get readers engaged with your topic. For example, Jen and Jadah from Simple Green Smoothies offer a 30-Day Green Smoothie Challenge to get their audience started with drinking green smoothies.

6. Customizable Spreadsheets

I don't know about you, but I love spreadsheets. They make me feel organized and put-together, but I freaking hate creating them. If you have a website, blog, or even an article or podcast episode that would pair well with free spreadsheets to help your audience, they can be an enticing offer. For example, my friend Bridget from Money After Graduation gives away “Millennial Money Spreadsheets” to help her audience get on top of their money game.

7. The Telling Quiz

People LOVE quizzes. Maybe it brings us back to being in the sixth grade and taking quizzes in Seventeen magazine to find out who our perfect celebrity hottie would be, but we're quiz junkies. Just the other day Jason and I were taking quizzes to find out which Hogwarts House we'd be in. (Answer: Gryffindor). Quizzes are like crack to us, so it's incredibly smart to quiz your readers or listeners and set up an opt-in offer to get more information about your results. Gretchen Rubin does this with her quiz to help you find out which of the four habit-forming tendencies you fit into. (Answer: I'm an Obliger).

8. Super Secret Episodes or Articles

An interesting new trend I've seen in freebies over the past year or so has been offering secret episodes, interviews, and articles to the audience in exchange for their email addresses. This is done mostly with podcasts. If you interview somebody who you know your audience would be interested in hearing from, maybe you put it behind an opt-in form. Or maybe you just create an extra article or episode that only your subscribers get access to. Kathleen and Emily do this with their excellent podcast, Being Boss.

9. Access to a Community

We all like to be part of a community. They can be useful places to gain feedback, knowledge, and a sense of belonging. We especially like being part of exclusive communities. We like it when we know that not everybody can get access to the group. That's why this can make a great freebie. If you have a Facebook group or a Slack channel or even a forum, you can offer access to the community for email subscribers.

10. An Enticing eBook

When freebies and opt-in offers really exploded, it seemed like everybody was offering eBooks. Now, you see them less and less (mainly because a lot of us just don't read eBooks we sign up for when they are free). But when done right (and when short, actionable and nicely designed) and eBook can help your readers and convert like crazy. An example of a website that does this well is Minimalist Baker – the bloggers behind it offer a free 42-Page Detox Guide eBook.

11. A Free Analysis

Certain industries are great for offering an analysis as a freebie. For example, offering a free analysis of your audience's websites, or if you have a SAAS (software as a service) business and your software can do a free analysis, this can work like gangbusters. A great example of this is the tennis learning website, Fuzzy Yellow Balls. They offer a free video to analyze your serve.

12. The Useful Guide

Guides (when done right) can be incredibly useful for your audience. They can answer common questions, walk them through a complicated process and provide a ton of value to their lives. My friend Tor from Time Management Chef offers a useful guide to help double your productivity in a week.

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Could you offer a system, or some insider knowledge that you could package up into a guide to help your audience achieve a goal or objective?

13. A Helpful Video Series

For some strange reason, we tend to value video more than we value text. This makes offering a free video series a no-brainer. Your audience will love it, you can provide value to them in a unique way and it deepens your connection with your tribe. After all, when you are watching a video of somebody, it deepens the connection substantially. You just feel like you know them. My friend and accountability parter, Anthony from Magnetic Memory Method offers a free video series to help his audience improve their memories in 4 days.

14. A Life-Saving Report

Reports are like guides, except they are generally shorter, more digestible, and therefore a bit easier for you to create. Reports can be a great way to educate your audience about a collective struggle, mistake, or misconception. A good example of this is Rick Mulready, who offers a great report on The 4 Biggest Mistakes Businesses are Making With Facebook ads.

15. Word-by-Word Scripts

One thing I know my readers hate is vagueness. That's why, when I refer to something having worked for me in the past in my business, I try to give everything away so you can replicate it in your own life and business. This includes email scripts and templates, and these make a great freebie because it helps people achieve something. When you help your readers achieve something, you earn your way into their good books. Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You To Be Rich does this very well with his free telephone scripts to help his readers save on their bills by negotiating them down.

16. Wicked Webinars

I haven't dipped my toes too far into webinars yet as a method of growing my email list, but I've heard that they work like gangbusters for growing your list (and sales). Teach something your audience wants to learn in a live training. Grant Baldwin has been very successful with webinars – his most recent webinars teach people how to get booked and paid to speak.

17. Run a Contest

Contests can be a great opt-in opportunity for your readers… If they're done properly. The problem with most giveaways and contests is that the prizes or giveaway materials are appealing to everybody – so you get a ton of people signing up and entering, but most of them aren't even remotely interested in what you are doing. That's why you should avoid giving away something that is universally enticing, like an iPad or gift card, and run a contest or giveaway for something specific to your industry that only your target audience would appreciate. For example, if you had a travel blog, instead of giving away an iPad, give away your favourite luggage or a personalized itinerary for the winner's next trip.

18. A Toolkit

Who doesn't love tools? And I know sometimes when I'm trying to piece something together to achieve something, I wish there was a nicely packaged bundle of tools and resources I can use to accomplish it. For example, have you ever wanted to start a new exercise program or learn a new language and became completely overwhelmed with where to start? The toolkit would help. A good example of somebody who offers a toolkit to help her audience is Jenna Dalton, who offers a toolkit to help you write the perfect blog post.

19. A Product Discount

If you already have a product or service and are trying to grow your email list around your existing offer, one great way to get people to subscribe to your list is to give them a discount or sales promotion. Many online retailers (both independent and large) use this strategy.

20. The Motivating Case Study

When we want to do something or learn something, it's far easier if we know how others have done it before us. We want to know what they did that worked, what didn't work, and how we can use the same methods in our own lives. That's where the case study comes in. If you can use yourself as a case study to demonstrate something you're trying to teach with your website or blog… Or (even better) if you have a client or reader who has found some great success with the same thing, offer a case study. These are very enticing for us.

21. The Free Printables

In some situations, printables can be life savers. For any sort of planning, even if your readers don't print the printable off, just having the document in their arsenal can help them feel more “on top of things”. This was certainly the case for me when I was planning my wedding. That's how I ended up on a couple of great email lists that gave me a ton of value to help me plan. For example, The Offbeat Bride offers free printable wedding checklists to help her audience … well, plan their weddings.

22. An Inspiring Manifesto

Manifestos had a bit of a heyday awhile ago, and even though we see fewer of them around the web these days they still serve a great purpose: inspiration and community building. Writing a manifesto can put a lot about your business or blog into perspective even if you don't offer it as a freebie, but they're also wonderful for not only building your email list but also engaging that list, too. For example, Jeff Goins from Goins, Writer wrote The Writer's Manifesto and offers it to his subscribers.

Build That Freebie…

There are so many options available to create the perfect opt-in offer that not only converts like gangbusters but also contributes to your readers lives. Don't lose out on the opportunity to help more people – not to mention the subscribers.

4 thoughts on “How to Create an Opt-in Offer to Grow Your Email List like a Weed

  1. Lolly says:

    This is incredibly helpful, like all of your posts that I’ve read. I had no idea where to start before this and now the ideas are falling out of my brain!

    • Sarah says:

      Don’t get too overwhelmed with information! Pick one, try it out, and recognize that you can change your mind 🙂

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