There are two camps when it comes to what Seth Godin calls the “ethical bribe”.
Some people believe that by providing an incentive for people to sign up for your list, you attract the wrong crowd: those in it just to receive the freebie, and nothing more.
Others (the majority) believe that, if done right, your sign up incentive significantly increases the odds that a new visitor will take the tentative–but all important–first step in investing in you and your content.
Reading your posts, sharing them with their following, or leaving a comment on your blog are all small ways that your reader is confirming their interest and your relevance.
But handing over an email address is a bigger commitment to you and the work you are sharing. By allowing you direct access to their inbox, your reader is affirming that a certain level of trust has been established and that they are willing to hear more.
The “right” opt-in
- removes a barrier to action (“Should I trust this person with my email address?”)
- reduces the potential risk for your reader (“Wow, she’s giving this away for free?”)
- and persuades people to take the next step: joining your community.
Here on YWP, I waited about a year before I created my email sign up incentive. In hindsight, that was probably about 9 months too long. 😉
Within the first three months of starting this site, I already knew what would be an ideal incentive, because every second or third email I received was from writers asking this basic question: “I know I need to build my writer platform, but where do I start?”
I had been steadily growing my list over that period, but once I finally took the time to create and make available the free ebook, The Quick Start Guide to Building Your Writer Platform, my email list sign ups have almost doubled! That’s thousands of email subscribers lost because I was dragging my feet.
Do you see how important it is to start now rather than waiting?
(If you missed it, here is Part 1 of the Email List Building Series: The Power of an Email List (And Why It’s a Must).)
Establish an Understanding
The bigger the list doesn’t necessarily mean the better the list, and those who prefer to have people opt-in based on the value of their regular content alone, make a good point.
Why bother adding people to your list that may not be all that committed to you or your message? An unresponsive list has very little value, so why encourage sign ups that may only be reacting to the “FREE” part?
I believe it is possible to minimize the potential of attracting the “wrong” people, while still rewarding those who are truly meant to be a part of your tribe.
The key is designing your incentive to fit your true or ideal audience so perfectly, that it no longer appeals to the masses. We’ll discuss this more in a moment.
But the two main reasons why I think it’s important to offer an incentive are these: you want to sweeten the deal while outlining your “terms of service”.
When you’re just starting out, people will not be flocking to your site (yet!), so you need to make it worth people’s time to take notice. You want to set up an imbalance where your readers feel that they are getting considerably more from you than what they’ve “paid” for.
Your goal is to eliminate any doubt that what they will receive from you is nothing but the most useful, interesting or relevant content you can provide–which they pay for in terms of social media shares, blog comments, access and attention.
If one of your reader’s first “transactions” with you is a small payment (their email address) for something they perceive as valuable (a free novella, a mini course or free consulting services), they will likely translate this experience of receiving high value for a reasonable cost to future transactions (buying your novel or series, signing up for your full training, or purchasing your freelancing services).
This informal agreement is an important relationship to establish with your readers from the beginning; you’re building a writing career and business, after all. 🙂
Know Whose Attention You Are Trying to Get
The first step, then, in creating the “right” incentive is identifying your target audience. Exactly who is it that you are trying to reach?
The more clearly you define this group, the easier it is to craft a targeted incentive that speaks directly to them.
The more “in-tune” the offer, the harder it is to say no. (And the less likely it is that you’ll attract non-targeted subscribers).
Often this is one of the biggest stumbling blocks for writers, because it’s difficult to determine what your audience finds compelling…
…when you don’t have one.
For help on defining and understanding your ideal readership, check out this post on how to target an audience.
If you’re still getting to know each other, start with a simple opt-in offer. Then tweak it, add to it or replace it as you learn more about your audience.
Think like your reader; what do they want more of? Answer a question you are constantly getting asked, solve a problem that they have, or tap into a desire or an interest.
Still stuck for ideas? Use what you know (or are learning) about your audience, along with the following list to start developing some potential sign up incentives for your email subscribers.
A Monster List of Incentive Ideas for Writers
- Offer a free ebook. Some examples: James Clear, MichaelHyatt.com (grab the free ebook: The Quick Start Guide to Building Your Writer Platform).
- Create a “toolkit” of several related incentives. Some examples: Scott Dinsmore at Live Your Legend and Jonathan Mead at Paid to Exist.
- A weekly or bi-weekly newsletter that keeps your readers updated on happenings and events.
- Tip, thought, photo or moment of the week.
- Free training or mini-course. An example: Laura Simms at Create as Folk.
- Use an email service like Aweber to set up an autoresponder series to drip out the first few chapters of your book or an email series. An example: Chris Guillebeau at The Art of Non-Conformity.
- Offer a short story or novella in the same genre. An example: J.F. Penn at Thrillers on the Edge.
- Share genre or topic specific tips. Some examples: The Write Life, and Laura Roeder at LKR Social Media.
- Audio recording or podcast of you answering questions about you and your work.
- An infographic based on your book, characters or additional research.
- Harvest content from older, but evergreen posts and create a compendium of your best ideas, tips or insights.
- Create a newsletter that provides weekly tips and useful resources. Some examples: Amy Lynn Andrews’ Useletter and AllisonTait.com
- A free guide. Some examples: Sophie Lizard at Be a Freelance Blogger, Jonathan Gunson at Bestseller Labs, and Joel Friedlander at The Book Designer.
- Video of quotes, music and images relating to your book or an extended book trailer.
- “One of us” membership. Outline the benefits of being part of the group, and clearly who your work is NOT for. Some examples: Ash Ambirge at the Middle Finger Project and JonathanFields.com.
- Share your manifesto. Jeff Goins originally repurposed a post into a 900 word ebook manifesto at GoinsWriter.com, which worked very well for him. He has added more offerings in addition to that original manifesto, and now has more of a toolkit on writing advice.
- Video on tips, how-tos or answers to frequently asked questions.
- A blueprint to help other writers find their way. An example: Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn.
- Offer a promotion code for a discount on your latest book. An example: TaraLazar.com
- Ebook of a collection of insights and opinions from thought leaders in your genre or topic.
- A list of valuable genre or topic specific resources, books or sites.
- Video of you speaking or teaching at an event.
- Monthly contest for email subscribers only.
- Worksheet or workbook. An example: Samantha Reynolds at Bent Lily.
- Recorded coaching calls.
- Exclusive artwork.
- Weekly, bi-weekly or monthly best post compilation. An example: ScottBerkun.com
- An unreleased bonus chapter of your latest book.
- Audiobook chapter.
- Insider info, exclusives and reader appreciation gifts. An example: CJLyons.com
- If you are a freelance writer, offer a free consultation.
- Sneak preview of your next book.
- Create a report or white paper that educates your audience on a challenging development in your field or topic.
Characteristics of Captivating Incentives
Regardless of whether your opt-in freebie is an ebook or a mini course, written or in video format, a one-time offer or ongoing, the most successful incentives share six important characteristics: they’re engaging, relevant, helpful, valuable, actionable and exclusive. Use this as a quick checklist against any of your potential opt-in ideas:
Is the title of your offer clear and compelling? Is the content presented in a style and format that is interesting and entertaining?
Is your opt-in incentive relevant or complementary to what you want to sell and does it resonate with the right audience? (If you write and promote your science fiction novels on your author website, and your target audience is readers who love science fiction, don’t create a “7 Tips to Writing Dialogue” free opt-in.)
Does your incentive offer a solution? Is it useful? Does it provide an answer or solve a need?
Design and quality add value beyond the content and will increase your incentive’s perceived value. Does the design and format of your incentive help establish your credibility and professionalism? Is it the very best you have to offer (free of spelling mistakes, the sound and video quality are high)? Is it so valuable that it attracts people outside your target audience (like a draw for a free iPad 🙂 )?
The best incentives usually offer a quick reward of high quality and usefulness and are not a lot of effort to consume. An elaborate and comprehensive freebie might have a lot of perceived value, but it can also be seen by some as more work than reward. Is your incentive concise and something people can get through in a few hours? Does it provide practical value that your reader can act upon (including entertainment value)?
A very attractive aspect of an email list is often the exclusivity. Special perks, insider info, being part of a community–all enhances the appeal. Can you ensure that your free incentive remains exclusive to your email subscribers only? (Advise your subscribers to send others to the site to grab their own copy of the freebie.)
Tools and Tips for Creating Your Email Sign Up Incentive
Now that you have loads of ideas on what to create as an incentive (as well as the six features that help make it attractive to your audience), it’s time for some tools and tips on the how of creating your outstanding opt-in:
- If you choose to create a PDF for your incentive, here is a tutorial on how to create PDF files. Note that any hyperlinks you include in your original document will not work once saved to PDF this way, so you’ll need to write the full URL (http://www.yourdomain.com, for example). Clearly this is not ideal. If the program you’re using has its own PDF EXPORT (i.e., not in the Print dialog’s PDF button, but under the File menu), then choose that option, as it should then retain the hyperlinks.
- Use Aweber to create an auto responder series, whereby you create content that is automatically sent out at set intervals over a period of time. Again, it could be a series of emails containing videos, the first few chapters of your book or even a mini-course.
- Create and ebook, report or guide using Keynote (or PowerPoint) and export to a PDF file (to retain hyperlinks).
- Don’t leave your readers hanging by not providing information on what you would like them to do next after consuming your freebie. Would you like them to buy your book? Get more info on your courses and training? Call you regarding your services? Include a “Next steps” or “For More” section at the end of your offer.
- Ensure you provide your website and contact info within your incentive.
- If you’re adding images to your incentive, check out this post on how to create images that grab attention and this one on finding free images for your blog posts, by my friend Marianne over at DesignYourOwnBlog.com.
- Want a 3D look to your ebook cover? Try MyeCoverMaker.com. This is the service I used for the cover of the Quick Start Guide. You just log in, and under “Subscription type”, choose “Free access – $4.95 per download”. There are numerous cover types to choose from, and even a few you can download for free. Otherwise, it’s just a one time charge of $4.95 to download your cover once you’ve designed it. Easy peasy! 🙂
Make Sure Your New Incentive Gets the Attention it Deserves
You’ve spent the time to produce an email sign up incentive that is truly spectacular–and delivers an offer to your ideal audience that they simply can’t refuse.
How do you let your readers and future potential subscribers know about it?
Here’s a helpful list of ways to promote your polished and shiny new opt-in offer:
- HelloBar – Is a free web toolbar that sits at the top of your site and helps grab attention and encourage visitors to click through to your offer. (Note the one at the top of this site.)
- Social Media – Create a graphic for your social media platforms (Pinterest, Facebook, Twitter, Google +) that highlights your new email incentive. Be sure to include a link (separate from your graphic).
- Opt-in Page/Landing Page – It’s a good idea to set up a separate page on your site that you can quickly and simply send people to for more on your email sign up incentive. LeadPages or Optimize Press 2.0 are fantastic for this, but come at a bit of a cost. A page on your blog or website dedicated to your email incentive will work (and is free), but often has other distractions that may reduce your rate of sign ups.
- PopupAlly – Is a free plugin via Nathalie Lussier (there’s also a premium version), that lets you create popup sign up forms in minutes–no coding skills required! You can determine when and how often your visitors see the popup, including just before they exit your site. For set up, here’s Nathalie’s step-by-step tutorial.
- Optin Skin – A fantastic tool for creating custom email optin forms that you can embed within, or at the bottom, of your pages and posts – or pretty much anywhere you want to capture emails. There are several base templates to choose from that you can quickly and easily alter and tweak to match the look of your site (again, no coding required!).
- HybridConnect – Want a plugin that turns your WordPress site into a list building machine? Hybrid connect allows you to easily create opt-in forms, lightboxes, slide-in boxes and squeeze pages. And, you guessed it: no coding skills needed here either! 🙂
- Guest post – Add a link to your opt-in offer landing page within your guest post bio.
Start Your Brainstorming Engines!
Now that you’ve got oodles of ideas and inspiration for creating a stellar opt-in incentive, as well as some simple tools to make it happen, get brainstorming!
What is your audience begging for? How can you solve a need or ignite their passion? What can you create that leaves your readers with no option but to eagerly hand over their email address?
I hope this post has gotten your creative juices flowing and sparked some exciting possibilities for your sign up incentive! If so, please share your thoughts and ideas below.
Have fun creating! 🙂
Next up in the Email List Building Series, Part 3: The “Set Up” Start to Finish (And the Tools That Make it Easy).
(In case you missed it, click here for part 1 in the Email List Building Series.)
Please note: Some affiliate links are included above. I will earn a small commission if you buy from one of my links, at no extra cost to you. This helps Your Writer Platform continue to provide loads of free, quality content. I appreciate your support!
John M. Budish, Sr. says
Great info. Will take some time to digest and implement. I might suggest that you have a easy print button so folks can print these articles. Congrat!! Now you got my email address. Thanks look forward to more of your posts.
John M. Budish, Sr.
Kimberley Grabas says
Thanks for both the compliment and for sharing your email address, John! 🙂
(A print option might be a good idea–I’ll look into it.)
Bobbi Emel says
Wow, Kim! This is SO much useful info on how to create an opt-in that will work! Another collection of useful tools and resources that will help people get over that last obstacle to creating a terrific incentive. Looking forward to sharing this on social media!
Kimberley Grabas says
Thanks for sharing, Bobbi! Hope your followers find it helpful! 🙂
Eugene Farber says
Great post! I actually just wrote a post about the very topic. I think that first step is the one that most “list builders” forget…figure out who you want on your list in the first place! That’s where most go wrong.
I also have a discussion about the “bribe.” I really think it depends on where you are sending your visitors. Obviously if it is on a landing page designed strictly for collecting contact information, you need to give something in return. But with a blog post or something where value has already been given, it’s not necessary. The main thing is giving someone a “because”….a reason to sign up. On a landing page it’s to get a brie…on a blog post it could be to get future updates.
Kimberley Grabas says
Glad you enjoyed the post and thanks for sharing your thoughts, Eugene!
As for the incentive, do you create separate lists of subscribers, depending on which “bribe” they opt-in for? I think it might get confusing to your reader if it wasn’t clear what information they would receive after they opted in, or whether they had to sign up multiple times to receive ‘all’ the freebies.
I do think it’s a good strategy to offer different incentives to different segments of your readership (and have separate lists), especially if your audience is comprised of distinct groups (if you write YA and Romance, for example).
What do you think?
Jeanne Meeks says
Great information and links here. Very timely for me. Thanks.
Kimberley Grabas says
Glad to be of help, Jeanne!
A real learning curve for me. Thank you so much for all the info and links. Some really inspirational ideas.
Kimberley Grabas says
It seems much more daunting at the beginning than it actually is, Jacqui. And remember, once your email list is set up, it basically runs on autopilot (except for the content you create to share with your subscribers).