The essential opt-in offer guide

If you are a business who does business online (quick check, take down your website and turn off your email – if you still have a business after 1 month, you probably don’t need to read this ;-), and you don’t have an opt-in and you’re not harvesting new subscribers, you are passing up a huge value-add.

We’ve spoken before about how valuable your database is to your business, but we’ve never shown you how to build a healthy list of potential clients… until now.

The purpose of an opt-in offer or lead magnet is to build your database. It is simply an offer of something your audience will find valuable in exchange for their name and email address.

Think of your opt-in as a piece of ‘investment content’. It needs to be well designed, of value to your audience, and in a format that can be used time and time again.

But working out what your offer might be, isn’t as easy as it seems.

We have created the following guide to help you decide what you can offer your audience so you can build a healthy list of subscribers who are interested in your services.

The Goldilocks test

Your offer should be ‘just right’ for the audience you are targeting.

Paradoxically, our first recommendation is to try not to make your offer TOO attractive.
The reason we say this is because you want your offer to be a filter for your audience. If your final sale is a high-end business service – you don’t want to attract small start-up style businesses who don’t have spare cash for a coffee, let alone your amazing, premium product.

Many people see their opt-in almost as a product in itself and they try to ‘sell’ as many as possible but because the offer is free, and everyone is familiar with the ‘unsubscribe’ button, your list will quickly de-value – that is, you will have a big list of people who are probably not suitable for your product or service.

So the first question you have to ask is this:

What product or service do I want to sell to this list?


Here at TBCA, we have two distinct groups of clients.

1. We have our Agency clients who hand over their content strategy and creation needs to us, and we take care of everything for them. They don’t need to know how to do it – they are interested in what needs to happen to get it done. For them, we offer a free content audit to show them where their best content opportunities are, and how we can help them with the content.

2. Our second group are smaller business owners who are looking to understand more about content marketing, how it applies to their business and how to implement it themselves. Our Content Strategy Resource Centre provides everything they need.

You can see how we’ve made sure the offer matches the service we would like them to purchase.

The hook

The next part to understand about creating a successful opt-in offer is what will make someone hand over their name and email address?

We’ve identified 4 enticing reasons:

  • The offer sparks their curiosity - Quizzes and checklists do this very well because they help people understand more about themselves or their situation.
  • The offer gives added value -10% off your first order if you subscribe, or 1 month free.
  • The offer educates them so they feel smarter - Reports, curated lists and specific industry developments or innovation news where they feel they have the inside track on new information.
  • The offer helps them do something - How to, and step-by-step guides that help people get something done, or learn a new skill. In fact, we could save this article as a .pdf and call it an opt-in offer!

Make sure your offer is attracting the right people.

A few years ago we created three different opt-in offers. We ran Google ads to each of them to see which had the best conversion rate. The three offers were:

  1. Content for credibility
  2. How to start a newsletter for your business
  3. Content for organic SEO 

The agency running the Google Ads campaigns and I took bets on which one we thought would get the most people onto the database. It was unanimous; we all agreed 3. Content for organic SEO  - would be the winner. HOWEVER, even at the time, I knew this was not going to end well...

We ran the ads. Content for organic SEO won - hands down. 

But then I launched a Content Strategy Masterclass to everyone who joined our database via the three opt-in offers - and this is what really happened over the course of the launch:

95% of the people who unsubscribed from the launch email sequence had downloaded - you guessed it - Content for organic SEO. 

0% of the people who joined the masterclass were people who - yep - downloaded Content for organic SEO.

Even within a niche, there are more niches. For us, there are people for whom SEO is important - they are not so concerned with well written quality content - they are focused on using Google as their primary conduit - and there is nothing wrong with that - but it's not our jam.

The people who downloaded the other two offers were interested in the engagement and reputation good quality communication can bring to a brand. They are the kind of brands who want what we have.

If you are curious to see what those three opt-in offers look like:

Make an impression

A well thought-out offer is great but we are visual creatures so it pays to make sure your content is well packaged.For businesses with a strong brand identity, this is relatively simple. If you are not sure – we have the following tips:

Always include images. A nicely designed cover page gives a document more credibility.

Make sure the format you choose is best suited to your audience. Documents and reports are best created as .pdf files so they can easily be downloaded. Video files need to be relatively small so they can be streamed. If you are looking at quizzes and checklists, you can use embedded Google Docs or apps such as Qzzr.

Don’t go overboard and deliver too much value. Your audience are as short on time as you are so the more succinct you can deliver a specific valuable point, the better.


Pay to play
Unless you have a lot of time to relentlessly promote your offer, it can pay-to-play. Facebook ads, Google Adwords and LinkedIn ads can all assist you to fill your database. 

A word of caution - if you the value of your offer is significantly LESS than the cost to obtain a lead, you are in danger of spending more than you can earn back.

Free versus paid offers
If you clicked on our Resource Centre offer to find out what it is - you will notice IT IS NOT FREE.

You read that right. We are asking people to pay to become part of our marketing ecosystem and there are two reasons for this:

  1. The Resource Centre is packed with value - you can build out your entire strategy, communication guide, 12 month content plan and learn how to hire and manage a writer so you don't even have to pick up a pencil!
  2. We really really dislike wasting people's time. There is SO MUCH FREE STUFF out there and it takes a lot of time and effort to create and set up an offer - only to get people who will never buy from you onto your database (pro tip: many email programs charge you per contact so you're paying for them to not engage with you). Our free-to-air articles, like this one, have enough value to help someone get started.

Choose wisely
Make sure the database you choose is right for your needs. If you intend to grow your subscriber list to 2000 +, and plan to do a lot of email marketing and automation, you can look at Active Campaign, Infusion Soft or similar.

If your list is smaller and you’re going to send out a regular newsletter but not much else, you might be better with the free version of MailChimp.

Of course these are only general suggestions – do your research and find one that suits your business now and into the future.

Access a step-by-step guide to the most cost effective way to grow pre-sale loyalty with your prospects - and never scramble for leads ever again.