Are Opt-In Freebies Dead?

Freebies are dead. Long-live the freebie?

My mind has been focused a lot lately on how to attract and entice higher-end businesses to my business. And over the past year, it’s become exceedingly clear that the tactics I used to market to business owners for my DIY course and products were not going to work to attract bigger businesses.

But why?

In early 2017, my operations gal and I decided to run a reengagement campaign, clean my email list of people who were no longer engaged, and then survey the remaining people on my list about what they were interested in.

We did this because I wanted to shift my focus from selling DIY products to done-for-you content strategy services. (I’ve always offered those services, but I wanted to focus my attention there; and I still offer DIY courses, but I rarely promote them.)

In any case, the results were kind of staggering to me.

We started with a little over 6,000 people on my list, and when the cleaning was done, that number was cut by more than half. Of the 2,500 or so people who remained, only about 60 of them said they were interested in strategy.

(For those of you doing the math at home, that’s just under 2.5% of my list interested in what I actually wanted to sell. OUCH.)

Once I got through the grieving process — because take my word for it, there was grieving involved! — I started thinking about why. Why was my list so heavily interested in tactics (ie: DIY) and not in strategy, when I thought I’d been talking about strategy all along?

Know thy customer

Digging into this really brought me back to business 101, which is the old chestnut that you have to know your customer almost better than you know yourself.

I thought that my ideal customer for my services was probably just further along in business than the people who would be ideal for my course. In my mind, that meant that they would probably be interested in the same sorts of content. I assumed they had the same problems, but would want to solve them in different ways.

That’s still mostly true. One thing I’ve learned working with and paling around with more experienced and more successful entrepreneurs than I is that the problems tend to be the same, they’re just bigger.

What I did not take into account, however, was how those people like to consume content.

All throughout 2016, I focused hard on creating how-to content, free worksheets, and doing webinars to grow my business. But all those people I added to my list were only interested in the DIY stuff.


Because more experienced, more successful entrepreneurs simply do not do the same things that newer entrepreneurs do: They don’t sign up for many email lists; they (mostly) aren’t tempted by free worksheets; and they have to really trust you to take an hour out of their day to watch a webinar.

When I polled a community of my ideal customers about their email habits, exactly zero business owners mentioned an opt-in freebie that got them to sign up for someone’s list.

Some said that they still sign up for lists for self-care or personal subjects, others said they would sign up to a list to study someone else’s marketing and try to reverse engineer it. But overwhelmingly people said the only reason they got on an email list was because they liked the person and found them interesting.

Freebies aren’t the path to every customer

Clearly, freebies and lead magnets are not enticing to my ideal customer these days. That’s not to say this tactic doesn’t still work for a lot of niches — just not for mine.

I find this fascinating because still, to this day, most of the content marketing advice I see out there suggests having a lead magnet to gather email addresses — regardless of who your target audience is.

Fine artist? Offer a freebie.
Celebrity life coach? Offer a freebie.
Accountant? Offer a freebie.

But it has become excruciatingly clear to me that this isn’t a one-size-fits-all tactic.

Does it build your email list? Absolutely.

Will those people be customers? …Maybe not.

It’s on us to do the reconnaissance to know whether or not our ideal customers even want a freebie, let alone what kind of freebie will entice them.

What’s the alternative?

If freebie offers aren’t enticing the kinds of customers I (and maybe you) want to attract, what’s the alternative?

Instead of guessing this time, I’ve instead cozied up to my frenemy, data and started looking at my own numbers. Turns out, my biggest sources of good clients are word-of-mouth referrals and a business membership group called CoCommercial I belong to — to the tune of 70% of my business combined!

And only a tiny fraction of my customers have actually come from my email list.

For my clients, it varies widely. Some of them are having absolutely stellar results running challenges and free email courses. Others are doing well offering webinars. Some are still seeing results with classic lead magnets like worksheets and ebooks by using aggressive and targeted follow-up email campaigns.

The point is, we have to keep an open mind about the strategy and tactics that will work for our particular business. It’s no longer enough to settle for the one-size-fits all solution — and it’s no longer enough to assume that something is working for you without the data to back it up.

Are you still getting good results with classic freebies and opt-ins? If so, let us know in the comments below along with what you sell and your target market. I’d love to do an informal poll!




What if you didn’t have to worry about your content EVER again? Content marketing strategy and implementation to make that dream reality.

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Lacy Boggs

Lacy Boggs

What if you didn’t have to worry about your content EVER again? Content marketing strategy and implementation to make that dream reality.

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