How to Create an Effective Lead Magnet or Opt-in

by Michelle Hunter

Most list-building strategies begin with a lead magnet – a free resource people can access or download when they agree to join your list. This is a common marketing tactic often recommended as an essential requirement for any business trying to find customers online. If you read marketing blogs, you’ll quickly find multiple bits of…


Most list-building strategies begin with a lead magnet – a free resource people can access or download when they agree to join your list. This is a common marketing tactic often recommended as an essential requirement for any business trying to find customers online. If you read marketing blogs, you’ll quickly find multiple bits of advice about list building and lots of talk about the “value” of a given list. 

Of course, it’s important to consider why you might want to build a list in the first place. I recently wrote an article on this topic, and if you’re interested, you can access it here. While I do think list building is a valuable strategy for most people, I wouldn’t call it essential. 

But, you’re reading this article… which indicates you have at least a passing interest in building a list. Perhaps you’ve been told to create a lead magnet or you’ve been asked about your “opt-in strategy” by someone you trust. You have a few questions about it, right? So, let’s get right to the answers.  

What is a lead magnet?

A lead magnet (or opt-in) is something useful that is used to attract people and entice them to subscribe to a list. It is typically a bit of easily downloadable content, access to a video, a discount or special offer, or access to a password protected app or webpage. It can also be a short email course, a series of digital trainings, or a webinar or virtual workshop. 

An effective  lead magnet is (1) valuable to your audience, (2) free, and (3) easy to access and use.  

Valuable to your audience. The purpose of an opt-in or lead magnet is creating engagement. It’s really a form of polite bribery… a gift in order to secure an action. You want an audience member to give you access to their inbox, and you’re willing to share something of value in order to get that access. (Of course, in this post-GDPR world, people will be able to get the item without subscribing to your list… but the basic concept is still solid.) The key here is to understand what is of interest to your audience and what will be valuable enough to them to get a response. 

Free. This is really important. Lead magnets have value (see above) but they are free… or at least available without an exchange of cash. They have enough value that someone would gladly pay for them, however they are completely free (what a deal!) in exchange for an email address. There’s a balance here to consider in terms of value.  Too little value and even an email address seems like too big of an investment. Too much value and people become naturally suspicious because the offer seems too good to be true. 

Easy to access and use. The third point here is also crucial. Your audience is full of busy, impatient people who engage with free offers all the time. They will not wait for a slow page to load or step through multiple hoops to gain access. It’s just too hard and not worth the effort. 

Interesting story… recently a client of mine became frustrated because her audience “wouldn’t even join a free webinar” and thus she felt like a failure. As we talked, it became apparent that the issue was the registration process, not the webinar itself. She made it so difficult to sign up that people bailed out before completing the process. 

Using a lead magnet to attract the right people

Okay – now that you understand some of the foundational rules of lead magnets, let’s shift to talk about YOU and your audience. As you think about your work, you may have multiple lead magnet ideas. Maybe you can create a checklist or a simple video about a common process in your area of expertise. Or, perhaps you can repurpose a helpful guide you created as a part of a course or workshop. You might even think about giving away a case study or a bit of marketing material in return for an email address. The question is – – > which option will be most effective?

The answer is simple. Select a freebie that aligns with your marketing conversation, specifically the problem or pain point your audience is most aware of before you work together. If you’ve followed me for a while, you’re likely at least somewhat familiar with the concept of a marketing conversation. (If you’re mystified, hop over here and read this article.) Your marketing conversation begins with a potential client’s felt need, communicated in his or her own language.

So, start with your marketing conversation. What needs do people express before they begin working with you? Be careful here to stick with pain they actually recognize and feel, not other issues you see but which might be hidden below the surface. To uncover felt needs, think about what people tell you when they are considering working with you. 

For example, my potential clients often say things like: 

  • I’m working too hard for the amount of money I’m making. 
  • I can’t seem to attract clients with a big enough budget to work with me. 
  • No matter what I do to market my business, nothing seems to work. 

These are real, felt needs that indicate a problem with core messaging and profitability. People who say these things likely need a few revisions to their offers followed by  a marketing message that is better aligned with the value they deliver to customers. I could create a lead magnet that speaks to the solution, but a more effective approach is a lead magnet that speaks to the pain they feel in the moment. My people are likely to respond to a guide that shows them how to attract high value clients or a training on the simple way to make marketing effective. They are not as likely to respond to a freebie walking them through adjusting their core messaging. 

Focus on lead magnet options that connect with your ideal client at a single  felt point of need and lead naturally to your products or services in some way. Don’t worry about finding a lead magnet that is super attractive to nearly everyone. You don’t actually want a BIG list, right? You want an effective list full of potential clients. Those are two different things.  

Simple lead magnets are most effective. 

The best lead magnets are simple and easy to consume. Ideally, a lead magnet can be consumed in under 30 minutes. So, keep the free workshop to 20 minutes + Q&A. Keep the PDF guide to a few pages. Make the checklist short and sweet. Create a worksheet with a few simple, but meaningful questions.  

Why simple? Because we live in an immediate gratification type culture. Give your ideal client a quick win, a bit of laughter, something thought-provoking to think about later, or a feeling of accomplishment. Don’t give him or her a large item to add to the perpetual task list and save for someday “when there’s time.”  Simple is best for your audience. 

Simple is also best for you. There’s no reason to spend hours and lots of money on a lead magnet. Sure, you want it to look enticing and offer real value… but you don’t need to focus on perfection. It’s okay to create a video training using a tool like Loom. A simple PDF with pleasant formatting and a readable font is just fine. 

Focus on moving people just one step forward. 

Sometimes my clients struggle with a desire to pack a free resource with lots and lots of information. These people mean well… they simply want to be as helpful as possible and as an expert, they feel there is a lot of value in detail. I totally get it… I do a bit of this myself. 

My grandson is currently two years old. He is learning to sit at the table and feed himself using a fork and a spoon. This is big, important stuff for him and as his Nana, it’s my job to meet him where he is and help him acquire the next valuable skill. That’s why we focus on eating pasta with a spoon and not using a knife. He’s not ready for cutting yet… it’s too advanced. 

Your audience is learning to eat pasta with a spoon. As the expert, you can use a knife as well as complex kitchen tools like a blender, wire whisk, and coffee pot. Eventually, you may be able to guide someone to a more advanced skill level. For right now, though… let’s just master the spoon. 

The best lead magnets meet a person at a point of need and move them one step closer to working with you by providing a quick win.  Maybe you are a realtor and you want to attract people who are interested in selling their home. An effective opt-in might be a guide titled, “Is it time to sell? 5 things to consider.” You’re meeting your audience at the point of inquiry and moving them a single step closer to making a decision. See what I did there? 

Use your lead magnet to start a conversation, not sell. 

Including a direct call to action to “buy now” in a lead magnet is as creepy as asking someone to marry you while on a first date. It’s as rude as expecting a new friend to loan you money or directing people to park in your neighbor’s driveway while shopping at your yard sale. Don’t be that person… 

Why is this so important? Most of us are a bit jaded and cynical about online sales. We know that opting in for a freebie opens the door to sales and marketing emails. We expect a hard sell and lots of “buy now” type opportunities. Since we expect them, we are on guard for them and react cautiously if at all. 

Include a call to action in your lead magnet for a reasonable next step such as checking out your website or contacting you to learn more about your business. More importantly, use the lead magnet to begin a conversation you continue during your email nurture series and through content you create for your blog or website.  Let the relationship develop over a bit of time. 

Build a quality list by attracting the right potential clients. 

Create a lead magnet that is aligned with your marketing conversation and designed to attract your ideal clients. Don’t focus on artificial statistics such as list size or overall engagement. You don’t want a bloated list, you want to attract and engage people who are struggling with problems you can solve and will fit nicely into your customer base. An effective lead magnet is the first step in this process. 

Interested in learning more about email marketing and how a sales funnel can benefit your business? Let’s talk.

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