How to Create Amazing Free Offers that Grow Your Email List

Guess what the biggest driver of new leads and sales is in my business?

It’s the free offers that I give away on my website. Specifically, my free PDF offers (like workbooks, free reports, and cheatsheets).

Let’s start off with a quick story.

In August of 2016, I released a brand new free PDF pack to my audience and it was the fastest signed up for opt-in I’ve ever had. Since then, it has received 1000+ downloads and continues to get opt-ins on a really consistent basis (hundreds within the last month).

Not only was this free offer a huge list-builder and audience engager, but it also had a direct translation to my revenue.

When I launched my training program around the same topic as that PDF offer just two weeks after releasing it, I made my first program sale within six minutes. Another sale just two minutes later. The next sale just four minutes later (yes, these are actual times recorded by my payment processor). It was the biggest day in sales ever in my business.

Did I mention I was only promoting to the people who had signed up for the PDF free offer in that two week span? Crazy town.

I had gathered a group of intensely interested people with the free offer (that is the primary reason I am obsessed with them), and I want to show you how I did that in today’s post.

So how do you create free offers that grow your audience like crazy and builds a group of people that literally can’t wait for your product?

Just wanted to take a moment to clarify that when I say free offer, I’ll be referring to a workbook or PDF of some sort for this blog post. It can take a lot of forms but I’ve had the best success with workbooks. They have higher conversion rates over other mediums, at least for me. Test what works best for you and your business.

Let’s dive into my process.

Market research

Whenever I’m releasing a new free offer to my audience, I start with intense market research. Unfortunately, this is the most overlooked step.

Without market research, your PDF workbook/download offers will lack relevance to your audience and fall flat when it comes to email list growth (I talk from lots of experience).

So below I have outlined my simple three-step process for collecting valuable and rich market research (aka pure gold).

1. Reach and reply

The first step is to reach out to your audience and simply ask them where they’re hitting a roadblock or barrier as it relates to your potential free offer.

I got dozens of responses giving me the exact problem I needed to solve. Instead of creating something that I thought would be valuable, I created something that was actually needed in the marketplace.

The conversion rate on the workbook was phenomenal. We’re talking 50-60% for random traffic and 70-90% for people coming in from my list and social media. Not only that, but people were sharing this too.

I’ll often get randoms tags from inside of Facebook groups I’m in of people sharing the link to my free offer with people who are asking about the problem it solves.

If you did a good job collecting good market research, this should happen to you too.

Some other ways to get this information from your peeps is to email them which is something I always did before I had a Facebook Group. The main reason I do this in my group is because I like people to know they aren’t alone in their problem. 🙂 It’s the little things.

If you don’t have an audience of your own (no problem), go into other influencers’s communities and ask if anybody has any questions that you can answer (mention your expertise).

Please note though that it doesn’t work though if you just say “What are you struggling with?”. You have to peak people’s interest (without coming off too strong).

Here is an example of a community member that posted in my (now retired) Facebook Group…

Rhonda got a decent amount of responces that she can then use as really valuable market research for her offers (paid and free).

I should also mention that Rhonda is an active member of the community and that is 100% key if you don’t want to get blocked from the group.

Also, don’t link to your website or mention any products because nobody will help you out. Be of service, become more known in the community, and get rich valuable market research.

Whether you get the feedback from your own audience or others’, always reply to everybody. If somebody says “planning” is the problem, ask them what they have done in the past and why it may have not worked.

2. Gather and curate

After reaching and replying, gather and then curate people’s biggest problems or struggles.

What is coming up again and again?

There may be ten common problems being discussed, but how can you curate them into three or four primary struggles?

Your job then, after curating the problems, is to create solutions.

This is how you create free offers that convert.

Need help creating your offers layout and content? I’ve got an awesome free download for you… Click here to go download it.

This may take the form of three different free offers on your website (i.e. my “resources” page on the menu above. This is a great example), or become a mix of free and paid offers.

I have a mix of free and paid offers based directly on my audience’s needs. This is how you create your “free offer suite” (again look at my resources page on the menu above as an example) and “product suite” (i.e. “products” page above).

We’re getting a bit off task here, but your one big goal is to curate the problems and then create solutions for each.

3. Define the core problem and create your promise.

The key is to use the market research you got for good (never evil yo) and bring something truly valuable to the marketplace with your free offer.

With your 3-4 problems, you need to identify which ones can fit into the first free offer you’re going to create.

The next step is to create your promise which is the messaging behind your offer. For my Workbook Creation Kit, the promise was to help you execute awesome workbooks. I have another brand-building PDF that shows you four simple strategies to grow your personal brand.

If their problem is getting comfortable in front of the camera, your promise would be “3 Fool-Proof Methods to Become a Rockstar on Camera”.

This should be a really quick step. The information that you got from your audience did the heavy lifting so choosing your core problem and promise should be more about execution rather than decision making.

Creating a well-designed offer package

The package you deliver your free offer in is just as important as the offer itself. This is where people get held up though.

I highly recommend using Adobe InDesign to create all of your PDF and printable materials. It is by far the most customizable tools and can in a lot of cases, be the easier option (compared to Pages, Word, or Canva).

While InDesign isn’t necessary, it helps streamline things a lot and is just a simpler option.

Regardless of what you use to create your free offer, there are some basic guidelines to follow.

Here are the key elements of a well-designed package.

Your free offer’s branded coverpage

What makes you purchase a magazine off the newsstand? Is it because you already know the content is going to be good? Maybe. But I’m guessing you purchase it because the coverpage.

I highly recommend you create a coverpage for every free PDF you create. They set the stage for the quality of the PDF and get your audience excited.

It can be as simple a really good photo and text overlaying it with your freebie’s name and your logo (i.e. visual above).

Welcome page

I love welcome pages because they give you a chance to introduce you and the material to your audience.

It follows the coverpage and is great because a lot of the people who will be downloading the PDF probably don’t know a whole lot about you (you’re using this to grow your email list).

You can title it “Before we get started”, “Ground-rules”, “Welcome”, etc.

Your PDF’s content

Your PDF’s content needs to fulfill your promise. Refer back to the problems that you found during market research and make sure it solves the problem.

My favorite technique for creating the content that will be included in my free PDF offers is to map out the process that I want somebody to have when they go through the work.

What steps do they need to take in order to get a quick-win right off the bat? How do I lead them to solving the problem?

Pro tip: figure out how to get them past any obstacles or objections they may have before being ready to purchase your paid products.

This was a huge part of why my August 2016 product launch did so well. People’s biggest objection was not knowing the basics of creating effective workbooks so my Workbook Creation Kit solved that and got them really excited to take action.

If you’re selling a product on meditating, your free offer must clear up any objections your prospects might have about meditating.

Maybe they’re worried about creating a habit. Your free offer can then be some sort of 10-day cheatsheet that will give them a guided exercise that takes less than 10 minutes per day.

They’ll start to build the habit, realize how amazing they feel, and want to move on to your product.

Overcome obstacles while providing massive value and you’re golden.

Thank you page

In a lot of cases (especially when using PDFs for listing building), your free offer will be the beginning of your sales funnel process. Your thank you page is where you let your audience know what the next step is.

Don’t just end your workbook or download with a simple “Thanks for Downloading!”.

Back to the example of the meditation product, let them know how they can move on and level up.

For my own free offer, I created a resources list and linked to some common resources and my product was one of them. I introduced the product and linked to the coming soon page (really easy to add links and interactive elements to your PDFs with InDesign).

Successful “free offers” harness the power of a list building campaign.

Okay. You’ve done your market research and created the package for your free offer, and optimized your landing page. How do you actually get people to consume your offer?

You may be thinking something along the lines of “Why do I need to create a marketing campaign?”.

One of my PDF workbooks has less than 200 signups after over a year and one has had over a 1,000 signups in less than 6 months.

What was the difference? Creating a list-building campaign around the PDF (think of it almost like a product launch but for a freebie).

This mean creating one core free offer (not a dozen different content upgrades and random stuff you don’t promote consistently) that you create an entire strategy around promoting.

When I launch a new free offer, I map out a two-week plan for promotion (almost like a product launch). This will usually include 1-2 blog posts giving value, one to three intentional emails, Instagram posts, Facebook Group posts, and more.

Create a big push for about two weeks and that is what will get the momentum going.

Are you ready to create crazy effective free offers?

I’m glad you said yes (hopefully you said yes so I don’t look dumb). 🙂

I have a pretty cool PDF giveaway for you today.

“Wow Cole, how fitting!”

I know.

It’s an 7-point framework for your offer’s content that puts what I just taught you today in a neat package. Click here to go download it.


  • Avatar
    Ifeoma Illoh
    Cole you hit it right off the bat with this: "have a two-week plan for promotion"
    • Avatar
      Cole Hennen
      Thanks so much Ifeoma! Yes, it is such a crucial part and I feel like the two-week promotion strategy is so underutilized! Definitely something I recommend to everybody launching a new free offer! Keep me posted on your free offers! :)
  • Avatar
    Crystal akers
    Hsjeklana sjjsks

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