The ultimate guide to growing your email list with lead magnets (+ free design workshop!)

The ultimate guide to growing your email list with lead magnets (+ free design workshop!)


If you’re new to the world of online business, lemme tell you a big important thing that you’ll want to know right off the bat — email lists are important. Your email list is your only direct connection to your customers or clients that YOU can control. Instagram followers are great, but Instagram is rented space. They could disappear (MySpace, anyone?) or make sweeping changes to their platform that could greatly affect how you’re able to connect with your followers (algorithms, anyone?). Same goes for Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, and even marketplaces like Etsy and Creative Market. They’re all rented space, and that makes your email list so, so important. Almost any entrepreneur will tell you they wish they had started their list sooner.

Okay, so you’ve started your email list (using an email service like Mailchimp or my personal favorite Convertkit) — now what? How do you get people on the list? How do you entice them to signup? That’s where lead magnets come in.

In this post, we’ll cover what lead magnets are and lotsssss of examples, how to choose the right content for a lead magnet, how to design a lead magnet, and how to deliver your lead magnet to your audience so you can grow an email list that’s ripe with ready-to-buy customers and ready-to-book clients. An email list is equally important for product-based businesses as it is for service providers.

What is a lead magnet + why should you care about it

A lead magnet is a free resource that you give to your audience in exchange for their email address. Some people call it an opt-in incentive (or simply an opt-in), a content upgrade, a free download — there are lots of names for it, but they all do the same thing. Lead magnets are a huge way to passively build up your email list because they can easily be connected to any free content you’re currently offering your audience — like a blog post, a podcast episode, a YouTube video or other video training. They can also be great as stand alone calls-to-action on your website homepage, social media posts, or even at in-person events.

Here are some examples of lead magnets:

  • worksheet / workbook

  • checklist / to do list

  • reference chart / cheatsheet

  • tracker (like for habits or stats or something that should be recurring)

  • roadmap / action plan

  • map / diagram

  • spreadsheet

  • template / pattern

  • guide / how-to

  • e-book

  • online challenge

  • bonus podcast episode or audio training

  • recorded video tutorial / training

  • live video workshop / webinar

  • design asset (illustrations, icons, patterns, fonts, etc.)

  • stock photos

  • script / swipe file

  • desktop / phone backgrounds

  • planners / calendars / organizers

  • journal / writing prompts

  • printable artwork (like wall art, cards, tags, labels, decor, signage, coloring pages, etc.)

How to choose the right content for a lead magnet

When I’m thinking about what type of lead magnet would be beneficial to my audience or would pair well with a blog post, I like to think of it in two ways:

What do they need to do / learn / figure out before they work with you or buy your product.

Think of this like a pre-requisite or a getting started resource, so they’ll be primed to work with you as their next step.

Example A photographer could offer a resource on picking the best outfit for a photo shoot, or tips for not being anxious or nervous during a photo shoot. These are things that would be helpful to them before they booked the photographer’s services.

Example A weaving teacher could offer a resource about what tools + supplies a beginner will need to learn how to weave. They would need to know this before buying a weaving resource or attending a class from the artist.

What do they need to do / learn / figure out after they work with you or buy your product.

Think of this like a follow-up resource or a continuing education piece. These can even be enticing for those who haven’t worked with you yet — they see a snapshot of where they could be if they choose to work with you.

Example — The photographer could offer a resource on unique printing ideas or a list of their favorite print companies to get photos printed after the shoot. This info would be useful to them after they worked with the photographer.

Example — The weaving teacher could offer a free video tutorial or a template / diagram on a more advanced weaving technique for someone who bought a class.

How to design the lead magnet like a pro

When it comes to designing lead magnets, there are two routes you can take. Before we dive into these two options, there’s something you should know about design. It’s a common saying among designers that there are three things to consider when approaching a design project —

  • it can be done cheap (money)

  • it can be done fast (time)

  • it can be done well (quality) 

The saying goes that you can choose one or two of these options, but you can rarely have all three. Ha! 

  • If you have it done cheap and fast, it probably won’t be very good quality.

  • If you have it done fast and good quality, it’ll cost you.

  • If you have it done cheap and good quality, it’ll take a long time.

So with that in mind, here are the two routes you can go:

The Pro Route

You could hire a designer or a design-savvy virtual assistant (VA) to create your lead magnet for you. This will give you the “done well” element, your lead magnet will be professional and on-brand. But it’ll cost you money, of course, and it may not be done very fast — you’ll be at the mercy of your designer’s schedule.  

The DIY Route

As you can probably guess, this is going to be my preference for this post, especially if you’re a beginner or on a budget. With this route, there’s one caveat — you’ll want to learn how to do it the right way.

For one, using the right software will be important — in terms of quality and also how much you’ll be able to create. My BFF is Adobe InDesign, and I use it for juuuust about everything I design in my business, especially lead magnets, content upgrades, opt-ins, free downloads, whatever you want to call them! While there are  options like Canva, keep in mind that you get what you pay for (going back to the good, cheap, fast — can’t have all three.)

If you’re curious about using Adobe InDesign for lead magnet design, check out my free design workshop that shows you exactly how I do it (like, hover over my shoulder and watch a screen share of exactly how I design, why I make certain design decisions, etc.). Click here to watch the free on-demand training right now!

A couple things to keep in mind as you design for lead magnets — keep it simple, less is more. This is a good design rule to follow in general (even a good reminder for us seasoned designers!), it’ll keep you from cluttering up your page with distracting elements or things that could interfere with the user actually getting value from your lead magnet. In the same way — think about the end user and how they’ll use the lead magnet in real life. If they print it out, will it suck their printer ink dry? If they need space to write, have you left enough room for handwriting? If they’re going to hole punch this and re-use it in a binder, do they have enough margin to do that?

For more tips on designing your lead magnets, check out these other articles:

How to deliver the lead magnet to your audience

Again, the point of a lead magnet is to deliver it to your audience — you’re giving it away in exchange for an email address, so you’ll need an email marketing software like ConvertKit or Mailchimp to store those email address (and utilize your email list to grow your business with things like newsletters, email funnels, tagging, etc.). These offer automatic ways to deliver the lead magnet, so it happens instantly when they sign up and you don’t have to send anything manually (passive list building, remember?!).

It’s helpful to also have a graphic you can share + promote showing the free download mockup so your audience can see what it is they’re downloading. You can use these graphics anywhere you invite your audience to signup for your email list (within a blog post, or used on social media, etc.) And good news — that free workshop I mentioned above shows you exactly how to create these as well! Win-win.

And lastly, in that email you send them with the actual lead magnet for them to download, be sure to include more information about yourself, other resources you offer, or how they can learn more about working with you. Give them next steps for how they can stay connected to you, and what you’ll be sharing with them now that they’re on your email list.

Your Turn

Do you use lead magnets to grow your email list? What types of lead magnets have you found work best for your audience? And what the heck do you call them?!


Watch me design a PDF opt-in freebie from start to finish

Reading a blog post about design is one thing, but it’s a whole other learning experience to WATCH me design on-screen — so this is your permission to hover, my Internet friend.

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Kelsey Baldwin

Graphic designer + blogger providing design resources to help creative entrepreneurs navigate the world of design + branding for digital products so they can share what they know.

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