It’s pretty unusual to stumble upon a blog or consulting website that doesn’t offer some kind of resource to its readers.

Productized services show no signs of losing popularity and they can be extremely helpful to the long-term success of a freelance career — often opening multiple passive revenue sources to the solopreneur. However, you need an audience before you can sell something. And you also need a lead capture strategy to grow the brand behind your services.

This is where the list builder, or lead magnet, comes in. A list builder is a productized value item that you don’t sell — you give it away in exchange for precious email addresses. By building up a robust email list you create a plugged-in following that vastly expands the reach of your brand and keeps your pipeline thriving.

What types of list builders are out there?

As with many elements of your career — the primary limiting factor is your creativity. List builders and lead capture strategies come in myriad shapes and sizes, but we’ve listed the most popular and effective below.

E-book how-to guides

If you have even a few clients, chances are you have figured out how to do something that other people struggle with. A well-crafted e-book is a great opportunity to subtly make the case for your services while educating your clientele. As we’ve said before: if you give out the recipe, many people will be happy to have you do the cooking.

 Making e-books can be as simple as:

• Adding some nice illustrations and headers to your text guide

• Plugging it into Google Drive

• Saving it as a PDF

We’re also quite fond of Beacon at Nation1099. It’s a free service that allows you to easily create attractive e-books and store them online as downloadable links. Handy indeed!

Beacon is a really awesome tool for designing list builders

Email courses

These are simpler than the name may suggest. Email courses share several common traits with e-books, but instead of delivering your resource as a downloadable PDF, you break your knowledge into 5-10 bite-sized chapters that you deliver to your email subscribers over the corresponding number of days.

This is a great strategy for a couple reasons — it reduces cognitive overload for your subscribers and it keeps you on their radar for a full week or more!

We interviewed Brennan Dunn a little while back on how he uses email courses as an integral part of his lead capture strategy. We’ll dig into how you might automate your email course below.

Brennan's email course list builder

Video lessons

According to the latest data from video curation platform Animoto, 76.5% of marketing professionals say that video marketing has had a significant impact on their businesses. If you can deliver an engaging live presentation on a useful subject of your choosing and you own a decent camera, try making a few video tutorials.

How good do your video courses have to look? This is fine if your content is great! Derek Halpern‘s “grainy,” “low-quality” videos generated six-figure income for him.

While making slick, completely professional video lessons is expensive, yours don’t have to be. Aesthetics matter, I won’t deny that, but the quality of content will always reign supreme. (I mean, Khan Academy has fundamentally transformed the world of online learning with little more than simple YouTube videos!) So don’t write off video just because you aren’t a pro videographer. If you have something great to share, break out the whiteboard and share it!

Helpful infographics

An excellent example of a potential list builder infographic that users would regularly return to

By the Logo Company

Few things are more easily digestible and attention-grabbing than infographics. If you have a little design savvy, condense your unique guide, tutorials, or surveys into a visually-striking infographic.

Infographics are especially effective if you can create a one-page resource that your visitors will want to return to many times over. For example: a guide to all the best color hues to use for marketing purposes, their psychological effects, and their exact color coordinates.

Not a designer? You don’t need to be — pick up a free Canva subscription and make awesome-looking infographics anyway.

Unique research

What kinds of topics most capture your curiosity? Are there some big questions in your professional life that occupy your thoughts — even off the clock? Chances are you aren’t alone in feeling the way you do, and if you can identify a specific area of inquiry that hasn’t already been explored, then you may be the perfect candidate for some original research.

Reach out to a number of influencers — professional or clients in your industry — and get their perspectives on your unique question. Many of them will be happy to weigh in or offer a quote. Consolidate their information into a short document or infographic and offer it to your readers. People love seeing how industry leaders feel about topics they care deeply about.

Unique Research Example

Kristi Hines’ unique research isn’t a list builder, but it is a great example of the valuable insights you can collect with just a little follow-through.

Surveys

And readers also love surveys — you need only look to Facebook for further confirmation of this. If you can come up with a creative questionnaire to help your followers better understand their brand personality, client profile, or biggest strengths and weaknesses, then you potentially have a powerful list builder on your hands (and maybe even data for your unique research as well!).

It’s important to create a survey that ultimately provides valuable insights to the subscriber and also highlights their individuality in a kind of viral way — maybe each brand personality is a superhero or zodiac sign that shares common qualities with the participant. People should immediately want to know the answer to your survey and share it with others!

As with email courses, you deliver these answers via email. Quiz and Survey Master is a great tool for this as it allows you to automatically send results to participants and yourself.


How to create a lead capture tool that really works . . .

Before you dive in and start hammering away at length about a topic you know well, ask yourself: Does my target client really care about this? 

Your time will be wasted on your list builder and your lead capture will fail if you don’t understand what your potential clients really want, or how they want to digest this information. Here are some important points to consider.

Look to your client profile and marinate in their problem space

I recently stressed the importance of determining your client profile and using it to inform your outreach strategy. You can’t effectively attract clients if you don’t know who you’re looking to attract.

Consultant and career coach Chris Lema has a fabulous phrase for getting into a prospect’s psyche — “marinating in the problem space.” Put yourself in their shoes and ask yourself these pivotal questions:

• What are the most urgent issues currently hurting my ideal clients?

• What do they feel that they need to fix right away?

• Is my solution something they will want to act on immediately or put off for a while?

• Is there a difference between what my prospects think they urgently need, versus what I know they really need?

• Do I need to make them aware of this difference and frame my informed position as a solution to their faulty assumptions?

You need to have clarity on these items before you invest your time in creating any list builders. The more urgent and actionable the topic is to your client, the better your lead capture strategy will fare.

This is the kind of problem you need to tackle in your lead capture strategy

How to really make sure there’s demand for your solution:

• Google your subject matter and see how many relevant results it yields

• Search your subject in Google Trends

• Check the search volume of terms related to the topic

• Search it as a question in Quora.

Educate — don’t sell

I used this phrase in our guide to writing super effective “keep in touch emails,” and it’s 100% relevant here as well. The future of online sales and content marketing lies in the idea that the sales process isn’t one of coercion — but education.

People have never liked being sold to, but people definitely like to learn and the better you frame yourself as a teacher, the better you look as a potential collaborator to your clientele.

It’s tempting to push your products or services up-front in your guides, but resist this urge. Make your prospects come to you. And they will, if your content passes the care test I mentioned above.

It’s fine to reference your products occasionally in passing, but keep your focus on the problem space.

Keep it concise

The Ultimate 300-Page, 19-Volume Guide to Getting Leads Online” is a great title for a list builder that you intend for no one to actually read.

While the epic content trend continues to gain popularity especially in the SEO realm, it doesn’t mean it’s right for your lead magnets.

Tying in with the urgency and actionability point, your guide needs to be pithy enough to digest in one sitting. You video should not be longer than 20 minutes (but ideally chunked into 3-6 minute micro-learning modules). And your e-book should be no longer than about 18 pages.

If the problem you’re tackling is incredibly complex and multifaceted, pick out one chunk of it that you can quickly help your subscribers solve right now.

Make it visual

Many of us are not gifted visual artists, but in this age, that’s no excuse for creating an anemic list builder. Don’t let your readers glaze over mountains of text. If you’re creating an e-book guide, every couple pages give your email subscribers a welcome mental break in the action, as we’ve done here.

How your email subscriber feels seeing images in your list builder

Ahhh, that was refreshing, wasn’t it? But make very sure your images tie in with your text! Random charts and pictures of happy people in offices will also turn off readers.

Remember — the purpose of list builders is twofold: to build your email list and build a relationship of trust with your clientele. Merely delivering guides that no one wants to read will fall very short of this important second objective.

Once again, a subscription to a royalty-free photo platform (like DepositPhotos) and a user-friendly image design service (like Canva) will help you immensely.

How to deliver a list builder

Of course, creating your list builder is only half the battle — you need to deliver them, and you need to do this quickly. While it’s technically possible to send them manually, this is a recipe for failure. You will not be able to keep up with the on-demand psychology of user experience. Subscribers want your insights now!

If they have to wait 7-10 business days, they’ll likely forget that they subscribed to your email list and may think your belated e-book or email course is spam when you finally deliver it, which is obviously no good . . .

So here is how we recommend you deliver list builders:

Email automation tools

This is the easiest answer. Nation1099 currently uses Opt-In Monster to send our e-books out to our readers (make sure you check ours out in the light box!). The platform allows us to design pretty opt-in boxes, set specific criteria to determine who sees them, and can then send our subscribers friendly welcome emails via sync with MailChimp. Opt-in Monster’s plans can be as cheap as $10 a month, and no higher than $30 — if you want the full breadth of their lead capture features.

They explain exactly how you deliver a lead magnet with their service here.

Another option: If the email course option appeals more to you, and you have a sizable email list you need to service, Brennan Dunn recommends checking out Drip for your delivery.

Quickly deliver a list builder for free

If you don’t have room in your budget right now for monthly subscription tools or just want to experiment with lead magnets and see what happens, we have a free approach we can recommend. It isn’t as pretty or elegant, but it will get the job done:

MailMunch Set Up

• Set up a free MailChimp account

• Download the MailChimp app for WordPress and sync it with your account

• Click the MailChimp icon on your WordPress sidebar

• Click “New Form”

• Design a light box or other lead capture form that fits your website’s style in MailMunch (you’ll be directed there)

• Click on MailMunch’s Autoresponders Beta feature

• Craft your welcome email auto-reply containing a link to download your resource

• Set your audience to the appropriate email list you want to deliver your list builder to

• Activate your light box and autoresponder message

The biggest downsides here are that you can’t build a two-step confirmation in to your delivery process and you’re quite limited in the formatting of your auto-reply.

Upsell page

Another effective lead capture strategy you’ll see many consultants employ is the “list builder upsell.” They will create two versions of their guide — a shorter, more limited version, and a premium package.

The premium package can include additional videos, a micro consultation, and some other unique resources. Premium list builders can also be longer than we recommended earlier. As long as the basic version is easily digestible, you can get as nitty-gritty as you like with the big package.

The real benefit here is that the upsell model allows you to directly monetize your lead capture. All you need to do is add a little note to your welcome email and the basic version of the guide, and you’ll potentially have some additional cash coming in.

“The link-bait and lead capture 1-2 punch”

This last lead capture approach is similar to the last, but works on a smaller scale, and without the immediate transaction factor. You still use a normal, concise list builder, but create a simplified outline version of it as a post on your blog or a publication (if you can get it syndicated).

You use this preview version as the free sample for your list builder. If readers want more, or the next chapter, they can subscribe.

An example of using link-bait to drive lead capture

Can you spot the “link-bait and switch” here?

List builders will super-charge your lead capture results

Remember our good ol’ post about pro bono freelance work? Our main point in that piece was that, if you’re going to work for free, the best person to work for is you. You won’t be paid to make yourself a list builder and in most cases you won’t directly derive revenue from it, but that’s beside the point. This is your step-ladder to the next level.

Your clients won’t just come to you without incentive. You need a lead capture strategy, and this is one of the best.

The list builder elegantly allows you to:

• Put your best and most unique talents on display

• Initiate a dialogue with your most relevant prospects

• Build the foundation of a captive audience for what you do.

These conditions are what you’ve needed and will continue to need throughout your independent career — no matter how successful you are. So, you might as well get started now!

Have you used an incredibly effective list builder for your business? Let us know about it in the comment section below.

Ben Shanbrom is a freelance writer, musician, and copy editor who works with artists and clients within his native New Haven scene and well beyond (ask him about tracking drums in the studio where Europe recorded “The Final Countdown”). Ben is a tried and true “coffee rings on his notepad” freelancer, and wouldn’t have it any other way.