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The Lazy Way to Create the Perfect Lead Magnet and 3x Your Opt-Ins

24 min. read
December 8, 2023

Disclosure: This article includes affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase through my link. All opinions are my own.

The Folder of Download Doom—you know you have one. Perhaps you gave it a benign title like “Read Later,” “Resources,” or “Research.” But the purpose it serves is obvious: a final resting place for meaty guides, quasi-interesting reports from 2017, and odd scraps of downloaded stuff that had appeal, once upon a time, at the stroke of midnight.

Listen, this is a judgment free zone. I am the biggest culprit. The Internet compounded my information hoarding. I didn’t want to miss out on a tip, trick, or tactic that might have value down the road. So I developed a bad habit of popping in the old email address, grabbing the goods, and subsequently sending them to the boneyard. 

Tins of Spams as Examples for Spam Emails

Do you want that to happen to your lead magnets? I know I don’t.

New subscribers who never use or actually benefit from your freebies won’t give you their trust. Trust is the key. Over the long haul, trust is more important than traffic or subscribers. Seeds of trust blossom into true fans.

Lead magnets can build trust, but the process of turning strangers into fans breaks down if your epic guide gathers digital dust on a forgotten hard drive.

Point taken? Good.

I will now walk you through the rationale and step-by-step process for creating lead magnets and content upgrades that 1) your audience will really want, and 2) they will actually use.

Table of Contents

My lead magnets used to suck

You didn’t really think we’d skip the backstory, did you? For years, I produced long, dense, and dead-on-arrival lead magnets.

I didn’t know any better!

As long as my opt-in percentage fell inside of accepted industry norms, I assumed that everything was swell.

(And if I’m really honest, I checked my analytics about as often as I detailed my car. I wasn’t using my data to get 1% better every day. Lesson learned.)

I attributed sluggish list growth to my trickle of traffic. I thought I needed more traffic. So I wrote more blog posts. I assembled ornate collages of related keywords. I optimized the ever-living crap out of my long-form content.

And… drumroll… more traffic equated pouring water through a sieve at a faster rate. That is, until I stumbled bass-ackwards into several significant changes—might I even say lazy changes—and plugged up the holes in the sieve.

My email list doubled in a single month. Doubled! In a month!

subscribers numbers doubled in 30 days

My list was still pretty small, but marketing hope sprang eternal in my breast!

Now I know that my lead magnets, not my traffic volume, were the problem. Thankfully, the tweaks I made were so small I still can’t believe they work.

They will work for you too. However, before we dive into these lazy tactics, I will define basic terms for those of you who are newer to online marketing.

(Those of you who are old hats, please sit tight for a few short paragraphs.)

What are lead magnets anyway?

Depending on your industry and sales strategy, you may define a “lead” as a new person’s mailing address, phone number, email address, business problem, project info, budget range, or all of the above.

You may define a lead simply as a person who has agreed to hear from you.

Lead magnets are offers intended to attract new prospects. What you’re offering must be desirable enough to persuade the person to share his or her contact information.

Example of effective lead magnet for freelance writers by Writing Revolt
See for example this free masterclass for freelance writers by Writing Revolt (

 Lead magnets, which are usually free, come in many shapes and sizes:

  • You can organize several popular blog posts on the same subject into a single PDF.
  • You can break down one of your go-to strategies or processes and turn it into a how-to or DIY guide. Illustrations, diagrams, and statistics will add value and punctuate important steps in the process.
  • You can give away a key client case study, industry white paper, or checklist of best practices distilled from years of hard-won experience.
  • You can put together an email training course, cheat sheet, template, guide, collection of email scripts, code samples, or .zip file full of photos—really anything that can help someone solve a problem.
  • You can offer a free product demo, trial, or consultation.

Most companies are sitting on dozens of lead magnets, and they don’t even know it. It’s simply a matter of packaging up your sawdust.

Only your creativity limits what you can offer as a lead magnet.

The 7 biggest mistakes people make with lead magnets

Though I believe you should never give customers a reason to doubt your value after you make the sale, countless interactions have taught me that attempting to dazzle prospects often backfires. To prove our competence or expertise, we end up trying too hard.

Stuffing too much expertise into a lead magnet is just one of several pitfalls:

  1. Your lead magnet is too long. (Translate: It requires a significant time investment, commitment, and willpower to finish and poses an opportunity cost.)
  2. It takes too long to create (and thus has an opportunity cost for you).
  3. It’s too technical or meaty—that is, too difficult to understand.
  4. It is vanilla, too generic, which means that the person could easily get something similar in a dozen other places, without having to hand over an email address.
  5. It doesn’t address an obvious, felt, painful problem.
  6. It lacks immediacy and doesn’t pertain to a problem that the person wants to solve right now
  7. It offers a solution that would take too long to implement.

Instead of empowering strangers by giving them a quick win, your lead magnet leaves them feeling overwhelmed.

Instead of making them feel confident and energized, your 75-page ebook leaves them confused and discouraged: “When am I going to find time to do all the crap this supposed expert is saying is so important? Arrrgh!”

You can safely set aside the ponderous tome stuffed with esoteric concepts and NOT OVERDELIVER IN THE VALUE DEPARTMENT.

Sorry for shouting in all caps, but this may be the most important takeaway: Dense lead magnets simply don’t get the job done.

The secret to creating the best lead magnets

You wanted a buffet of the good stuff, so here goes: The best lead magnets are short, not long. Give your audience snacks.

This idea of snacks may be counterintuitive, but short lead magnets offer the following benefits:

  • Quick to make for you
  • Quick to consume and implement for your prospects
  • Quick to earn your prospects’ trust

If people have never heard of you, they do not want the kitchen sink from you. They want a quick win. They want momentum, thank you very much.

And it bears repeating: Your offer is only effective if it convinces people to fork over their contact information and actually consume your knowledge. Email addresses with no trust in tow are a vanity metric.

Good lead magnet snacks also check these three boxes:

  • Highly relevant to your prospect’s needs or pains
  • Highly actionable
  • Highly valuable
Example of effective lead magnet for coaches and consultants by ROCSHIP
Ezekiel Rochat @ ROCSHIP offers this highly actionable blueprint for his audience (

People consume snacks quickly, like the taste, and come back for more. Snacks kickstart a relationship founded on perceived value. Later, after you make prospects feel warm and energized, maybe you will have earned more of their attention. Maybe they will open your emails.

You can razzle-dazzle with your guides, case studies, white papers, and other beefy lead magnets some other time, but first, trust—earn it.

Find a place in your audience’s life where you can fit and make it better.

Example of effective lead magnet for creators by Creator Science
Highly valuable lead magnet example from Creator Science (

By the way, context is super important.

The perfect lead magnet is the one that the person wants right then. Out of the three traits—short, actionable, and relevant—relevance is perhaps the most important factor. Context determines relevance.

You may offer a single, catch-all lead magnet on your homepage, but other pages and posts deserve a much more contextual, tailored offer.

For example, one of my most popular posts covers 7 ways to follow up with past clients and silent prospects without annoying them. The post has always gotten healthy traffic because it ranks for a variety of long-tail keywords, and the main attraction is the email templates I share.

You can probably detect the problem with my original call to action and offer:

Do you want to build a profitable business you love?

Duh. Pony up that email address, and you can learn from my failures. You can laugh at my mistakes. You can envy my success at croquet, slow running, and modest bank accounts. Let’s make good money and leave the world better than we found it.

My copywriting was cute, but my offer was generic. It lacked immediacy.

Here is the new call to action and offer:

Example of effective lead magnet by Freelance Cake

The second version, the more contextually relevant offer, has outperformed the first to the point where I’m kicking myself. That generic offer caused me to miss out on a ton of new subscribers!

Oh well. Lesson learned. Maybe you can benefit from my mistakes.

Should you rework your old lead magnets?

Those of you who already have rather dense and heady lead magnets may now be questioning your past choices.

Should you start from scratch or rejigger an offer you already have?

Well, it can’t hurt to take a closer look at your non-snack-like lead magnets.

Perhaps you can tweak the format, delivery, or design so that a stranger can get a quick win?

Example of effective and snackable lead magnet by Freelance Cake
For example, my Freelance Fixes is short and focuses on case studies and small fixes (

Here are some ideas to get your creative juices flowing:

  • Convert the first section of the robust guide into a checklist.
  • Turn the first page of the case study into a “cheat sheet” with 3 key before/after numbers, 4 key takeaways, and 11 mistakes to avoid
  • The very first page of the white paper might be a tearaway synopsis with a list of 12 questions that CEOs should ask before embracing blockchain

You get the picture. Look around at what you’ve already got. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • What problems do my customers/clients have?
  • Which problems do they not realize they have? And which of those problems are they most aware of?
  • How do they describe the problems they’re aware of?
  • What obstacles or bottlenecks prevent them from solving those problems?
  • What smaller problems or tasks are a part of the bigger puzzle?
  • Now that I’m aware of their big and small problems, what are the top five most painful ones, once I force-rank them?

Once you have your list of five problems, ask yourself three more questions:

  • What do we already have lying around that can help people solve those small but persistent problems? What sawdust or byproducts from our own work, systems, and process we could package up?
  • How can we make some of that stuff easier to consume—more like a snack than a full meal?
  • Finally, which popular pages and posts on our website need a better lead magnet in order to convert traffic more effectively?

I have found it really satisfying to revisit the blog posts that get good traffic, update the call to action and offer, and convert more web visitors into email subscribers and prospects.

One particular lead magnet tripled my conversion rates overnight. It is a cheat sheet that summarized a 5,990-word article about how to create a freelance writer website that actually gets clients.

People who wanted to skip the TL;DR version could “cheat” and read the Cliff Notes. 

Check your analytics, and then update a handful of pages and posts with new offers. Watch what happens. You’ll be delighted.

How to create the perfect lead magnet

If you do decide to create the perfect lead magnet from scratch, I highly recommend doing it the lazy way.

You really don’t need to spend more than 15-20 minutes creating the lead magnet. Any more than that and you run the risk of making it too dense, too difficult to consume. Stick to snacks, people.

Here’s my 7-step process for creating effective lead magnets:

  1. Notice the context. What mode are people in when they’re here? Research or buying? Casual learning or focused problem-solving? Knowing the “mode” will help you pick the right format. For example, the topic of the “7 ways to follow up with clients and prospects” post I mentioned above, would appeal to people looking to solve their follow-up problem. What could I offer them to help them be ready to take action? Email templates.
  2. Pick a single problem. Big problems like “get more customers” or “hire talented people” are jigsaw puzzles. Each piece of the puzzle is a smaller task (that is, a bite-sized problem). Focus your lead magnet on solving a single painful problem. For example, I could have hooked my readers up with a process for digging up relevant industry articles to share with clients or given them a GSheet template for logging their follow-up dates and spacing them out appropriately. However, the email templates had immediate value: “You can use these templates and potentially drum up new business RIGHT NOW.”
  3. Pick the format. Remember that you’re after snacks. Easy-to-consume checklists, cheat sheets, design templates, swipe files, code samples, and punchy step-by-step guides help people get a quick win. So pick a format that matches the problem you’re helping people solve. For the email templates, I used my design template to create an on-brand lead magnet. A beautiful layout makes the content easier to consume, and meanwhile, you position your brand as one that really gets it. Good design adds value. When in doubt, make it pretty. However, if you don’t have a team of world-class creatives like I do, don’t let the pursuit of excellent design draw you into diminishing return. You can definitely get away with a simple .txt file. After all, most people aren’t looking to be impressed by your aesthetic sensibility. My audience wants customizable email templates, which they can easily copy and paste. Keep your eyes on the prize, my friends.
  4. Create quickly. Once I have narrowed down the context, problem, and format, I use the questions below to zero in on good lead magnet ideas, and then I usually spend 15-30 minutes creating the best one:
         - “What is the smallest incremental progress I can offer someone who wants to solve a problem completely?” Your lead magnet doesn’t need to deliver a complete solution. By shedding light on the bigger problem, you establish yourself as an expert and give the person who uses the lead magnet a clear next step: Getting in touch with you is an obvious way to keep making progress.
        - “What kind of small bridge can I build between where they are and where they want to be?
        - “How can I accelerate their progress here?”
        - “What will help people go deeper or apply what they have just learned?”
        - “What exactly do they need in order to take definitive action?”
  5. Craft killer titles. What is the desirable outcome or main result? Your web page or blog post needs a killer title and your lead magnet needs a catchy name. Don’t skimp on titles and names. Your grandiose lead magnet dreams will deflate if your boring titles and names leave people saying, “Meh.” How do you write killer titles and craft catchy names? Do yourself a favor and get this free guide from Copyblogger: “How to Write Magnetic Headlines.” After all, blog post titles and names share much in common with headlines.
  6. Finalize the design. If you’re planning on a simple .txt file or spreadsheet template, you can skip this step. But a little spit-and-polish never hurts.
  7. Add an enticing call to action. It’s okay if you’re not a professional copywriter. However, you will see higher opt-in rates if you put forth a little more effort on the persuasion machine. This call to action (CTA) has no sizzle: “Submit your name and email address below, and I will send you a cheat sheet.” Compare it to the call to action I used at the end of my post about following up. My CTA uses logic (“you do need to keep track of… the email templates”), offers convenience (“handy swipe file”), and promises more value (“plus 2 other templates that are really, really effective”). Pitch your lead magnet. Sell the sizzle! If you’re addressing a real, felt, painful problem and you’re offering a quick win, then lay on that steak sauce.

That’s pretty much it. Yes, you’ll need to wire up a new form and set up auto-delivery of the download link. You’ll also want to figure out your process for nurturing new relationships after people download your lead magnet.

When in doubt, take your new leads through an email sequence where you solve one or two more small problems for them.

Then, go ahead and decide in advance how and when you will contact your leads directly.

Best practices for creating lead magnets that convert

  1. Know your audience. Every audience has needs, desires, challenges, and pain points, and you must tailor your lead magnet to address those. Generic lead magnets don’t convert, but a template, checklist, or other tool that solves a specific problem for a specific group of people does.
  2. Provide value. Offer high-quality content that genuinely helps your audience solve a problem or achieve a goal. If you feel like you could charge for the lead magnet because you’re giving so much value away, you’re headed in the right direction. 
  3. Give your lead magnet a clear, compelling name. A strong name emphasizes its primary benefit and positions your lead magnet as a timely solution to an annoying problem.
  4. Create easily consumable content—what I call “snacks.” Over the last fifteen years I have experimented with both “snacks” and “feasts,” and the snacks are always more popular, meaning that they have a higher opt-in rate and generate more leads. 
  5. Don’t forget a clear call to action (CTA). The best lead magnet won’t do any good if no one downloads it. Tell people exactly what they need to do to get the freebie—for example, “Put in your name and email address below, and I’ll send you the download link for the cheat sheet.”
  6. Test different elements of your lead magnet landing page. Small changes to the page headline, lead magnet name, visuals, or CTAs can translate into higher conversions. Use your analytics to make informed decisions, run tiny experiments, and boost opt-ins over time.
  7. Promote your lead magnets. Whether I’m sending an email newsletter, publishing a post on my socials, or leaving a comment in a community, I’ll often include a P.S. mention of my lead magnet—for example, “By the way, if you want to go deeper with this, I’ve got a worksheet you can download for free here: [LINK].”

Putting the “net” back in “lead magnet.”

My experience and research have taught me that I will capture a lot more opt-ins if I give people a really tasty bite exactly when and where they want it.

Most people want snacks, not sit-down affairs. That’s not to say your prospects are lazy and superficial, but rather that when they stumble across your offers, they are in a specific frame of mind. The vast majority are sampling, not buying.

Hopefully, you are now ready to embrace the irony: Substantial, impressive lead magnets backfire. They may have more long-term value, but they don’t give people a quick win.

Speaking of quick wins, I’ve got a final question for you: Isn’t it time you captured more leads?

I’ve got a fill-in-the-blank worksheet that you can use to zero in on your perfect lead magnets. I would be delighted to practice what I preach and share it with you. Put in your name and email address below, and I’ll send you the download link.


What makes a lead magnet great?

The best lead magnets solve felt problems, big or small. They come down from the ethereal realm of ideas and spark real change by helping people take action. They don’t stop with advice: “Here’s what to do.” They give instructions: “Here’s the step-by-step process.”

Think about the last three to five things you downloaded. If you’re like me, you crave fewer emails, not more, so what caused you to overcome your hesitation and fork over your email address?

Chances are, the copy explaining the lead magnet led you to believe that you could reap some benefit quickly. For example, take Ryan Robin’s email templates.

Ryan pinpoints a problem (not enough high value clients) common to a specific audience (freelancers and consultants), then offers a solution (5 templates, plus a step-by-step process) with an attractive timeframe (“instant access”) supported by proof of results (“These cold email templates have generated more than $100,000+ in new contracts for my business”).

Example of effective lead magnet for freelancers by Ryan Robinson

Great lead magnets and their landing pages those five key pieces:

  1. Specific Problem
  2. Specific Audience
  3. Actionable Solution
  4. Attractive Timeframe
  5. Proof of Results

What types of lead magnets are the best?

The best type of lead magnet is the one that generates leads for you, and your initial guess about the best type may be wrong. That’s why we all need to create multiple lead magnets and test them against one another.

My own audience of freelancers and consultants prefers “snacks.” Snacks are easy-to-consume lead magnets that people can use to get a quick win. Examples include worksheets, templates, cheat sheets, check lists, and other types of lists that offer an easy button.

  • “Don’t want to do all your own research? Give my podcasting recording gear list.”
  • “Don’t have your own follow-up templates? Mine are fantastic, and you can start using them today.”
  • “Don’t have a winning blog post SEO checklist? Download mine, which incorporates all the latest best practices.”

You catch my drift. Though true mastery always takes time, human beings are ironically wired to look for shortcuts and accelerate our progress. If your solution seems time-consuming, it won’t be as attractive as a different one that flattens the learning curve.

That said, I should note that, though some denser or beefier “feast” lead magnets require more time and effort to consume, they will reinforce your positioning and expertise in a way that small, snackable lead magnets don’t. For example, a white paper based on thorough research will communicate “She’s clearly an authority” in a way that “free 2-page worksheet” won’t.

So as you consider the best freebies for your business, you must consider whether you want fewer leads of higher quality (with a feast lead magnet) or more leads of potentially lower quality (with a snack lead magnet).

There’s no reason you can’t create both. In fact, I recommend it. Anticipated demand for a lead magnet is a guess until strangers opt in to get it. You’ll only know what lead magnets your preferred customers want when they show you by opting in!

How to name a lead magnet?

Giving something a name makes it more significant, and you can take several different approaches with the name:

  • Focus on the process—for example, Audit, Analysis, Deep Dive, Evaluation, Diagnostic, Investigation, Examination, Checkup, Tuneup, Reboot, Refresh, Review, or Overhaul. 
  • Focus on the outcome—for example, Smart Growth Plan, Brand Beautified, Clarity Session, Homepage Blueprint, or Custom Business Roadmap
  • Use a metaphor—for example, Alarm Clock (waking up), Cleanse (getting out the bad stuff), Makeover (making it prettier), CPR (bringing it back to life), Firestarter (starting something exciting), Idea Bounce, or Wayfinding Workshop.
  • Pick a matter-of-fact description—for example, white paper, checklist, report, template, cheat sheet, exercise, worksheet, tutorial, guide, report, or list.

When in doubt, name the offer after the single most valuable outcome or what the client gets in clear, matter-of-fact language. For example, Case Study Buddy offers “The Big List of 100 Ways to Use Your Case Studies.”

Example of effective lead magnet for B2B brands by Case Study Buddy

Do lead magnets really work?

Well, duh. Of course they do. Isn’t that why you’re reading this post, because you already believe in free samples?

When you go to Costco, you’ll encounter people whose sole job it is to smear chicken salad on a cracker and hand it to you. You probably would have skipped the chicken salad, but once you taste it, you may make an impulse purchase.

Consider also trials for various apps. Before you sign up for Moxie, my favorite freelance app, you can try the tools for free.

By giving people something of value for free first, you remove risk from the buying experience. People who opt in to get your lead magnets don’t have to buy anything or fully commit today. They can always change their minds later by unsubscribing from your emails.

In short, lead magnets work effectively because they win trust by giving away value for free, they facilitate an exchange that nets you a way to contact the person later (i.e., an email address), and they remove risk from the relationship.

Lead magnets are the online equivalent of a popular and proven offline marketing and sales tactic.

How to promote lead magnets?

You can promote lead magnets in a variety of ways. Here is an incomplete list:

  • Put your lead magnet CTA in the hero section on your website.
  • Create landing pages for your lead magnets on your website or using ConvertKit’s well-designed landing pages. 
  • Create an exit intent pop-up for your lead magnet. 
  • Add a call to action for your lead magnet to your email signature.
  • Include a call to action in a P.S. in some or all of your social posts.
  • Write blog posts and social posts about your lead magnets.
  • Do an email “swap” with a friend or strategic partner, and promote your lead magnets to their audience.
  • Pitch yourself as a guest to podcast hosts and offer your lead magnet to their audiences, especially with links in the show notes.
  • Put your lead magnet CTA in the hero section on your website.
  • Do online workshops and in-person speaking gigs and offer your lead magnets at the end of your presentations.
  • Add your lead magnet to your “signature” (when appropriate) in forums and popular question-and-answer sites, such as Quora.
  • Share your lead magnets (tastefully) in online communities you’re a part of.
  • Generate a QR code, print it on a flyer, and put up the flyer in physical spaces your target audience frequents. For example, if you target freelancers and consultants, than you could put up the fliers in coffee shops and coworking spaces in your city.

Spend some time thinking about all the places your target audience shows up online and in the real world, and you’ll realize that you have no shortage of opportunities to promote lead magnets.

Why does every business need a lead magnet?

You want more leads for your business, right? You can convert more people in your audience and more visitors to your website into leads if you offer them something of value in exchange for their email address.

In other words, you stand to lose nothing by creating lead magnets and promoting them at every opportunity. Here are some of the benefits:

  1. Attract potential customers. A well-executed lead magnet will position you as an authority in your niche and help you build trust with the people you want to do business with. For instance, a fitness coach can offer a free 7-day workout plan, and won’t people who follow the plan and see positive gains be that much more likely to hire the coach?
  2. Build your email list. Email marketing remains a powerful and direct way to communicate with potential customers. Building a list of potential customers and staying top of mind with them through valuable emails is an affordable, proven way to generate more sales. (Check out these email marketing stats from HubSpot.)
  3. Do more targeted marketing. When people opt in to get your lead magnet, they signal their interest in what you offer. This signal allows you to fit your future marketing messages and content to them and increase the likelihood that they keep engaging with you and ultimately buy.
  4. Communicate with your audience directly. Algorithms are fickle beasts, and you skip them altogether when you build an email list. Instead of the social platform owning the relationship, you do. And instead of having to pay to get in front of your followers, you  can communicate for free. 
  5. Demonstrate expertise. By showing what you know through a lead magnet, you establish yourself as an authority in your industry or niche. You also show a willingness to provide value up front, which builds trust.
  6. Spend less with email marketing. As I’ve already mentioned, email marketing costs less than traditional advertising or pay-per-click. The return on investment can be significant over the long term, and email marketing offers key advantages over social media marketing—e.g., setting up sequences and other email automations to nurture new leads and generate new sales.

This post may contain affiliate links. Please read my disclosure for more info

Austin L Church portrait photo.

About the Author,
Austin L. Church

Austin L. Church is a writer, brand consultant, and freelance coach. He started freelancing in 2009 after finishing his M.A. in Literature and getting laid off from a marketing agency. Freelancing led to mobile apps (Bright Newt), a tech startup (, a children's book (Grabbling), and a branding studio (Balernum). Austin loves teaching freelancers and consultants how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, and fun. He and his wife live with their three children in Knoxville, Tennessee.


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