How to Boost Your Email Signups with Irresistible Incentives

You’re trying to grow your email list.

You wish it was easier and more straightforward.

You know that having that having a solid, engaged list of fans is essential for writers, performers, crafters, and creatives of all kinds.

You’ve seen how excited, loyal fans will pull out their wallets and buy from you, and that the effort you invest in building your list opens doors to greater opportunities.

So you put out the signup sheet at your shows, display the business card fishbowl in your studio waiting room, and add the “sign up for my newsletter” box in your website sidebar.

But progress is slow – and you’re not sure why.

Are you doing something wrong? (Not exactly.) Do people just not like you? (Doubtful.) Or are you missing something important? (Most likely.) 😉

Why it’s so damned difficult for artists to grow their lists

It’s tough to get attention these days.

Audiences are bombarded with constant internet noise, relentless advertising, and an overwhelming number of choices.

Other artists are clamoring for the same spotlight you’re trying to steal, yelling louder than you, and blissfully and ignorantly blasting their Facebook friends at every opportunity.

Fans might love your work when you can get in front of them, but they’re also fickle and easily distracted. If you don’t hook people and keep them fascinated, you could lose them forever when they flit off to the next shiny thing.

“Being discovered” isn’t all it’s made out to be either. People who seem to have hit the lottery of overnight success – publishing deals, book deals, nationwide press coverage, etc. – have usually worked at it for years or decades. They’ve been where you are now, perfecting their craft and building their lists to the point where they don’t really need industry backing to make a living.

So what’s the solution?

The lifeblood of every creative business

You can break through the chaos if you understand this: if you want to make money from your creative work, you are in business – and businesses are built on relationships.

This should be obvious; you hear it all the time. But are you putting your best efforts into building relationships with your fans? Are you fostering community and friendships, day in and day out?

It’s not just about money, although it does cost up to 7 times more to gain a new customer than to sell to an existing one, and it’s much easier to sell to existing clients. It’s also about making an impact in your corner of the world while making a good living, which is tough to do if your creative business is all one-time transactions.

Casual observers and curious website visitors aren’t your friends or supporters yet, and they aren’t fans either – but they can be. Getting them on your list is only the first step. If you nurture the relationship, they’ll buy from you again and again.

What makes people pull out their wallets?

People buy from artists they know, like, and trust.

Hopefully your work is good enough to turn peoples’ heads and capture their interest for at least a few minutes. But in order to turn curious people into a tribe of loyal and engaged followers, you have to understand the power of the know, like, and trust factor.

Here’s an example: have you ever liked a band, gone to see several of their shows, maybe even bought a CD or two – and then found out that they were actually not very nice people? Maybe they weren’t the most ethical business people, or maybe they were just unprofessional and disrespectful. Their music never changed, but your opinion of them did, and you lost interest in supporting them.

On the other hand, have you ever purchased a book, framed photo, or handcrafted article – even if it meant spending the last $10 in your wallet – just because you were excited by their work, you really liked the artist as a person, and you believed in their mission? You happily handed over your cash because you wanted to show your support.

That’s the power of “know, like, and trust” at work, and email is your most powerful tool for growing it.

Why email still rules

In order to build relationships with people, you have to open the doors to communicate; not just when you’re face to face with them, but during the times in between as well. You want to make sure they remember you.

Social media’s tricky. Only a small percentage of your followers see any given update, but people do check and read their email. Study after study confirm that email is still king when it comes to powering engagement.

“Likes” and “followers” might be easier to get, but they don’t mean anywhere near as much as the list that you own. The people on your list are your business. All your social media efforts should keep this in mind.

Why you need a good incentive

The days when strangers would happily give up their precious email addresses for newsletters and updates are long gone. Not that these enticements don’t work at all, but they definitely don’t work as well as they used to.

Emails are valuable, and your audience knows that. People don’t give them up easily – they expect something incredibly worthwhile in exchange for giving you access to their inbox. Entice them with something they just have to have.

You can’t make a living if you give too much of your work away for free, but building your list is one important exception to this rule.

What makes a good incentive?

Figuring out what your audience wants can be confusing. Artists aren’t necessarily excited about creating tedious stuff like special reports, infographics, or ebooks – and those might not be what your audience wants anyway.

Instead, offer your subscribers something that’s

  • So good and so valuable that they would pay for it anyway (think a $20 value),
  • Exciting, exclusive, and not-to-be-missed content,
  • Strong enough to be memorable, build loyalty, and make you stand out from the crowd, and
  • Quick and easy to create. You don’t want to get hung up on this!

Your goal should be to blow them away with the value you provide. Make sure to give your “bribe to subscribe” a great title – look at Jon Morrow’s Headline Hacks report for solid ideas.

So, how do you know what’s irresistible to your fans?

The secret to giving people what they really want

People want to decorate their homes with cool stuff that expresses who they are, to fill their schedules with fun times, and to give gifts that friends will love.

But do you know what makes them choose your framed photo over another’s? Do you know what makes them come to your show instead of someone else’s, or instead of going to a movie or glow bowling for that matter?

Art, at its core, touches us emotionally. That feeling is what your customers are really buying from you – and what they want to share with their friends. Start thinking – and communicating – in terms of the experiences, adventures, emotions, and memorable moments that your work gives your fans.

If you’re still a little confused, never fear. 😉 I’ve got some great examples for you to model.

The four things your fans want most from you

Your audience wants different things from you than they want from a business expert, fitness guru, or relationship coach. The problems you solve and the needs you fill are sometimes less obvious. Use these 4 “P’s” to get started (and yes, some incentives fit in more than one category.)

1. Powerful experiences

People like heavy metal music, photos of family pets, and engrossing dystopian future novels because they make them feel something. Maybe these things bring up fond memories, let them have fun and forget life’s stresses for a while, or allow them to live vicariously in another time and place.

Your fans and clients are naturally going to want your work – IF you create those experiences for them.

Physical goods are wonderful but order fulfillment can be complicated & expensive. Feel free to give away small items when people sign up for your list in person.

But for your online list-building efforts, concentrate almost exclusively on downloadable content. You want incentives that are easily consumable, yet still valuable.

    • A sample of your work – a collection of songs or stories, digital compilations of photographs of your work, etc.
    • An entire product available (for now) only by signing up to your list. You could make this an ebook, screen saver, calendar, templates, note cards, ecards, video, or audio collection.
    • Value-add packages – add a downloadable poster, illustration, or personal note to your usual digital download. Consider sending a download code they can share with a friend who might also like your work. Offer to include their name in the credits of your next publication or recording, or in a personal thank you.
    • Something exclusive – Content that people can only get if they sign up for your list. This could be previews of things to come, special offers, or a community membership.
    • Your usual work, but in a different format – create audio versions of written material, narrate a video featuring your pieces and tell the stories behind them, create a great e-book with lyrics, art, and photos reminiscent of vinyl album covers, etc.


Artists who make this work

Sean Platt and David Wright at Collective Inkwell are so sure you’ll love their character-driven serials with WTF, cliffhanger endings that the first episodes of all of their Inkwell titles are free.

Hugh MacLeod at Gaping Void sends a free “Daily Cartoon” email that is filled with inspiration and humor.

Heather Daveno at August Phoenix is giving away chances to win a custom made hat valued at $130, as well as a chance to win 50% off a designer hat.

Jeff Goins at Goins, Writer offers a three-part series on building a powerful online audience plus two free eBooks on writing and making a difference.

Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant at Realm and Sands hook readers with a starter library of 8 awesome stories.

Stephanie Gonzaga, Writer offers two books for free: Catching the Butterfly: 13 Ways to Discover New Ideas for Creative Work and Stained: a short collection of poems.

CJ Lyons, NY Times Bestselling author gives her fans first dibs at exclusive content, news, contests, and reader appreciation gifts.

2. Personal connection

Remember that “know, like, and trust” factor? Don’t underestimate it!

No matter how good your work is, if someone doesn’t like you, they won’t buy. If someone does like you, they’ll buy to support you, even in the beginning – and maybe especially in the beginning.

People crave connection and feeling like they are part of something bigger than themselves. They want to interact with you (of course), but also with other fans of your work as well as artists like yourself in community settings. Excitement and interest are contagious; every standing ovation starts with one or two people before the fence-sitters look around, see what’s happening, and then join in.

A smaller, engaged audience is more valuable to artists than a large, disinterested one. – Give it a Tweet

So how do you connect with your fans and make them excited, aside from giving everyone your home address and phone number? Here are a few great ways to let people get to know you through your freebie.

    • Share interviews that you’ve done. If no one’s requesting to interview you yet, come up with some fun and insightful questions and have a friend interview you.
    • Create a personalized song, video, story, cartoon, or poem in which you include your fan’s name and a little bit about them. Consider making a “Happy Birthday” dedication. My friend Billy Grisack is a master of silly birthday songs.
    • Take requests. Ask your fans what they’d like to see from you, find out their favorite thing that you do. With a little creativity, you can have several bribes that your fans can choose from (or get them all, when they share).
    • Hold contests.
    • Give a behind the scenes tour. If you already have a book, CD, or other products to sell, make a video or written journal walking through your creation process.
    • Membership to an online group or forum where there is some personal interaction with you.
    • Access to an exclusive online or in-person event. Could be as simple as a Google hangout or a private show or Q&A on a service like Ustream.
    • Sneak peek previews into your upcoming projects or private showings before your work is available to the public.


Artists who make this work

Austin Kleon, Writer and Artist sends new art, writing, and interesting links to your inbox every week.

Daymond John, founder of FUBU and investor on Shark Tank offers a free podcast so you can learn the steps you need to take to partner with him.

Leah at Queen of Snow Globes actually has two incentives for different audiences. Her first one, for potential clients, is a free custom consultation session valued at $25.

Mark Hermann at Rock and Roll Zen promises enlightenment when you download his amazing interview with Grammy Award winning engineer/producer, Ed Cherney.

Author Suzanne Adair keeps you up to date on her latest news and provides great “extras” from other authors as well as herself.

At Make Creativity Pay, I’ve created a private Facebook group for subscribers where they can share their work, connect with me personally, and get feedback on their latest efforts.

3. Problems solved

Every fan has a problem that you can help them solve. Maybe they want a new look in their home or office, or to impress their friends with their decorating taste while staying budget-conscious. Maybe they are bored and need something to do on Friday night, or stressed and looking for an escape from the daily grind. Maybe they’re discouraged and need a little inspiration.

Your customers will tell you what these frustrations are if you don’t already know. Listen to them when they tell you why they chose to come to a show or buy your work, and keep track of those frequently asked questions when they do.

    • Tell them how to care for, get years of enjoyment from, and preserve the value of their new jewelry, accessory, or display piece.
    • Provide tips for finding the perfect items or tell them how to know when they’ve bought quality goods. Help them understand when they’re making a wise investment or getting a great deal.
    • Give them a handbook on hosting an event, party, or house concert their guests will never forget.
    • Create an insider’s guide to the local music, arts, or craft scene.
    • Tell them how to change the vibe in their homes by moving art around, or suggest novel ways to display or use their new pieces.
    • Share customer shots of creative ways others have used your work; for example, pictures of lamps in someone’s apartment, or photos of people wearing your hats in public with their favorite outfits.


Artists who make this work

Bryan Collins at Word, Read, Play has created A Beginner’s Guide to Twitter for Time-strapped Writers and Business People.

Cari Cole Voice & Music Company has the The Vocal Road Warrior 3-part series to help singers keep their voices healthy on tour.

Actor Josh Pais at Committed Impulse gives free instant access to a lesson on “The 4 Access Points to Presence”, life-changing information for thousands of creators.

Mike Sowden has whipped up a 5-part course on storytelling for bloggers, a topic that is baffling to many.

Sophie Lizard at Be A Freelance Blogger compiled The Ultimate List of Better-Paid Blogging Gigs – 57 Blogs That Pay You $50 or More.

Joanna Penn at The Creative Penn has a complete introduction to the new world of digital publishing and online marketing, the free 87 page Author 2.0 Blueprint.

Wade Sutton at Rocket to the Stars wrote The $150,000 Music Degree with Rick Barker, former Taylor Swift manager, providing answers to some of the most important questions asked by musicians.

4. Plans, processes, and a preview of things to come

Sharing is an essential component of all the creative endeavors.

Many artists teach, and almost all of us mentor others in some way, even if it’s just encouraging kids who express interest in art, music, design, or writing.

Art survives and progresses through communities. Even if you don’t teach directly, you probably have fans and followers who wish they were doing what you are, who are inspired by you and are thinking of following in your footsteps.

So if you do teach or mentor, then by all means create ebooks, infographics, videos, slideshows, recorded Hangouts, or interviews that include things like:

    • Inspiring and encouraging stories that help others pursue their own dreams, get over their hurdles, or provide proof from your own journey that it’s doable.
    • Your best, hard-learned practical advice to beginners or intermediates, with lessons for your readers.
    • How-to’s – The nitty-gritty details on a process that typically trips people up, and the exact steps they need to take to create a finished product.
    • Gear and tools that you recommend and use and why, or a discussion of materials; for example, a guitar maker might provide a guide to woods, tones, and body styles.
    • Templates, systems, or cheat sheets – some kind of fill-in-the-blank guide that your fans can follow to get a result they really want within a set timeframe.
    • An ultimate resource list of your favorite books, videos, and other media regarding your topic.


Artists who make this work

Antrese Wood at Savvy Painter documented her experience raising $25,000 in a crowdsourcing campaign in 10 Steps to Crowd Fund Your Dream Project.

Billy Grisack at Music Marketing Mind gives his readers One Simple Secret to Selling More Music and Merch.

Photographer Emma Weise from Inspired By Emma offers a 5-day creativity challenge, to help get you unstuck, past your fears, and creating again.

Michael Nobbs at Sustainably Creative sends out The Important Workletter, providing inspiration, reassurance and encouragement to artists to get their most important work done.

Writer Joseph Robinson from Inside Out Wisdom offers 3 Proven Ways to Experience Effortless Evolution.

Writer Martin Stellar from Single Malt Copy penned The Hopeless Romantic’s Guide to Building Business Relationships for his readers.

Leah from Queen of Snow Globes offers a second bribe to subscribe to other artists, a free eBook and 9-part video series that demonstrates how to make your own professional snow globe.

Are you ready to watch your list growth skyrocket?

Times change quickly, and the business strategies that used to work even a few years ago just aren’t good enough anymore.

People love and need the emotional experiences that art and music bring them, but they’re inundated with information, advertising, and too many choices.

So to make their choices easier, people buy from artists they know, like and trust. It’s up to you to build great relationships with your fans.

If you want to make a good living from your creative work, you have to break through the noise and show people you care. You have to become memorable. You do that by hooking your customers and visitors in with powerful experiences, personal connections, solutions to their problems, and ready-made plans to help them reach their own goals.

It might seem like a lot of effort to put together an awesome “bribe to subscribe”, but when the alternative is watching your dream fade away, suddenly it’s not so bad. 😉

The most important thing is to get started today. Pick one of these ideas, or one of your own, and do it. Block off even an hour a day. Your future self will thank you, as soon as you start seeing double the signups or more from the same amount of traffic.

And if you want to collaborate with a small group of like-minded artists to create your incentives together, subscribe and join the Make Creativity Pay community here.

About Leanne Regalla

Leanne is a writer and musician and the founder of Make Creativity Pay. She's on a mission to help creatives of all types to pursue their art without going broke, living in their cars, or starving to death.


  1. Great article, Leanne. I wish I could tweet it more. Thanks for the shout.

  2. Hi Leanne – Awesome Post. Useful Tips, lessons, and great examples. I appreciate the shout-out.

    Connections, inspirations, and utility are all great ways to build a fan-base.
    I would add authentic, vulnerable sharing of whatever is the ‘edge’ for the creative type might be a huge way to impact a person’s reach.
    Always be moving out, evolving, and expanding.
    Here’s To Your Innate Wisdom….

  3. Stef Gonzaga says:

    Awesome post Leanne. This is jam-packed with all kinds of examples creatives can model for their own sites.

    Just to add or reiterate what’s already been covered, you have to be clear on who exactly your audience is or who you want to help through your opt-in, whether it’s readers or consumers of your work or other fellow creatives in your genre. This gives you the direction you need when brainstorming and creating your opt-in.

    • Exactly, Stef. And over time you may – actually should – have more than one opt-in, both to test which works better for one target audience and to reach other audiences.

      Just because you create something now that you give away for free, it doesn’t mean you can’t charge for that same thing later, once you’ve created another incentive. Many people limit their freebies by the amount they give away or by a certain timeframe. A little scarcity never hurts. 😉

      • Emma Weise says:

        So funny… because I always thought: Make something free, keep it free… but now that I am rebranding – I have pulled the freebies, will rework them… and some will be free, but some can actually start making money now 😉
        I like the concept of scarcity… and to upfront note that it won’t be free forever… my creativity challenge was a great example of that… Initially it was a 15day challenge, I tested it, checked engagement… then rebranded it as a 5 day challenge… the other 10 days will form part of a product going forward… work tested and not wasted 😉

    • Emma Weise says:

      I so agree Stef!
      I made that mistake when I started my blog… and my opt in wasn’t targeted to my ideal client… well… actually, I had two [very different] clients… and so I tried to make an opt in to suit both… but now that I’m splitting out my two “businesses” I have found that I am able to target my opt-ins more effectively… knowing your clients definitely makes your job [and the creation of opt-ins] a lot easier 😉

  4. Ellen Bard says:

    Great post Leanne. Really interesting to see such a selection of opt-ins, and discover some interesting new sites along the way!

  5. Great information. You nailed it!

  6. Bobby Martin says:

    Leanne, You’re smart because your content about how to gain email addresses was helpful enough to me so that now I’m giving you my email address. This is a super article especially with the examples. I’m tipping my hat!

  7. Emma Weise says:

    What a great breakdown, with excellent [and user friendly] ideas, suggestions and ideas! Often, as creatives, the concept of an opt in gets so confusing – this gives such a interesting options to play with!

    Plus, some awesome new peeps to go and check out 😉

  8. maxwell ivey says:

    Hello; this was an excellent post not only on how to improve your number of subscribers with a variety of gifts but why you need to do so in the first place. I have been doing okay adding people to my list without an inducement, but I know I need to offer them something. I have been working on an ebook, but am stuck. I wonder if it is long enough. It has quite a bit of advice and personal experiences but 15 pages feels a bit thin. you are right about building relationships. and i do agree email is the best way to do this other than meeting in person. thanks for all the great suggestions, max

    • Hi Max,
      A good guideline is that your incentive should have about a $20 value if you were to sell it outright. So you are probably close with your 15 pages.
      You want it to be easy to consume for your readers and immediately helpful with some problem they have, in your case it could be inspirational or overcoming barriers or limiting beliefs.
      Thanks so much for stopping by and good to hear from you! 🙂

  9. Leanne, You’re a *Rock Star!* Thanks so much for the advice!

    After reading this post I’ve spent hours putting together a campaign to grow my email list.

    I want to connect with art lovers so I made a downloadable PDF portfolio of my paintings that is a free gift for new subscribers. There are so many “moving parts” to this process. Lots of testing and polishing. but I’m feeling good about it!

    If you’d like to see my BETA homepage it’s at

    Thanks again for all you do!

    • You’re welcome, Brennan! Congrats to you for taking this ball and running with it!

      I love what you’ve done with your opt-in. As a matter of fact, I’m going to share it with a client so she can see the example. 😉

      Now all you have to do is drive some traffic to your site. There’s a great post on that here – Best of luck to you and keep me posted!

  10. Hey Leanne,

    Great tactics over here about how to grow an email list.

    Thanks for writing this.

    Take care and have a nice day.

    -Oloyede Jamiu

  11. Mike Roy says:

    Such truth about a smaller, more connected audience being more important.
    I hope artists who search google for “how to get more subscribers” end up at this post! Because much of the advice out there is “quantity over quality”, which is meaningless when you’re trying to build a true following that can sustain a creative business.
    Thank you for your insights on what really works.

  12. Yolanda says:

    When I originally leftt a comment I seem too have clicked the
    -Notify mme when nnew comments are added- chexkbox and now eeach
    time a comment is added I recieve 4 emails with the same comment.
    Perhaps there is a means you can remove mee from that service?

    Appreciate it!

    • Hi Yolanda,
      I can’t remove you, but in the emails you receive you should see links that will allow you to remove yourself. It might say “Manage your subscription” or something similar.



  1. […] haven’t taken it seriously. You offer no value outside of newsletters or updates, and you have no irresistible incentive for people to sign up to your […]

  2. […] en serio. No ofreces ningún valor más allá de boletines o actualizaciones, y no tienes ningún incentivo irresistible para que la gente se dé de alta en tu […]

  3. […] laid your groundwork with your supporters and devoted yourself to your craft and connecting with your audience, buyers, readers, etc. You have the creative chops as well as the business chops, and you’ll work […]

  4. […] You don’t have an incentive for people to sign up for your […]

  5. […] The first step, of course, is to get people on your list. For that, you need a great incentive. […]

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