what makes a great free download

Late last year I mentioned that a free download is a great way to grow your email list and encourage other forms of customer engagement. But what makes giving something away for free worthwhile? Here’s a quick rundown of traits that make a “free” report compelling to your buyers — and more likely to drive new business. 

provide real value — not a hard sell

This is the single most important box to check off when you design a free download. Instead of talking about yourself (a major no-no), directly address something your buyers are deeply interested in. Not sure what that is? Refer to the next section…

listen to your customers

The questions your buyers ask regularly can be a goldmine. For example, many of my best customers often ask my advice about how to set up a LinkedIn profile. I don’t promote this as a service but I happen to know how to do it right, so I wrote a free report about it and posted it on my website. It’s been a win for everyone — people who fit my ideal client profile download it regularly, I spend less time answering LinkedIn questions, and prospects who download the report often call me for other jobs later on.

create something with “share” potential

A really great topic doesn’t just interest your readers — it makes them want to share it with their friends and colleagues. Sharing has big potential for broadening your customer base, because it helps your business connect with buyers you wouldn’t otherwise find. You can encourage viral behavior by choosing relevant topics and providing easy links for emailing and posting on social media.

choose a topic that needs a fair amount of explanation

While you don’t want your download to be the length of an encyclopedia, choose a topic that would be tough to cover in a 400-word blog post or email newsletter. There are no hard and fast rules here, but the information should be worth the extra effort of downloading and reading offline — not to mention giving up that email address that lets you send other messages later on.

talk about stuff your clients want to do themselves

A lot of the appeal for your buyers is the idea of getting access to your expertise for free. Choosing a DIY topic lowers the “barrier to entry” even further. My LinkedIn report is a great example of something that most users will end up doing on their own.

This may seem like “giving away the store,” but it’s not. Just because you tell a prospect how to do something doesn’t mean they actually will. If you’ve done your job well, many prospects will instead think: “Whoever wrote this seems to know their stuff. It would be a lot less hassle to let them take care of it.”

show off your specialized expertise

While your topic shouldn’t be a direct sales pitch, there’s nothing wrong choosing a topic that shows off your greatest strengths. Again, the idea is build the kind of credibility that makes you the first source they call when they need what you do.

anticipate your buyers’ future needs

From product spec sheets to white papers, free downloads play an increasingly important role in the sales cycle as buyers do more of their own research ahead of time. This is especially helpful if you have a busy sales staff. The more information that’s available online, the better informed — and closer to being ready to close — pre-qualified buyers will be when they start talking to your sales team.

go “evergreen”

Great downloads take time and resources to create, so look for topics with a shelf life that will allow you to use them for a while. Even if you update your featured download periodically, older topics that are still relevant can be kept on your site as additional resources.

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