May 13, 2015

Build Your Email List With a First-Time Discount

Build Your Email List With a First-Time Discount

The Email Bait You Can Create Today

Two painful facts: No. 1: A lot of your website visitors will quickly check out you & your portfolio, then leave never to come back. Chances are, they were early in their buying cycle, basically window-shopping. The painful fact no. 2: When they finally are ready to buy, most have forgotten all about you & your website. That's why you must have a way to stay in contact.

Email marketing is the obvious way to stay in top-of-mind until they are ready to buy. Chances are, if you stay top-of-mind, you are the one they will reach out you when “ripe.”

However, all email marketing starts with getting your website visitors onto your email list. For that, you must offer something worth enough giving up their email for. You must create an alluring email opt-in offer, a.k.a. “email bait” or “lead magnet.”

A first-time discount, e.g. 10% off someone's first project, is the fastest email opt-in offer you can ever create.

How to Build Your Email List: A Real-Life Example

Lou Levit at Reliable PSD, a PSD to HTML service. Click to visit!Reliable PSD, a PSD-to-HTML service, uses a first-project discount to build their email list. By subscribing to their newsletter, people get 10% off on their first project.

I asked Lou Levit & David Tendrich, Reliable PSD's co-founders, how they build their email list and how their first-project discount helps.

Hi, David & Lou! How many people opt in for your newsletter/day?

We get signups pretty much every day. Maybe 1-2 per day on average? Lately, we have got 5-10 a day.

When we do specific traffic driving campaigns we get even more opt-ins. Two examples of such campaigns are Google ads and working with blog networks (we were recently featured on Web Design Ledger, SpeckyBoy, and others.) We haven’t turned on the traffic faucets full blast yet.

Reliable PSD's website has about 5,000 monthly visits. Right now, we got just about 1,000 people on our email list.

(the above means that at least 1% of Reliable PSD's traffic signs up for their email list. )

Have you tried any other kind of opt-in offers?

Nope! We’ve used the discount since the start, July 2014.

Also, we have always used 10% off. We had to pick a number that walked the tightrope of appealing to people while not making us go bankrupt. We have a lot of hard costs, and every project is labor intensive.

On Reliable PSD's website, where do you place your opt-in form?

At first we just had a pop-up, which did okay, but not nearly as well as now.

There has been a significant increase in opt-ins since launching the new design of our site. The new design features an opt-in form on almost every page. Now we offer people to opt in via:

  • A pop-up (shown on top of this blog post.) It is set to show once per visit.
  • A full-width bar (shown below.) The bar is placed on our home page and service pages.
  • A visitor can also opt-in via our website menu.

Build Your Email List With a First-Time Discount. Reliable PSD's full-width bar offering 10% off potential clients first project. Click to visit Reliable PSD!

How do you deliver the discount?

When someone opts in we give them a 10% off code in a thank you pop-up (see below.) The same pop-up also links to our Get Started-page, where you can use the discount immediately. The code gets emailed too.

Build Your Email List With a First-Time Discount. Reliable PSD's Thank You Pop-up. Click to visit Reliable PSD!

Any disadvantages of using a discount?

With a 10% discount, not really. With larger discounts, you get people who really can’t afford your services without the discount.

10% is enough to make people feel like it’s nice without being so high that we attract people who can’t really afford us. Our prices are a bit higher than average so they’re not for everyone.

What does your newsletter mean for your business?

We get a lot of people using the discount code that gets emailed to them, so it’s been nice! Funny enough, we find that people opt in for the discount, but don’t always redeem it when they come to us with a project.

As awesome as you might be, people have a LOT going on in their lives, so you’d be surprised how easily they can forget about you. :-)

More than anything our newsletter seems to be a great, low-pressure way to start the conversation. People respond to our updates. We see really high open rates when we mail out, so the emails just keep us top-of-mind and people engaged with our brand. For our most targeted email list, we see opening rates of 65%. For our less targeted, around 50%.

We have had lots of cases of people staying in touch and giving us projects even months after opting in (one guy almost a year later) because of our monthly emails.

Also, clients are very sporadic. A website might take someone 2 weeks or 2 months to complete (or longer!). By mailing out a couple times a month, we just let them know, “Hey, we’re here when you’re ready!”

As awesome as you might be, people have a LOT going on in their lives, so you’d be surprised how easily they can forget about you. :-)

You have to make a constant effort to remind them you’re still here and breathing.

Freelance graphic designer Lisa Youngdahl. Click to visit Lisa's website,

A Second Creative's Experiences of
First-Project Discounts

Lisa Smith Youngdahl, a freelance graphic designer, also uses a 10% first-project discount to build her email list. Here are some of Lisa's experiences:

Lisa, why do you use a discount as a sign-up bonus for your newsletter? The discount is an incentive for potential clients to sign up and also to use me for their design needs. I've offered the first-project discount since 2009, through different versions of the website. 

What does your newsletter mean for your business? The newsletter is a monthly reminder of my services and contact information. It allows me to showcase recent work and expertise. It has generated new and repeat business and I regard it an efficient form of direct advertising.

What % of your website visits sign up for the newsletter? Not sure of the percentage, but just a few.

Any disadvantages of using a discount? Occasionally I will have someone sign up who I’ve already met with, just for the discount.

How many subscribe to your newsletter? 284

Pros and Cons of First-Time Discounts

To sum this up, what are the pros and cons of using a discount to build your email list?


  • A discount gets you started in no time. No content to produce.
  • A discount is quick & easy to communicate. Important since 55% of visitors spend less than 15 seconds on a website.
  • A discount attracts buyers. Someone interested in a discount is likely to eventually want to buy too.
  • A discount is compelling. We all love a bargain.
  • A discount valid for all services is always relevant. Without knowing exactly what the are looking for, you can still attract potential new clients to opt in.
  • A discount may advance a sale, especially if someone is on the fence.

  • A discount eats into your profit margin. You have to afford it.
  • Since a discount is less targeted, it may not be the highest converting opt-in offer you can use
  • A big discount might cheapen your services in the eyes of potential clients
  • A big discount might attract clients that can't afford your normal pricing

Still not sure if email marketing is for you? Check out “Email Marketing for Creative Freelancers. Yay or Nay?