The Power of Using Lead Magnets to Grow Your Membership and Get More Students

by | Marketing

As the proud owner of a membership website, you are always on the lookout for ways to spread your message further and wider.

The more you do this, you will realize that it often takes a lot of time for people to “go further” into your world.

They might watch your videos, read your blogs, or listen to your podcasts for weeks, months, or sometimes years before taking action.

This is both good and bad.

Good, because you grow continual affinity with them and a bond that strengthens over time. Bad because — well — you want to make money! And at this stage of the game, they are not giving you any.

There’s a way to accelerate this process, though, and the good news is that it’s not so hard to do.

What you’re really trying to do

When you have a content-based business, there are three levels of value (at a minimum) you need to think through:

  1. Free
  2. Premium
  3. Paid

Let’s talk about numbers 1 and 3, and come back to number 2.

First, you need to determine the sort of information you are going to give away for free in your business.

I am a proponent of giving away massive value when possible. Don’t hold back. At the same time, information businesses by necessity keep some information for only those who make a paid commitment to their learning.

Third, you need to determine what it is you will teach or provide that is worth being paid for. For example, should you charge for information that others are giving away free on YouTube?

These are actually hard questions to answer!

But what about premium content? This is the content that makes all the magic happen.

Premium content is how you whet the appetite of those you serve for free and give them something very valuable in exchange for something less valuable to them than money—usually, contact information.

To put it all together, you are trying to create a bridge between potential members being mere consumers of free content and them becoming full, paid students.

You make this happen by creating (or sourcing from your membership) a premium content download that potential students give their email addresses in exchange for.

What is a “Lead Magnet” and how does it work?

As far as I’m aware, the term “lead magnet” originates with legendary copywriter and marketer, Dan Kennedy.

Originally called a “lead generation magnet,” the idea is to magnetically pull customers toward your business instead of constantly pushing people to work with you.

Lead magnets take many different forms:

  • Free reports
  • Checklists
  • eBooks
  • Mini books
  • Free physical books
  • Info packets
  • Swag bundles
  • Coupons
  • Guides
  • Video series
  • Email courses
  • Free courses
  • Free events and gifts
  • And lots more

Essentially, anything that asks your potential customer, client, student, or member to provide contact information in exchange for some form of information, experience, or value pack is a lead magnet.

If you are building an audience online, this is great news.

It means you can invite people who want to go deeper into a relationship with you, before asking them to “marry” you (aka — become a member).

What’s the best kind of lead magnet?

There is a paradoxical truth in marketing.

While the marketing education sector represents billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands if not millions of educators, they can actually tell you very little about what is actually going to work in your business.

Craig Clemens, a fantastic copywriter and entrepreneur, once made this point in a video interview.

He remarked that in testing, sometimes even less experienced copywriters beat the “control” (a fancy word for the current working sales letter) and become the new control, never to be beaten again on that specific campaign.

Basically, you can have the tools in your tool belt and the principles in your pocket — a good idea! — but you still must test vigorously in order to know what’s going to work best for you.

I would do you a disservice to say “Pick this form of lead magnet because it’s the best.”

So instead, I will give you (1) some ways to think about your lead magnets and determine what might be right for your audience and (2) some general guidelines when it comes to lead magnets to give you a higher chance of success over time.

How to think about lead magnets for your audience

Since you are working with a membership site, you have some options available to you that other businesses don’t.

For example, an ice cream parlor is not going to need a PDF explaining its 5-step framework to create a fantastic ice cream experience.

You, on the other hand, might create a lead magnet that sounds quite like that!

Let’s say you actually have a membership helping ice cream parlor owners get more business and run a more efficient operation.

Indeed, “My 5 Simple Steps to Creating a Fantastic Ice Cream Parlor Experience” might be a huge hit with your audience. (If that’s you, feel free to steal that one!)

The point is, make sure you are creating lead magnets contextual to your audience.

If your target market is busy CEOs, they might not have the time or attention to take an email course.

A simple checklist helping them achieve a quick result to solve their problem might be perfect and even result in more downloads for you.

If your target market is stay-at-home moms, a video or audio series they can play while doing the dishes or making kids’ lunch might make more sense than a checklist or worksheet they have to sit down and fill out.

I would say that 90% of the decision for your format of lead magnet can be determined by your audience. That leaves about 10% of the decision as to what you want to do.

Let’s say you’re not a good writer, but a written PDF would make the most sense for your audience. Talk out the content, transcribe it using software, and then clean it up.

If you’re inclined to use AI tools, use one to help you write the contact. I often use AI tools to help with research and formatting even though I am a writer.

Lead magnets designed to work well with your audience will get downloaded more frequently and consumed more thoroughly. And—I’d be willing to bet—will lead to more sales.

General guidelines when creating a lead magnet

Beyond making the lead magnet applicable to your audience, there are a few other general guidelines to go by.

Here they are in no specific order:

When all else fails, make a PDF. Ultimately, this is not a life-or-death decision. If you’re stuck on what to do, make a PDF of the top 5-10 mistakes people make as it relates to the problem you solve and ship it.

They should be 99% value delivery. Lead magnets are sales tools, sure. But “sales” can be often a misnomer.

It’s important you don’t think of sales as convincing someone to do business with you. Instead, think of it as creating the environment for someone to buy your solution to their problem.

When your lead magnet demonstrates that you are an authority on their problem and calls them to take action and work with you to solve it, that is plenty.

Don’t use this as an opportunity to convince the unpersuadable masses.

Checklists are a huge win. The one problem with most lead magnets (including PDFs) is they are too much of a time investment for people.

You need to provide a quick and easy solution to a problem. Often, there’s no quicker way to do this than with a checklist.

Checklists are magic because they are not dense with information and they are very useful.

If your content has done the work of providing the information necessary to take action, your checklist becomes a means of helping them take that action in a quick, digestible way.

Content upgrades are queen. Speaking of content—they say it is king. Though, it arguably has a contender for that spot with “cash.”

Assuming “content is king,” content upgrades are queen. They are the holy grail of lead magnets because they are harder to create, but the reward is great for those who take the journey. This is so important that we’ll devote a section to it below.

Solve a small, specific problem. A big mistake people make with lead magnets is trying to solve a small piece of a big problem.

Expert marketers instead recommend completely solving a smaller, more specific problem. Consider the logic.

Solving a small piece of a larger problem for free might give the customer vibes that you are dangling a carrot in front of them that they can’t have unless they pay.

Completely solving a smaller, more specific problem, though, gives them the idea that you are genuinely trying to be helpful and provide value before they even work with you.

See the difference?

Follow it up. It’s not very useful to have a lead magnet that gets contact information without subsequently contacting them.

By far and away, email marketing is still the winner here.

Even as I write this in 2023, there is no better marketing tool than email, because even for all of its challenges, there is still no better way to get in direct contact with a larger number of your customers at once.

For this reason, our Email Lead Booster add-on service comes complete with a 5-email sales/onboarding sequence to immediately begin establishing that additional value and rhythm of contact.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Now is not the time to get fancy. Stick to what works and don’t overthink it.

Create compelling content, create lead magnets that allow your prospects to go deeper and learn more, and then—as the old marketing adage goes—“email them until they buy, die, or unsubscribe.”

It really is that simple. If that is, you do it consistently and get the basics right.

Appendix: The Argument for Content Upgrades as your Lead Magnet

“Content is king” because without it, it’s hard to get a read on the authority a membership owner, course creator, or business owner has in their space.

Content allows you to demonstrate experience and give value. It just feels good.

Content upgrades are “queen” because they extend this influence in an ultra-contextual way that immediately ties your value as a “content creator” to a “solutions provider.”

Okay — lots of big words there, so let’s look closer.

Place yourself in the shoes of, once again, the membership owner helping ice cream parlor owners craft a wonderful experience for their patrons.

As a reminder, your lead magnet is called My 5 Simple Steps to Creating a Fantastic Ice Cream Parlor Experience.

That download is being promoted throughout one of your podcast episodes. Ask yourself, which of these two episodes does that download make sense for:

  1. How I Built My Ice Cream Parlor to Six Figures in Six Months
  2. The 5-Step, 5-Star Ice Cream Experience that Drove My Parlor’s Success

Now at first glance, you might think, “Well, either of these would probably work.” And you know what? You’re right.

And this is how most content creators think. Often, they will create one lead magnet that makes sense in a variety of contexts and promote that.

By the way, guilty as charged here. It is much easier to do and still very beneficial.


Option #2 is unquestionably more contextual to the episode and will almost certainly lead to a higher number of downloads. This is particularly true if:

  1. You have an established reputation for creating content upgrades that are contextual to specific pieces of free content
  2. You sweeten the pot by only covering 3 of the 5 “steps” on the episode and billing the other 2 as bonuses only for those who grab the lead magnet

In this way, the lead magnet “upgrades” the content (hence the name) by allowing people to go even deeper on solving that one specific problem.

This takes a lot more time because it means creating a lead magnet, the download paths, and potentially even specific email sequences for each blog post, video, or podcast you create.

This is hard to do without a team, though not impossible.

Again, you will want to test the efficacy of this strategy in your business and see if it makes sense to do.

But the downloads are almost always higher using this strategy, and I think its effectiveness will no longer be in question after you try it.


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