This is a guest post from Sparkloop.
It’s no secret that referral programs have incredible power to raise awareness and grow your mailing list in a highly cost-effective way.
Newsletter juggernauts The Hustle, Morning Brew, and TheSkimm have all used referral programs to great effect, achieving 1 million, 2 million, and 7 million subscribers respectively.
And, while these numbers may seem mind-boggling right now, there’s no reason your newsletter can’t reach the same heights—as long as you’re offering up the right rewards.
In this guide, we explore the rewards which truly incentivize subscribers to promote your newsletter. Whatever your product offer and business model, keep reading to turn your email newsletter into a well-oiled growth machine…
Starting a successful referral program is easier than you think.
Think you need to spend a lot of time and money to motivate your subscribers to refer their friends? Guess again.
While the highest-performing ambassador programs may appear to have some sort of magic formula, this level of reach and engagement is entirely achievable for every newsletter, no matter what kind of email list you have.
Do away with the swag, which is expensive and difficult to distribute, and focus more on what matters: one or two meaningful rewards that your subscribers really want to make use of.
Pick the right rewards and they’ll jump at the chance to invite their friends.
19 inspiring reward ideas for your newsletter’s ambassador program
From a strategic perspective, your referral program should be designed to either maximize your reach, maximize your conversions or both. And knowing what the goal is for your referral program will help you choose the right incentive.
The following reward ideas may all be inexpensive and easy to roll out, but will still skyrocket subscriber numbers in no time.
Referral rewards to help build an audience
If your business model includes a traditional newsletter and a form of direct audience monetization (e.g., sponsorships), then prosperity lies in building your mailing list. You can try the following reward ideas, encouraging subscribers to bring new members into your tribe:
- Access to a “secret,” exclusive newsletter containing bonus content
- Access to special webinars or presentations with need-to-know insights
- Access to members-only Slack or Facebook groups, offering an opportunity to become part of an inner circle
- A signed copy of a book (which you or a member of your team has authored)
- Promise shoutouts on upcoming newsletters to help subscribers gain recognition and feel valued
- Swag designed to promote the brand and keep users aware—but only if it’s genuinely useful, engaging, and high-quality enough for regular use (such as a flash drive)
- Giveaways with prizes provided by sponsors for a quick, cost-effective incentive
For example, author James Clear offers ambassadors making at least three referrals access to a private newsletter. This works because he’s a proven thought leader and he’s giving his audience exactly what they want: more of this writing.
Author David Sinclair (author of Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To) gives ambassadors access to his private Facebook group and a signed edition of his book.
Incentives for newsletters with upsells
If your product or service is designed to help educate subscribers (perhaps you’re a freelance marketer, offering packaged-up bootcamp sessions), then upselling is an effective option.
This strategy involves using newsletters to funnel prospects along the buyer journey, while providing subscribers with real value, even if they choose not to purchase. In this case, in-depth, more insightful content can be extremely enticing.
You can try the following rewards:
- Access to gated content, such as videos, presentations, eBooks, or podcasts
- An invitation to an exclusive webinar, roundtable discussion, or presentation
- A free or discounted consultation with you or a member of your team
- A small coupon to spend on a service you sell
Rayner Teo, an independent trading expert and founder of TradingwithRayner, combines freebies with insider knowledge by offering access to members-only roundtables and an eBook worth $29.
Corey Haynes, a marketing expert, provides ambassadors with 50% off his annual plan in exchange for referrals. That’s a substantial saving, giving subscribers all the motivation they need to spread the word.
Incentives for newsletters with paid memberships
For businesses offering newsletters with gated membership (such as research giants like McKinsey) or incorporating paid memberships into their model (like Succulents and Sunshine), the following reward ideas can encourage readers to participate in your referral program:
- Discounts on membership
- Free access for a month, a year, or a lifetime
- Access to members-only events or groups
For newsletters with an optional paid membership, being able to offer a “free trial” of their paid newsletter in exchange for a referral works incredibly well for lead generation.
Andrew Kamphey’s Influence Weekly provides ambassadors with free paid membership for one month, as well as an exclusive document packed with high-value bonus content.
Exciting ideas for course creators
Online courses and workshops can be very lucrative for a business; you create the content once, and then roll it out as many times as you’d like. Newsletters are a great way of delivering access to this content and raising awareness at the same time. Brands offering course content can motivate ambassadors to recommend the service with:
- Discounts on current or future courses
- Access to a members-only group on Slack or Facebook, to take education further and network with like-minded people
- Free access to a course for a limited period or a lifetime
- Free preview lessons to give readers a closer look at other content or courses
- One-to-one sessions with a teacher (this will be more time-consuming than other rewards, so it’s best offered as an occasional giveaway to one lucky winner)
Louis Nicholls, author of the Social Proof Handbook and a popular weekly newsletter, uses this technique well. He incentivizes referrals with his “Sales for Founders” project, offering a $100 coupon code with access to an exclusive webinar video.
Using a referral program will help you grow your email list, build awareness, and generate leads in a cost-effective way, but it’s crucial to finding the right rewards for your target audience. Luckily, it’s not difficult to find amazing rewards. Hopefully, the list above will get your juices flowing.
When you’re good to go, you’ll need the right platform to run the referral program. At SparkLoop, we specialize in referral programs for newsletters. If you’re ready to grow your email list, give us a try today.
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