Write a Free Report in a Day and Build Your Subscriber List for Years
Let’s cut to the chase: FREE WORKS.
Companies have been giving away free samples, free trials, and free all-sorts-of-things for ages for one simple reason: FREE WORKS.
Giving away a short, free report (5-15 pages) is one of the best ways to get your visitors onto your subscriber list. If you hit on just the right topic, you can write one of these short reports in less than a day and have it pulling visitors onto your list for years to come.
7 Steps to Writing a Valuable Report
1. Identify a Problem
Hitting on the right topic is actually not so hard. In fact, it’s maybe the easiest step in the whole process. The answer is to do a little research.
Go to some popular forums in your niche and look for common problems that people are having. Of course you’re going to want to give your visitors value, and perhaps the easiest way to do that is to solve a problem they have.
What’s more valuable than having someone solve your problems?
Another possibility is to go to an answers site like Yahoo Answers and look for problems there. In either case, make sure you choose a common problem.
(Note: Some problems are not worthy of 5-15 pages. If that’s the case, then you will either need to find a problem that is worthy of the length or else solve several problems that can be grouped under a common umbrella–hopefully not a broken one .)
2 Research the Solution
Even if you know your niche well, you may not know exactly how to lead your visitor to a specific solution to the problem you have chosen. Luckily, the solution no doubt lies exactly where you found the problem—on the forum.
People give away the world on forums. Often you have to sift through a lot of everything else in order to find what you’re looking for, but you can think of that as an advantage. That’s exactly why your report will be so successful: people don’t want to sort through everything else. They just want to easily find the answers to their problems—which is exactly what you’re offering in your report.
How to Write the Report
3. Outline the Problem and Its Effects
Begin the report by outlining the problem. Go through the different issues associated with the negative consequences of the problem:
- What happens when someone has this problem?
- What is their life like? (Imagine it in detail.)
- What types of emotions might they experience dealing with problem? (frustration/anger/sadness/ etc.)
- Does it cause them pain in some way (emotional or physical)?
- How does it limit them?
- What does it cost them? (time/money/happiness/security/etc.)
Example: Small Business Owner
The Problem: A small business owner is trying to do his own SEO. No matter what he does, he can’t get onto Google’s front page. The competition is not that tough, but it’s tough enough that if you don’t know what you’re doing, you’re out of luck.
What his life is like: It costs him time trying to both learn SEO and implement it, yet he’s getting no reward from it. On top of that, it’s time he doesn’t have. He has other things to attend to in his business.
Perhaps at one time he even hired an “SEO expert” who threw some spam links at his site that did nothing. And so he’s lost money too.
He feels frustration. His business is hurting. He doesn’t have the ad budget to compete with his competition, and so he knows that SEO is one of the best ways he can gain some traction. But he’s not gaining any. His frustration turns to anger at times and despair at others.
Losing his business would not be the end of the world, but he got out of working for others because he loves his freedom. He’s independent-minded and going back to work for a boss would feel like prison to him.
As a species, we seem especially attracted to stories. And so creating a hypothetical story of someone with a problem such as this can be an especially effective way of diving into these details. If you have personally had the problem yourself, then telling your own story can be even more effective. This allows you to truly empathize with them. You can say (and mean it): I know what it’s like. I’ve been there.
(Note: If there is more than one problem and it all starts getting too complicated, then just give an appropriate overview, maybe dipping into a few of the larger and more common problems in detail.)
4. Relief! – What the Solution Means
After going through the details of what the problem looks like in the section above, spend some time talking about what the person’s life is going to look like when they solve the problem. Do the same as you did above, only in reverse:
- How will they feel?
- What benefits will they get?
- In what specific ways will their lives be better?
What the Solution Means: When our business owner gains some traction with SEO, he’ll be able to keep his business. He’ll be able to compete without spending the type of cash his competitors spend on radio and newspapers and other offline ads. He’ll recapture his gusto to run his business, and he’ll remain free to live life on his own terms.
5. Give the Solution – Don’t Hold Back
After setting up the problem and running through the relief of solution, now is the time to deliver the goods. Give the best information you can in the amount of space you have. Don’t hold back. Don’t make them buy something in order to get the “real” solution. Give them what you promised. Show them how to solve their problem.
Example: You may not be able to teach a complete SEO course in 5-15 pages, but you can make a dent. In this case, instead of trying to help the business owner to rank for a somewhat competitive term, show him how to rank for a less competitive term. The process will be essentially the same, but the difference is he will be able to see some results. Once he gets results, hope will return. But more than likely, he will also realize the work involved in ranking for the more competitive terms. And not having the time … you guessed it: He’ll turn to you.
And why wouldn’t he? You’ve just shown him you know what you’re doing. It’s not magic, and you aren’t trying to rip him off. He knows that now. You aren’t the spammer that promised him the world and delivered a can of processed meat. You’re the person who proved to him that it can definitely be done.
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6. Write Your Headline
It’s often best to write your headline and your introduction last because you have a better sense of everything you need to cover in them. After all, how can you “introduce” something that doesn’t yet exist?
That said, people naturally think of headlines and introductions from the beginning, and that’s fine, but just know that they will probably be more effective if you go back and edit them after you have finished writing the report.
There are lots of tips for writing headlines. One of the most common and valuable ones is to make sure you are mentioning the BENEFIT of the solution. Focus your title on the results that your solution will deliver.
It is absolutely essential that you get a good headline. Without a good headline, no one will want to download your report.
From the example above, you might say something like Shoot to the Front Page of Google by Following these 7 Steps.
“Shoot to the Front Page of Google” is obviously the result you are promising. Now, of course, you’ll want to make it clear that though it’s possible to do it with harder keywords, you suggest doing it with less competitive keywords so that it takes less time to prove the legitimacy of your system.
You can also look at the title of this post as an example of a headline that promises a benefit: Build Your Subscriber List for Years.
7. Convert to PDF
Convert your report into PDF format so that it can be easily delivered.
Set Up Your Delivery Method
Tried and True Method
The tried and true method of giving away a free report in order to get subscribers to your list has always worked like this:
- Promise a solution to their problem in your report in your title and your sales copy (if you have the space for sales copy).
- Ask for their email address in exchange for the report.
- Automatically send them the report once their email address has been confirmed.
You will need a system such as AWeber to automatically deliver your report once they’ve confirmed their address. (See Tom’s recent article here on WPMU about setting up an Aweber account.)
Newer and Freer Method
Some people these days have realized that many web surfers are burned out on giving their email address. And, of course, many people have a junk mail account for just such situations. I know I have one, and I only give out my “real” email address to someone who has absolutely convinced me that they deliver value.
And so the “new” method some are trying is simply giving away the report with no strings attached – just a straight download right off the website.
Of course they also have an email form right there beside the download link to make sure anyone who’s interested does sign up, but it’s not a requirement.
And, of course, there should also be plenty of opportunities in the report itself to both sign up to your list and make their way back to your website, Facebook page, and Twitter account. If you deliver actual value, they will want to seek you out.
The “Tried and True” method is tried and true for a reason. But you may, in fact, have more success with the no strings attached method. Of course the best thing to do is to test both and go with the winner. You may have a gut feeling about which would be better for your niche, but the great thing about testing is that it proves gut feelings wrong on a regular basis.
Promote Your Report
Of course you’ll need to promote your report, and so here are a few suggestions on how to do that.
- Promote it on your site. (Of course.)
- Put a link to the report in your forum signature using your well-crafted title.
- Promote it on Twitter and Facebook.
- Let others give it away. Make it clear to readers that they can freely share it (but can’t sell it).
- Put it on document sites like Scribd. (There are also many others. You never know who might come across it. Why not put a line in the water?)
- Turn at least part of it into a video and submit it to video sites. Leave a link for the complete report.
- Occasionally go to an answers site like Yahoo Answers and look for people who are looking for the answers that you’re providing. Because you’ve already made sure it’s a problem that requires a somewhat in-depth answer, then no one is really going to be able to solve their problem on one of those sites. So give some good info in your answer on the site, and then give a link to your site where they can download the report for a more complete answer. However, don’t spam. You will just get kicked off the site eventually.
- Create a table of contents if the length warrants it.
- Use photos. You can usually find good photos for free on places like Flickr.com. Just be sure to follow the Creative Commons license (used the advanced search) and give credit when it’s required—it almost always is. CompFight.com is also a good place to look for photos. It is hooked into Flickr’s API and automatically searches out photos that can be used for commercial purposes.
- Make sure you have plenty of links back to your site in the appropriate place; however, don’t make the report a sales page. Again, providing valuable information is the best thing you can do. THAT will have them looking for more, not spamming links to your own site.