Thinking about a referral program to grow your newsletter, but worried the rewards might be too expensive to make it worthwhile?
We analysed more than a thousand successful newsletter referral programs at SparkLoop. And you definitely don't need to splash out cash for great referral rewards if you want to grow fast.
For example, small newsletters grow on average 10-20% faster with referral rewards that cost absolutely nothing to provide.
And newsletters with more than twenty thousand subscribers can easily get even better results. Growing 30-80% quicker when they add a referral program using only free rewards.
In fact, some of the best newsletter referral programs we power at SparkLoop don’t just have completely free rewards — they actually make a direct profit from their referral program!
What’s the secret?
To come up with free referral rewards that’ll rock your newsletter growth, you need two things…
- a really good understanding of your subscribers
- and a big ol’ dollop of creativity
Want some inspiration?
We've collected 14 of the best free reward ideas for your newsletter referral program.
Whether you run an ecommerce brand, a media company, a sponsored newsletter, or you sell digital products to your audience, there’s guaranteed to be at least one reward idea on the list that’ll work for you.
Feel free to steal and adapt them!
1 Insider Newsletter
Your best subscribers love reading your newsletter. So why not incentivize them to share with “more” newsletter?
An extra, “insider” newsletter edition for subscribers who make 1-3 referrals is an easy, free reward. Never underestimate the power of exclusivity and belonging to an in-group!
2 Insider Newsletter Section
Not ready to commit to writing an extra newsletter edition every month?
A similar (but even more powerful) option is including an “insider section” in your regular newsletter.
This section could include anything…
- a joke or quote of the week
- a useful tip or resource
- a discount code
… or whatever little extra tidbit you think your subscribers would like.
The insider section isn't only less work than an entire extra newsletter edition. With one tiny tweak it can be amazing at creating FOMO (fear of missing out) too…
Instead of just hiding the insider section for subscribers who haven’t unlocked it yet, display a blurred out image of the insider section instead. Like this:
Your subscribers will be desperate to find out what they’re missing out on!
3 Free Course
If you’re a consultant, coach, or course creator, your subscribers want to learn from you.
And a free (email or video) course is a great way to incentivize them to share.
You should be able to quickly repurpose some content you’ve already created into a new, short, standalone course.
As an added bonus, subscribers who unlock and take your course will be more likely to go on and purchase coaching services or further courses from you down the line.
A real win-win!
4 PDF Downloadable
If a course doesn’t make sense for your audience (or it’s too much work), a PDF downloadable can be a highly-effective referral reward.
The key is unleashing your creativity and understanding your audience.
James Clear generates thousands of referrals every month with a simple PDF reward:
And the sky really is the limit. You might try…
- a back-catalogue of your most popular newsletter editions
- a list of your favourite podcast episodes/books
- a guide to the top 17 restaurants and bars in your city (for a local newsletter)
- a checklist/template or worksheet
- an ebook
- or a list of discounts for insiders only
The best of these rewards will have a story behind them, making them personal, exciting or exclusive.
For example “17 tweets I didn’t dare push send on” will work a lot better than “my 17 top tweets of all time.”
5 Ecommerce Coupon
One of the best rewards for consumer brands is a coupon for their online store.
Hot DTC brand Panda Planner, for example, give a $10 coupon (valid sitewide) to subscribers who make 3+ referrals.
Not only is this reward super effective and free, it leads to an increase in revenue when subscribers use the coupon code and purchase!
Don’t have an online store or physical products of your own?
No problem — consider teaming up with a brand that resonates well with your audience.
They should be more than happy to provide you with coupons in return for the exposure. And — if your subscriber base is large enough — there’s a good chance they’ll even pay for the privilege!
For best results, follow the golden rules of coupons…
- Use a dollar amount, not a percentage
- Make it at least $10
- Phrase it as a coupon, not a discount
- Increase urgency by adding an expiry date
6 Free Month Membership
Have a paid membership, subscription, or community of some kind?
This one’s for you!
A free month’s membership isn’t normally the most incentivising referral reward by itself. So you normally want to set a very low referral count (1-2 referrals) to win it. And pair it with other, more incentivising rewards for best results.
Then why include it on the list at all?
Well, there’s another, significant advantage to using a free month’s membership as a reward.
It’s a highly effective, low friction way for your subscribers to “try out” your paid membership.
And it can boost conversion rates significantly. Often by 30-50%!
That’s what happened when Dan Runcie tried a free month’s membership as the main reward for his Trapital newsletter:
7 Free Module/Chapter
Have a book or a course?
Just like the previous reward idea, giving away a free “taster” of your product can be highly effective. It's both free and likely to result in more subscribers actually buying it later.
So you increase revenue while growing your subscriber base. What’s not to like?
8 Early Access
The two most powerful tools in your referral tool-belt are exclusivity and urgency.
And “early access” combines both into one devastatingly-effective reward.
It works by giving subscribers who make a certain number of referrals “early access” to something the other subscribers won’t get until later.
For example, early access to…
- new product launches
- a sale/deals
- a sneak peek at your new course/newsletter/book
- tickets for an event or conference
Early access rewards work best when there’s scarcity.
But even just the ability to skip the queue (and maybe brag about having already seen something nobody else has) makes it a very effective and free referral reward.
What’s more, you can use it multiple times throughout the year, encouraging subscribers who’ve already made referrals to do so again.
9 All In This Together
Most newsletter referral rewards are all about what you, the individual subscriber, can win.
Which is great. But it doesn’t harness the power of community used by other creators like Twitch streamers and influencers to grow their audiences.
You can change that by trying an “all in this together” reward.
This kind of reward works by promising your subscribers that you’ll give everyone a reward if they combine to make a certain number of referrals within a given time period.
For example, you might say that you’ll launch a new product or write a newsletter on a specific, popular topic if your subscribers combine to make 2000 referrals by the end of the month.
This feeling of group responsibility and shared ownership is a powerful and very healthy way to engage your subscribers and incentivise them to share.
It works best when used sparingly to boost growth. Maybe 1-4x per year. And often combined with other referral rewards.
Another easy, free way to combine community good-will with referral growth is via shout-outs in your newsletter or on social media.
The number of referrals a subscriber needs to make to win a shout-out depends on the size of your newsletter and the value of a shout-out.
It needs to be reasonably rare to have value — no more than a few shout-outs each edition.
There's an added bonus if you have a newsletter in a professional niche. As it is valuable for subscribers to get visibility (perhaps with a few words and a link).
This works incredibly well for Aleyda Solis and her #SEOFOMO newsletter (case study here):
Even better, seeing the shout-outs helps normalize the act of referring amongst your subscribers. Leading to more subscribers sharing.
11 AMA/Coffee Chat
A popular free newsletter referral reward is an invite to a live, virtual AMA (ask-me-anything) or coffee chat. Often hosted on Zoom with a small group of invitees.
Authors like Tim Ferriss and David Sinclair have used them to generate thousands of referrals at no cost.
Our experience at SparkLoop with these group calls as rewards has been mixed.
If you have a very passionate audience, you’re “famous”, or people are constantly asking you to host one, then they can be a very effective referral reward.
Most newsletter creators tend to overestimate how much their audience would be incentivised by these rewards though.
So we recommend you combine them with at least one other reward and not expect too much.
12 Partner-Sponsored Reward
Want me to let you in on a little secret about newsletter referral rewards?
If you have over twenty thousand subscribers, you can almost certainly get amazing, physical referral rewards for free.
By partnering with sponsors and third-party brands.
If a product works well as a reward, then the brand should be very eager to get the product in front of your entire subscriber base. Eager enough to give you the rewards for free in return for the exposure!
This can work with digital products too, but it tends to work best with physical products and books.
You can start by reaching out to existing sponsors to get them involved. And your partner-acquisition team should be able to leverage this opportunity to either close new paid sponsorships, or increase revenue.
Our team at SparkLoop has a lot of experience helping newsletters and brands do this effectively. And we’re always happy to do a free strategy call to help you work out if this would be a good option for you too.
13 Partner-Sponsored Giveaways
Similar to the idea of partner-sponsored rewards, you can generate massive referral growth for free by partnering with brands and sponsors to provide you with prizes for a Referral Giveaway.
Front Office Sports, for example, recently partnered with Bose to supply the rewards for a Referral Giveaway at no cost:
And The Hustle generated tens of thousands of referrals in one month this way. By giving away an entire software business (sponsored by their partner MicroAcquire) for free!
Apart from the additional urgency boost, the great thing about Referral Giveaways is that even smaller newsletters can use them successfully.
Authors are very happy to give away several signed copies of their books, for example:
And Mollie McGlocklin from the Sleep Is A Skill newsletter found it easy to get brands to sponsor Referral Giveaway prizes worth thousands of dollars. Despite only having a few thousand subscribers.
14 Creative Rewards
The reward ideas mentioned so far have been tried and tested. You can use them as inspiration and adapt them to grow your own newsletter quicker.
But to discover the very best free referral rewards for your particular audience, you need to get creative. Ask yourself...
- what’s unique about your relationship with your subscribers?
- what would make the reward exciting or novel enough to mention to friends?
- what’s the story behind the reward?
The best free newsletter referral rewards for your audience will only work for your audience.
Here are a few “creative” reward examples to get you started…
- Behind the scenes access/bloopers
- An NFT of the first newsletter you wrote
- A “badge” inside the newsletter for referrers only
- A secret handshake/codeword subscribers can use to identify each other in the real world
- Agreeing to do a (funny) forfeit of some kind when X total referrals are reached
- A celebrity cameo
- A reader-takeover (where the reader can write a part of the newsletter)
- A photo of the subscriber mounted in a gallery in the office lobby (or bathroom)
- A character in your book will be named after a subscriber
Hopefully these ideas for free referral rewards have given you some inspiration for your own newsletter.
If your newsletter is still on the smaller side, use our guide to work out if now is the right time to launch your referral program.
Have at least twenty thousand newsletter subscribers?
Book in a free strategy call with a member of our team and discover...
- what referral growth you can expect
- what reward strategy would work best
- why 7 of the 10 largest newsletter referral programs in the world chose SparkLoop