Referral rewards that motivate subscribers to grow your list for you

Newsletters Build Your Audience
12 min read
In this Article

The easiest way to grow your email list is hidden in plain sight: get subscribers to do the work for you.

Referral reward programs—where you reward subscribers for referring people to your newsletter—make it simple for creators to scale their lists, reach more people, and make more sales.

Take Brennan Dunn of Create & Sell, who boosted his list growth by 9.9% through his referral program. Or Sahil Bloom and Greg Isenberg, who acquired 500 subscribers in four days with referrals for their email newsletter, The Room Where it Happens.

Referral programs work regardless of your list size. The trick to success? Finding which referral rewards motivate your audience.

Why should you implement a newsletter referral program?

While newsletter referral programs aren’t new, lots of creators don’t realize they exist or how easy they are to set up (we’ll touch on how you can set up one later in the article). But a well-crafted referral program has a ton of benefits for your online business:

  • Set it and forget it: After setting up your referral program, you can let it run on autopilot—perfect for creators with full plates.
  • Gain subscribers faster: Our friends at SparkLoop—a newsletter referral tool that integrates with ConvertKit—noted that creators grow 35% faster using their tool.
  • Find more people in your niche: Your subscribers will refer people they feel will enjoy your newsletter—referrals tend to be higher-quality than subscribers from other channels.
  • Lower cost of acquisition: According to Louis Nicholls, co-founder of SparkLoop, newsletter referrals cost an average of USD$0.17 per subscriber versus USD$1-3 from other paid acquisition channels like Facebook ads.
  • Potential for sponsorships and co-marketing campaigns: Offering sponsored giveaways for your referral program puts your sponsors in front of a growing list for more exposure.
  • More profitable product launches: Offer early access to a new product as a referral incentive and get more people on your list so you can launch to as many targeted people as possible.

8 referral incentive ideas for creators

You don’t need to offer expensive or lavish rewards to entice subscribers to promote your newsletter. A study conducted by the American Marketing Association found that the size of the reward doesn't increase referral likelihood. All you need is rewards your audience highly desires.

1. Discounts

Best for creators who: want to attract more new customers and encourage existing customers to buy more.

If you want to turn more subscribers into paying customers, offer discounts as a referral incentive. RetailMeNot conducted a study and found that 80% of people will make a first-time purchase from a brand if they have a coupon.

Corey Haines, a marketer and entrepreneur, has nearly 7,000 subscribers on his list. He pairs discounts with free products to incentivize subscribers to pass his newsletter along to friends and colleagues.

referral rewards
Corey uses a tiered system for his referral rewards. Image via Corey Haines.

Corey notes that referrals help him reach people in places he wouldn’t have reached on his own:

I've gotten so many referrals from sources I'd never have reached. Facebook groups, random Twitter threads, LinkedIn, YouTube, even other newsletters. What I love most is that it gets buy-in from my whole newsletter list to help me grow with real, tangible benefits. I'm all for incentivizing the action that you want, and so even beyond the quantitative benefits of list growth, I feel good about rewarding subscribers who go the extra mile for me.

– Corey Haines

2. Free product or merch

Best for creators who: have a list of loyal subscribers who are already buying their products.

It’s tricky balancing free and paid content as a creator. You want to give readers plenty of reasons to subscribe—mainly through amazing free content. But if your subscribers are used to getting things for free, they might not buy when you promote paid offers, which is why this referral reward works best if you already promote paid products in your newsletter.

Justin Moore helps creators secure brand partnerships. He offers free products as incentives for his list.

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Justin offers a combination of discounts and free products as referral rewards. Image via Justin Moore.

3. Store credit or gift cards

Best for creators who: want to increase sales for their ecommerce shop.

Gift cards and store credit can help you boost your revenue—54% of consumers admit they spend more than the value of the gift card. Skincare brand Metrin, for example, offers $10 store credit to referrals and referees:

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Giving store credit can boost sales overall. Image via Metrin.

4. Donations

Best for creators who: have built social programs and causes into their brand.

Donations and charitable work are effective referral incentives when your business is built around a shared social cause. Last Object, a company with a mission to eliminate single-use items, plants trees after a certain number of referrals. This incentive aligns perfectly with Last Object’s eco-conscious customer.

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Work donations into your referral tiers just like Last Object. Image via Last Object.

5. Cash

Best for creators who: have an email list full of subscribers who have a high lifetime value.

If you have an email list full of people buying high-ticket items from you, cash might be a referral incentive worth exploring. The lifetime value of your email list is the amount you expect each subscriber to spend on your business. If your subscribers buy lots of products from you, you can offer higher-value rewards—like cash—while still remaining profitable.

Use our handy guide to help you calculate the lifetime value (LTV) of your subscribers. Keep your cash incentive below your subscriber’s estimated LTV so you don’t spend more to acquire people than they’ll spend on your products.

An example of cash incentives is PayPal. PayPal offers up to $50 for people who refer their friends.

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PayPal pays people who refer their friends. Image via PayPal.

6. Early access

Best for creators who: plan on launching new products or promotions.

If you have new products or promotions in the pipeline, build excitement by offering early access to your loyal subscribers in exchange for referrals. As a bonus, you can also collect feedback from people who sign up for early access to tweak your product and ensure a smooth launch!

ZigZagZurich gave referrers early access to their Black Friday sale on Thursday, dubbing it “Black Thursday”:

referral rewards
Give subscribers exclusive access to products and promotions. Image via ZigZagZurich.

7. Exclusive newsletter content

Best for creators who: share info-packed newsletters.

Using SparkLoop and ConvertKit, you can hide exclusive content within your newsletters. Combine mystery with the fear of missing out to entice subscribers to refer. Here’s how Justin Moore hides exclusive content within his newsletter:

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Justin hides VIP content to encourage readers to refer their friends. Image via Justin Moore.

Justin says he hides the exclusive content in his normal newsletters to further incentivize referrals.

8. Sponsored incentives

Best for creators who: work with brands for sponsored and promotional content.

Influencers who don’t sell their own products can still make use of referral programs. In traditional email newsletter sponsorships, the newsletter you send out talks about the brand, just like this snippet from CopyBlogger:

referral rewards
Copyblogger promotes Digital Commerce Partners in their email newsletter. Image via CopyBlogger.

Instead of offering a one-off newsletter sponsorship, put together a long-term package where one brand can sponsor the referral incentives of your list for a specific length of time. Brands gain exposure to new audiences, and you get to save money and offer subscribers an incentive they’ll love—without making something of your own.

Selecting the best referral rewards for your business

The above referral rewards will motivate your audience to share your newsletter with their friends and colleagues, but how do you know which one to use for your business?

1. Take a look at your best-selling product

Your best-selling products hold clues to what your current—and future—subscribers want. After all, if they’re willing to pay for something, they’ll be extra excited to receive something similar for free.

If you sell digital products and courses through ConvertKit Commerce, see which products sell best by going to Earn > Products. Under your products titles, you can see how many you’ve sold and how much money you’ve earned.

referral rewards
ConvertKit Commerce shows you which products bring the most sales.

2. Look at Google Analytics to see which content brings the most traffic

If you don’t sell products, use your blog traffic to understand what topics interest your audience the most. Take a look at popular pages to figure out what you can offer that might align with those topics.

To view your most popular pages, open Google Analytics and scroll down to What pages do your users visit? Set the range to show enough data—in the example below I’ve set it to 90 days.

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See your most popular content within Google Analytics.

For example, if you’re a nutritionist and your gluten-free baking recipes garner the most pageviews, offering a gluten-free cookbook in exchange for five referrals might motivate your audience to promote your email list.

3. See which freebies have the highest conversion

Another way to understand which incentives motivate your audience is to see which freebies/opt-ins have the highest conversion rates.

Within ConvertKit, head to Grow > Landing Pages and Forms and look at which ones bring the most subscribers.

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Find your highest converting opt-in in ConvertKit.

Then, repurpose that freebie as a referral reward. Just make sure your reward offers additional value and is not the exact same as your freebie.

4. Poll your current list of subscribers

If you don’t have enough data to help you find an incentive after going through the above options, why not ask subscribers directly?

Run an internal survey using ConvertKit and tags to uncover what incentives your subscribers would be the most excited to get!

5. Test and tweak different incentives

Don’t be afraid to change your incentives if you think something else might perform better. When I spoke with creator Justin Moore, he mentioned that after polling his subscribers, he continues to tweak his offer until he finds what works best.

Run tests for a few weeks at a time to see which offers bring the most referrals. There’s no one-size-fits-all way to structure your incentive program. By experimenting with different rewards along with different tier structures, you can uncover which works best for your business.

5 steps to set up and promote your referral program

1. Choose your referral rewards and tiered-system

Use our list of referral rewards from above to pick which ones you want to use for your newsletter. Offer multiple rewards through a tiered system where referrers receive more valuable incentives the more they refer. These tiers motivate subscribers to continue referrer to unlock new levels.

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Brennan Dunn, founder of Create & Sell, has a tiered referral system to encourage subscribers to keep referring even after unlocking the first reward. Image via Create & Sell.

2. Create a landing page for your referral program

Through ConvertKit, choose a landing page template and create a landing page discussing your referral program in-depth. Include:

  • The different tiers of your referral program, including what the referrer unlocks in each tier and how many people they need to refer to move up to the next tier
  • A section for FAQs to address common questions like “when will I receive my incentive” (using ConvertKit and SparkLoop, you can send the incentive automatically!) and “what if I refer more people than the top incentive plan?”
  • Instructions telling current subscribers where they can access their referral link (you can use the custom field {{subscriber.rh_reflink}} to send subscribers their unique referral link)
  • A place for new subscribers to sign up for your list if they want to access your referral program

3. Connect your Creator Pro account to SparkLoop

After creating your landing page, you’ll need to upgrade to a ConvertKit Creator Pro account. Your Creator Pro account includes free access to SparkLoop—the tool you need to automate your newsletter referral program.

To help you with the integration, SparkLoop offers complimentary calls to walk you through the setup process!

4. Set up your automation

To deliver incentives automatically, you need to set up an automation within ConvertKit. We’ve done all the work for you by creating this free automation template. All you need to do is click Use This Automation to copy it over to your ConvertKit account.

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Use our free automation template to get your referral program up and running.

5. Promote your referral program

Time to share your the landing page you made earlier. Use your unique link to share it with your newsletter, on social media, and on your website to announce your newest referral program!

Additionally, add information about your referral program into your welcome email sequence so regardless of how someone joins your list, they’ll be aware of your referral program.

Grow your list—and biz—faster using ConvertKit Pro and SparkLoop

Using referral rewards benefits you and your audience. But unless you have a tool to set up a referral program, you have to manually check each referral, email out the reward, and track subscribers as they move up the tiers.

With ConvertKit Pro and SparkLoop, you can automate the entire process so you have time to work on the aspects of your business that you love.

Ready to create your first referral reward? Start your 14-day ConvertKit Creator Pro trial today!

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Dana Nicole

Dana is a freelance writer who works closely with B2B SaaS brands to create content people enjoy reading. When she’s not working, you’ll find her sipping on a warm cup of tea and reading a good book (the scarier, the better). See what she’s up to at

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