Ever heard the saying “there’s no such thing as a free lighthouse”?

It’s highly unlikely… unless you’re prone to confusing “lunch” with “lighthouse”.

But that doesn’t mean those aren’t wise words.

You see, Florida was recently giving away free lighthouses. It just so happens they came with a little catch: whoever got the lighthouse would be responsible for their restoration.

And with the repair bill likely to be two or three million dollars (for each one), that “free” lighthouse would end up being not-so-free after all.

This kind of “Free! But…” scenario happens to have a marketing equivalent that’s becoming semi-popular these days.

You see, the conventional lead gen process usually relies on a lead magnet or other content-based offer that’s entirely free. It usually goes something like this:

  1. A visitor arrives on the landing page promoting the offer
  2. They read about this incredible content that’s 100% FREE!
  3. The visitor signs up and gets their 100% FREE! content
  4. They’re now on a list and exposed to email marketing and other offers

This is a typical example of your eBook lead gen offer.

Now, I have no problems with this approach! I’ve done it and seen it done countless times. Giving away free content to generate leads might be the “classical” way of doing things, but it still works (mostly).

There’s just one small problem you have to deal with…


Getting people onto your email list is one challenge.

Marketing to them — insofar as getting their attention and having them stick around for a while — is another.

And moving them all the way through the funnel to making them a coveted customer… well, that’s the ultimate challenge.

Because it can be a looooooong time from when a prospect signs up to your list to the time they’re ready to splash some cash. In the meantime, you’re at constant risk of losing them to a million other distractions in their life.

What if there was a way to accelerate the process of turning a visitor into a prospect into a customer at lightning speed?

(Yes… obvious question is obvious set-up.)


There’s an “unconventional” approach some savvy marketers use today.

I call it the “Free!… But” offer, and it works like this…

  1. Build an irresistible offer for your target audience. Most of the examples I’ve seen are content-based: eBooks, physical books and audio books.
  2. House that offer on a landing page that advertises this offer as FREE… but actually comes with a small fee. This fee is often for shipping, hosting or some other administrative reason.
  3. When your prospects sign up for the offer, they fork out their cash… making them an “instant customer”.

In the way I’ve just described, the Free!… But offer also doubles as a lead gen tool, although you don’t have to do it like that. You can start with a free offer or lead magnet, and then include your Free!… But offer in your autoresponder sequence after someone signs up for your emails. That way you don’t spare prospects the immediate hurdle of having to pull out their wallets during their first contact with you.

There are several big benefits to this approach:

  • It helps you qualify and segment prospects, meaning you can tell who’s interested in what and how interested they are.
  • You earn a little money. It’s not a huge amount, but it might be enough to fund PPC ads to boost traffic to your offer
  • You put yourself firmly on your customer’s radar. In an age where free content is found in every digital nook and cranny (and often ends up in the Recycle Bin), an eBook or video course that someone has bought is much more likely to be consumed.

But the #1 benefit of using this as a front-end offer is to accelerate a prospect’s relationship with you. Because once someone’s your customer, no matter how trivial the purchase, they’re much more likely to buy your more expensive products or services.

Case in point: Digital Marketer found that people were ten times more likely to buy a higher value product if they first bought a tripwire product.

What is a Tripwire, Anyway?

The small, inexpensive product that’s the heart of your offer is often called a “tripwire”. In fact, the Free!… But offer is another way of using a tripwire in your marketing.

So, why is it called a tripwire? Because it “trips the wire” for your prospects, converting them into customers and making them more open to buying your higher priced, full value products or services.

A tripwire can be almost anything, with one big qualifier: it has to represent value for your prospects. As the saying goes, “cheap crap is still crap”. Here are a few examples of popular tripwires:

  • eBook or audiobook
  • Physical book
  • Tools, templates or checklists
  • Digital or printed reports or newsletters
  • A sample of your product
  • A trial of your product or service (like many SaaS companies offer)


Enough theory! Let’s take a closer look at the Free!… But offer and how marketers use it online to snag those instant customers.

The Sales Page: Power 7

This page promoting the Power 7 book is your typical Free!… But offer.

You’ll see the word “free” on the page almost a dozen times. Heck, even the URL contains “free-book”. But zero in on the small copy just underneath the form, and you’ll notice there’s a shipping/handling fee involved (to be fair, the fee’s also mentioned in the buttons throughout the page).

But this ties in with the other noticeable thing about the Power 7 page: the structure.

This is no mere lead gen, “download my lead magnet” kind of page. It shares many of the same elements as a sales page, like…

  • Testimonials
  • Client logos
  • Information about the author (in this case, a bio)
  • Problem/solution copy
  • Prominent call to action buttons

The reason why the Power 7 page includes these elements is because it IS a sales page.

It has to work much harder than a typical landing or squeeze page offering a free lead magnet, because prospects have to get their wallet or purse out. And when you’re selling something (even a Free!… But offer), you’re bound to encounter higher resistance from your prospects.

But the Power 7 page shows only a small sample of what you can do…


  • A sales page can be the ideal way of introducing visitors to your Free!… But offer.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of tripwire marketing, even if you choose not to use one through a Free!… But offer.

The Super Sales Page: Dotcom Secrets

There are sales pages, and there are SALES pages.

And when you look at the Dotcom Secrets page, you may think it’s overkill to go to these lengths to convince prospects to shell out a measly $7.95 (or $14.95 international) shipping fee.

But there’s a method to the madness.

Russell Brunson is the mastermind behind ClickFunnels, all-in-one funnel-building software that operates on a subscription basis. His marketing (and subsequent success) has seen ClickFunnels become one of the most popular marketing automation tools in the business, so it’s fair to say he knows a few things about selling.

Like the Power 7 page, there’s the obligatory copy advising of the shipping fee on the order form, and little mention elsewhere else (except a couple of times right at the bottom of the page). It’s “FREE copy” this and “FREE book” that all the way down the page.

The page itself demonstrates how valuable leads are for Brunson’s business, as it pulls out all stops to convince people to grab the book. From the framing of Dotcom Secrets (as a “shortcut”) to the battery of video testimonials, the page has been built with an attention to detail that many of its counterparts selling full-priced products lack.

I mean, look at the elements employed to persuade visitors to dish out such a small blob of cash…

  • A 12-minute mini-VSL
  • A dozen video testimonials from a list of marketing leaders
  • Amazon reviews
  • A mega-list of curiosity-building bullet points
  • A second video that talks about how the book is helping people
  • A mega-call to action that incorporates scarcity and urgency into the offer and stomps a big objection

Bonus! Upselling Your Offer

Selling a Free!… But offer to first-time prospects may seem difficult enough, but Brunson doesn’t hold back. In fact, he ups the ante by upselling on the Dotcom Secrets order form not once, but twice. That has the potential to add an extra $74 to the relatively small postage fee, making an otherwise unprofitable front-end offer into a handy money-maker.


  • Treat your tripwire seriously, especially if you’re leading prospects towards a high-priced item: the cost of front-end lead generation becomes worth the expense.
  • Think you can’t upsell on your Free!… But offer? Think again.
  • Scarcity drives urgency, and limited numbers of a physical product make it easy to use these principles in your offer.

The Sales Letter: The New Case for Gold

The Free!… But offer is a great way to transform prospects into customers, but it’s not the only way you can use it. It also works nicely as an incentive for a trial offer.

That’s why Port Phillip Publishing (the Australian offshoot of Agora Financial) wants to send their prospects a free book. And to help persuade those prospects…

  1. that gold is a solid investment
  2. this book helps you protect yourself financially with gold, and
  3. to pay that pesky shipping fee

…they wrote a long sales letter.

A 7,000+ word sales letter.

Sure, any prospect who gets the book are now customers, and Agora has a lot of different products they can pitch. But thrown into the Free!… But offer is a 30-day trial to Strategic Intelligence, one of the dozen subscription newsletters Agora publishes down under.

Now, that’s not even mentioned until you’re halfway through the newsletter. And the initial reference to it feels like it’s just a bonus. But as the letter continues, the purpose of the Free!… But offer becomes clear: to get people to try out Strategic Intelligence.

This isn’t about accelerating the relationship from prospect to customer so you can then aim to sell higher-priced products: this IS selling the higher-priced product, via the trial.

The other notable feature (and classic direct response technique) this sales letter uses are bonuses, and lots of them. Including the trial subscription, you get six bonus products “for just a tiny $9.22 shipping and processing fee”.

Here’s the thing: all of the bonuses (including the subscription) are digital. So, while the book is physically sent to you, each bonus is nothing more than a PDF or similar. That’s ideal for Agora for two reasons:

  1. Including the entire bonus package costs nothing extra to print or ship
  2. The bonuses give customers an “instant hit” to download and consume, which gets them engaged early until the book arrives


  • A Free!… But offer doesn’t just have to be a small front-end offer to create the customer relationship: you can use it to directly lead into a product sale (perfect for info product subscriptions!).
  • Bonuses can amp up the value of your offer. What’s more, they don’t have to be physical products, as digital products can increase the value while costing you nothing more to include.

Digital or Physical? The Power of Holding It In Your Hands

You might’ve noticed all three examples used a physical book as the centrepiece of their Free!… But offer. There’s a psychological principle behind that:

People value physical products more than digital.

As this study showed, people have a higher “psychological ownership” for a physical product, and are generally willing to pay more as a result. When you want to maximise your chance of persuading a prospect to open their wallets (even for a nominal fee), a physical product is an obvious choice, even if it does come with higher manufacturing costs.

That said, I’ve seen at least one exception to this rule: Jason Capital’s Higher Status audiobook. The landing page charges a “hosting fee” to download the book, so you don’t necessarily need to rule out using digital products.


The Free!… But offer isn’t right for every business or every marketing initiative. But, if you’ve got an inexpensive product or service that…

  • Fits the bill with what your customers are looking for
  • Doesn’t take much effort to create or modify (though if you’re motivated to create a tripwire from scratch, more power to you!)
  • Can be marketed effectively through emails or other conversion-focused copy (nudge nudge)

…it might pay to test what a Free! But offer of your own can do to bring in ready-made customers who want to know more about what you can deliver.