The Problem With The Ethical Bribe & How To Fix It.

Real Talk

It’s no secret that this digital world is saturated with everything that’s ever been thought, said and done. And I bet you’ve seen evidence of this with loads of opinions about list building all over the web (ie; ethical bribes, lead magnets, opt ins, freebies). Heck! I’ve even written about it myself!

And if you’ve seen those, you’ve also heard the saying, “the money is in the list!” (Yep, it’s really fucking noisy around those parts of the web).

So let me put that myth to bed right now.

I’ll get to the reason why in just a minute but first, let me explain something.

I was having a real tug-of-war with the concept of making stuff just to get people on my list for a very long time. On one hand, I love creating useful stuff. It embodies what I do. But on the other, I was struggling with the feeling that this list building strategy was generic, hollow and overused.

When I decided to re-brand late last year, that nagging feeling resurfaced so I took that nudge from the universe and went deep on my problem and here’s what I discovered…

If, like me, you’re feeling a bit ‘meh’ about your ethical bribe, I challenge you to start over & just do YOU. Because that’s where the distinction between YOU and… everyone else evolves from.

The growing trend.

I began to notice that the “generic” ethical bribes (the e-books & downloads etc. commonly found in sidebars & headers on ALL pages of a website) I had been offering were mostly attracting content hoarders who would never even open it let alone use it. And I wasn’t the only one.

My biz BFF’s were experiencing it too. And the more I searched, the more people I found facing the same problem.

The other thing that was really starting to rub me up the wrong way was the surge of hyped-drenched posts like, “How I increased my list from 100 to 1,000 in 3 days!”. At first I thought I was just suffering a bad case of the green eyed monster, but after sitting with it for a bit I realised what the real problem was.

Of course we’re all delighted with the numbers but what about the real statistics of those numbers?

  • How many people actually used it?
  • How many people’s problems were dissolved by using it?
  • How many people found so much value in it they felt compelled to share and continue to share it?
  • And how many people felt compelled to reach out to thank them for making it?

The only information we seem to be privy to is how the offer was created and what tactics were used to market it. There’s usually no mention of the “quality” of their newly acquired 1,000 strong list so it’s quite possible that it’s mostly non-responsive too.

Why the money is NOT in the list.

I’m a smart girl. I know the numbers matter but I reckon we’ve got the order of priority wrong.

Let’s be real, of course I’d love a healthy sized list too but what I want more than that is a quality audience.

I’m not interested in a quick fix and quite frankly, I’m not here to build numbers.

I’m here to build real relationships with like-minded mavens who:

  • Vibe with me & genuinely want to hear from me
  • Value connection too
  • Are open to and inspired by exploring new concepts/perspectives
  • Are ready for a full-on adventure into the deepest corners of their entrepreneurial selves.

I figure, the unimportant detail of “list size” will happen organically, once I get the first part right.

Exploring this concept further.

In planning for Indie Pixel House, I sat with this idea for months. Literally. I worked through the bullshit I was telling myself most of which came from years of following “best practices” instead of filtering such advice based on what was already working for me.

And since I’m a big believer that there’s ALWAYS more than one way to do something…

I decided to remove the generic ethical bribe and focus on my own order of priority…


And the humble newsletter seemed an ideal place to start.

At first I resisted because I wasn’t sure if anyone really cared about newsletters anymore?

I was worried about what others might think of this designer selling the big idea of a newsletter for connection.
Would they think I was lazy? Would they write me off?

It didn’t seem enticing at all but it felt like a better fit for my business and my goal to build better relationships with the people I wanted to serve.



I was especially tired of all the hyped-up marketing bullshit that made me feel small, insignificant & like everything I did was W.R.O.N.G. even though I’d had some successes that proved otherwise.

I was so caught up in “following the rules”, I forgot to reflect on my own achievements. Like gaining 2 new clients and 5 new students from a list of just 22. Nope. That’s not a typo. #truestory

I’ll be honest, I put in a lot of time and effort and it took months to achieve (and at times, I did feel like giving up) but, my persistence paid off.

The point is, I was so taken by the success of others I failed to see what I was doing RIGHT.

Here’s the thing…

We’re all different. Our business goals and models may be similar but that’s as far as the similarities go.
It’s time we all started focusing on what’s already working and, I’m not talking about what’s working for others.

I’m talking about what’s already working for YOU in YOUR business.

TAKE ACTION: Create a new document and start tracking ALL your biz-related wins today! Reflecting on your past achievements will help to reinforce your progress.

I knew I didn’t want to be a part of the noise anymore. So, I decided to stop watching everyone else and just do ME.

I don’t have all the answers, and YES, it might take longer to reach the peak but hey! I’m all about the journey. And right now that means:

  • Giving my visitors a bit of space when they visit by letting them get to know me (at least) before inviting them to join my orbit.
  • Learning how to make better relationships.
  • Exploring what’s already working.
  • And making it even better!

But I still had a problem…

As I said earlier, I love making useful stuff. It’s what I do. And I often feel compelled to make stuff like worksheets, checklists, templates etc…

But opting for the newsletter made me feel really restricted.

Until I came across a post by Lacy Boggs on my quest to build better relationships. I almost devoured every article she had written I was loving on her content so hard! But the thing that made my heart skip a beat was that she was offering bonus material (ie, checklists, worksheets & templates.) Kind of like a content upgrade.

The brilliant thing about this is that these resources are specific, relevant & laser focused to the post it’s included on. Ha! Smart girl!

I know this sounds similar to the ethical bribe but it’s definitely not. The ethical bribe is generic meaning it’s the same thing offered to everyone who visits regardless of why they came. And as a Designer offering different services to 3 very different client types, generic was never going to get me the connection I wanted.

But with the bonus material, there’s a lot more benefits.

  • My readers get value first instead of being hit with demands to sign up to something they might not even want or need.
  • It weeds out the tire kickers.
  • I get a sense of where my readers are in their business so I can create more relevant content for them.
  • I still get to make stuff whenever I feel inspired.

The ethical bribe has (& probably always will have) it’s place.

Take Cerries Mooneys’ Archetypal Test for example. It’s obvious that this was born from much more than a desire to build numbers. She’s put so much heart and soul into it and that’s revealed not only throughout the test itself but also through the results you receive at the end. And I can bet she’s experiencing the REAL rewards of a quality list.

So, if your offering is more than just an exercise in ego, DO IT! Then figure out how to make it better!

And if, like me, you’re feeling a bit ‘meh’ about your ethical bribe, I challenge you to start over & just do YOU. Because that’s where the distinction between YOU and… everyone else evolves from.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with list building! Or maybe you have some thoughts on building real relationships online? I’m listening!

Have you downloaded The Essential Website Planning Checklist yet?

I invite you to go ahead and do than now. 

Discover what it really takes to build a website that actually works to meet your goals.



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