by John Wood

Many copywriters treat “the offer” as an afterthought…something they’re obligated to put together after they’ve written the bulk of their sales letter. This is surprising because the success of the entire letter often hinges on how the offer is presented.

Are the offers you write as effective and compelling as they could be?

If not, here are 14 tips on how to construct a successful offer.

Now no single offer will contain all 14; depending upon the nature of your product or service, some may or may not be appropriate. What follows is more of a checklist to determine if you’re putting your strongest offer possible in front of your readers…

    1. Offer pricing incentives –- Most sales promos offer their readers a discount. Before you mention the discount, you should convince your reader that what you are selling is an outstanding value at the regular price. Plus it’s important to tell your reader why you are offering them a discount. For instance, if your product is new, you could have an “Introductory Special” If it’s been available for five years; have a “Fifth Anniversary Sale”.
    2. Give your prospect a reason to buy ASAP — If you’re planning a price increase at some point, let your reader know that this is their only chance to buy your product at such a low price. Another way to encourage your readers to not delay their purchase is by giving them a firm deadline. For example, you could tell them that this introductory price is only good for orders placed before June 6th. If your product has limited availability, tell your reader. If you’re selling a seminar let them know how many seats are already taken and how many are still available. Some investment newsletters only take a certain number of new members at one time. Make sure your reader is aware that if they don’t sign up today, they risk missing out altogether.
    3. Provide different payment options — Make it easy for people to buy from you. Offering an installment plan is a great way to make your product seem less expensive than it really is. Giving your prospect the option of making three payments of $39.95, instead of one payment of $119.85 seems a lot more economical.
    4. Offer premiums — People have been conditioned to expect free gifts. They don’t have to be expensive as long as they increase the perceived value of what you’re offering. The premiums you offer should be related somehow to what you’re selling. For example, if you’re promoting a financial newsletter don’t offer a set of screwdrivers as a premium. Special reports are great to use as premiums because they’re timely, they have a high perceived value and they’re generally inexpensive to reproduce (especially if you offer them as a downloadable PDF file or EBook).
    5. Let your customer test out your product — An effective way to sell your product is to let your customer try it out for 30, 60, or 90 days and if they don’t like it, they can send it back. You’ve probably seen Chuck Norris’ commercial for “The Total Gym” where he seems surprised that he’s able to offer his viewers a two-month free trial (they pay only a shipping and handling fee). Then after two months, if the customer chooses not to send it back, they’re billed for the product automatically on their credit card. It’s also a popular way to sell magazine subscriptions. Offer your reader one or more free issues. When the invoice arrives, if they chose not to precede, all the customer has to do is write cancel on the back of it and mail it back.
    6. Offer your customer a sample — Mrs. Fields does it with her cookies. If your product or service lends itself to it, you could offer your customer a free sample. If you’re selling a service, you could offer your prospects a free service related to what you’re selling. For example, if you’re trying to promote your bookkeeping service, you could offer a free consultation or business evaluation.
    7. Automatic Shipping, Negative Option Offers — This is very popular with book and music clubs. They keep sending you merchandise until you tell them otherwise. It’s also ideal to use if your product is something that gets used up regularly A perfect example is vitamins. Your customer is going to need more so they might as well buy them from you. Plus it simplifies things for your customer.
    8. Offer an incentive to your customer to sign up friends and family — Probably the most famous example is MCI’s friends and families. MCI offered their customers an incentive if they got family members or friends to sign up for their service.
    9. Reward your customer for signing up early — Seminars and conferences use this technique very effectively. If you sign up before a certain date, you get a special price. ‘If you have a seasonal product, you could use it to boast sales during off-peak times.
    10. Enter your customer’s name into a sweepstake — Most, if not all, of us have received a package in the mail from Publisher’s Clearinghouse. If you buy a magazine subscription (or even if you don’t but return your entry) you have an opportunity at winning a huge prize.
    11. Ask your prospect to buy more than one –- As the old saying goes “Strike while the iron is hot.” While your customer is in a buying mood, why not ask them to buy more? There are various ways to position it. You could tell your customer if they buy one at the regular price, you’ll give them a second one for half price…or if they buy three you’ll give them one free…or give them the option of buying one for $20 or three for $50.00…or if they buy more than one they qualify for free shipping…etc. If you’re selling a newsletter you could offer “One year for $99.00, two years for $179.00” or “One year for $99.00, two years for $198.00, but with the two-year subscription, you’ll send them four free gifts” or “Buy a two-year subscription and get the third year for only $20.00”… If you’re selling vitamins you could offer varying discounts for a three month, six month and one-year supply.
    12. Upsell on the order form — Offer an enhanced version of your product for a slightly higher price. For example, some publishers offer a regular hardcover book as well as the leather-bound version of the same book for  $10 or $15 more. Or if you’re selling a product for say $29.97 give your customer a special deal on a second related product for an additional $10.00.
    13. If your customer changes their mind, give them their money back — You should offer a money-back guarantee with every product you sell. It’s something that is expected by your customer. Surprisingly the longer the guarantee, the less likely it is that people are going to return your product. Rodale, a leading health and wellness publisher, offers a lifetime guarantee on some of their books. To give your guarantee more credibility, try to tie it into the performance of your product. For example, you could say something like “If you don’t double your month in three months, let me know and I’ll give you every penny of your money back”. Offering a strong money-back guarantee gives your customer peace of mind and it establishes credibility for your company.
    14. Tell your reader exactly how they order -– Keep it simple, but let them know how to place an order with you. Lay out all the ways they can order from you (online, through the mail, by telephone, or via fax). If you prefer your customers to order a certain way, say online instead of mailing in a check, you could offer an added incentive to people who order using the Internet.

For copywriters, there are few sounds sweeter than your client telling you how great your last promo did. Take the time to plan out the most effective offer for every promo you write and I guarantee you’ll hear that sound more often.

This article appears courtesy of American Writers & Artists Inc.’s (AWAI) Writer’s Blog. For a complimentary subscription to AWAI’s free newsletter that delivers original, no-nonsense advice on the best wealth careers, lifestyle careers, and work-at-home careers available, visit