13 min read

How "working for free" can get you on the Inc. 5000

Growth Tools managed to get themselves on the Inc. 5000 - and a huge part of that success is through the free marketing tools they offer.

While working solely as a service provider, I lived by the mantra “never work for free”.

At the start of my career, I believed payment for any work always had to be financial.

As the years passed, I realised that payment didn’t have to always be in dollars and cents.

  • A well placed free guest post can pay you back with more traffic and visibility
  • A well-created sample can be used to convert more customers for months or years
  • A small piece of advice can build a relationship which later blossoms into a full paid engagement

I still don’t believe anyone should ever work completely for free.

However, payment can take many different forms and we need to look beyond the immediate financial compensation.

One of the most impressive examples of turning a free offer into financial payment later down the line is from Growth Tools.

They offer a number of small, free tools to help small business owners handle important growth tasks. These tools are some of the most visited pages on their site.

I wanted to check them out in more detail to figure out why these free tools work so well and what it is we could learn and apply to our own businesses.

Let’s get into it.

What is Growth Tools?

Growth Tools is a site that’s dedicated to marketing education. Their key goal - according to founder Bryan Harris - is to help their audience generate over $100MM in extra sales.

Marketing tools marketing

They do this through a number of different assets.

As you’d expect there’s a blog that outlines key actions and approaches to grow revenue for small business owners.

Bryan Harris goals

These often include a number of downloadable assets ot make actioning the information easier.

And what coaching company isn’t complete without a high-ticket coaching offer.

It all seems like pretty standard fare at this point, right?

Well, here’s where Growth Tools differs.

If you’ve not heard about Growth Tools, but the name Bryan Harris rings a bell, it might be because you know him from a previous endeavour - VideoFruit.

As VideoFruit, Bryan published successful courses and trainings.  Videofruit is now Growth Tools. Head to VideoFruit.com. And you’ll end up on the Growth tools home page.

And in 2020, Videofruit was recognised as one of the fastest-growing companies in the US by Inc.

Getting on the Inc. 5000

Here’s the thing.

There’s no shortage of competition when it comes to small business advice. Nor does Growth Tools stand out by offering high-ticket coaching.

It’s par for the course in the industry.

So why is Growth Tools recognised as one of the fastest-growing brands?

What is it they’re doing differently to all of that competition out there?

Well, there’s most likely a lot of extra actions going on behind the scenes.

However, one of the most obvious differences that seems to be giving them a leg up on the competition is their use of free tools.

I’ve covered freemium products before as a full growth study.

However, I’ve not yet covered smaller offerings of free tools.

And I think the way Bryan and his team have organised these tools is incredibly smart.

Free tools over free samples

A little while back I did a full breakdown on freemium growth models.

These things are great for SaaS brands. You offer a taste and it whets the appetite for the full offer.

You can do a similar thing with consulting and coaching. You provide a free 15-30 minute taste before upselling the high-ticket offer.

However, both have an inherent risk built-in.

Freemium SaaS often has a hard usage limit. Once you hit that ceiling, the tool locks and you have to pay to get full access.

It leads to a lot of people signing up under several fake email addresses just to extend their usage.

We talked about this with Ahrefs and how their $7 for 7-days trial helped them avoid the high number of fake accounts that used the service until they hit their limit.

The free consultation also has an issue in that it’s a one-time engagement.

You’re betting on providing enough value in that consultation to solidify a place in the prospect’s mind over weeks and months if they don’t convert on the day.

You’re hoping it’s enough to ensure they think of you first when they hit the point they’re ready to buy.

Both of these freemium offers aren’t really a free offer. They’re a sample of a larger offer.

Free samples for marketing

And you’re betting on the user getting enough value out of it and having enough purchase intent at the time the lock kicks in to upgrade their service.

Which means you get a lot of people signing up for the free service, but only a small handful who convert to paying users.

I still believe this is a great way to run SaaS brands and consulting offers.

But it doesn’t cover all bases to build trust.

You’re hoping a lot of different elements line up. Elements like…

  • The user getting enough value out of the sample
  • The user hitting the sample limit when they need more help
  • The user having the ability to purchase when the sample limit is reached
  • The user not setting up various other email addresses and access options to game the system

The sample approach is something that should be running constantly.

But it’s focused on one very linear funnel which has those in-built issues.

A full free tool, however, has few of these weaknesses.

A free tool is a full offer in and of itself. The idea of the free tool is not just to undercut the competition by offering the same service for free.

It’s to get the lead details of people who might one day in the future be the perfect user for your full paid offer.

Free tools for marketing and lead acquisition

It’s there to bring in a greater spread of potential customers increasing your potential lead base.

Appealing to a wider audience

So Growth Tools is obviously focused on marketers who want to get better results from their business.

Here’s a brief overview of the tools they provide.

Growth tools marketing offers

And here’s a quick explanation of them and who they’re for.

Tool

Service

Customer

Dripscripts

Email sequence scripts

Any business/marketer who uses email marketing

Attract

Lead magnet creation 

Marketers who need asset to help build their list

GoViral

Viral marketing tool

People who want to get more reach from their lead magnet and posts

ListGoal

Tracking of email list #s

Email marketers

One-Click

Joint venture list sharing

Businesses who rely on partnerships

Remind

SMS reminders

General marketers

Welcome.ly

Better home page

Marketers

Agent

Find a speaking gig

Brands who want more publicity

Don’t Hit Publish

Blog post analysis

Content marketers

The tools are all focused on improving key metrics that relate to a business’s growth. We’re talking things that help with…

  • Increased reach
  • Increased leads

And yet they’re focused on different specialities within growth.

  1. Email marketing
  2. Content marketing
  3. Partnerships
  4. Social media

I like this approach a lot.

You see, Growth Tools’ ultimate goal is to generate leads of people who want to grow their business. And then get those leads into the high-ticket coaching funnel.

If you read our Consulting.Com study you might be thinking “how can you like this Pete? This goes against the deep model you said you loved with Sam Oven’s offers.

I disagree.

Bryan only has one key paid offer - Growth University.

I don’t think Bryan has sacrificed his focus by going wide with free tools.

Like Sam Ovens, Bryan has niched down to a higher level.

His paid offer isn’t focused on a specialist like copywriting or social ad targeting. Bryan, like Sam, has niched down to one level above these actual specialities.

The business owner who needs to get something up and running quickly, but not necessarily perfected to the degree a specialist would.

How to niche down

Bryan offers growth help to small business owners.

Sam offers growth help to consultants.

All of Bryan’s tools and offers can be used to achieve better growth by small business owners.

Specialists in each area would probably look at what he’s offering and say “it’s good, but I need more detail”.

But for people who have a good business idea and just need help getting everything up to a certain level of success, these offers are perfect.

All of the tools relate directly back to what he offers as a high-ticket coaching offer - growth training.

If someone is using one of the tools, the chances are they’re in a position where they have to grow a brand and that they’re in need of some help.

He is appealing to a wider audience, but it’s an audience with a common need and goal.

Which means the vast majority of people who use his tools are going to be potential candidates for his high-ticket coaching.

The question is, why would anyone want to use Bryan’s tools?

Undercutting the competition

If we’re being completely honest, the only real benefit these free tools offer to Bryan is lead generation.

They provide zero financial gain.

But what is it they add to the customer?

Here’s the cool thing with a lot of the Growth Tools’ offers.

A lot of the same services can be found elsewhere, but for a cost.

Take Attract.io as an example.

This offer aims to help people create great lead magnets. It offers the design and template help so all you really have to do is fill in the information you want to present.

Free marketing tools for lead generation

It is a completely free tool and has all the functionality you’d need.

Compare that to another on the market, Beacon.by.

This offers pretty much the same functionality but comes at a cost. They do have a freemium model, but for full access it’ll cost you at least $49 / month.

Free lead magnet tools

The functionality of these two tools is virtually identical. And yet, one is completely free.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that 99% of potential users will go with the free option.

What I also love about the tools is the handful of options of which there are no competitors.

Take 2 of my favourites…

  1. Go Viral
  2. One Click

Go Viral allows you to set up a viral marketing share. After someone has taken an action on your site (usually an email opt-in) you set Go Viral as your thank you page.

People can get another lead magnet simply by sharing our a message to their followers on a platform of your choosing.

Growth tools marketing plan

It’s a great way to massively increase traffic and, to my knowledge, has no real competitors.

One Click allows you to create a link for a lead magnet that a JV partner sends to their list.

Everyone who clicks that link has their email pulled by One Click so you can add them to your list. A much smarter and more direct way of getting new email subs from a JV promo.

How to use Growth Tools

A lot of marketing success comes down to great product market fit and solving a real problem.

These tools not only solve real problems, but thanks to the completely free fee, they’re going to attract users like crazy.

Bryan has built a couple of assets that now require very little upkeep, but will fill the top of his marketing funnel with relevant leads.

And while Bryan’s included a couple of elements that will help convert people from first time users to paying customers, I think there’s another benefit here.

These tools are useful for biz owners. And they keep them coming back directly to Bryan’s site helping him build more trust with them.

The right tools bring people back time and time again

“Why not turn these tools into how-to articles and get that sweet SEO benefit” I hear you say.

Well, Bryan could. And he’d probably end up with a great BoFu content machine like Adam Enfroy.

Here’s the thing I noticed when poking through the stats for Growth Tools.

The vast majority of their traffic comes directly to them.

Growth Tools marketing channels

This means the majority of people who go to Bryan’s site are typing “Growthtools.com” or some longer-tail variant into their browser (probably one of the tool names).

This holds true when you look at the top-performing pages.

Take a look at the top-performing pages in SEMRush and you’ll note that they’re all one of the free tools.

Free tools generate traffic

The top 3 pages by a huge margin are all the free tools.

The unique user to unique view disparity is huge as well.

This tells us that people are returning multiple times - approximately 5X per month for 2 of the 3 and 14X / month for the other - to one of these tools.

The tools obviously solve a major pain point and are great backlink bait.

I think this is better than turning these into basic how-to guides.

Few people bookmark a page to return to 5X per month.

They’ll head back to Google and research their problem. And if you get knocked off the top spot in the SERPs, that returning traffic could well drop.

But a tool has more perceived value.

Especially because a lot of the tools Bryan has created can provide updates on progress or are needed multiple times. Meaning they have an inherent multi-use need.

In short, the tools themselves are the assets people want and will actively come back to use.

Which is great for Bryan. Those multiple touches create more trust with the users making it easier for Bryan to sell to them when the time is right along with populating his retargeting efforts with more clarity.

Segmentation and traffic shaping

Here’s the thing. Free tools won’t pay the bills.

Sure, they’re great for attracting new leads and getting them to come back to your site time and time again.

But revenue is the goal.

I like how Bryan has made marketing to these leads easier on himself.

When you sign up for a new tool - any of the tools - you’ll see the below questionnaire.

How to set up free growth tools

These simple questions will allow Bryan to gather simple, but important information on your business and which marketing channels are working well for him.

If you answer yes to wanting training, then you’re hit with another short questionnaire.

Segmentation from free marketing tools

This gives his sales team the information they need to build a basic consultation for you when they reach out for a free consult call.

I like how Bryan has spaced things though.

After signing up, you’re left with the tool to create whatever it is you need to. The tools are all very straightforward and have in-built setup wizards.  You can get set up with them in no-time at all.

And, for ~24 hours, you’re left to play around to use the tool and see what you can create with it.

But after 24 hours, you get an email like the below.

Growth tools marketing

This email is the start of a sequence which both promotes Bryan’s free training, and free consultation calls.

The free training high-ticket funnel

Again, this is going to seem really familiar if you’ve read the Consulting.com study.

After you’ve clicked on the training link in the email, you’ll drop onto the below page.

Free training video Sales letter

After submitting your email address, you’ll watch a free training video on how to scale to 6-figure months.

VSL marketing funnel

It’s the same kind of free training VSL that Sam Ovens uses.

It provides a lot of value. Bryan talks you through the system and approach he used to add $100,000 in revenue to his offers.

Of course, there’s also the hard sell of applying to schedule a call.

That brings up yet another questionnaire which leads to a booking slot with one of Bryan’s consultation team.

And, as mentioned in the Consulting.Com study, those consultations are part consult, part sell of the program.

It’s these elements that bring it all back to the high-ticket offer.

Here’s the thing.

You’re now also in 2 different email sequences - both of which promoting getting on the call with a consultant.

  1. The email sequence from the tool you signed up to use
  2. The free replay email sequence that redirects back to the training

The tool email sequence simply goes in and promotes the free consultation to grow your brand.

Email marketing for services

The replay will get you back to the video - which is a roundabout way of getting you to book a consultation.

Email marketing templates

In short, once you’ve signed up for one of the free tools, you end up in the same kind of free training > consultation funnel I covered when analysing Sam Ovens’ approach.

It’s a tried and true high-ticket sales funnel.

But it’s supercharged thanks to the free tools Bryan offers.

Those free tools bring people in from various different backgrounds, but who are all within his target market.

Then, they allow him to segment and nurture the relationship until they have enough trust in him to buy.

Free tools alone are good for engagement. But when used strategically like this in a marketing strategy, they can be an incredible asset.

The full Growth Tools Growth Model

On the face of it, this looks like it should be a very complex growth model.

However, with a little dissecting it’s actually wonderfully simple.

Bryan has basically split the free tool element of his business into 2 stages.

  1. Acquisition of new leads
  2. Nurture and sale of programs to those new leads

Here’s a simplified overview of the process.

Growth tools marketing model
  1. Create free tools that speak to the key needs of your ideal audience.
  2. Use these to undercut the competition and generate repeat traffic
  3. Also, a great way to build your email list
  4. Serve users a welcome email series which directs people to one of two locations
  5. Direct people to a free training explainaing how to achieve their goal
  6. Direct people to call for a free growth consultation
  7. If people go to the free training video, use that to then promote the free consultation
  8. On the free consultation, try to solve a minor pain point and build your authority and trust with the customer.
  9. If they want to sign up, take payment/direct to a checkout
  10. If they don’t sign up, add to a separate nurture sequence that pushes the sign up