Thursday, July 24, 2014

Contesting: How to Score Free Stuff for Little Work

So a few weeks ago, I won a trip for two to Paris. I was shopping at Toys R Us for my son's second birthday present, when I got a phone call telling me I was the grand prize winner of the Excel Gum Shut Out Bad Breath contest. You may have seen it advertised-- I certainly have. My prize includes airfare, 7 nights in a 4 star hotel, dinner at the Eiffel tower, a Paris city tour, Versailles tour, Seine cruise, day trip to Bruges, and $750 in spending money. I'm still kind of in awe, and I don't know that it'll feel completely real until we leave in September.

The truth is, I win a lot of things. I was turned onto "professional" contesting by my friend Sunshine, of Transforming the Now. She's been doing it for years, and has had great success herself: last year she won an all expenses paid trip to Australia. She swore that with persistence and diligence, you will win, and you will win big. Here I am, a year and a half after starting, with a $10,000 trip in front of me. That's not to mention all the smaller prizes I've won. In 2013, I won over $8,000 in prizes. So far in 2014, I'm up to over $12,000. I've won three trips to Whistler, an iPad, multiple cell phones, and countless household items. Contesting basically keeps me in a lifestyle that I couldn't otherwise afford.

Since winning the trip to Paris, I've had a lot of friends ask me what, exactly, it is that I do to win such awesome stuff. I decided to write a blog post explaining how I contest, so that interested parties can check it out. I developed my own system from advice given to me by Sunshine, and it's not the same as her system. Should you start to contest, your system will no doubt be different from mine. But here is what I do, to get you started!

First of all, in order to win, you need to do this every day. I spend roughly 2 hours, more at Christmas, just entering contests. I do it while my kids are napping, and it's not a fun time. I make myself a cup of coffee, put on some music, and get'er done. You can't do it once in a while, or a couple of days a week. If you want to win, you need to be persistent. You also can't just enter 10 or 15 contests...I enter probably 300 every single day. In the average month, I win a prize or two once a week. I have also had slumps- before winning the trip to France, I hadn't won anything beyond a chocolate bar or two in over two months. Slumps are really, really hard to get through, and it's easy to give up. You need to push through them and keep at it, because tomorrow could be the day you win $20,000, or a trip somewhere cool, or a new car.

The first thing I do every day when contesting is visit my big site: Contest Girl. It's run by a wonderful woman named Linda, who fastidiously searches high and low for every contest she can find to enter. Another site you can use is Contest Canada, but it charges a yearly fee beyond the one month trial period, and I found that it has the same contests as are available on Contest Girl, and I found its layout less efficient. So for the purposes of this post, I'll just discuss Contest Girl (CG).

You're going to want to make an account on CG. This way, you can keep track of all the contests you've entered, and all the contests you enter daily. What I do each day is first visit Canada - Single Entry. These are contests that allow for only one entry per person/household. I will enter all of the new contests. CG is updated every day, 365 days a year. After entering all the new single entry contests I'm eligible for (and you want to pay attention to eligibility- make sure you're not entering one that's only open to ON residents if you live in BC. CG states eligibility clearly on every listed contest), I move onto daily entry contests. This is where the bulk of my time is spend. Every day, I enter all new contests like with single entry... but these contests allow for an entry a day, so the ones I'd like to enter daily, I add to my "my contests" folder. This saves them for me to return to the next day. Upon adding the day's new daily entries, I go to my 'my contests- dailies' and enter all of my saved contests. There are usually roughly 150-200 contests saved in there. CG automatically removes a contest once its end date has come.

Weekly, monthly, and odd entry contests also exist, and you can also save them into your folders. I don't enter these ones, namely because I can never remember to do so. But they are there, and you can definitely experiment with them.

Upon completing my dailies, I check one more section of the CG website: Canadian blog contests. These are the most fruitful contests by far. The prizes are genuinely smaller than those sponsored by big companies, but the odds are also far better. The bulk of my winnings come from blogs. Most blog contests are run using the 'rafflecopter' widget, and most have an option for daily tweet entries. It's crucial to have a twitter that you use exclusively for contesting, as you'll be spamming it right up. You're not technically breaking any of Twitter's rules by doing so, but you need to be aware of the daily tweet caps- I usually hit them around Christmas, when contest volume is through the roof. But I digress, go through the Canadian blog contests and add any you're interested in entering to your SINGLE entry contests folder. I do this just because it keeps them separate from the corporate contests. If a blog contest is listed as daily, I will just use the 'add your own' tool to add it to my singles folder. I'm OCD like that. Everything in my singles folder is still daily entry.

After completing everything on CG, my next step is to enter local radio, television, and newspaper contests. These are another outlet with great odds. I win from local papers all the time. The great thing about these contests is that you can often win tickets to local events and concerts, which is really fun. Some great experiences can be had. I keep a bookmarked list of these outlets and run through them daily. Most are single entry, but it never hurts to check for a new contest and takes very little time.

Finally, my last step is to go through a bookmarked list of my favourite blogs. I have about 25 that I check daily, and they usually have multiple contests running, again with daily entry options via Rafflecopter. These really blow up around holidays, and your time spent contesting will increase dramatically. It's usually worth it- I won almost all of my Christmas presents last year.

So that is basically the long and short of it. It really takes hardly any time, for relatively big payoff. You just need to be consistent and persistent, and before no time you could find yourself on a plane to France as well! Bon voyage!