There’s an easy way how to win cash, cars, trips and more instead of paying for them. I know, it sounds impractical, but here’s the key: volume. If you enter a lot of sweepstakes and contests, you will win some. Carolyn Wilman, but she’s better known as “The Contest Queen”, actually has a system for entering sweepstakes that makes it easy and fun. She’s also the author of “How to Win Cash, Cars, Trips and More.”
Let’s get people’s attention right away. Carolyn, please list off the 10 most impressive prizes you’ve won.
MY TOP 10 PRIZES ARE:
10) Free pizza for a year. (I taught my daughter “What’s better than pizza? FREE PIZZA!”)
9) A portable blender (Left the first one I won in the divorce. It bugged me, so I won a replacement one when the sponsor hosted the same contest the next year.)
8) The Kindle I won after I took a break from the hobby. It made me feel like I was still the Queen J
7) Theatre and concert tickets allowing me to take my daughter to her first musical and first concert. (They were The Sound of Music and Rihanna.)
6) A huge basket of Elizabeth Arden cosmetics. (I needed new make-up and this win just up’ed my beauty regime.)
5) The $2000 shopping sprees I won. Yes, that is plural. One at Roots and one at SportChek.
4) A 2-week tour of Europe. (If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium. – what a whirlwind vacation!)
3) Going to the Winter Olympics.
2) Attending Hogwarts. (Yes, the real Hogwarts. Flew to London for the weekend to attend a party on the set.)
1) Meeting Sting.
OK, I think people are listening now. Carolyn, you are a “sweeper” also called a “contestor.” Tell us what that is.
Americans enter sweepstakes so you are called sweepers. Canadians enter contests so we are called contestors and in the UK they enter competitions so they are called compers. It’s a fun way to describe someone who enters to win as a hobby. I didn’t learn about sweepstakes clubs until I began researching my first book. In Canada we didn’t have clubs. I was kindly invited to be a guest at a few American meetings and I knew I had to bring the experience to Canada. There are only a few here, but dozens in the United States. Plus the clubs get together annually for a massive sweepstakes convention. This year it’s on a cruise out of Miami FL, and next year in Charlotte NC. To me this is the best part of the hobby. All the friends I have made I would never have met otherwise. Some are even lifelong.
Why do companies give away lavish prizes? I know people worry it’s too good to be true.
That is exactly why most people don’t enter. They think it’s a scam, but last year companies in the United States spent $3-4 billion dollars running legitimate promotions. Companies chose to spend that much on sweepstakes as they deem them to be a viable marketing tool. A way for them to connect with consumers. No one give away prizes out of the goodness of their hearts. If they felt they were not seeing corporate benefit from running giveaways, they would stop, but that’s not the case. It’s only grown exponentially since social media has taken hold.
What’s the difference between sweepstakes and contests? And which do you prefer?
The difference is a sweepstakes is luck and a contest is skill. I prefer sweepstakes as they are randomly drawn. That said, I did win third place in a Superbowl Chili cook-off for a local paper. Contests are perfect for anyone with a honed skill as they can win big. If you are an avid photographer or prolific writer you could win entering your pictures or essays as those are generally judged, plus get fewer entries due to the skill set required.
Since entering lots of different contests and sweepstakes is the key, how can people find out about them?
Sweepstakes Advantage and Sweepstakes Fanatics are two popular sweepstakes aggregate websites (sites that gather legitimate giveaways in one place and sorted by entry frequency and prize type). SweepSheet and IWINCONTESTS are two popular sweepstakes newsletter aggregates. (similar to the above but in a newsletter format with an online presence) Most are ‘FREEmium’ sites. There is a free level of use, but I believe in investing in your hobby. The price of a subscription is negligible compared to the amount you will win in any given month or year. Prices range from as little as $30, up to $52. Just by becoming a free member, you will get access to hundreds of free sweepstakes right away. The reason you would want to pay for a premium membership is access to better odds giveaways, local sweeps, text sweeps, etc.
Since volume is the key, technology is really helpful. First tell us about sweeping software. How much does it cost and what does it do?
There is only one program left that I use for entering sweepstakes, RoboForm. The ones I wrote about in my first book have all but virtually disappeared as technology moves forward and changed.
The benefit of using a program like RoboForm is 1) it allows you to fill out forms with one click and 2) removes the margin of error
for typos. It also helps those with typing issues such as those with arthritis. Sponsors prefer it if entrants use any tool that there disposal, because errors are frustrating for them also. The key to winning is being organized and saving the pages for daily or weekly sweepstakes allows you to go back and increase your odds of winning.
You’ve gone beyond the basic sweeping software and created your own online winning system. What’s that all about?
When I first started entering contests and sweepstakes, I would often get confused and enter one that was already over or enter more times than was allowed. So I created an online winning system to keep things straight.
•First you create one-time, daily, weekly and monthly folders in your browser or within RoboForm.
•Whenever you find out about a new contest, first read the rules and see if you qualify and which of the folders it belongs in. Then file it in the proper folder with the contest end date.
•You then know when to enter or re-enter that contest based on the folder it is in.
•If you chose to enter for additional people such as family members of friends, add in their initials to the file name.
You mentioned the importance of reading the rules. You learned that yourself in a very colorful way. Tell us your story.
I skimmed the rules. I know. I know. I say read the rules and I don’t follow my own advice! Well, I learned my lesson the hard way! I received a call one day from a local paper that I had won Silver Grandstand passes to the Indy race. However, to win the grand prize I had to have a sumo off with the other 3 winners. When I arrived only one other contestant was there. He was bigger than me and had sumo’d before. It was 104 degrees, humid, the suit was sweaty, too big for me and in the end I was smunched! UGH!
How many hours a day do people need to spend entering contests in order to actually win?
I recommend spending 1-2 hours a day entering contests and sweepstakes. That’s enough to win plenty, but not so much you cut into work, family time, and other obligations. Sweeping should be a hobby and enhance the quality of your life, not reduce the quality of your life. Also keep in mind that it will take about 90 days before you begin to win because the sweepstakes you enter today will not be drawn for a few weeks. I do know some people that spend 3 or 4 and others that spend 8+, but I believe 1-2 is the perfect balance.
Besides volume, what are some other ways for people to increase their chances of winning?
•Stagger your entries. If multiple entries are allowed, enter at various times during the entire contest period.
•Short entry periods: Sweepstakes that are only open to accepting entries for a 2-week period, for example, will garner far fewer entries, increasing your odds.
•Entry limitations. SImilarly, promotions that are limited by zip code, city, state or even age-range also narrow the field and increase your odds.
•Many prizes: Look for sweepstakes that offer multiple different prizes along with or instead of a grand prize. Fewer people enter to win the secondary prizes, so once again your odds are better.
•Harder to enter: Sweepstakes that require you to mail in your entry, or require an essay, photo, video, caption, etc, draw fewer entrants.
•Prizes that are worth it. Focus your efforts on really valuable prizes or things that you really care about.
Entering contests is a hobby, but you’ve also parlayed that knowledge into a career, right?
The reason I was able to come up with my Online Sweeping System is I used my business background to quickly figure out what I was doing wrong and how I could improve it. I took Business Management in college with a Marketing major. I worked in every aspect of sales and marketing in the IT (Information Technology) industry for 15 years before I started sweeping. Around the same time I started entering I became a stay-at- home mom, and when I was ready to go back to work I decided to shift careers. In 2004 I took my knowledge of the hobby and launched my marketing company to help sponsors and agencies run better sweepstakes. I like to say I want to work myself out of my hobby (as those parties affiliated with running a sweepstakes are ineligible to win)
And, finally, to prove, anyone can do this… that it’s not just you who’s lucky… please list off some of the prizes won by people who you have coached.
—Wendy won a house
—Delaney won a Ferrari
—Sandra and Michael won their choice of a trip to outer space or $80,000 in cash.
Carolyn Wilman is the author of “How to Win, Cash, Cars, Trips and More”. She has also written a guest blog post with even more detailed advice on contest winning.