Contests for Small Businesses

After winning over 400 contests in the past couple of years, I’ve seen my share of giveaways! Many smaller businesses do not have the budget to hire a marketing agency, or extra staff, so I thought I would offer a few simple tips to consider when running a contest:


Identify the objective: When starting a business, everyone should have a mission statement. Similarly, in running a contest, you need to identify your objective. Are you trying to attract interest for the organization? Promote a new product? Reward current customers? Expand your social media following?

Once you’ve answered the previous questions, what is your contest platform?

  1. Online entry form: If so, a daily or single entry? Will you have a newsletter signup? Keep in mind even if you have this condition it doesn’t mean the entrant will actually open it in the future. AutoFill programs are also easily accessible and an entry form can be answered within seconds.
  2. Original and judged submission: What are your criteria? A Youtube video, photo and/or written entry? This will engage users but may turn off other contestants due to the effort involved.
  3. Social media: Facebook and Twitter are the most commonly used in running contests via this method. Additionally, Pinterest and Instagram contests have particularly increased in the past 6 months. There are added benefits because of the creativity involved but there will not be as many entrants as Facebook and Twitter.
  4. Online game: Due to the interaction and learning opportunities, this has many advantages. Shoppers Drug Mart, CAA and Sears have all used this technique multiple times. However, they also have more resources, so you would most likely need to hire externally in order to implement.

Note: I did not even mention an in-store ballot or mail-in option. Why? It’s not the 90’s.

Perhaps you think a trivia question could enable users to learn more about your product? Just know that contesters are lazy and they can easily find the answer in a contest forum. Hiding an icon on your website so users are forced to search through your webpage to enter? Yes, this answer will also be posted in a contest forum. If a short cut exists, an experienced contester will find it.

What is your prize?

Everyone loves a good freebie but is your prize related to your organization? A single entry contest to win an iPad is simple to run and can take less than a minute for a person to enter. You may easily get a thousand Facebook likes, but it won’t build any relationship with your customer or increase brand awareness.

Generate publicity: Once you’ve chosen your contest platform and prize, promote it through all of your existing marketing channels (i.e. Facebook/Twitter page, company website, etc). Next, to ensure immediate engagement, have it posted on contest forums in your community. If uncertain where to find this, search “contest forums” with your country or city and a number of sites will appear. You can also have contestants share their post on Facebook after entering, retweet the giveaway or tweet the link to the contest. A Rafflecopter is often used by bloggers to keep track of entries and give users multiple ways to enter.

Tech support: Make sure you have the technical tools in place so your system can handle an abundance of users. There’s nothing like a contest entry being down to bring forth the wrath of customers. For this reason, I wouldn’t recommend a small business having a first come, first serve winner. With a short time period, you’ll hardly have the chance to produce any interest and market your organization. Plus, even a global electronics company couldn’t handle the demand for tickets to see a performance of a Korean pop sensation with a first to enter method.

Minimize cheating: If using an online entry form, have users enter a CAPTCHA code to ensure they’re human. In most cases, I wouldn’t advise a voting contest. Not only will constant requests to vote irritate a person’s social media connections; they could associate that annoyance with your brand (it’s also easy to create multiple Twitter or Facebook accounts).

Rules and regulations: Protect yourself from potential legal issues and make sure you have some rules! A template is not a substitution for a lawyer but these can be found online. Consider hiring a legal professional to approve a generic template which you can alter for future usage. If running a promotion via social media, make sure you are in compliance with their rules as well.

These were just a few basic suggestions but the best contests will have a unique prize, engage users and are popular enough to begin creating their own publicity!


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