[ Editor's note: Pamela's is one of the best contest guides I have seen. She is an expert! ]
So, you started a home business, built a web site, and now you are waiting for the traffic.
Don't wait, as it may not come as fast as you like. You need to actively get people to want to come to your site.
Sure, they may be looking for your type of product or service, but how do you attract those who may not know you are there, or those who you want to come back again?
And what about that free online newsletter you just wrote, do you want to increase your subscriber base?
A contest can help with all this and more.
Benefits of running a contest
One of the biggest benefits of running a contest is traffic. A contest, if run for a full month, can net you 500 to 5000 visitors and more.
The more visitors, the more they tell their friends about your site and the more chance of sales you may have.
Many affiliate programs on the Internet want to know how many visitors you have and how many page views you have. One way to increase this is a contest.
If you plan to sell advertising space on your site, you need visitors and page views, contests also help in this area.
If you write a monthly or weekly newsletter, try running a contest and asking those who enter if they want to subscribe to your newsletter. Often times, about 1/3 will sign up.
If you have a business, but no site yet, you too can benefit from a contest. The types and rules are different, but running a contest would get you noticed, get people to come to your store, on and on.
For this article, we are going to focus more on contests on web sites, however much of this can be altered to suit an offline business.
Step 1: What is your goal?
The first thing you should do is to decide what goal you want to achieve. Decide whether your main goal is just to get people to find your site, get your traffic numbers up, get subscribers, or make a sale. You need to have a goal first and keep it in mind when setting up the contest.
Step 2: What is your theme?
Next is to decide what theme to have. Is the holiday season coming soon, what kind of business do you have? Is it kid related, then how about a back-to-school contest theme?
All themes are good, but if you pick a back-to-school theme, are you leaving out couples who do not have children? Many times those without children may still enter as they may have nieces and nephews, but you have to keep this in mind when you pick your theme.
Think about the types of people you want to attract to your business.
Step 3: Find Sponsors
Now with a goal and a theme, you need to find sponsors. This can sometimes be the hardest part of starting and running a contest.
Sometimes if you ask other business owners, they would be happy to donate something since you are doing all the work and they just donate the prize.
If you belong to a business group, come right out and ask if they would be interested in donating a prize to your contest in exchange for exposure. Many times, if you just ask, so many will say yes, whether online or offline.
You must give them credit for the donation so they too can benefit from the visitors. You can also run a contest and just purchase the item yourself to give away, or use your own products.
What better way to get your products noticed!
Step 4: What kind of contest?
You should also be thinking of what kind of contest you want to run. Do you want to have the contestants look for things on your site, sort of a scavenger hunt?
Maybe you want them to fill out a survey and in exchange, they will be entered into a drawing for the prize.
From my experience, many contestants are not happy when they HAVE to subscribe to a newsletter in order to enter. They like the option.
This is not saying you cannot run a contest this way, but use it as a second or third resort.
You can also run the contest and ask for feedback about your site, or ask them to submit a recipe, or a poem to enter. This all depends on what your goals (#1) are.
Step 5: Set up the contest on your website
Now is time to set up the contest on your site. You or your web designer needs to make a page, design a logo if needed, and set up the page to suit your needs and tastes.
Step 6: Tips on contest entry procedures
A tip on setting up the contest page: try not to have them just email you to enter. As all they have to do is email you once and then, for the other remaining times, if they are allowed to enter more than once, they won't visit your site as they put your email in their address book. This is defeating your purpose of having them come to the site and increasing traffic.
Step 7: How many times can contestants enter?
While on this subject, you need to decide on how much they can enter. A good idea is daily. You would be surprised how many will come 20 out of the 30 days. This also increase your traffic by letting them enter daily.
Step 8: Create contest rules
Create a set of rules. This is important so not to get yourself in too much hot water should your site be down a day, or you loose an entry or a sponsor backs out. You need specific rules for all of this.
Many times people don't read them, but they are good to have. There may be a time any of this could happen and you need to let them know you are not responsible. The internet is not 100% foolproof, you never know when your site may go down, even for only 15 minutes.
Step 9: What kind of information do you want to collect?
When designing the entry form, think about what information you want to collect. Their age? Their state? How they found your site?
You do need to be careful if you are running a contest where children can enter. This becomes very tricky and lots of legalities. You would be best to hire a professional if this is you goal.
The form can be set up to automatically send you their entry. It would arrive in your mail box, so back up your email daily!
Step 10: Promoting your contest
You are now ready to start the contest. Goal in mind, page designed, wonderful prizes, good set of rules, but wait... how are people going to find your contest? This too, is a very crucial part of the contest.
You need to promote the contest so people know you're there and are offering free prizes!
There are many sites on the Internet who will list your contest on their contest site in exchange for placing their banner/link on your contest page. Most are free, but require a link back to their site.
If you do not know how to do this or do not have the time, then hire a company to do it for you. Companies such as this promote contests all the time and have a system down as to where is a worthwhile place to list. Note: most contest sites won't list you until the contest has started.
Step 11: Picking a winner
The contest is running, traffic coming in, people are subscribing to your newsletter and now the contest is over.
One easy way to pick a winner is to randomly just pick an email. If possible, ask a third party to be the one to randomly choose.
You do not have to purchase some fancy software to do it for you, as long as you are fair and honest... and state that the winner will be randomly chosen.
Step 12: After the contest
The winner is chosen and now you have much data to review and put to good use. Possibly you have many new subscribers to your newsletter, 3000 visitors to your site that month.
If the contest went well, think about another one in the near future. Sometimes making it a little different than the last is the key to people coming back.
Another note: Don't make the contest too hard. If you do, like making them look for a graphic you totally buried inside your site somewhere, many will get bored or just don't have the time to enter and won't come back. Do make them work for the entry, but not too hard. Most people nowadays are short on time.
These are some of the important factors to starting and running a successful contest. Don't be discouraged if you run a contest a few times and one month your entries are low. It could be a month when many are on vacation, or around the holidays such as December, many are offline with families or online shopping for presents, not entering contests. December always seems to be the worst month for running a contest. If you run a holiday one, end it before December.
This is all very time consuming, but can be worth its wait in gold just for getting an extra 200 subscribers or people to notice your site and even making some sales!