Entering contests is like gambling in a casino where the house never wins. The contest sponsors know in advance that they’re going to lose and they know exactly how much they’re going to lose. The contest isn’t a gamble for them–it’s publicity. The prizes that we scramble to win are just what they’ve decided to pay to attract our attention.
The wonderful thing about entering online contests is that because we don’t spend anything to enter, we have very little to lose. The only possible losses we face are the time it takes to enter and the emotional trauma some might suffer as a result of disappointment. But remember, approach this with the right attitude and entering contests will be fun!
Your odds of winning are best in smaller contests, contests with specific eligibility requirements or contests that require some effort. Anyone can fill out a form—but do they want you to write a poem, take a picture, live in Montreal, or be a student? Suddenly the pool you’re hoping to be picked out of has shrunk. Paulina had some good advice about how to find local contests. Amy has told us about blog contests, and how great the odds of winning those can be. Sure, the prizes are often small, but a win is a win!
Keep an eye out for contests online and look for for wrappers and displays advertising contests in stores. Usually the packaging will have a URL (http:// address) on it that you can check when you get home. If not, you can google it. The earlier in a contest you can find out about it, the better.
My dad is always asking me to win him a car. Funny. Of course I let him know whenever I see a contest with a car as a prize, but I warn him that the odds of winning a car in an online contest are pretty bad. Generally, the more amazing the prize, the harder it’s going to be to win. The reason for that is simple: if you think it’s a great prize, other people probably will too, and so you’ll have to compete against that many more people. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enter those contests—someone will win—but it does mean you should keep your expectations muzzled while you do. If you only ever enter contests that have prizes worth thousands of dollars, don’t be discouraged and say, “I never win” if you don’t win them. If those are the only contests you enter, you’re not giving yourself much of a chance.
While you’re reading the rules, why not search for the word “odds”? Most contests just say that the odds of winning are dependent on the number of entries. But there are a few contests, to my astonishment, that have said the odds of winning were one in a million! A Kit Kat contest comes to mind. I still don’t know how the sponsors calculated those odds. I hope they didn’t decide a single wrapper would be the predetermined winner, a wrapper a which had a good chance of being thrown out without anyone claiming the prize. When I see odds like those, unless there are tempting secondary prizes, I usually just walk away.
With instant win contests, your odds are best if you enter or start entering early in the contest period. At the beginning of the contest there will be fewer people entering for you to compete against. Check the rules to see how winners are determined. If the rules say the first entry after a predetermined time will be a winner, if you can enter multiple times, don’t use all your entries at once. It’s also a good idea to avoid entering during peak hours, in the evening, when everyone else is probably entering too.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me, “I never win contests,” over the years. I can tell most of them exactly why. They didn’t enter. The rest? They only entered contests with astronomical odds of winning, or that were advertised too publicly, or they gave up too easily. If you need motivation to go on entering contests, try for some prizes that are easier to get. And remember, if you just keep entering, odds are that eventually you are going to win something. It’s just a matter of time.