How to screw up a giveaway and still make $2,400

I was chatting with a friend of mine the other day. He mentioned he was running a prize giveaway and it was going really well.

"How well?" I asked him.

"I have almost 7,000 new email addresses."

"What??!? What are you giving away exactly?"

"About $200 worth of Javascript books to one winner. But that's nothing, my friend ran a giveaway for [moderately expensive software license] and had over 100,000 entries."

FWAWWWWPPP! (That's the sound of my jaw hitting the floor. I wasn't really sure how to represent that in text, that's what I came up with.)

So, I decided to try one of these giveaway promotion things. Wouldn't you?

Step One: KingSumo

Since my friend was having so much success I decided to copy him as much as possible. I have no shame when it comes to copying stuff that works. He was using a WordPress plugin called KingSumo, so I snagged a copy for $200. If you search around you can find a discount code for 50% off of that pretty easily.

KingSumo's giveaway plugin has a nifty viral component. When someone enters the contest they are given a special URL they can share around. For every entry through that special URL, they get 3 additional entries in the contest. So they are incentivized to share the link. It works pretty well. I found either people didn't share it at all (or just a little), but a few people shared their links like crazy. My contest didn't really go viral, but this viral component still helped.

The plugin also minimized the work on my end. As a sleep-deprived new parent, the less work I have to do the better. I'm all about efficiency these days.

So I installed the plugin, created a contest and set it to run for a week.

Step Two: Picking the Right Prize

At first the prize I was giving away was a copy of the Complete Package of Sketching with CSS. This totally flopped. While my book has been successful for me, not that many people actually know about it, so I had to up the ante.

I added a copy of Sketch 3, Codekit 2, Tower 2, Sublime and CSS: The Definitive Guide and a year subscription to the Lodge, Chris Coyier's video subscription thing. All awesome products web designers most likely know about. The prize was now a total investment to me of about $340. Add the KingSumo plugin and I was in for about $540, a pretty sizable advertising investment for me considering I've never had much luck with paid advertising, (something I need to work on I suppose).

After I changed the prize I saw a noticeable increase in interest, but no huge spike. There wasn't anything viral about it.

Step Three: Promotion

At this point I was pretty frustrated. I felt like I had done everything my friend had done and I was definitely not seeing the same results. The one thing I hadn't done was mention the prize to my list. I have over 6,000 web designers subscribed to my newsletter. I was waiting until I felt like I had the prize tuned in right, but I hadn't made much progress, so I sent off a newsletter and mentioned the prize hoping that would magically kick things into gear.

And hey, you know what? Nothing really happened. I saw moderate interest and maybe picked up about 100 new email addresses, the rest were already on my list.

I also tried mentioning the prize on twitter at least once a day with various hash tags and asked some people with a lot of twitter followers to mention it. That pretty much had no effect other than annoying some of my Twitter followers.

Overall, my biggest flop with this was not promoting it enough. This experiment was something I was running on the back burner, and did I mention I'm a new dad and not really sleeping well these days? Fortunately on the last day one of my friends posted the giveaway to a subreddit and that worked really well. I picked up about 400 email address in the last few hours of the contest.

I should have moved the deadline of the contest back a few hours to take advantage of the Reddit traffic, but hindsight is 20/20. In any case, I ended up with just over 800 email addresses.

Step Four: The Pitch

I felt like the obvious thing to do after a prize like this was to run a flash sale as kind of a consolation prize for the folks who didn't win. Here's a group of about 800 people who have expressed interest in tools and books for Web Designers, and I happen to have one of those for sale!

So this email is tricky, but I pulled it off and you should copy me. It had a 75% open rate and 15% click rate. Here is the email.

First of all you'll notice I forgot to take out the MailChimp boilerplate header at the top of the email. OOOPS. Don't do that. I don't think it hurt too much, but it didn't help.

The objectives of this email are four-fold and in this order: Get them to open it Tell them they lost BUT KEEP THEM READING Send people away that will not be good list members, (hey, they cost me $$$) Tell them about the flash sale on Sketching with CSS and get them to go to the landing page

Getting them to open the email is easy. They signed up for a prize, I made the subject slightly ambiguous so you can't tell if you won with out opening.

Subject: "web design starter bundle prize".

The tricky bit is to then tell them they lost but get them to continue reading. I did that with a joke: "Since you lost, I sold your email address to Walmart's "internet deals" department ... NO I KID, I KID. :-)"

Even though I told them in the copy of the prize page that they would be subscribed to my newsletter, odds are most people didn't see that, and I don't want to trick people into being on my newsletter. So I made really sure they knew what they were in for in the next paragraph and then included a strong call to action to unsubscribe if they didn't want it. So strong, in fact, MailChimp actually shut down my account temporarily because they thought I was a spammer. That was annoying, but they fixed it within 24 hours, so it's all good.

Finally I informed them of the flash sale. I made it 50% off and also included an insane offer of $9 for my book. There were a couple of reasons for this. I felt like I needed to have a really compelling offer to get these essentially cold leads to click on the landing page. I think that's right, but I could probably do something more like 20% off in the future. It's worth trying.

I was also curious if I could convert people who buy the book for a discount to a more expensive package later, so I made that insanely cheap to try and get a bunch of new book customers to experiment with.

Conclusion: It didn't work, not with any of these people at least. I don't think I'll ever sell it for that price ever again, but I will continue to try to upsell new customers.

After this email, sales started rolling in immediately. Yay.

Step Five: The most Valuable Email Ever

A while ago a friend of mine, Brennan Dunn, was relaunching his awesome book, Double Your Freelance Rate and he wrote about how he sent an email out only to people who had clicked on his landing page. This email was really long and incredibly detailed, included a ton of information about the book and links embedded in the email that would take you directly to the checkout page to enter in your credit card. This email minted him money, so not being stupid, I decided to copy him.

I figured out who clicked on the landing page and sent them this email.

That email went out to about 400 people, had a 58% open rate and 17% click rate and made me about $1500 in 3 hours. I've done this before with another product with similar results. This kind of email is so helpful to potential customers, and combined with a deadline, results in great sales.

Speaking of deadlines, in this email I said the sale was ending in a few hours, but then I left the links live over night. Always do that. #protip.

92 sales, $2424 in sales, 600(ish) subscribers.

There were 800 contestants, but 200 unsubscribed after that first email. I'm really, really okay with that. You should be too if you do something like this. I also now have an automated email sequence to new customers with a built-in upgrade pitch. It hasn't actually succeeded in convincing anyone to upgrade yet, but hey, at least I have it now and I can tweak it.

After I subtract the cost of the prize and KingSumo, I netted a little less than $2000 in sales for only about one full day worth of work. I will definitely run a giveaway again in the future. I think I'll rethink the prize and landing page copy for the prize and have a better promotion strategy.

If you decide to run your own campaign, let me know! I'm @sfioritto on twitter. And if you want more posts like this, you'll have to subscribe to my RSS feed. I don't send this stuff out to my mailing list.

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    Hey there, I'm Sean.

    I'm probably a lot like you. I make stuff for the web. I have a CS degree, but the last 11 years of my career have been a more potent teacher.

    Sean Fioritto

    Recently, I wrote a book on web development called Sketching with CSS. I also run a training company for developers. I'm an author in Smashing Magazine and I've written some cool open source projects.

    Today, I'm an entrepreneur. In the not so distant past I did the usual 9-5 thing doing web development for a couple of big companies.

    I'd love to meet you on Twitter.

    You can also email me: [email protected]