Can you make a living entering competitions?

We look at how to improve your chances


Fancy a new car, a holiday, an iPad? For some people, that's all in a day's work. Thanks to the internet, there are more competitions than ever before, and there's no longer any need to fork out for stamps when entering.

While most of us have probably entered competitions at one time or another, there's now a growing breed of compers, as they're known, who treat it as a money-making hobby - or even a business.

Last year, we reported on Holly Smith, a young mother who suffers from a rare stomach condition and recurring bone tumours that make it hard to work.

By entering as many as 800 competitions a day, she manages to make as much as £10,000 a year, and has won prizes including a £2,500 trip to Gran Canaria, fridge freezers, washing machines, three TVs and several games consoles.

Meanwhile, Brighton mother Diana Coke has gone so far as to give up work altogether after winning £250,000-worth of prizes, including more than 50 holidays over the last 17 years.

And the number of opportunities is increasing, to the extent that there are now thousands of 'live' competitions to choose from every day. Running a competition is much cheaper for a company than taking out national newspaper advertising - and brings them reams of potentially useful customer information.

So how can you win big from comping?

Enter as many as possible...
First, with the odds naturally against you, you'll need to enter an awful lot of competitions to give you a fighting chance of winning. Searching randomly on the internet or in magazines would take far too long, so your best bet is to try free websites such as The Prizefinder or Loquax, which list thousands of live competitions every month.

...but pick your battles carefully
Read the terms and conditions thoroughly, and make sure you qualify. And make sure it's a prize that's some use to you: there's no point winning a holiday on dates that you won't be free, or a year's worth of dog food for a pet you don't have. While it's often easy to sell an unwanted prize on, this generally won't be the case for prizes such as holidays or the chance to meet a celebrity - although there's sometimes a cash alternative.

Go for the best odds of winning
Competitions that require a bit of creative effort, such as those involving quizzes or tie-breakers, tend to get fewer entries, giving you better odds of winning. And look close to home: local radio stations, newspapers and businesses often receive very few entries.

The same can apply to specialist titles: I once worked for a leading computer magazine that regularly gave away competition prizes worth hundreds of pounds, but sometimes had only a dozen or so entries.

Be canny with tie-breakers
Most comping sites have pages showing the slogans, photographs or other tie-breakers that have won competitions in the past. Keep such tie-breakers short, and try and bear in mind what aspect of its products a company is trying to push: if the competition comes as part of an advertising campaign promoting a luxury brand, for example, your slogan probably shouldn't focus on cost. The Winspiration website is designed to help.

Keep your comping separate
Given that competitions are a marketing tool for companies, it's pretty vital to set up a separate email address for entries - otherwise, you're likely to be deluged with spam. You might also want to consider getting a separate, pay-as-you-go phone.

There's often a tick-box on competitions enabling you to opt out of marketing information, but you'll sometimes need to look very carefully for it - and you can't necessarily count on the organisation taking notice. As for advertising mail and phone calls, registering with the Mail Preference Service and Telephone Preference Service should help.

Automate the process
Consider using software such as Roboform, which speeds up the submission of entries by automatically filling in details such as your address and date of birth.

For email entries, you can prepare a template in advance with your name, email, address and telephone number, so you can copy-and-paste entries - just make sure you actually fill in the right answers each time.

Make sure you get your winnings
While many competition organisers will contact you to say you've won, some require you to go back to the website to check - so make sure you do. Even when they do email you, messages can sometimes be picked up by spam filters, so it's a good idea to always check your spam folder too.

Look out for scams
Be wary of competitions that involve calling a premium rate phone line - you may end up having to sit through ten minutes' worth of marketing guff at up to £1 a minute. And avoid competitions that require you to pay a fee to collect your prize.

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