Sweeping 101: What the Real Winners Know
Hi, my name is Linsey, and I’m a sweeper. It is sometimes difficult to admit, but I belong to that persistent group of individuals who go to considerable lengths to enter sweepstakes. I also win fairly regularly. My recent winnings include a bicycle, a home automation system, 2 satellite radios, hotel stays, cell phones, gift cards, cash, DVD’s, spa visits, clothing, baby items, video games, gaming systems, office supplies, a digital camera and printer, a trip to San Francisco, and so much more! Winning is more about knowing than anything else, so I’m going to give you the basics to get started. You can’t win if you don’t enter!
What is a sweepstakes? Simply put, a sweepstakes is a random draw of entries for a prize. Generally sponsored or paid for by companies wishing to promote their products or services, sweepstakes are a billion dollar marketing tactic by thousands of companies a year. You should never have to purchase anything to enter. If a sweepstakes requires a UPC code, special form from a product, or a “winning game piece” there will always be an alternate means of entry, or it is not a legal sweepstakes. If entry into a sweepstakes requires an entry fee or raffle ticket purchase, it is not a true sweepstakes.
Where do I find sweepstakes? While sweepstakes are simply hard to avoid these days, there are some very good resources for finding all the good ones in one place. The top sites that sweepers use are Online-Sweepstakes and SweepsAdvantage Both are very good resources with much different formats. Other places to find sweepstakes are in magazines, email newsletters, grocery stores (the liquor aisles usually have tons), and local radio stations.
How do I get started? While all you really need to get started is a computer and some extra time, there are some tricks to the trade that you should know. First, get a separate email for your sweepstakes entries. While the chances of spam aren’t that much greater (assuming you are only entering legitimate sweepstakes), you will receive some sponsor newsletters as a condition for entry into some of the better sweepstakes. You really don’t want that cluttering up your work or personal inbox. Also, make sure you have a physical mailing address set up for your entries. Some prize fulfillment companies do not ship to P.O. boxes, as they want to guarantee “one prize per household” rules.
What tools will I need? I’m a big fan of the Firefox browser with the Fasterfox add-on. This saves my pages for quick viewing later, and if you are entering some of the same sweepstakes daily, this will save you time. (Just be sure to clear everything weekly or more to avoid PC clutter and security issues.) Also, I have been using the free version of Roboform for filling out all of my forms quickly. This doesn’t violate the terms of most sweepstakes regulations which prohibit automated entry, as you are manually entering the contest by loading the page and hitting submit. (Some sweepstakes, especially those sponsored by Microsoft specify “manually keystroked” entries. This just bugs me, so I sometimes skip them.) I do want to point out that the newest version of Firefox doesn’t yet support Roboform, so you may want to use the previous version until it is updated.
How do you have time to do this? I make time. Seriously, like anything else, I maximize time spent entering to get the biggest bang for my buck. I only enter for things I want, need, or can sell for a nice chunk of cash. I spend 30-45 minutes a day during my morning coffee or an afternoon snack entering the sweepstakes that are ending the next day, and I sometimes glance through the instant wins for things I really want. By being selective but persistent, I have a good chance of getting in entries and not ending up with some junky prize that I have to make room for later.
How long before I win something? I don’t know. But I will say that as a general rule, it will take at least 6 months to really see the fruits of your labor. Or you may be one of those really, really unlucky people that don’t ever win anything. But I tend to think that those people just aren’t entering all that often, or they give up after a month or two.
What about taxes? Pay them. You should get a 1099 for any prizes valued over $600. You should also be an honest person and figure the value (true fair market value) on your other winnings. Claim it as unearned income on your return, and pay up. It really is no big deal for most people. My trip to San Francisco cost me $120 in taxes on a trip valued at over $2500. While this will all depend on your tax bracket, it is still a really awesome deal!
I hate sweepers. Aren’t they just greedy people trying to get stuff for free from hard-working companies? I’m sorry you feel that way. I love getting stuff for free, and that is my main motivation for entering. But most companies love sweepers. Entering sweepstakes exposes me to thousands of new products and offerings that I may not have otherwise been aware of. By being a part of that marketing effort, I am 10 times more likely to buy something than if I had just seen an ad in a magazine. My opinion of the company is more favorable if they like “giving back” to the consumer. And I can’t tell you how many products I have become brand-loyal to because the sponsor sent a small sample or a prize that I went on to love forever. Sweepstakes are marketing genius. And if you figure that the cost of these sweepstakes campaigns are figured into the cost of the product that we all buy anyway, shouldn’t you get in on that sweet deal?
Sweeping can be a fun way to win prizes you can’t afford to buy. If you’re already spending 2 hours a day on MySpace or playing online Sims games, just pop open that extra browser window and enter a few now and again. Who knows, you just might be a winner!