Free advertising? It really does exist. The only thing is, it takes a lot more effort and a little creativity. You need to keep your eyes and ears open and take advantage of every opportunity.
Contests are one way to get some free advertising. You would be surprised at how many people skip by this option for various reasons. One of the reasons is that there are usually a lot of details to follow in order to qualify and many people just don’t want to spend the time to enter. Another reason someone, especially a kid, may not enter is because of age restrictions. But sometimes you have to ignore that rule and still submit your application WITH an explanation of why you’re entering even though you may be under age.
This has happened with me a lot but I don’t let that stop me. Depending on who is sponsoring the contest and what the specific rules are is how I handle the entry form. Sometimes I try to contact them ahead of time and ask permission to enter explaining why I think I should be allowed to. Sometimes I just send in my entry form with the explanation attached. Believe it or not, I haven’t been turned down yet. And if I do get a “no”, it’s not a big deal. There are always other contests.
The very first contest I entered was sponsored by the Young Entrepreneurs of America. The rules clearly said you had to be 16. I was only 11 at the time but I had had my business for about a year and a half by then. I figured that I could go up against anyone over 16 and have just as much of a chance to win as they did. The prize was being named “Young Entrepreneur of the Year.” I knew if I won, that would give me some really good national recognition, especially because I was so young.
So I entered. I filled out all the forms exactly as requested but in my essay, I explained and justified why I felt they should consider me. The worst they could say was “no.” After a few months, I got a big surprise. Not only did they consider my entry but they said the judges were so impressed that they created a whole new category for kids under 16 and I was their first recipient.
There wasn’t any money attached to it, no prize, no trophy, and not even a certificate. But the national recognition from them and what would follow was worth more than any piece of paper or statue. Less than a year later, we got an email from Forbes saying they wanted to include me in their first Top 10 List for role models 18 & under. They said they found me because of my Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
I’m not saying it’s easy to find contests of any sort for young entrepreneurs so sometimes you have to think outside the box. Just this year, I found out about a contest sponsored by Intuit. I was way too young according to the rules but I found a person to email and actually got written permission back to enter anyway. I didn’t care if they even put me in the actual contest because they said they would at least post my information on their website which gave me a lot of exposure.
When I was a contestant on NBC’s game show ‘1 vs 100’ for their all-kid episode, I lost on the second question. I got teased and people actually sent me nasty emails about it but the 2 minutes or so that the host, Bob Saget, talked to me on camera about my Pencil Bugs business was worth more in the long run than what the remaining kids finally won.
I also entered a contest from Kohl’s department store. Not only did I win a college scholarship but my picture was on a huge poster in our regional stores which was pretty cool.
Free advertising? Absolutely. Can you afford to pay for advertising like this? Probably not. Remember, contests are just one way to get more exposure for your business. It’s always worth the effort even if you don’t win.