biz ladies: the art of the give-a-way

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Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Amy Barickman, the founder and owner of Indygo Junction and The Vintage Workshop. Recently named one of Country Living magazine’s prestigious Creative Women Entrepreneurs, Amy is a leader in the sewing, needle-arts and retail-crafting industry, and her newest project, the book Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion and Fun, is already on its third printing since its release in September 2010.

Amy shares with us how to successfully implement a giveaway for your business. Thank you, Amy, for this detailed and step-by-step guide to engaging our clients with some sweet freebies! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full post after the jump!

I have been in the creative arts and publishing business for 20 years. During that time, I have come to realize one truth about give-a-ways: there’s no magic bullet. I’ve tried one particular kind of give-a-way and had it fail miserably (very few participated), only to then find myself trying it again later (because I loved the idea) and have it become one of my most popular. The most important thing to remember is that give-a-ways come in many forms and, because your readers or customers are diverse in their interests, ages and styles, there’s simply not one kind that always works or one right way of conducting a give-a-way.

I know it’s often confusing to know what to do. What follows are some tips that I hope will prevent you from having to try and fail as often as I have and will help lead you through to the other side of give-a-ways.

Know Your Audience

Here’s your first rule: know what engages your audience before you start giving away anything. Too often we assume that all free is good free . . . and that’s simply not the case. Look back at your most popular blog posts and see if there are common topics. Then construct a give-a-way that you know will align with the pulse of your readers. If you sell products, look back at the categories of your best-selling items. A little knowledge will go a long way to focusing your activities and getting the best response.

Keep It Simple

Give-a-ways don’t always have to be “things.” In fact, sometimes a give-a-way will drive additional revenue. Think about giving away a “How To” PDF, or link to an exclusive “How To” video. This has been extremely successful for us at TheVintageWorkshop.com. We’ve given away hundreds of truly creative, free project instructions over the years that have, in turn, resulted in the sale of digital imagery.

Have Goals

How will you know if your give-a-way has been successful if you have no idea why you’re doing it? Goals can be gross sales, newsletter subscribers . . . even just awareness. When my new book, Vintage Notions, was released in September, we ran a very successful book give-a-way on my blog at AmyBarickman.com. Our goal was simply community building — converting readers to commenters. Knowing your goals is the first step in evaluating whether a give-a-way was successful or not.

Don’t Go It Alone

A give-a-way doesn’t always have to come from your inventory. You could partner with a local artist, manufacturer or another business with a product that is coveted by your customers or readers (e.g., if you are a ceramicist, get a local coffee shop to join in by donating coffee beans). One word of caution: be protective of your brand in these circumstances. Make sure the give-a-way is co-branded by you and your partner.

Realize It’s All Branding

This is the top, numero uno reason to engage in give-a-ways, yet it’s one of the hardest concepts to grasp: remember that your brand is NOT your logo, or the products you sell. A brand is the sum of every single experience someone has with you. When they give something they bought from your shop as a present, that’s your brand. When they read your blog, that’s your brand. When they call your shop with a question or write an email to complain, that’s your brand. Successful brands are those that have more positive experiences than negative, and a give-a-way is an unbelievably easy way to create a positive experience.

Move Inventory

As I mentioned earlier, give-a-ways can take many forms as long as there’s a genuine value — and something free — in it for your reader or customer. If you’re a retailer (either online and/or brick-and-mortar) or a manufacturer, “two-for-one” offers or “buy two and get one free” promotions can spur sales and/or clean out inventory. We’ve used a variety of these at IndygoJunction.com over the years, and they have always been successful. Sometimes we needed to merely reduce our existing inventory (we were moving from one fulfillment house to another and the less we moved the better); other times we’ve used these promotions to jumpstart a sluggish sales cycle.

Make It A Win-Win

You should always try to ensure that your customers or readers do something that benefits you during the give-a-way. Give a 20% off code to folks who opt-in to your newsletter, “Like” your Facebook page or make a referral or comment on your blog. There are exceptions to this, as you’ll see in the next tip. Generally, however, as long as you’re providing someone a true deal or benefit, it’s not unreasonable to expect something in return.

Reward Everyone (Occasionally)

A blogger friend of mine who had a give-a-way every month once told me that, at the end of her first full year of her monthly prizes, she received a few emails from irate readers who had entered every single give-a-way and had yet to win anything. She too easily categorized them as the kind of folk that are hard to please and always need a reason to complain. She couldn’t have been more wrong. If you have someone who reads your blog every single week, not knowing when the give-a-way is going to be, that’s the person who should get a reward. That kind of loyalty needs to be recognized. So, every so often, give something away with no strings attached. It doesn’t have to be a big deal or make them feel like they’ve wandered into to the Oprah audience on the “My Favorite Things” segment. Just this month, for example, I gave away a free vintage Santa image tree ornament in one of my posts at AmyBarickman.com, which has been received enthusiastically by my readers.

Don’t Be Too Generous or Too Frugal

This tip is mostly meant for artists, manufacturers and retailers: you have to be careful about what you give away and how frequently. If you give away too much of the same type of item, folks will actually wait to see if you give away something they want before they buy it. And, as for frequency, if you only have a give-a-way once a year, what’s the point (unless it’s truly spectacular)? My advice is two-fold. First, vary your give-a-ways so that they seem fresh and unpredictable. Even vary when you give stuff away so that you don’t have folks stopping by your site just for the give-a-ways. Second, make a give-a-way plan that charts the frequency, category and value of your give-a-ways (it’s easily done in Excel). That way, you can make sure there’s variety, strategic alignment with other promotions and a fair distribution of value.

Measure, Measure, Measure

Earlier I mentioned the importance of having goals. Well, there’s no real point in having goals if you don’t also measure whether you’re meeting those goals or not. If you dig a little into your give-a-way results, you might uncover something valuable. For example, do you know — with some detail — who’s participating? If you dig a little bit, you may find that it’s the same people who participate over and over. This discovery is not, necessarily, bad news. It simply means that you’ve identified a core group of readers or customers who LOVE your brand (and should be treated differently from everyone else). Also, next time out, it means you need to encourage others to participate (e.g., a give-a-way for first-time commenters). No matter what you’re looking for, or even what you find, measurement and analysis is invaluable.

I’d like to leave you with one last thought: in the preceding tips, I purposefully didn’t address whether a give-a-way should focus on revenue or community building. The reason is simple: it doesn’t matter. If you do things the right way and focus on the needs of your readers and customers before your own, then a community will form and revenues will grow. They’re not separate outcomes.

Thank you for the opportunity to share these tips. I look forward to reading about give-a-ways and strategies that have worked for you. If you’d like to talk about this topic further, feel free to email me at amyb@amybarickman.com. I’d love to continue this discussion and offer up any additional assistance I can.

~ Amy

Cat

Thanks for this write-up – great tips. Giveaways really seem stupid simple, but once you do a couple you realize there’s a lot more to them to get them to be successful. These are helpful.

stephanie

What an incredibly well thought out article! I have been struggling with the concept and execution of giveaways on my own blog, and you’ve really helped me clarify what I want to achieve. Thanks again, Amy!

Sherron Francis

Thank you so much for your tips on “The Art of the Give-a-way. I have been trying several different approaches to draw business and was not sure if I was doing it right or wrong. Your post gave me new ideas and reassured me I was not way off base. Thanks again, Linda

Rachel

This is a great guide. I’m preparing my first giveaway on a great blog and want to make sure it goes well.

Will definitely be using these ideas!

David

I would also add that one should check with their server to make sure they can handle a sudden jump in additional traffic. If you do a big give-away, it can attract a lot of attention, and you want to do your best to make sure readers aren’t frustrated by downages. Or worse, you get dinged with a bill from your server for the spike in traffic.

Victoria

This is such a thoughtful plan. Thank you for your advice. This post is a valuable resource, especially for a new shop owner / blogger. Thank you Amy!

Marlo

Thank you so much for this article! Great timing for me professionally too. I hope to see more biz articles from Amy in the future.

Susan Brinson

Thank YOU for the great tips! We are doing a giveaway tomorrow and I really flip flopped about what to give away. These tips are very helpful! Thanks again!

Caitlin Kelch

Victoria summed it up perfectly! This is a very “thoughtful” approach to give-aways which is great bc often contests or give-aways just slip away into the “freebie promo-mania” zone with little thought to readers or ways to enhance relationships w/o simply going the strictly material way. Thanks for the inspiration Amy!

notabilia

Another great Biz Ladies piece. Thank you for the thoughtful tips. I am hoping to do my first giveaway in January and this gives me lots of food for thought.

The Bella Life

I’m still trying to master the art of the giveaway, so this
post was MADE for me. Thanks for all of the great tips. You gave me
some great ideas. -Camberley

Sara, Ms. Adventures in Italy

These tips came in just in time – I launched a giveaway
today in fact. Though I’m not new to them, I think the win-win
points and measuring success are worth doing every time you do it –
it’s easy to get in the habit of giving things away because you
can…but it’s even better if you can prove that it’s bringing
something back to you.

ArtNomadix-Megg

Thank you for these useful tips and ideas.
I have been debating taking part in the next ‘One World One Heart’ Giveaway, the last one that will be organised.
Last year I found it to be full of so many people doing the same type of craft, and I got bored, and it didn’t really bring any noticeable results.
I had forgotten about the idea of making ‘How To’ PDF’s and think I could now start to make them. Also to ask people for ‘Testimonials’ if they have ever bought one of my hats, as that could help people who can’t hold and feel the warmth etc.
A new year and a New Start for me, (I hope), as I sit in my new extended studio, and am Re-Gaining my Health and Energy. Thank you !!

olive green anna

Thank you so very much for your advice. I am inspired by new Ideas. I have always loved the give away Idea and I think it is really fun. I found your insights really helpful.

thank you

anna

Nancy Jones

I love these ideas from Amy. I have been involved in a retail quilting/gift shop for about 4 years. Recently I sold my shares, but I still help out and I hope that our little store can implement a lot of these good ideas. I think getting rid of older inventory is a must! Thanks for such a great article.

Cathy Watters

I’m glad I found your post. I’m gearing up for my third give-a-way and so far I’ve had mixed results. I like your advice on measuring result and mixing up the time frame and frequency. Thank you.

Kayelle Allen

Generous contribution to a much-needed cause: survival of the blogger and indie artist! I can use every bit of this information and have already tweeted about it.

I hold “impromptu contests” on my Yahoo group and allow a 3-4 hour window for responses, just to see who’s on line and who’s reading messages. I give away a book or short story, and from the readers who answer, I know who my core group is. It’s helped me fine tune my promotions over the last few years too. Good material! Thank you so much for sharing.

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