How Running a Contest Taught Us More About Our Audience (and brought us 700+ new subscribers!)

Build Your Audience Take Yourself Pro

Who doesn’t love free things, amIright? You just can’t deny the power of those Costco samples on a Saturday, a free ebook download, or a good BOGO sale. At least I can’t.

That’s why when we hear the advice to “give it all away for free” we get pretty pumped up.

This marketing tactic does a few things for you:

    • It establishes authority on a subject.
    • It builds trust and a desire for more with your audience.
    • It helps to grow your community and increase your reach.
    • It tells you more than you could know about your audience.

It’s why our book, The Complete Guide To Email Marketing, is free. It’s why we take you behind the scenes of everything we do here on the ConvertKit blog. It’s why one of our core values is “Teach Everything You Know”.

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So when Nathan said “Hey, Val. Let’s give away 30 copies of Chris Guillebeau’s new book, Born For This, I jumped up and down and then went to work making it happen for you.

And while giveaways can grow your email list, expand your reach, and build desire with your followers, the most powerful part of running a contest or giveaway is being able to learn more about your audience.

I’m breaking down exactly what we did to run our most recent giveaway, including what we’ll change next time around, so you can head into your own giveaways confident and ready to rock it. Let’s dive in!

Start With Why

Simon Sinek popularized this phrase with his book of the same name and there’s a good reason for that. As Simon says,

“It doesn't matter what you do, it matters Why you do it.”

When you know why you’re doing something, you’re able to put words to the project, you can see around your own blind spots, and, most importantly, you don’t waste the time of your audience.

Everything you put in front of your community needs to provide them value, including (possibly especially) your free things. When you’re considering running a giveaway, take a moment to figure out your why.

In our case, the why behind giving away 30 copies of Chris’ book was clear:

  • Long ago, Chris inspired Nathan to start his blogging career. Supporting a blogger by buying his books (to giveaway) seemed like a no-brainer.
  • Born For This is about finding the work you’re meant to do. If that doesn’t appeal to bloggers, I don’t know what does.
  • Our ideal customers know and love Chris Guillebeau. He’s the founder of World Domination Summit and we’ve met so many of our customers and potential customers there. Surround yourself with like minded people and magic happens.

Our why was clear, so it was time to move on to our how.

Make it Happen

There are a few different ways you can run a giveaway. You can track it all yourself on a crazy looking spreadsheet (not advise, btw) or you can use a giveaway software like

I’m not a fan of spreadsheets or anything that requires manual tracking so we chose Gleam.

There are a couple of reasons we chose Gleam, the first of which was that it integrates directly with ConvertKit. Second to that, look at this thing:


So pretty!
So pretty!

It’s just simple to use.

Gleam calls giveaways “competitions” and they give you templates for a number of different competitions you can run. We ended up building our own from scratch and, having never touched this software before, I had a competition up and running in less than 10 minutes.

The biggest thing I wanted to focus on with this giveaway was the ability to learn more about our audience. We had a hunch that the majority of people who follow us (and would want a copy of this book) have list sizes below 5,000 subscribers but we couldn’t be sure.

Remember, we have data on our actual customers but giveaways are more public: this one was open to anyone who saw the link so that meant our social media following, any forwarding our followers did to their audience, and possibly bigger than that.

So we took advantage of the reward “Answer a Question” and posed the following:

Where are you on your email marketing journey?

There were 5 choices for the answer:

I have under 1,000 subscribers

My grandma is on my email list 😉

My list is steadily growing and between 1,000 and 5,000 now

Just between 5,000 and 15,000 subscribers

I have over 15k subscribers




Were our hunches right? Check out the results Gleam showed when it was all said and done:


Amazingly, we were right!

Turn Your Followers Into Subscribers

Now what kind of email marketing company would we be if we didn’t also grow our list with our giveaway?

Since we knew we’d get this book giveaway in front of people who would benefit from reading our blog and potentially learn more about how ConvertKit can help them on their own blogging journey, we used Gleam to place a high “point value” on signing up for our weekly digest.


When you setup a competition in Gleam, you get to assign different point values to different ways to enter. Sharing on Twitter is easy and nearly no effort so it was just one point. Giving us your email address is more effort and “costly” so it was three points.

As a marketer, it’s important to acknowledge the fact that giving up an email address is a high value ask. Reward it as such (in Gleam or any other opt in form!) Doing so paid off for us to the tune of over 700 subscribers to our email list, by the way:

Follow Up

Of course, you have to deliver on your giveaway so our final step was announcing the winners via email and then ship the books. This involved collecting mailing addresses from the winners and dropping them into a spreadsheet so we could check off our list. Here’s the email we sent:


But running a contest doesn’t stop there. Take the new-found relationship to the next level with some targeted outreach. Our plan is to:

  • Send customized emails to those who joined our list but aren’t yet ConvertKit customers.
  • Follow up with the winners and ask them how they enjoyed the book.
  • Pre-launch our next giveaway to those who participated in this giveaway.

By treating our giveaway participants like royalty, we hope to show them that their time and efforts in entering the contest and sharing it with others matters. Basically, we want them to know that they matter. That we value them. And that we’re here to show them how they truly were “Born For This”.

Next Time Around

There are no mistakes, only lessons to learn from, right? Since we believe that at ConvertKit, here are the lessons we learned that we’ll bring into our next contest:

  • Social sharing efforts: we promoted our giveaway to our email list and then left it to the participants to share and spread the word on social media. Next time we’ll be more active in sharing the contest in a variety of ways on social to drive more awareness around the event.
  • Shipping: it’s just a book, right? Well, shipping a single book to far off countries can cost upwards of $20 per package. Nearly half of our randomly chosen contest winners were out of the country and shipping the prize because a large expense we weren’t anticipating. Since we’d hate to limit winners to just within the US, we’ll likely find a digital option to deliver to our overseas friends next time around.
  • Follow up sooner: That follow up plan above? It hasn’t been implemented yet and our contest is a few months old at this point. It’s still worth doing but in an ideal world we would have put the plan into action much closer to the end of the contest.

The greatest takeaway from this contest was learning more about our customers. We learned that you like books (yay!), you are interested in growing your email list, and you are passionate about building a business you were born to do.

Have you run a contest for your business? Tell us about it in the comments and let me know if you learned anything from our contest teardown you can apply to your events moving forward.

Val Geisler

Val is a yogi, mom, military wife, and avid podcast fan. She is ridiculously obsessed with sharing and creating content that actually makes a difference in the world, connecting with her fellow bloggers, and doing more with less effort. Val is based on Columbus, Ohio (O-H!) and can often be found oversharing on Instagram at @lovevalgeisler.

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