Lesson 7: Get your target audience to do a naked belly-crawl over broken glass…


Written by Josh Earl at JoshuaEarl.com

Looking for previous lessons? Lesson 0 | Lesson 1 | Lesson 2 | Lesson 3 | Lesson 4 | Lesson 5 | Lesson 6

11 a.m. on a Tuesday.

I’m at work, when a coworker says:

“Uh, your website is down.”

Srsly? Not good. Really, REALLY not good.

Over the past 24 hours, my site had taken a pounding—hundreds of pageviews a second.

And after nearly 100,000 visits, it finally keeled over.

Then the angry emails started pouring in.

Believe it or not, all of this was a good thing.

Because those visits and angry emails—they were all from people who were beating down my door to give me their email address.

This server-melting traffic flood was triggered by a simple contest I launched to grow my email list … that then went viral.

Fortunately, I was able to get my server on its feet again so my giveaway could continue.

Here’s the email I sent after importing only the first batch of new subscribers:

And by the time my contest ended, I had collected 187,991 email addresses.

That meant I’d grown my email list by 3,418%—in just over a week.

Now, my results were HIGHLY unusual.

But I’ve since helped other bloggers use giveaways to grow their lists by 50%, 100% or even 200%.

Today, using the 4 simple steps below, I want to help you grow your list too–after all that’s why you signed up to Email1K.

1. Choose a Killer & Targeted Prize

Every time I talk to someone about giveaways, I hear the same thing:

“Oh, I know! I’ll give away an iPad!”

Wrong! Bad idea.

Why? Because EVERYONE wants a free iPad.

The perfect prize is something that would make your target audience do a naked belly-crawl over broken glass-—but wouldn’t earn so much as a second glance from anyone else.

The audience for my giveaway was programmers who use Sublime Text. Many of them use the free “trial” version of Sublime, which frequently pops up an annoying nag screen.

What better prize for this audience than a free Sublime license?

Another important factor: Your prize should be something you can easily describe in 60 to 80 characters.

Most people will probably first learn of your giveaway as they flick through their Twitter or Facebook feed. If you can’t convey the idea in a tweet, you’ll have a tough time promoting your contest.

Prize selection is THE most important step in the whole process.

Choose wisely.

And if you’re not sure what your audience would love…just ask them!

2. Set Up Your Giveaway

To actually run your contest, you have a couple of options.

The Old Fashioned Way

For my first two giveaways, I just wrote up a blog post with the rules and embedded an opt-in form directly in the post. Then I just tweeted the URL and posted it on social bookmarking sites.

This approach worked pretty well. Between the two contests, I netted around 1,800 new subscribers.

But there was always something that bugged me about this, and here it is:

People had NO incentive to tell their friends about my giveaway.

If they did, it actually HURT their chances of winning, because more subscribers meant they had to compete with more people to be the one winner.

The Viral Approach

But for my most recent giveaway—the one that melted my server—I tried something different.

I used a WordPress plugin that’s specifically designed to make giveaways “go viral.”

It’s called KingSumo Giveaways, and it was actually created by Noah and the team behind Email1K and AppSumo.

What did KingSumo Giveaways do that my hacked-together contests didn’t?

It gives every person that joins your giveaway a powerful INCENTIVE to share it with their friends.

Each person who enters gets their own “lucky URL.” Then they can earn extra “entries” (chances to win) by getting their friends to enter the giveaway using that URL.

And when every person that enters tells two or three friends, well … Your contest starts to take on a life of its own.

The plugin also makes it really easy to set up a giveaway–it took me less than an hour.

Here’s what my giveaway looked like:

I walk through the entire process in detail in this post, but here are the basic steps:

  • Install the plugin on your WordPress site.
  • Choose a background image and shareable product image.
  • Add your Facebook and Twitter accounts.
  • Write a headline and some simple body copy that explains what they’ll get and how the giveaway works.
  • Hook it up to your Aweber or MailChimp account.

Kingsumo Giveaways isn’t free, but it’s one of the best investments you can make to grow your list. (You can also get a 50% discount for the plugin here.)

3. Plan Your Promotion

Even with a good prize, your giveaway won’t work if you just launch and hope for the best.

You need to give it a good shove to get it started, and then you’ll need to keep promoting it until the clock runs out.

Here are a few ways you can get the word out:

Announce your contest on your blog: This one’s a no-brainer.

Use social media: But don’t just tweet once or throw up a single Facebook post. You should post 1-3 times per day as long as your contest is active. I usually do two tweets—one in the morning and one in the afternoon each day.

Email your list: Contact your existing list when you launch. This will give you an initial burst of exposure to get the ball rolling. (Especially important if your contest has a viral component.)

You should also plan to email them again on the last day for a final flurry of signups. (Bonus tip: This is a MUST any time you’re promoting something to your list, whether it’s a giveaway, a webinar or a great deal on your latest ebook.)

Yes, you’ll get people from your existing list entering the giveaway if you do this. But the extra mileage you get when they share your contest is worth it.

Use paid advertising: This is a good option if you’re just starting out and have just a handful of existing subscribers. When you buy ads on Facebook or Twitter for a giveaway, you’ll get lots of engagement (cheaper clicks!) and people will even share your ads (free advertising!).

“Borrow” an audience: Even if you don’t have much of an audience yet, you can try to team up with someone who does.

Insider List: If you have a group of close friends or colleagues in your space or in your target audience space, give them a heads up a few days before to see if they have any feedback or if they can promote.

Find a few people who have big email lists—and whose audiences overlap with yours.

Then figure out something you can offer in exchange for them promoting your contest to their list.

This could be as simple as trading your services as a web designer. Or maybe they sell a product that you could include in your giveaway, which means more exposure for them.

4. Run Your Giveaway!

Schedule everything in advance as much as possible. This is especially helpful for the initial wave of promotions, where you want to hit multiple channels at once for maximum impact.

  • Automate as much of the launch process as you can.
  • Bulk schedule tweets in advance with Plugg.io, usually a minimum of two per day, plus some extras on the last day.
  • Schedule out the launch email and the “last chance” emails.

I like to run my contests for a MINIMUM of 10 days to two weeks so that I have plenty of time to promote them.

With the main promotions automated ahead of time, there’s not a lot you have to do to manage the giveaway. Use the time to experiment with other promotional strategies to keep the entries coming in. Two weeks is enough time to contact other sites in your niche, or test out some Twitter or Facebook ads.

And definitely make one last push as the clock winds down–urgency is a great motivator!

Fast, Easy and Inexpensive

Before I started doing giveaways, I was mainly building my list through blogging and Twitter. In a good month, I’d get 200 or 300 new subscribers. It took me more than 8 months of painstaking work to hit the 1K subscribers mark.

Giveaways are quick and easy to put together. In my case, I spent just an hour or so getting KingSumo set up and installed and another hour planning out my promotion strategy and scheduling the emails and tweets. Once I did that, the entire contest was set to run on autopilot. Well, at least until my server melted down … 🙂

Giveaways also far less costly than traditional advertising. In my niche, I find that I’m able to get email subscribers from Twitter ads for ~$1.50 each and ~$3 to ~$4 on Facebook.

By contrast, my per-subscriber cost on my first two giveaways was about $0.15, and for the crazy successful contest I ran with KingSumo, I paid a whopping $0.001 per subscriber.

I would have burned through $281,986.50 to collect the same number of addresses with Twitter ads.

That’s why Step 1 (picking the right prize) is so important.

For each of my contests, the prize only cost me $70! If I’d given away an iPad in my first two contests, I’d have paid closer to $1 each for the subscribers—and they would have been less targeted.

But the best part about adding giveaways to your list building arsenal is…

You can run one every few months and every time there is a greater chance that it will go viral.

Lesson 7 Task

1) Choose a prize. Remember that the best prize is something that’s desirable to your target audience but uninteresting to everyone else.

2) Set up your giveaway, either by creating a page on your site with an optin form or installing the KingSumo Giveaways plugin on your WordPress blog.

3) Pick three channels for promoting your giveaway, including at least one that involves reaching out to an audience beyond your own.

Leave a comment on Email1K with your plans to get in front of an outside audience.

4) Launch your giveaway, and promote it heavily for 10 days.

P.S. If want the full, gory details of my Sublime text giveaway I shared them in a guest post on the Smart Passive Income blog.

36 thoughts on “Lesson 7: Get your target audience to do a naked belly-crawl over broken glass…

  1. Adam Szabo

    Awesome post, Josh!

    I’m looking to make a giveaway with KingSumo, too, for my little blog at http://startupkiwi.com
    StartupKiwi offers 1-minute tips for entrepreneurs based on my experiences.
    I just started blogging and I have zero subscribers.

    My goal: get my first 500 subcribers who are wantrepreneurs or beginner startuppers.

    My plan:
    1. I’m going to speak at a web conference this Saturday full of young wannabe startuppers.
    2. On the last slide I mention my book I just started to write “The Eastern European Startup: 50 unique struggles in the region & how you can profit from them”.
    3. I tell them whoever subscribes to the StartupKiwi newsletter will receive a free copy of the book when it’s finished.

    With this, I’ll have the first ~50 subscribers I can message when the giveaway starts.
    I’ll also post to forums and such, contact relevant people on Twitter, etc.

    The prize for the giveaway:
    5 best-seller startup books in a bundle:
    The 4-Hour Workweek, Traction, Hooked, ReWork, All In Starup

    Do you like my plan?
    Do you think 500 is a reachable target to shoot for?
    What do you think of the book title?

    Thank you! 🙂

    1. Josh Earl

      Hey Adam!

      I do like this plan. Your prize choice seems pretty solid here.

      Going from 0 to 500 in one shot isn’t a guarantee but it seems pretty doable, especially if you can recruit some friends to help you get the ball rolling.

      Let us know how it goes!

  2. Morne

    We plan to give away a free game engine for other game developers on our site soon….and will maintain it, to sell advanced addons to it afterwards.

    It will be an RTS (realtime strategy) game engine in Game Maker Studio game development engine which is cross platform.

  3. Ernest Dempsey

    I’m interested to see how well King Sumo performs with this strategy. My email list is pretty small, only around 600 right now. As an author of fiction and personal development books, building that list up is critical. I ran a contest in the summer with a different app and was able to boost my subscribers by about a hundred or so, giving away a Kindle Fire HD.
    While I was able to get a bunch of new subscribers, many of them unsubscribed soon after because they were serial contest enterers….is that a word?
    Anyway, I wouldn’t be discouraged with that for anyone looking to try this. While we want to get quality subscribers, we also need to realize part of the game is a volume business. Even if you convert 2% of that 100,000+ you picked up, that means big time numbers on the back end.
    Thanks for sharing this post. I’m going to give King Sumo a try, promote to my Facebook audience, email list, twitter, and reach out to two other authors I’ve helped along the way to see if they’ll promote it too.
    Will post results in three to four weeks.

    1. Josh Earl

      Hey Ernest!

      I’ve seen other authors do the Kindle Fire thing too–and with similar results.

      You’d be better off picking something that’s really appealing to someone who’s interested in your genre. In your case, that probably means multiple giveaways. Maybe a book bundle of similar fiction authors (I’ll bet if you asked some indie authors they’d be happy to help you promote it) for your fiction audience, and a productivity tool or something similar for the personal development crowd.

      You’ll definitely see some unsubscribes after the contest, but it should be a reasonable number, like 10-20% and not 50%+.

      You’re right about the volume thing, but if I’d done an iPad giveaway the overlap between my audience and people who entered would have been tiny. So you really only want volume within your niche, otherwise you’ll be paying an expensive MailChimp bill for nothing. 🙂

  4. Ben

    Great post. I just ran my first my giveaway using your app and it was a bit disappointing. I collected 15 emails. I thought people would share their lucky URL but that really didn’t happen. I thought everyone who checked out my site (mostly through Google PPC) would enter but that wasn’t the case. Gotta start somewhere so I’m always learning and improving, though.

    My takeaways:
    1) Better prize than an Amazon gift card for my job website
    2) Promote through Facebook and Twitter
    3) Better promotion on my site, more prominent in your face

    1. Josh Earl

      Hey Ben!

      I haven’t tried AdWords for this yet–that would probably be pretty expensive. I do plan to run some tests with Facebook and Twitter ads, though. You’ll get a very different type of person coming in from Google–I think ads on social platforms are a better fit.

      Several others have had good results with Twitter/Facebook ads, so I’m looking forward to trying them out. I’ll be doing a writeup when I give it a shot. 🙂

  5. Emma Davis

    What a great article and idea, thank you. I did try a contest a while back to get Facebook fans which went OK but for some reason it never crossed my mind to use it to build my list (and I really need to build my list).

    One question I have though, as I don’t use WordPress. Do you know of anything similar to the KingSumo Giveaways plugin that I could use (I could build something myself but looking to save time)?

    1. Josh Earl

      Hey Emma!

      One relatively easy option if you’re not WordPress based is this: Go to DigitalOcean.com and create a private server with them. You can get servers with WordPress pre-installed, so it’s not very hard to set one up. They cost $5 a month for the smallest server.

      Then you can just run your contest from the server and shut it down when you’re done to save the monthly cost.

  6. Solmadrid Vazquez

    I’ve been using the Kingsumo giveaway and it rocks. My business is still relatively new but in the last couple months I’ve gone from less than 100 subscribers, to over 1300 subscribers, by using the plugin. Love it.

    1. Josh Earl

      Hey Solmadrid! That’s great–nice work.

      If you feel like sharing your experience, send me an email through the contact form on my site. I’d love to hear about it, especially since you almost started from zero!

  7. Brad Hussey

    This is exciting! Really got my wheels turning! I have a (fast) growing audience from my coding courses, and online tutorials. I exclusively use Coda 2 for web development, and many of my students really love Coda. However, many can’t afford it, or don’t want to shell out the cash, because it’s $100. Perfect giveaway? Only appealing to my target audience (coders, new web designers, new web developers, people wanting to learn to code like a boss).


    Thanks for the idea!

    1. Josh Earl

      Hey Brad!

      That sounds like a pretty close parallel to my giveaway (Sublime Text). Not sure if Coda has the same level of rabid devotion in its users, but I’m betting it would do well for you.

      I say go for it!

    1. Josh Earl

      I’m not sure about alternatives, but one easy solution to your problem is to go to DigitalOcean.com and spin up a private server with WordPress installed for $5 a month. You can point a subdomain of your site to that server, like giveaways.mysite.com or something.

      And you can shut it down when you’re not using it to avoid monthly charges.

  8. Lee Trends

    Thanks for the Info Josh. I got my copy of KingSumo Giveaway the first time you discussed it on Smart Passive. I ran my first contest for our Halloween event last week as a small test. Enjoyed the process and plan to do many more.

    Great write up here as well. Giveaways for my new blog will definitely be a big deal.

    Awesome list building idea!

  9. holly

    My question about doing give aways is how good of quality are these sign ups. Sure you can increase your list but do they stay and are they quality fans who will lead to income?

    My experience in running a business had taught me quality over quantity. How do you choose a good give away that aligns with your brand enough that it attracts those people who will become fans.

    1. email1k Post author

      Hey Holly! That’s a great question and one everyone should ask. A lot of the quality has to do with giving away the right thing. That’s why an iPad is bad, but a specific software/webware for a niche market is perfect. It can take time to find the perfect prize.

    2. Josh Earl

      Yep, you’re asking the right questions here. 🙂

      There’s not an easy answer as to how to find good prizes–you have to know your audience.

      As far as the quality of the signups, I’ve found that they are willing to buy, and I’m hearing the same from other people who have done similar giveaways.

      That said, you won’t have much of a relationship with these new subscribers at first. I try to think of them as leads rather than subscribers or fans. They’re giving me a shot, and now it’s my job to win them over!

  10. Simon

    I like this article. I am still publishing new content to my fairly new blog, but I plan to start a giveaway soon. I was planning on promoting it via facebook ads since I have no big audience right now.

    I am still trying to find an ideal prize that guarantees that I get targeted fans and email subscribers.

    Any ideas?

  11. Ryan

    Josh I love everything about this post. I’d love to see in a future post how you reached out to those that have the audience outside of your own that you look for

  12. Jason

    I’ve got a poll running right now on my list, and so far there’s one stand out leader in terms of a prize, so I think I know what I’ll be offering. I may try Rafflecopter first, as even the discount is a little steep for me at the moment, though I like the Giveaways plugin.


      1. Jason

        Sure thing! I’ll put this out there for folks to consider – once I got some data from my list, I went to the suppliers of the things I was giving away, told them what I was doing and that I asked my audience what they wanted, and asked if they could give me some things to give away. They were more than happy to (I got about $150 worth of stuff between them), and I think it was because I went to them with a plan and some rough data. Contest is going up on Monday.


        1. Josh Earl

          Way to go! If you’re lucky, sometimes they’ll even promote the contest for you. Free swag + a boost in your promotion.

          Definitely pays to talk to whoever makes your giveaway prize…

  13. Hoang Pham

    Hey Jason,

    What a great idea of giving away sublime license for your audience. I’m thinking of a license/subscription as a prize as well, but in which way do you give it to the winner?

    How are you able to “gift” it if there is no gift option?



    1. Josh

      Heh, good question. I ended up doing it the easy way – sent PayPal for the amount of a license. The contest was open to people who already owned a copy, plus I wanted it to be registered in their name.

      1. Hoang Pham

        Weird that I’m not receiving an update of your response earlier.

        Of course sending the amount through PayPal would be a good way.

        Why didn’t I think of this simple message before 🙂


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