Wednesday, 23 November 2016

The season to be jolly


The advents are coming.

I’m assuming you’ll want me to expand upon my earlier statement, so: “Bah!”; and a further “humbug” for good measure.

I don’t actually hate the advents. But I am wary of them.

It was 2014 when I first tackled the advents. Thanks to Di Coke’s tips, I was - for a newbie - relatively coordinated and pretty efficient, and as a result, I comped HARD.

‘Hard’ is of course relative: I comped much harder than I’d ever done before - not as hard as some folks, certainly - but well beyond my natural appetite.

I was putting so much effort into chasing that winning buzz that if I wasn’t comping, I was itching to get back to it, to tick off the ever-growing list of draws closing that day. Those comps were on my mind A LOT. And when the season came to an end, I was bereft. It was Christmas Day, and instead getting stuck into the festive cheer, I sat there all fidgetty, thinking, ‘Damn! What do I do now?!’ That hole lasted well into January, accompanied by the longest period of low mood that I’d ever experienced.

There were, of course, other factors contributing to my mood (not least the sleep deprivation associated with having small children!), but anyone who has seen gambling addiction first-hand will recognise that these are the signs of compulsive behaviour.

Now, let’s not over-egg the pudding. Comping is hardly a vice, and it’s undoubtedly more benign than gambling. All the same, it still feels great to win, and it’s understandable that people enjoy winning as often as possible.

The important thing, however, is to be aware of when this changes from a hobby to an obsession. So, if you find yourself starting to neglect your chores (or even your family) in order to squeeze in a few more entries, please take a break. To borrow the words from the Gamble Aware campaign – when the fun stops, stop.

I like to liken the advents to a bottomless pitcher of eggnog: novel in moderation but impossible to finish - and by God will you suffer if you try!

Hoe Hoe Hoe (Christmas Dad Joke #17)

So, let’s keep things merry this Christmas - here are my recommendations for keeping the fun flowing:
  • Don’t enter everything! Focus on the prizes you really want.
  • Set time limits not entry targets.
  • Take regular breaks – look after your eyes as well as your mental health!
  • Download a red-screen app such as f.lux or Twilight to protect your eyes from screen glare once the sun goes down (and help you sleep after a hard night of comping!) 
  • Socialise – chat with fellow compers on Facebook (or whatever other forum you prefer).
  • Be creative – break up the form filling with more challenging comps.
Now go out there, do your prep (see appendix!), and enjoy yourself!

How do you comp through December? Do you enjoy the advents? What are your tips for staying sane in this hectic period?

I mentioned Di Coke’s tips - they’re available here
I also recommend Grant Robson’s post on surviving the advents

If you know of any other posts on the subject, please post a link in the comments!

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Looking for the edge

Would you like to win more?

That’s one of those rhetorical questions, isn’t it?

A more literal question is: how much harder do I need to work to improve my win rate?

I was pondering this just recently so conducted a quick poll on Facebook to see how many comps folks enter every week, and how well they do.

Lest I offend any statisticians out there, when I say ‘quick poll’, I mean a small convenience sample that totally fails to represent the wider comping community, and likewise fails to use mathematically consistent units (after all, it’s possible to complete a whole bunch of entry forms in the time it takes to finish a tie-break or tap out a droll anecdote). In short, the kind of survey that obtains data good enough for naught but spurious hypotheses and quack statistickery. But since such data works so well for the Great British press, it’ll be perfectly sufficient for our present needs.

Indeed, for the purposes of this post, all we need to know is that the best result was a reported win rate of 1.6 per cent; the worst, 0.03 per cent. Well, a couple of folks did report a win rate of nil, but I’m assuming this was for dramatic effect. In any case, the mean win rate was under 1 per cent.

So what does that mean?

On the one hand, I can take solace that my win rate isn’t so bad. It doesn’t top 1%, but it could be much worse. On the other hand, if I want to average an extra prize a week, elementary maths suggests I’ll have to comp at least 100% harder. 

Or will I? The other interesting thing I observed was that those compers who entered the most competitions tended to have the lowest win rate.

While this observation absolutely doesn’t reflect win value, it is an advert for focusing your game. Indeed, the person with the best win rate reported entering about 30 comps a day, but winning 15–20 prizes a month. How did she do it? By focusing on two things: creative comps and wishlist comps.

Now, as the person who conducts your annual review will tell you, no one has weaknesses - just scope for improvement. So, if someone more successful than I kindly shares the source of their force, I figure they’re pretty much spoon-feeding me opportunities for development.

Identifying the areas for improvement is one thing. Making objectives specific, meaningful, attainable, realistic and trackable is quite another (I can’t believe I’m actually talking about SMART targets of my own volition - I can only apologise!).

Take creative comps, for example. I was pretty sure there wasn’t much more I could do: I’m a member of a Facebook group for creative/effort comps and must check Loquax and PrizeFinder for creative comps every other day. I may not have the wit or skill to enter everything I find, but I certainly enter what I can. I must have scratched my head for a good half hour before it came to me - those three little words that everyone longs to hear: “comment to win”. That search string has so been added to my daily routine!

As for wishlist comps - this area has never been my strong point. For starters, most of my wishlist is too vague - I might as well type “win nice stuff” into Google. Secondly, I just don’t try hard enough to win these things! True, any basic giveaway listed on the main prize sites is going to have thousands of entries, but the bottom line is simple (if clich├ęd): you have to be in it to win it. So my pre-new year’s resolution is simple, if a little bleedin’ obvious: take time out to define my targets and then actually work towards them.

To this end, I’ve started by working on my wishlist bookmarks - searches for everything from spa breaks and Macbooks to wellies and razors. Last year, I found a competition for an electric toothbrush that - besides me - had just the one entrant, so I’m hopeful lightning can strike twice.

In closing then, it bears repeating that throwing more hours at this game isn’t necessarily the answer. There’s always something we can improve. At the same time, however, don’t try to change everything at once: no power lifter bench-presses 400 pounds on their first visit to the gym - improvements come in increments!

How many competitions do you enter in an average week? What’s your win rate like? What are your tips for improving comping success?

Thursday, 10 November 2016

They all laughed at Christopher Columbus

Comping isn’t a sexy hobby. There - I’ve said it. Sega isn’t making a videogame franchise for compers; Her Majesty won’t be knighting anyone for being really good at it; and the odds of the BBC replacing the Great British Bake Off with Extreme Comping UK are so long as to be nonsensical.

Few civilians will salute your dedication to your art. Some will even sniff at it.

I did a quick straw poll of my Facebook friends to gauge their opinions on the matter. I got two responses: a positive comment from a fellow comper, and a like - from my mum.

Based on that convenience sample then, I’m assuming at best that my friends have the same interest in comping as they do in the shoe size of my neighbour’s plumber; or at worst, are so cheesed off with Facebook incessantly interrupting them with the tedious minutiae of my comping activities that they’ve muted me already.

A lack of enthusiasm I can live with. More disheartening, however, are the stories I hear about people laughing at compers - ‘you're wasting your time with competitions - no one ever wins them!’

Notwithstanding the fact that belittling people for enjoying themselves is a pretty pathetic form of bullying, the suggestion is plainly fallacious, as a brief review of the facts will testify: pull out your phone, pull up your spreadsheet and smile sweetly. If you feel it necessary, then by all means draw attention to your most recent wins (or your most impressive, if you feel that would be the better response) - the important thing to remember here is that it doesn’t matter if you win big or you win small: either way, you’re a winner.

And it’s not just prizes that make a winner - it’s attitude too. What’s the one thing that repeat winners share? Determination. Whether you call it perseverance or plain stubbornness, no one gets through the first couple of months without it. I can't begin to imagine how many thousands of competitions I’ve failed to win. Such trivia I shrug off with the day’s dandruff (at least, I would if I had hair). If I can handle a quiet week, I can certainly dismiss a doubting Thomas.

‘You’re just lucky - I never win anything.’

I tell you what … I’ll see your old chestnut and raise you another, because the harder I work, the luckier I get.

To be sure, there’ll never be Olympic medals for comping. But if there's one thing this hobby has in common with the innumerable sporting disciplines out there, it's that if you want to win, you’ve got to train the right muscles - in this case, your luck muscles.

(At this point, I should stress that if you’re after a luck coach, I’m not your man - not because I’m prohibited from sharing such arcane knowledge by some shady guild of freemason compers, but rather that I’d be selling you short. Anyone who wants to be more lucky should start by reading Di Coke’s Superlucky Secrets - and then reading it again!)

It has been said that jealousy can play a part in some folks’ attitudes. But, as my old man used to say, never attribute to malice that which can be put down to ignorance. It’s amazing how many mockers and gloom-mongers button up once they’re on the end of a larger birthday gift or an extraordinary little treat.

To paraphrase Gershwin: keep the laughers busy - that’s how people are.

After all - you’re the winner, aren’t you? Who's got the last laugh now?

Have you ever been on the receiving end of negative comments because of your comping? What’s your approach to dealing with negativity?

Friday, 4 November 2016


What makes a power comper? Dedication and success, I’d venture - and there’s a direct correlation between the two: in this game, you make your own luck. Sure, I could win more, but I’d have to try harder, and I'm not sure that's an adjustment I should make - after all, we all must find our equilibrium, right?

All the same, I like to improve. This has been my best year for consistency with my comping. Consistency is good - partly because it’s a reflection of my better mental health, and partly because it means staying on the win wagon.

I like the win wagon. It’s like a little happy-bus. It’s exciting when it goes fast - anything better than a win a week, in my case; and while I love all the stops, some are undoubtedly extra special. I’m not just referring to big-ticket prizes here - though these are undoubtedly great; rather, I’m thinking of personal milestones. In my case, this was the week I hit a new personal best - specifically, prize value in a single calendar year. By no means does this establish me as one of the community’s high-rollers, but with the rest of November and December still to come, this year can only end on a high note!

And in case you're interested, the prize (a £75 voucher for Frankie & Benny's) was for snapping a picture of the F&B digger at Diggerland Yorkshire - as far as I can see, there were only five entries for the month I entered!

A small digger and a small child
Happy Days at Diggerland!

Wishlists aside, what sort of comping goals do you set? What’s been your best ride on the win wagon?