You can accomplish a lot with your words. You can earn a living, build a brand, even become location independent, all by wielding your writerly capabilities to engage, inspire and persuade.
And thanks to a new trend, you can now also use your words to win a fully established business.
Awarding a business to the winner of an essay contest is becoming a popular way for small business owners to find a next-in-line who will care for the company as much as they do. It allows them to discover candidates who are passionate about the industry but might not be able to afford to buy the business, while also drumming up a little extra cash for the next stage of their lives. As a bonus, the publicity generated by essay contests with such huge rewards can be a boost for the business.
If you’re eager to try your hand at running an inn, farm or movie theatre, here are four appealing businesses you can win via essay contest.
1. An inn in Maine
One of the first contests to surface as part of this trend this year, the Main inn essay contest was announced when Janice Sage decided to retire after 22 years as innkeeper of Maine’s Center Lovell Inn and Restaurant. She herself won the inn in an essay contest in 1993, so she opted to go the same route to find her successor.
What you can win: A B&B worth $900,000 with seven guest rooms, 10 staff members and more than 100 dinner guests on busy evenings. This isn’t for someone with zero experience who thinks running a bed and breakfast would be a neat hobby; you can expect to be on-duty up to 17 hours a day and must keep the inn and restaurant open for at least a year before you’re free to turn it into something else (if you choose).
If 7,500 or more entries are received, you’ll also win $20,000 to put towards running the inn.
How to apply: Submit an essay of 200 words or less on the theme, “Why I would like to own and operate a Country Inn.” Sage will choose her top 20 favorites based on “grammatically correct entries that show a passion for work;” from there, an impartial judging duo will select the winner “on the basis of structure of essay (introduction, body and conclusion), creativity, thought and the conveyance of capability and desire to operate a Country Inn.” Further contest details, including the entry form, can be found here.
Entry fee: $125. If fewer than 7,500 entries are received, this fee will be refunded to you.
Deadline: June 6, 2015
2. A goat farm and dairy
If you’d rather work with animals than people, check out Leslie and Paul Spell’s contest to give away their goat farm, Humble Heart Goat Dairy & Creamery. The Spells tried the traditional route of selling the farm, but they found buyers who seemed the most passionate didn’t have the funds to afford the asking price. So they took to the internet to create an essay contest that would allow interested parties to win the farm instead.
The Spells are also hoping to raise enough money to pay off the rest of their mortgage; if they get $5,000 entries at $200 apiece, they’ll earn $1 million, enough to cover the mortgage and their retirement.
What you can win: A 20-acre goat farm in Elkmont, Alabama, worth $345,000, including 85 goats and all farm equipment, plus training during the first half of November for anyone not familiar with the business of making goat cheese.
If 2,500 eligible entries are received, the winner will also get a check for $20,000.
How to apply: Submit an essay of 200 words or less describing why you are “the perfect fit to continue the farmstead goat cheese tradition.” The Spells will choose their top 20 essays, which will go on to a panel of three independent judges for final selection. Further contest details, including entry form, can be found here.
Entry fee: $150
Deadline: October 1, 2015
3. A horse farm
Goats not your scene? How about a horse farm?
Randy Silver and Carolyn Barry are giving away their Rock Spring Farm because they can no longer care for it themselves. Not only will an essay contest allow them to handpick who gets their farm, they’re hoping to raise enough money through entry fees to be able to retire comfortably and also start a fund for their grandchildren’s education. (Five thousand entries at $200 apiece would net them a cool $1 million.)
What you can win: A 35-acre horse farm in Essex County, Virginia, valued at $600,000, complete with a main house, rental cottage, cookhouse, several barns and a woodworking shed. And, of course, horses (and dogs).
How to apply: Submit an essay of 1,000 words or less “describing your desire to live in a rural area and own a hobby farm.” (If you postmark your essay on or before July 1st, it can be up to 2,000 words.) Silver and Barry will choose their top 25 essays, which will go on to a panel of judges for final determination. Further contest details and a link to the entry form can be found here.
Entry fee: $200
Deadline: October 1, 2015
4. A movie theater
Rob Newton has owned the Cape Ann Cinema and Stage in Gloucester, Massachusetts, since 2008. In that time, he developed it into an “arthouse cinema” that hosts filmmakers, offers a performance stage and allows guests to enjoy great independent and foreign films in a comfortable setting. Now he needs to step away to focus on his health and family, so he’s using the essay contest format to find a new owner and raise some funds for other community cinemas.
What you can win: A majority share (75 percent) in Cape Ann Cinema and Stage (a local steward will own the other 25 percent) and a “first option” to buy the steward out at any time. You will receive a lease for the property, all equipment and furnishings, for a total value of $150,000.
If 750 entries or more are received, the winner will also get a $20,000 check. If between 500 and 749 entries are received, the winner will get a $10,000 check.
How to apply: Submit an essay of no more than 250 words on the theme, “Why I Want to Own and Operate a Small Seaside Cinema.” Newtown and his management team will choose their top 20 essays, which will then go on to two impartial judges for final determination. Entries will be judged “on the basis of structure of essay (introduction, body and conclusion), creativity, thought and the conveyance of capability and desire to operate a Community Cinema.” Further contest details and a link to the entry form can be found here.
Entry fee: $99. If fewer than 500 entries are received, entry fees will be refunded.
Deadline: June 30, 2015
If you hear about any other interesting essay contests, share them in the comments so we can all benefit! And if none of these are a good fit, consider entering one of these 27 free writing contests.
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Get It Now
One seemingly unstoppable real estate trend this year has been the write-an-essay-win-a-housecontest, in which homeowners who want to sell their properties in a quicker, more meaningful, or potentially more profitable transaction "gifts" the house to the winning essay writer while recouping costs by amassing entry fees (typically $100 to $200.) As it turns out, this is far from a new scheme. In fact, the folks who offered to give away their historic Maine inn last spring
—a headlining-making event that seemed to have spurred a string of similar contests in recent months—actually acquired the property through an essay contest to begin with, way back in 1993. It's just that the Internet and social media in particular make it easier for these endeavors to go viral and, more importantly, draw enough entries (and accompanying fees) to make it all worthwhile.
As detailed in a new story on The New York Times, however, these contests are not entirely as twee and feel-good as they appear on Facebook feeds. So you want to run or enter a win-a-house essay contest? You'd better read this.
1. First, the math—The Maine inn contest managed to draw over 7,000 entries, which translated into more than $906,000—or just about the property's estimated value. But according to the Times, many similar contests haven't been so successful. Without enough entries to recover costs, owners are often forced to terminate the contests and begin refunding entry fees. Oof.
2. It's not all warm-fuzzies—After the winner of the Maine inn was announced this past June, a Facebook group was created to unite people who thought the contest was rigged. "Fifteen complaints were lodged with the Maine attorney general's office, which led to an inquiry by the State Police," the Timesreports. (The State Police ultimately ruled everything lawful.) And a caveat for any potential contest winners: beware of sore losers. The lucky guy who now runs the Maine inn says losing contestants keep leaving one-star reviews of the place on TripAdvisor and paying him "nasty visits and phones calls."
3. In fact it's more like a part-time job—To avoid the kind of controversy seen in the Maine inn contest, a Virginian couple running a competition for their 35-acre horse farm has gone all out to ensure the process is completely legitimate. These measures include: hiring a trustee to accept entries and remove identifying details, establishing a panel of anonymous judges to make a final decision from 25 finalists chosen by the couple, and setting up a Facebook page that details all the rules for potential contestants. The couple reportedly spendsfour hours a day reading essay entries and explaining rules to possible entrants.
4. Beware, unexpected visitors—A Houston-based realtor who tried a win-a-house essay contest had this to say to the Times: "There were always people walking around and driving by slowly. If someone else does it, I would suggest maybe not living in the place."
5. There's a site for all this—Carolyn Berry, who's behind the Virginia horse farm contest, is chronicling win-a-house contests popping up across the country on this Facebook page; inevitably, she also updates when a contest has been canceled due to insufficient entries.
Do check out the full story on the New York Times.
∙ All House of the Day posts [Curbed]
∙ Write a 200-Word Essay, Win a Historic Inn in Maine [Curbed]
∙ Oh Great, Another of Those Write-an-Essay-to-Win-a-House Contests [Curbed]