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Promotional Power Punch Generate more buzz and attract new clients with a unique give-away contest

By Sarah Pierce

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Savvy business owners know that besides unbeatable prices and top-notch customer service, nothing generates more customer interest than giving away free stuff. Promotional giveaways come in all shapes and sizes, from free pencils and magnets emblazoned with the company logo, to free gift certificates, products and . franchises?

Franchise matchmaker FranNet, a consultant company that helps entrepreneurs find the perfect franchise, decided to buck the promotional trend late last year by holding a "free franchise" contest for home repair franchise Mr. Handyman, which would waive the territory fee of a new Mr. Handyman franchise for one lucky winner.

Their now defunct website, www.givemeafranchise.com, provided a description of the two companies and what the contest was. Entrants were invited to write an essay of 300 words or less on why they would make a great franchisee for Mr. Handyman. The website also required entrants to pass a financial qualification and complete the FranNet questionnaire, a profiling tool FranNet uses to help evaluate and match people with the best-fitting franchise.

Joel Libava, president of FranNet's Cleveland branch, was the first-level screener for all 150 entrants. "I would rate the [essays] as great, good, average or poor before I sent them to Todd Recknegal, president of Mr. Handyman, and Jen Olson, the Mr. Handyman franchise director," Libava says. "I looked at the essay first, then asked, do they have the financial wherewithal to do this?"

Libava says about 30 percent of the entrants were not financially qualified, because even though the $30,000 territory fee was waived, the winner was still required to pay nearly $19,500 for the franchise fee (which includes training, documentation and a grand opening kit) and Mr. Handyman's Dell computer package. The winner would also have to possess enough working capital to operate the awarded franchise. Although the financial part was important, Libava says he was willing to give entrants with poor financial backgrounds a chance if their essays were compelling.

"I was looking for someone who had some type of vision, who wanted to grow something big," he says.

That's exactly what Steve Biehler, 51, had in mind when he entered the Mr. Handyman giveaway contest a week before it ended on January 31, 2005. A former vice president of finance for two major corporations, Biehler was looking for a business that would allow him to spend more time with his wife and two children, but still provide an income comparable to what he was making in corporate America. Biehler was also looking for a franchise that had the attributes he felt were most important: professionalism, quality, integrity, customer service and a winning mentality.

"Todd Recknegal talked about wanting to be the Lexus in terms of service in this industry, and that really resonated with me," says Biehler, adding that he feels Mr. Hnadyman has a business model that could position them as the premium brand in the handyman industry.

Biehler's past experience in corporate financing and operations, combined with his essay outlining the five attributes he was looking for in a franchise, made him the winner of the Mr. Handyman/FranNet franchise giveaway. "It was probably one of the first times in my life that I was speechless," he says. Biehler plans on opening his new franchise in mid- to late June in his hometown of Redondo Beach, California, and will also serve the Manhattan Beach, Hermosa Beach and Torrance areas.

Both FranNet and Mr. Handyman have no immediate plans to repeat the contest for a second time, but Libava says it's not out of the question--especially considering the increased interest both companies received from potential franchisees.

"This promotion went fantastic," says Libava. "Mr. Handyman is happy. We're happy. And the most important thing is, we helped someone get into business very inexpensively and helped them become an entrepreneur."

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