Business awards are worth it – a guide to the entry process

By demystifying the process of business awards, disproving some of the biggest myths and highlighting the vast amount of benefits, more people will be able to reap the benefits for themselves and their business, says Denise O’Leary

Winning a business award is a very appealing concept for all business owners – the shiny trophy, the adulation from the audience, the motivation created for the team and the amazing promotional prospects.

What’s not to like?

Business owners and marketing teams are always testing and perfecting ways to raise brand profile, increase awareness, win and retain clients and build team cohesion and many of these aims can be serviced by entering business awards, yet this is often not considered. Lack of confidence is an often-cited problem, alongside limited time and resources.

Understandably, businesses need to understand what benefits will be derived from winning awards before they make the commitment of time and effort to compose an entry. Some awards are free to enter whereas others have an entry cost or associated commitment such as you must attend the ceremony. Time commitment for the entry generation is the major resource that needs to be considered. So why is entering awards a good use of your marketing budget?

The award entry process provides an excellent opportunity to assess where the business currently is, recent achievements relative to your market peers and review how business challenges have been addressed and overcome to embed best practice for the future. This provides good business discipline by celebrating achievements and prioritisation of future activity.

Similarly, award entries provide a chance to redefine business direction and repurpose targets if things aren’t going to plan.In addition, winning an award creates competitive advantage, increased commercial benefits, further trust in your business and better team cohesion.

Despite these benefits, many myths still exist relating to business awards that stop people from entering. Many of these are not true and here are some of the most common:

The winner is already chosen

Probably one of the greatest fears is that all the effort will be wasted because the winner has been chosen before judging even begins. Whilst the loser may mutter, ‘They’re a fix’, this is commonly not the case. However, it is true that not all awards are created equal so check the rules of entry as some depend on votes, attending an expensive ceremony or buying advertising. There are many ethical awards so focus your effort on these and prioritise those that have independent judging panels. Check out who has won in the past, assess the professional status of the website and see if there are recognised sponsors to see if this is the right award for you. Being aware of the judging process, the longevity and professionalism of the awards should be a good indicator.

Awards are too much effort

Yes entry does involve effort to do your business justice, but the benefits outweigh the energy commitment. Don’t just put effort into the entry, make a plan to promote and leverage the resulting marketing and PR opportunities. Seize the chance to make a speech, pose for as many photos as you can. This will showcase your company and build brand awareness. Leverage your social media channels and those associated with the event. By linking and sharing this content you are using other people can help market your business and third party verification is very powerful for customers.

Awards are just for show offs

Never mind that – make sure you showcase your company!. Winner status has many advantages – both from your peers that recognise your achievements as well as your team so show them you are thankful for their efforts. Leverage your triumph to spread your message. Send out a ‘thank you’ to those who have supported you. This is really powerful – not merely revelling in the win, but appreciating everyone who has contributed to the success. How you acknowledge the support sets you apart from your competition – it shows you care. Award winning also helps you to recruit amazing talent. The best people in your industry will want to work for the best business in the industry. You deserved your win – wear your accolade with respectful pride.

Each award entry needs effort to deliver the winning result there are no shortcuts. Want to create an amazing entry? Here are some top tips:

Understand why you want to win

A great place to start is building an award calendar that includes the details and due dates for the upcoming year. Make sure to revisit this as more information comes out over the course of the year. This will help you to visualise the awards and exactly why you want to win, making the entry process much smoother as you are fully engaged.

Can you answer all the questions?

This might sound like common sense, but if there are responses that you are not confident in, this has a big impact upon the likelihood of success. If you are asked to submit a business plan and accounts you will need to be prepared to send them, otherwise you will be denied the points associated with them which will only hinder your chance of winning. If you are shortlisted will you need to go and present? There are a huge amount of awards out there so you will be able to find one right for you.

Write the entry offline

This is a very practical but often missed stage.Many award entries are through an online format such as a form, or specific online portal but craft your response offline first so you can edit and get comfortable with the content first. This also avoids the disaster of technological difficulties that cause you to lose your entry. This way you can finesse the language and make best use of the word count.

What to include

The impact from your entry comes from shouting about why you are different to other businesses. Your USP and client testimonials are a key way to demonstrate why you are a cut above the rest. For judges it is not enough to simply say why you are different, show them by including as much evidence as possible. If clients are prepared to go on record with their praise for you, the judges can see how good you are.

Treat every award individually

You may choose to enter multiple categories at the same awards but each should be treated differently because they will have separate criteria – this could include minimum turnover requirements, trading length, geographical criteria, extra work in the community or in-depth case studies. The language and content needed for one may be completely different to the next so to give yourself the best chance of winning, the entry criteria needs to be mirrored and effectively displayed on the entry form.

Make Yours Stand Out

The judges will be reading a lot of award submissions, which can quickly blend into one so try to make your submission stand out. While it’s not always possible to use interesting colours or a lot of imagery, as answers may need to be entered in boxes on the application, you can make your answers stand out through your writing. Add personal anecdotes to make your entry memorable and ensure it mirrors the tone of your brand.

Know what the judges want

It may seem obvious, but give the judges what they are looking for. Judges need to see evidence to show how you are an industry pioneer. Don’t avoid your challenges, show how you overcame them and be sincere in how this has helped you to grow in yourself and your business. Get testimonials from staff about why they enjoy being part of the organisation and the activities alongside the day job you do such as charitable works and community engagement. Judges can always tell when things do not add up so be honest with your entry. Lying or making up figures will not stand you in good stead to becoming an award winner.

Review your entry carefully

Before submitting your award entry make sure says exactly what you want to say about your business; you might only get one chance to impress. Does it tell your story? why you started your business and the challenges you have you overcome? Does it show your greatest achievements to date? If you let the judges engage with your business journey and provide a real authentic insight into your organisation you are much more likely to be shortlisted and even win.

I believe every businessperson should be able to unlock the power of business awards. By demystifying the process, disproving some of the biggest myths and highlighting the vast amount of benefits, more people will be able to reap the benefits for themselves and their business.

Denise O’Leary is the founder of Purpol Marketing, a multi-award winner and professional bid writer, who has helped clients win opportunities valued at over £3.5bn. Within her new book WINNER – How to Win Business Awards, where she shares her proven award-winning process, showing you how to find awards to enter, what evidence to gather and techniques for maximum entry standout.

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