The pictures are virtually identical – only the individuals concerned change. A team of tux-wearing representatives of a business are on a stage. A comedian is handing out the awards. Someone is punching the air triumphantly.
Business awards are big business in themselves. They’re usually a fun night in a posh hotel for employees – even if they don’t win. But what are the benefits for businesses that win or get shortlisted? Are submissions hard work? And are there any tips for making sure your entry impresses the judges?
Matthew Ford is Operations Manager at Creative Nature, a firm that makes healthy snacks based in Surrey that started up in 2012. “We started by entering the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards 2018 for the Surrey area, and after winning these went to the national finals for our category, which was ‘scale-up business of the year’,” he says. “We actually picked up the overall FSB UK ‘small business of the year’ title at the finals. We are members of FSB, so we hear about the awards through newsletters. We’ve also been previous regional winners.”
Stephen Whitehorne, a freelance photographer who lives in Berwickshire, in the Scottish borders region, won the Scottish nature photographer of the year and best portfolio photography exhibit at the Chelsea Flower Show 2017. “The submission process was simple and quick, although it was necessary to attend my exhibit for all six days of the show,” he says.
For the Chelsea award, the main challenges were logistical – transporting heavy, framed photographs from Scotland to London; setting up at the show; and dealing with “bureaucracy, security and insurance” stipulations.
Submitting an award entry is easy if you are passionate about your business and know the figures, says Mr Ford. “Sell your business to the judges.”
He says he goes into detail when entering awards, and that it can take two to three hours. “You have to know your financials. There’s no point writing a beautiful entry, but then letting yourself down by not having turnover, profit or margin info.”
Collating this information can be useful in itself, says Mr Ford. “I find entering awards a great way to assess what we’ve achieved over the past year.”
ETree Productions makes products including homeware and gardening equipment. Its founder, Jim Randall, spent two days writing an award entry for ‘business innovation’ in the SME Bedfordshire Business Awards 2018, and went on to win the award for ‘entrepreneur of the year’.
“I didn’t know what I was supposed to write, so I followed the guidelines,” he says. “I let them see my thinking, history, web presence, videos and pictures and so on.”
Ultimately, though, most of the hard work should already be done before your business enters an award. “The success I have achieved in awards is, in a sense, the result of more than 30 years of experience and dedication as a photographer,” says Mr Whitehorne.
It was second time lucky for Beiwei 55, a UK tour operator specialising in tours for visitors from China to the UK. It won the ‘inbound tourism’ award at the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence 2018, having previously come runner-up in a different award category (great China welcome).
“Both times we felt we were strong candidates for the award, and confident in our offering,” says Eve Baker, Managing Director of the firm.
Beiwei 55 first found out about the VisitEngland tourist award through a Visit Britain newsletter. Filling in the award entry application took about two to three hours. After Beiwei 55 had been shortlisted, it was interviewed by one of the awards judges.
People entering awards need to show their pride in their work, says Ms Baker. “It is important to be honest about what you do, but even more important to be proud of it,” she says. “We were both of these in our application, and I believe it put us in a good light. Play to your strengths, and if you are a small business be honest about that. Judges are usually looking for quality, not quantity.”
When your firm has won an award, what are the benefits that ensue?
After winning the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards 2018, Creative Nature was invited by FSB and London Stock Exchange to perform the prestigious Market Open Ceremony in summer 2018. Another benefit was media coverage.
Winning an award can also help improve a company’s reputation and increase sales.
“Having the winner’s emblem on our website and emails, I believe, helps build trust and increase sales conversions,” says Ms Baker.
Mr Ford’s advice to those wavering about entering is to just go for it. “Even if you don’t win, you get to network with fellow finalists, and these contacts could prove invaluable,” he says.
Ms Baker agrees. “My advice is to enter even if it seems like a long shot,” she says. “You will learn from the experience and have an application to take forward for future awards, even if you don’t win.”
Be concise and keep within the word limit. You have a limited space to grab the attention of the judges
Give yourself time to apply – don’t rush. Take the time to showcase your achievements, but remember the entry deadline
Tell a story, and grab the judges’ attention from the title through to the content
Substantiate your entry with attachments, but make sure they are relevant. Remember to include links to your website and customer testimonials
Read the criteria, and make sure you address each point clearly. If you entered the previous year, don’t presume the criteria have remained the same
Focus on your business success in facts
Presentation is key – use bullet points or sub-headings in your entry, and make sure it
is well structured and grammatically correct
Enter the correct category, and make sure that the award reflects what you excel at
If you are entering more than one category, tailor your entry accordingly. Entries that are just copied and pasted across numerous categories are unlikely to be relevant to the criteria
Be passionate. Remember that you are showcasing your business and achievements to the judges. If you yourself are not being passionate about your business, you can’t expect them to be passionate, either
To enter the FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards, click here