With her more than a decade of experience putting on awards programs and liaising with judges, My Business asked Momentum Media’s senior events producer, Bronwyn Cooksley, into our podcast studio to discuss the do’s and don’ts of nominating for a business award.
Below is a checklist of the 13 key points that she and past judges recommend ticking off before submitting an awards entry. Good luck!
1. Check your eligibility
The most basic of all advice about entering business awards is to first check that you are eligible to enter.
“It’s a lot of work to do a really good submission. And you don’t want to find that you’ve put all this work in and you’re suddenly not eligible,” Ms Cooksley explained.
She said that while such an eventuality does not happen often, “it does happen” and that “it’s really disappointing for everybody involved”.
“We will always have eligibility criteria in an awards program, so that’s the first step.”
2. Have a plan of attack
“It’s a really good idea to do a draft beforehand, work out according to the word count, and then allow enough time,” Ms Cooksley explained.
“Most of our awards programs are open for approximately four weeks.
“If you do maybe a draft in the first week, and then you can come and revisit it and take advantage of the time allowed to edit it, improve it, enhance it.”
3. Be sure your response actually answers the question
This means addressing any specified criteria and making responses relevant to the question being asked.
Also provide a different response for each question, rather than copying and pasting the same one for each.
4. Be clear. Be succinct. Don’t waffle
Ms Cooksley admitted that some judges prefer information presented in dot points, while others prefer long form. But whichever is used, the information needs to be easily accessible.
“Perhaps, you can do a bit of a mix of both,” she said.
“If you’ve got something that if dot points or headings are going to make something very clear, use them correctly. But then if you can tie that in with a story or that entertains... there’s not a lot of entertainment in a dot point.”
5. Write with confidence
It may seem obvious, but being hesitant or uncertain within an awards submission is not a great look when you are vying to be the named the best your field has to offer.
“You have to be confident,” Ms Cooksley said, noting that going too far is also ill-advised.
“At the same time, I don’t want to say be humble, but be authentic I suppose would be the best advice there.
“Arrogance doesn’t go down very well.”
6. Provide evidence
A great statement is one thing, but taking the extra step to provide supporting evidence to back up those claims goes a long way, Ms Cooksley said.
“Attachments are excellent to enhance your submission. A lot of judges love attachments,” she said.
“But again, it comes down to relevance. If you do have an attachment, never say within your submission, ‘Just see attachment’. You need to give it context to make it relevant. You might have a nice story about the attachment or a relationship with the person that’s written the attachment.”
This evidence, she said, can come in many different forms, not just references.
“You can get testimonials. You can use video. You can even... maybe you had a fantastic piece of marketing material that you use, a blog, a link to a blog. You can be quite creative with it.”
7. Include facts and figures
A statement is one thing, but tying financial impacts to a particular strategy or decisions “does prove your success within that field”, Ms Cooksley said.
“If you can enhance it with figures or financial statements, that’s a great thing to do.
“But don’t rely [solely] on that. Some people do make the mistake of relying on their financial success. And that’s only one part of it.”
8. Provide feedback from outsiders
According to Ms Cooksley, “third-party attachments are also more highly regarded than, say, an internal one”.
That external validation can come from a variety of sources — customers or clients, suppliers or industry partners — but adds extra weight to an award entry.
“And particularly if, say, the reference is from someone who has a particular standing in that industry, so that’s obviously a really good person to have a reference from,” she said.
9. Don’t make assumptions
Judges don’t know you and your business in the same way that you do. Making their job easier by identifying and showcasing the pertinent points goes a long way.
“Don’t assume that the judges know the industry that you are in,” warned Ms Cooksley.
“They could be in a totally different industry, but have expertise — very strong expertise — in another field.”
She said the same goes of assuming judges will do external research on you and your business to find other information in support of your application.
“Never assume that they are going to do research as well. So, you need to make sure that your answer is very clear as to what makes you worthy of the award.”
10. Stick to the word count
Word counts are enforced as part of the selection criteria. And failing to respect them — either by going overboard or underutilising them — can prove costly, Ms Cooksley said.
“[If] you cut and paste it into the portal where your submission is taken, if that word count, say, for instance is over, you might actually find that the final sentence is cut in the middle,” she said.
Similarly, she said not making use of the full word count is a lost opportunity to make an extra point or provide an additional example.
11. Use the spellchecker
As Ms Cooksley outlined in the example of the “manging director”, spelling mistakes and grammar errors do not instil confidence in the words being portrayed. As such, it’s always a good idea to run the spellchecker over the submission before hitting send.
12. Be consistent
“Judges often go to check websites or LinkedIn profiles doing a bit of research or just getting some background information on a submission,” Ms Cooksley said.
That makes it important to have consistency between the information, job titles, time frames etc. given in the awards submission and what is publicly available elsewhere, including personal LinkedIn profiles and the business website.
13. Make it fun and enjoyable
One judge from the My Business Awards 2018 urged businesses entering this year to “write the submission like you’re writing to a friend, a.k.a. conversationally rather than boring corporate speech”, highlighting a desire to be entertained as well as informed.
“They’ve got so many submissions to read, and to make yours stand out, you need to make a connection with the judges, something that they’re going to remember,” Ms Cooksley explained.
“That anecdote, or that amusing story, or your success, or the wonderful impact that you might have had within your community, within your business.”
She also advised to always use a first-person point of view, which she said “makes it a lot more personable”.
Nominations are currently open for this year’s My Business Awards.