It can be expensive and time-consuming, so exactly why would you try to win an award for your business? Here’s the why, what, how and when guide to entering awards.

Why?

The value of awards isn’t just about the kudos of winning them. There’s plenty of mileage in being shortlisted – your local paper or relevant trade journal may well be interested and the awards ceremony itself is an awesome networking opportunity.

But I don’t need to go to the trouble of entering an award to network, you might say. Well that’s true, but tell that to my client who secured a coffee with the CEO of one of the UK’s biggest telecoms companies by approaching him at an awards ceremony. He subsequently asked his sales director to spend a day going through her business plan.

She had been shortlisted for entrepreneur of the year and went on to be named runner up and, as it turned out, the CEO had been on the judging panel.

Then there was the time that a newspaper article featured a client who’d been shortlisted for two very specialist awards. This client had been struggling to find an alternative importer as many didn’t want to deal with their small volumes. All of a sudden they were approached by two very large importers which had both read about the company in the paper. The result was their import costs being slashed by 50%.

Both winning awards and the ceremonies you get to attend are the ultimate morale-booster and a chance to formally recognise the great work you and your team do. Being able to say “award winning” builds confidence in you and your business among potential clients and helps you stand out as an authority in your field.

What?

Convinced? So if you want to win an award for your business, where on earth do you start?

As with many things, there’s not so much a right answer to this question as a right-for-you answer. Entering awards can be like pouring resources into a big black hole, as to truly get any reward you need to tailor each entry and spend time producing quality information and evidence.

I’d recommend you think carefully about which awards you want to enter. What aspects of your business are you really proud of? Talk to colleagues, family and close friends if you’re drawing blanks – it’s easy to think of our day job as mundane when we’re so close to it.

Then think about the sector you operate in, your local area and the trade journals you read. I pretty much guarantee they will have relevant awards you can enter.

But you should also consider your reasons for entering – perhaps it’s about customer recognition or improving morale. Use your criteria to shortlist the awards you’d most like to get as the choice is so vast.

How much?

Be aware that although many awards are free to enter, they tend to be accompanied by glittering (paid for) awards ceremonies at which the winners are announced. It’s worth checking this out in advance so you’re prepared for the expense and can decide how many people to send and how you’ll choose them.

Speaking from experience, there’s nothing so demoralising as your work being shortlisted for an award then being told you can’t attend the ceremony.

You also need to budget for the resources needed to write the award – whether internal or external.

How?

If you value getting an award, then you should value the effort you have to put in to enter it. First of all, take a look at previous winners. Information and even mini case studies are often available on the awards’ website. Who or what has won previously? How are they similar, or different to you? What are the things the case study focuses on? These are likely to give you clues to what the judges will respond well to.

Next, carefully read each of the categories and their associated criteria to ensure you know which suit your business best.

Finally, the key to winning awards is simple– it’s your entry. Many awards have only one stage to the process, so you literally don’t get a second chance to make a first impression. Your entry needs to be easy to read, answer the questions or address the criteria and, above all, provide evidence. It’s fine to say you’re the best at something, but the judges want you to prove it.

Writing award entries is time consuming, so leave yourself enough time – we normally advise a month from start to finish as the entry will go through many drafts and lots of people will want to have their say on it.

Because of the amount of time needed to put together a good entry, paying someone to do it for you can be good value. But if you want to do it yourself, write a draft then leave it for a while. Use someone you trust, but who doesn’t know the business inside out, to give you feedback. Don’t be afraid to re-draft and tweak until you’re really proud of it. And don’t forget to provide as much evidence as you can – facts, figures and customer testimonials should go down well.

When?

Well, pretty much any time you want. There are so many awards out there you could do at least one a month, but would they all be the right awards for you if that’s what you did?

If you aren’t sure you’re ready to enter an award just yet, compile a list of the awards you’re interested in, note their entry deadlines and take a good look at the criteria for the categories you’d consider entering. Then spend a year collating evidence or working towards those criteria to put yourself in the best position possible when it’s time to write your entry.

Louise Turner is director of Your Virtual PR Ltd, a PR and communications business providing creative and great value services to SMEs. She also runs specialist awards consultancy Awards Writers. She has won multiple awards for her work from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and has helped clients win awards for both their business and their products. One of her clients recently accepted the prize for Outstanding Young Professional from Jimmy Carr at a ceremony for a set of European awards. Find out more at www.awardswriters.com