Five Tips to Win More Awards
One of my favorite volunteer gigs is judging local business awards. I love meeting other entrepreneurs, learning their stories, analyzing their companies and stealing their secrets for success. (No one said I was completely altruistic.) I've also been lucky enough to have won a few awards, both personally and for my business, and honestly, in a line of work where you don't often have reasons to get dressed up and give acceptance speeches, it's a nice break from the ordinary.
After a few years of doing this, however, I've come to realize something important—it's not always the "best" companies who win. The winners are the ones who tell their story the best. Sitting on the other side of the judging table made me appreciate my background in journalism and my ability to tell a good story, because it dramatically improved my odds of winning. (It also helps that I'm awesome, and my company is, too.) In a competition where everyone is more or less dead-even worthy, the nominee who can't seem to clearly state why he or she (or his or her company) should win...won't win.
In the interest of helping my fellow business owners win more of those coveted accolades, here are five tips to help get you up on that stage, dabbing your eyes and thanking your agent.
1. Understand your story. Why did you start your company? What does your company do? What has the path been from founding to today? These are pretty basic questions, but they are stumpers for a lot of people. Having a solid understanding of the timeline of your business, your financials, and any compelling tidbits (you started your company because you saw people in the industry weren't being treated fairly, or your dad had always dreamed of doing this, etc.) will make the entire process much easier. Always keep a good, updated set of financials on hand, as well as a basic stat sheet on your company—number of employees, revenue figures, etc.
2. Express your story with clarity. Once you have collected all your company information, sit down and get really clear on the best way to express it. Think in terms of soundbites. Most applications give you 250 words or less to answer questions, so you must be concise. In-person interviews for awards are typically very short, as well, so you need quick, clear answers to the questions they will ask. Once you think you've arrived at good answers, have someone not familiar with you or your business listen/read and give you feedback. Then revise. The good news is that most business award applications ask pretty much the same questions, so the answers you prepare can be re-used indefinitely. (These answers also make great website copy and marketing materials. Bonus!)
3. Hire a writer. One of the biggest mistakes I see companies make is that they have their sales manager, who has never written anything longer than a performance evaluation, fill out the award applications. And then they wonder why they never win. I've read some truly terrible award submissions in my time that were rambling, incoherent and deeply confusing. Those got moved to the bottom of the pile, very quickly. If you have someone on staff who is a talented writer, put them to work, but if you don't, spend the small amount of money it takes to hire a professional. If winning an award is truly important to you, this is an investment worth making. There are plenty of sites you can find to hire someone for a brief writing assignment. Upwork is a good one.
4. Prepare for interviews. Once you've made it to the personal interview portion of an award process, the pressure is really on you to prepare. You cannot wing it. There are about three people on this planet capable of winging interviews, and they are all Hollywood actors. The rest of us mere mortals need preparation. Sit down with someone across an uncomfortably large conference table and have them ask you questions about you, your company, your civic engagement, and anything else you think the award judging committee might be interested in. Then repeat. Do it more than once. The day of the interview, arrive early so you are not flustered. Wear clothes that make you feel confident, and drink plenty of water (dry mouth is a real thing.) Breathe deeply before entering the room, and remember to breathe during the interview, too. Thank everyone when you are done, and keep breathing until you are out of the room. Fainting does make a strong impression, but it might not be the right one.
5. Have an awesome company. It should go without saying that in order to win awards, you have to have an awesome company (or be awesome yourself.) But, I'm going to say it anyhow. Don't apply for awards if you have a deeply flawed company culture, or you are on the brink of bankruptcy, or you are facing several major lawsuits for copyright infringement. Just let this one pass. Focus on getting your company (or yourself) back on its feet, and THEN apply for all the awards—it'll just be the icing on the cake.
Winning awards can be a great way to attract attention to your business, boost employee morale (who doesn't like working for a winning company?) or simply get the affirmation we all need that what we are doing in life is worthwhile. With these five tips, you'll be a little closer to enjoying all those benefits (while also looking like Adele at the Grammys.)