How and why to enter awards

Have you ever thought about entering for an award? There are many advantages to doing so: the process of completing an application makes you assess your business, while being shortlisted is a great chance to do some PR and add to your practice credibility. And displaying an award-winner logo on your website can help build trust.

But creating a winning entry takes time. You need to identify which awards are most likely to benefit your business and have credence in the eyes of your target audience, most often your patients, but also your peers. Read on to find out about how to give your entry the best chance of success.

Entering awards should be a strategic part of your business promotion alongside other marketing activities. Spend a few hours researching what awards are available, both local and national. Some awards may be specific to the optical industry but there are many more awards with categories as diverse as customer care and marketing campaigns, so have a look around. Many awards will have free entry, but do check this as some companies run awards which demand an entry fee. You also need to explore if you will be asked to pay to attend the awards ceremony.

Examine the website for each award, ask colleagues their opinions and then create a short list of awards which you feel are most appropriate for our business. Some may be for specific members of staff, such as ‘Apprentice of the Year’, others may even be something that you want to nominate a patient for. Consider which business awards will give you the best chance of winning and are relevant and specific awards to your practice, business and specialisms that will show your passion and that of your team.

Remember – you can’t win if you don’t enter! A few lucky businesses find themselves in the position of being nominated by a patient or member of staff, but most of the time you need to propose your own practice. This is the normal process for many business awards, and if nominations from businesses are not allowed the award entry form will make this clear.

Spec Care was nominated last year in the Optician Awards for supplier of the year by Specs4us. Rob Barrow says: “We made it to the finals and have really enjoyed the association and experience. It was an amazing feeling to be listed with some of the most familiar names in optics. I was extremely proud off my staff. We have also found it gave business benefits as the crest has given a small company the credibility of a big name and shows we are a solid business to new contacts. It was our nomination and resulting credibility that was a huge factor in Spec Care becoming the importer and wholesaler for Erin’s World.”

Andrew Bailey of Just Spectacles in Bideford recently won North Devon’s new business of the year award. He says: “A customer recommended us for the award which was amazing. There were five business shortlisted for the award, so it was incredible to be recognised at that level. The awards were voted on and decided by local business leaders together with editors from the Mirror newspaper group. We were invited to the awards evening at £55 a head and instantly thought ‘here we go, the real reason for the awards’!

“The nominated businesses offered an amazing array of services, from a children’s nursery to adult rehabilitation care, so winning was a total shock.”

Andrew’s new business is a dispensing only practice. He says: “I’ve worked in Optics for 36 years and had wanted to experiment with a dispensing only practice for a long time. The recognition of an award boosts your confidence and motivation to push ahead harder and be more ambitious about the future. Customers mention the award every week and we achieved a 45 per cent growth in sales in the month following coverage in the local press.”

To start the planning process, record the awards you may want to enter on a wall planner. Examine the rules, the questions, the judging criteria and even the judges’ biogs. Once it is time to enter, read all the details carefully to find out what the judges are looking for. If you are entering a number of awards it can be tempting to reuse the same text for each one, but tailoring your entry every time will give you the best chance of success. Before you start filling in a form, list the key strengths that you want to highlight in your entry. Often you have limited space and a list will ensure you cover everything you want to include. Back each point you make with an example. If when you write your entry you feel you haven’t got enough to say, consider waiting until the following year to strengthen your chances of being a finalist.

Good quality entries impress judges, so write in clear, simple yet professional business language and preferably in the third person. If your strengths don’t lie in writing, ask someone to lend a hand. Write down your thoughts and ideas and when you have a draft get a colleague to help complete the final entry. Once your entry is written, mull over it for a few days before submission. This allows you to return to it with new thoughts and inspiration. Ask someone else to check it too. If allowed, back up your entry with evidence: this could be anything from PR clippings to spreadsheets.

Assessing what the judges are looking for in a winner is vital to your success. Put yourself in the judge’s shoes and see your entry as they would. You may think your business is wonderful, but why would they? By looking at it from a new perspective you will present them with a champion entry. The judges need to set apart your entry from all the others, so in order to stand out from the crowd, find creative ways to answer the questions. Many awards will want to know about your sales and business growth, ROI, competitors and even future expansion. Provide graphs and key performance indicators to strengthen your application. Inject your passion and personality into your entry by highlighting any challenges, successes, inspiration and ambitions. Above all, you should be able to demonstrate why your product or service is the best thing since peanut butter. Be proud to show off your business success!

Mandy Corbett’s business, Barnham Opticians, Barnham, West Sussex, has just won the 2018 customer care award from the Arun business partnership. She says: “My husband attends breakfast and business meetings. One is with the Arun business partnership and this is how he heard about the awards. The awards are open to all businesses in the Arun District, a large area in West Sussex. You had to apply for the relevant category or categories you want to enter and they send you forms to fill in, related to the business and category you entering. The sponsors of each category whittled them down and then they went to a judging panel who chose the finalists who they felt should be short listed. These went on to the person who runs the Arun business partnership, who decided on the winner.”

After sending in entries, Mandy adds: “We were notified that we had been nominated for an award but we did not know which category it was for. We went to the awards ceremony where we had dinner and awards were handed out like at the Oscars. The nominations were read out, with a few words about the winner. Then the envelope was opened and after the winner was announced we went on stage to collect our trophies. We were over the moon simply to be short listed, so when they announced we had won we were all overjoyed. I was so happy and so proud of all my team.

Mandy goes on: “Since winning we have all been on a high. All our regular patients have been saying it is well deserved, which is lovely to hear. We have put information about our award on the website, in our windows and in reminder letters. We were in the local paper and also mentioned on a local radio station breakfast show too.”

Like Mandy, you should prepare to make the most of your win. If you are a finalist, write a press release and send it to the media. Local, regional, national and specialist industry publications may want to hear about your success. Be proud to show off your award in all your marketing, on your website, and in communication with your patients. A win can increase credibility and trust, get recognition for your service and products, motivate staff and even increase turnover. And whether you win or not, the process of entering an award will help you evaluate and improve your business.