How likely am I to win a business award?

The only certainty is that if you don’t enter, you’re definitely not going to win!

You’ll often see a figure mentioned that there’s a 10% chance of getting through to the final or winning when you enter a business award.

However, this will vary wildly depending on three things:

1. The quality of your award entry

Filling in an award entry form isn’t a task that you can have done and dusted in an hour or two.

Entry forms are usually at least 1,000 words long, while many stretch to several thousand. Add to that, you’ll usually need to gather testimonials from your clients. Often you also have the chance to submit supporting evidence along with your entry form. If that’s an option, don’t miss the opportunity to wow the judges about elements of your business that you didn’t have space to include in the entry form.

The hardest bit about writing your award entry won’t be getting it UP to the word limit. It will be getting it DOWN to the word limit. Questions will often ask four things about your business, and give you just 200 words to answer. That’s about two sentences for each thing! If the question is about business growth, and you want to tell the award judges about new staff, increased profit and how you’ve diversified over the past year, two sentences isn’t going to cut it.

This is where you need to get savvy about what you write on your award entry form. Long sentences are out; subheadings and bullet points are in.

Business award judges often have a set number of marks they can award for each question. If they’ve got a maximum of 10 marks, and you’ve set out your answer in 10 clear bullet points of things your business has achieved this year, it’s easy for the judging panel to give you 10 ticks. It’s much harder if they have to wade through lengthy paragraphs trying to split out individual achievements.

2. The category you choose to enter

I always recommend trying to be a big fish in a small pond when you’re choosing which business award category to enter.

For example, a really general award category for “Best business” will attract entries from all kinds of businesses, large and small, and you’re likely to find yourself pitted against a huge number of other entrants.

A niche award category, such as “Best tech start-up” or “Excellence in international export” is going to have far fewer businesses eligible to enter.

It’s also worth thinking about any “niches” you fall into as an individual, and checking whether there are any categories open to you in that area. For example, there might be a category for someone who’s overcome adversity, for female-founded businesses, or for under-represented minority groups.

If you find there’s more than one category that applies to you, you’re often allowed to enter several categories in the same business award.

If there’s no charge for that, then it’s definitely worth doing. It’s impossible to predict how many other businesses will enter each category, and by entering in more than one category you’ll increase your chances of becoming an award finalist or even being named overall winner.

Depending on the award, you’ll either need to fill in a separate entry form for each category you enter, or you’ll be able to do one form and tick two award categories.

Don’t be tempted to copy and paste all your answers from one award entry form the other one. The two (or more) categories will have different criteria for winning so it’s essential to shout about the right successes for each category. But you probably won’t need to start completely from scratch again as a lot of information about your business will remain the same.

3. How many other businesses enter

Sadly, you’ve got no control at all over this. You might find yourself up against tens of thousands of other entries; you might find yourself up against 10.

It’s a good idea not to promote too heavily that your business is up for an award until the entry deadline has passed. That way you won’t advertise the awards to your direct competitors.

You could decide to deliberately focus on awards that have barriers to entry, such as a charge to enter, that are therefore likely to attract fewer entrants. This is often the case for awards organised by professional bodies or industry-specific groups. I might think this was a good idea if you’re eligible for a start-up or micro business category, because very small businesses are less likely to enter awards you pay to enter than those that are free.

Other than that, there really is nothing you can do. Obviously, the more people that enter, the lower your odds are of winning. That 10% average of becoming a finalist can vanish away to almost nothing. Having said that, I’ve managed to get 88% of my clients through to the finals in awards where I’ve written their entries, and 43% have been the overall award winner. So don’t give up hope and think there’s no chance you’ll be successful.

But remember, you’ve got to be in it to win it, and the only time you’ll have a 0% chance of winning is if you don’t fill in that award entry form.

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