How to create a winning awards entry

With entries for the Startups Awards closing soon, find out how to make your business' awards application stand out with these 9 top tips from Sage and Startups.co.uk...

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We are a team of writers, experimenters and researchers providing you with the best advice with zero bias or partiality. This article was authored by:
  • Ryan Platt

Our annual Startups Awards offers a great opportunity to boost your business’ exposure, validate your business idea, attract investors and so much more.

And whilst we are inundated with countless applications from great businesses every year, too many of them let themselves down with application forms that don’t reflect their true strengths.

If you haven’t made it, it can be difficult to work out why you didn’t make the cut. Did your turnover not match up to your main competitors for the title? Was it the product itself? Or do you think a lack of big-name clients held you back?

One thing is for certain – it shouldn’t have been your application form.

We have put together some top tips with Startups Awards 2016 headline sponsor Sage to help you get your entry right first time, and avoid the common mistakes many entrants make when applying for our awards.    

1. Get the basics right

While you may think it is too obvious to mention, we do receive lots of applications which contain typos, confusing formatting, and impenetrable jargon. Keep it simple, write in plain English, and get someone to properly proof-read the whole thing before submitting.

2. Explain in simple terms what your business does

All too often judges are left discussing how an entrant’s business model actually works. It’s one of the biggest turn-offs to have to spend time working out how a business makes money and where the profit is derived from. Sometimes, the turnover figure can look spectacular, but actually represents the value of transactions being carried out through a business whereas in reality, the entrant only makes a single digit commission on that figure and has to cover significant overheads with that 2%. This could easily raise question marks about a company’s sustainability and how impressive those top-line figures actually are.

As headline sponsor, Sage is looking to identify those start-up businesses that are inspiring, innovative, and, most importantly, have a business model that really works:

“We’re really excited to be sponsoring the Startups Awards 2016 as it’s hugely important to celebrate the successes of UK start-ups. It takes really ambitious, driven people to make a business idea a reality and we want to see this ambition and drive in your awards entries.”

3. Be honest

Startups Awards judges are experienced business owners, investors and experts in their fields. They’ve seen countless applications. Any attempt to brush your weaknesses under the rug is likely to be seen through immediately. Choose the category you apply for based on your true strengths as a company, and while every entry will accentuate the positives be up-front and honest about how you plan to develop your business further.

Equally, if staff numbers and costs are high because your company is grabbing market share and revenue is likely to climb exponentially, explain how this will happen and anything that supports this assertion. You might have significant backing, which might not guarantee your success, but at least reassures judges that you’ve got some time to achieve your aims.

Good:
Our business generated net profit of £30,000 in 2013, and whilst we made a loss of £7,000 in 2014, this was due to the working capital investment needed to launch our product in France. We expect the business to be profitable again at year-end 2015 as our international presence drives increased sales.

Bad:
Our business generated net profit of £30,000 in 2013, with further strong figures in 2014 [no specifics for this year, which makes the judges wonder what you’re hiding]

4. Back up claims with evidence

Just like judges in a court of law, Startups Awards judges love evidence. Claims that your company is the “leading” firm in your sector, or you deliver “unparalleled service” need to be backed up with specific, unarguable examples (with figures where necessary), or they are likely to be dismissed as more meaningless marketing fluff.

Good:
Our company has one of the highest rates of customer satisfaction in the sector, with a recent independent poll showing 92% were “happy” or “very happy” with our service, compared with an industry average of 64%.

Bad:
We have an extremely high rate of customer satisfaction, with very few complaints. Most of our customers have told us they love our service.

Evan O’ Shea, Sage’s marketing campaign manager, says:

“We’re looking to recognise the hard work and achievements of entrepreneurs across the UK so it’s imperative that awards applicants tell us about their business traction to date.”

5. Avoid meaningless marketing speak

We’ve seen every business cliché under the sun, and you won’t win an award by trotting out all the phrases that come to mind, such as ‘holistic marketing agency offering a full-service solution’, without explaining in plain English what that means. Be specific and clearly and simply communicate your true strengths.

Good:
Our company should win this award because we are the fastest-growing deep fried banana company in the UK, with a 20% month-on-month growth rate and sales exceeding our nearest competitor by 2.2 million units last year.

Bad:
We should win this award for our forward-thinking, innovative approach, with an emphasis on out-of-the-box thinking that’s unique within our sector.

6. Keep it clear and simple

Bullet points, bold font, and paragraphs make your application easier to read and help the judges analyse your key strengths quickly – so use them. An impenetrable wall of text is difficult to follow and judges could miss out on important points.

Good:
Milestones for 2016:
£4.4m worth of new contracts
24 new clients including Tesco, Morrisons and Asda
Reached 130,000 Facebook fans by July

Bad:
We have now grown to more than 30 employees and opened a new office in Canterbury. Clients continue to love our innovative service which saves them lots of money on setting up an e-commerce platform and we’ve continued to see strong revenue growth across the period [and so on, with no paragraph breaks or bullet points].

7. Get the right people to write it

Whilst your accountant or lawyer might have the best grasp of the figures, they are not normally the best person to write the awards entry – overly technical applications chock-full of industry jargon are difficult to follow and often fail to communicate your real strengths as a company.

Your PR or marketing department, or the agency you use, will normally be the best option but it’s always worth the business owner sanity checking anything before submission as you know your business best. Marketing specialists may understand how to present your company in the best possible light, and your input plus your more technically-minded people, can help with the evidence afterwards.

8. Don’t leave it until the last minute

Again, it might seem obvious, but putting the application off until deadline day is likely to see you make mistakes and not give proper consideration to the questions and categories.

With the deadline for 2016 awards entries on Friday 16 September, Sage has encouraged start-up entrepreneurs to submit their entry before it’s too late:

“The Startups Awards is recognised in the industry as being the best award of its kind for new businesses. With previous winners such as Cambridge Satchel Company and Notonthehighstreet.com, you don’t want to miss out on the opportunity to impress, attract and get noticed. Here at Sage, we want to champion the best businesses Britain has to offer – supporting entrepreneurs is our passion.”

9. Don’t hide good points in supporting material

Supporting documents are excellent tools for providing detailed breakdowns of figures and context, but don’t assume the judges will go through them with a fine-toothed comb. If you have figures or information that demonstrate your strength as a business, put them in the main application so the judges will definitely see them, and reference supporting material if necessary.

You may also have received strong media coverage that corroborates some of your claims. And, perhaps most importantly, if you are the purveyor of a product or can provide a great example of what you do then make sure you supply something tangible with your entry.

Awards sponsor Sage agrees:

“Entrepreneurs are the true heroes of the economy. Regardless of whether your start-up is big or small, we want to hear about your successes and milestones in your awards entry!”

You may also have received strong media coverage that corroborates some of your claims. And, perhaps most importantly, if you are the purveyor of a product or can provide a great example of what you do then make sure you supply something tangible with your entry.

With all of that in mind, good luck!

To submit your entry for the Startups Awards 2016 ahead of the deadline, click here.

Ryan Platt

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