Enter awards & boost your business
Follow these simple notes to create an award-winning application. You’ll find this process can boost your business in other ways too.
I've acted as a judge for many different tourism and hospitality awards over the years, most recently on the judging panel for the VisitEngland Awards for Excellence. This article looks at the benefit of entering awards and gives an insight into what I and fellow judges look for.
Before you start… imagine the scene:
Congratulations! You’ve won!
What do you want the judges to say about your business?
What will journalists write about?
It helps to start by thinking about what makes your business stand out from others. How is it better or different from others?
Think like a winner
Take a look at previous winners and what the judges said about them. It’s useful to get an insight into what made them stand out. Encouragingly, you’ll probably notice that most of the winners simply run a good business, with great attention to detail. You really could win!
The entry form
You’ll need to give the entry form some serious attention. It isn’t short: but it is very useful. It helps you really think about your business. It’s a chance to congratulate you and your staff on how far you’ve come. This is something people really like about completing the form. Once you’ve completed it, you’ll have some ideas for additional activities to make your business shine. You’ll be able to use a lot of the wording in other ways, such as on your website and in your social media. It’s worth persevering.
Start the application process as soon as you can.
- Download the questions first, rather than trying to complete everything online immediately. Scribble some initial notes.
- Look at the ‘evidence’ (see below) you might need to assemble.
- Write an initial draft.
- Give it to others to read.
- Let it mature a little like a fine wine.
- Edit it down to make every word count.
- Make sure you’ve included evidence.
- Use short words, and short sentences. They have more impact.
What judges are looking for:
- Entries that really stand out
- Examples that others might want to follow e.g. leading the way on offering something different or better, or being a true all-rounder
- Entries that show some progress – e.g. improvements, changes, ways that the business has adapted or got ready for the future or been aware of new trends. These can be small so don’t think you have to do something dramatic
- Entries that give evidence through photos, tangible examples, information on the website, good reviews etc.
Judges love to see creativity (even in small ways) and personality.
Awards are not just given to those businesses that have spent a lot of money or done anything flash or made a big splash.
Judges look for consistency, making the best of what you have, and gradual improvements.
Use your awards entry to get publicity – start now
Use a photo of you starting to write the awards entry on social media and say that you’re planning to enter. Even just entering can give visitors confidence in your business. As you go through the entry form, you should be able to get many other ideas for social media posts that you can use, now and later.
What makes you stand out?
Your stand-out appeal doesn’t have to be something big. It’s about showing you are better or different. Or that you have really thought through an aspect of your business.
It could be something physical. It could be your service and your staff. It could be your focus on a particular market. It could be the way you really support your local community or the environment. It could something quirky, or something lovely.
You need to highlight the personality and character of your business. What makes it memorable? Whatever you choose, be specific and give examples. Don’t be afraid of being Marmite.
The entry form is split into different sections, starting with a business description. It’s worth writing this from scratch instead of using the (perhaps tired and dull?) version you’ve been using for ages.
You’ll be asked for the ‘story’ of your business, such as when it started and who set it up. Judges really enjoy knowing more about the ‘why’: why you love doing what you do, why it’s special, why visitors love it.
After this there are chances to demonstrate four important aspects of your business:
- What you’ve done and any changes or improvements you’ve made (don’t worry if you haven’t invested in a flash new extension - even small incremental changes to service are good)
- The results you’ve had. Ideally, these will relate to any improvements you’ve made. Make the connection between improvements and changes and results. It’s good to include statistics such as booking levels but you can also include feedback from visitors.
- Your future plans. Judges like to feel that a business is steadily improving and adapting to the world’s changes and trends. This section is also a good place to talk about anything that you’ve realised you’re not so good at, and what you’ll do in future. So even if you struggle to answer a section of the form, all is not lost – you can plan to put it right in the future!
- How you have adapted your business to make it more environmentally-friendly and sustainable, and how you cater for people with disabilities.
Catering for people with disabilities
VisitEngland has an enormous amount of information available on their website to help you adapt what you do to appeal to and serve people with disabilities. Don’t make the mistake of assuming all disabilities involve a wheelchair and physical changes to your business. Even small changes can make a big difference. For example, I have a visual impairment which means that I struggle in a white bathroom with white towels and white soap bottles.
Make sure you provide good information, such as an access guide or policy. It’s far better to give details of what you can and can’t do so potential visitors can make their own informed decisions. Put this information on your website, and refer to it in your entry form. There’s a lot of help available so this isn’t as complicated as you might initially think.
What have you done to make your business more environmentally friendly? How are you making it more sustainable into the longer term, or helping to protect local communities?
Judges don’t expect everyone to plan to go off-grid or to make expensive adaptations. One award-winning accommodation business simply thought through every aspect of their business and made many tiny changes instead of big expensive ones. For example, they reduce their electricity consumption by hanging out their washing to dry when they can. They offer to fill up water bottles with tap water. Nothing flash or complicated: just many carefully thought through ideas. The important thing is to not be shy – list what you do. If there’s something you’d like to do, but can’t, say so.
You’ll be asked to submit some photos. Don’t just send your usual publicity photos. You need to submit one strong photo of your business that can be used for publicity when (!) you win.
Then think what you want to demonstrate or highlight and use appropriate images. For example, if you say you’re dog-friendly include a photo that shows that. Consider whether you might need to add more photographic ‘evidence’ to your website too.
Judges look at a variety of reviews to find out more about each business. Ideally you’ll use several channels, not just TripAdvisor but also Google or other platforms. This can help your business search engine rankings too.
Don’t worry if you have the odd bad review – it’s how you respond to bad reviews that matters. If you have a period when you had a few bad ones because there were some glitches, address this directly in the application. Say what happened and what you did about it. Judges are human and like to see improvements.
Your website should reflect the points you’ve made in your application. Remember to include a sustainability/environmental policy and disability policy or information on how you make disabled people welcome.
Consider how your website helps to endorse your award application. What small changes might you need to make?
Judges will quickly scroll through some of your social media to get a further insight into your business. If you focus on one channel or haven’t updated your twitter for ages, explain why in your application. No one minds, so long as you show it was deliberate. Judges look for consistency in social media, and examples that back up the application. They like to see engagement and your personality shining through.
© Susan Briggs 2022
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