Business awards and how to win them


8th October, 2021

Business awards: Why you should enter & how to win

Business awards may have taken a backseat last year, but they’re back in 2021. Nominating your organisation might be just what the doctor ordered.

Springtime in Australia and New Zealand marks the start of the events season. Depending on exactly where you live in 2021, that could mean vastly different things.

Despite the interruptions to normal business schedules brought on by the pandemic, the business awards season is also gearing up and that means there are opportunities for organisations to score a well-deserved slice of recognition.

Ever considered your business award-worthy? Well, it doesn’t matter what you do or how you do it, there’s a good chance of finding a relevant award category to nominate for. Maybe 2021 will be your lucky year?

In this article:

  • Why enter business awards?
  • Choosing which business awards to enter
  • How to give yourself the best shot at success
  • Where to go for more awards season inspiration

Why enter business awards?

Entering business awards can be time-consuming, with a lot of paperwork to fill out and even interviews and other elements to contribute. Some awards cost money to enter, too.

But the return on investment can be significant, even if you don’t get chosen as a finalist or winner.

Key benefits of entering awards for businesses:

  • Getting recognised, especially winning, can be a huge boost for brand awareness via media coverage
  • It also means a morale boost for staff and management alike, and may even make it easier to win over clients and suppliers
  • Research has shown award-winning businesses perform up to nearly 40% better than their peers

Susan Toft, the chief executive of rapidly expanding Australian firm The Laundry Lady, is one entrepreneur who has witnessed the benefits firsthand.

“I’ve worked on business awards programs throughout my career as a project manager and organiser, so over the years, I’ve encouraged many businesses to enter awards and watched their excitement as they’ve been named finalists or won,” she said.

“Now, entering the awards with my own business is a full-circle moment. The most obvious benefits of entering awards are the media coverage and brand recognition that comes with it, whether you are named as a finalist or a winner.”

Toft’s company has received some recognition lately that’s fuelling awareness and growth.

“We recently won Silver in the Ausmumpreneur Awards for ‘Services and Business Pivot’ and have gained some great media coverage from this, but also got our brand in front of all of the other Ausmumpreneur entrants, which is fantastic exposure for a growing brand.”

Additional benefits can be surprising

The plus side of entering awards goes beyond the PR scope, though.

“The other benefits you might not think about are what it means to your employees, both current and future ones,” said Toft.

“We have a big team of contractors right across the country, and this is incredible recognition for their hard work. It’s a great morale booster for them, particularly those working through constant lockdowns as an essential service.

“Having the recognition of these awards also helps to legitimise the business for potential new recruits.”

George Hedon at Pause Fest, an industry-driven “Woodstock for digital natives” movement that runs annual business awards, identifies similar reasons for entrepreneurs to put their ventures forward for awards.

“Getting into the winners’ network is priceless. Pause Awards are not just a marketing tool for a company to gain recognition and keep relevance. It’s also a culture boost for all employees to know their contribution has been seen by their peers globally.”

Businesses can impress clients with their award status, too.

“Clients love hearing they’re working with a company that’s crushing it and not just because of the business success in the marketplace but for an organisation’s impact and contribution to building better ecosystems,” said Hedon.

“This is our purpose at Pause Fest and what sets Pause Awards apart from other programs.”

Awards can give pause for thought

Winners of past Pause Awards have noted many advantages from their involvement and shared some of them with Hedon.

“Envato co-founder Cyan Ta’eed has told us that the company’s win in the Pause Awards came at the toughest of times and gave her confidence to move forward.

“Portable won two Pause Awards in 2020, and CEO and co-founder Andrew Apostola said it made him realise they’re moving in the right direction.

“Another 2020 winner, Josh Howard, the founder of Single Use Ain’t Sexy, said the award helped him launch and promote his product campaign, raising $600,000.”

Single Use Ain’t Sexy’s Josh Howard has noted other benefits to come out of being recognised by Pause Fest, too.

“Winning the award for ‘Sheer Brilliance’ in the ‘I wish I thought of that’ category put us on the map and legitimised our business as a serious player in Australia and abroad,” said Howard.

“As the world’s leading festival for business and creativity, being recognised by Pause Fest in this way gave our business credibility and made people take notice of us in a crowded market.”

The achievement also helped Single Use Ain’t Sexy, which makes dissolvable hand soap tablets and reusable glass bottles, secure press. It convinced customers to give the business a chance, too.

Plus, “It made wholesalers reach out, and we felt like we were doing something right!” said Howard.

Research shows winners are grinners (that’s a fact)

Statistically, it seems the boost from business awards helps winners across the globe go on to do greater things.

According to a study conducted by Kevin B. Hendricks of the Richard Ivey School of Business at The University of Western Ontario and Vinod R. Singhal of the DuPree College of Management at the Georgia Institute of Technology, award winners do better than the control firms studied.

In their paper published in 2000 in the Journal of Operations Management, the pair noted that the mean change in operating income of the studied winners was about 39 percent higher than that of the control group.

Plus, the mean change in sales was 26 percent higher than that of the controls, yet the cost per dollar of sales for winners decreased.

In particular, the researchers found that the most significant results came from smaller firms that won awards.

They appeared to improve efficiency more and had an almost 39 percent increase in sales compared to 13.66 percent for larger firms.

As such, don’t think that because you’re running a start-up or a recently established SME that there’s no point entering awards.

Keep in mind, too, that simply working on your nomination forms and related collateral can help you get clear on business goals and reinforce the company direction, not to mention boost your personal brand.

According to information on the website for the Telstra Best of Business Awards, entering enables entrepreneurs to meet some of the best business minds around and mix with other like-minded, successful business owners.

Plus, the site notes, “entering unlocks new learning opportunities and experiences to help you achieve your future business goals.”

How to choose your business award & category

Happily, there are plenty of business awards to choose from these days, including those run locally, within each state, nationally, and internationally.

With limited time and resources, it pays to carefully pick which ones you’ll enter.

4 steps to choosing a business award to enter:

  1. Consider the available awards for your business type and region
  2. Make a shortlist of competitions that will garner the most exposure for your business
  3. List the various categories you could apply for within your shortlist of awards
  4. Select the categories that add the most value to your business’s journey and that will most likely resonate with key stakeholders, including your customers

Toft recommends thinking about your target audience and what will get your venture the best exposure.

“For us, entering the Ausmumpreneur awards is good because it’s very targeted toward our prime market of busy working mums who book our services and mums who might want to join our business,” she said.

“The Telstra Awards are about national recognition from a well-known program, which is important as we’re growing on a national scale.”
With the head office based on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, Toft also enters the local Sunshine Coast Business Awards.

“This is a prestigious program that recognises the success in our region. We’re proud to be an active member of the business community here and celebrate success with our local peers, since these are the people who are supporting us through our growth.”

On the Telstra Business Awards website, the committee recommends taking a step back from the day-to-day to get a broader perspective of your business.

“Consider why you started your business — what was it that you wanted to change? By thinking bigger and more philosophically, the category or categories to enter will become clear.”

To get an idea of which awards to enter, it also pays to research your competitors.

Do an internet search or check out competitor websites, social media pages, blogs, etc., to see awards they’ve been finalists in or won. This will indicate some awards you can target, too.

Once you’ve decided which awards to enter, you may have to choose categories to put your business or yourself in the running for.

“Look at which categories previous winners entered and follow their approach. It’s most likely your business, brand, or mission will fit into a similar category,” suggested Howard.

“Also, consider which categories might not get the most applications, and figure out if it makes sense to pursue those if they’re a fit.”
Another tip from the Telstra Business Awards is to enter as many categories as you feel appropriate but make sure you tailor every entry to the specific category rather than completing with a “cut and paste” approach.

Business awards to consider in Australia and New Zealand:

  1. SmartCompany Smart50 and Resilience Awards
  2. Pause Fest’s Pause Awards
  3. Quality Service Awards (NZ)
  4. AFR Best Places to Work (Australia)
  5. Roy Morgan Customer Satisfaction Awards
  6. New Zealand CFO Awards
  7. The Mumbrella CommsCon Awards
  8. Inspiring Workplace Awards
  9. KiwiNet Research Commercialisation Awards

How to prepare a winning entry in any business award

If you’re going to spend the time entering business awards, make your entries as polished as possible.

1. Complete a thorough application or nomination

George Hedon notes that one of the biggest mistakes he sees applicants make in Pause Awards entries is not providing enough context.

“If people don’t give a context on category, industry, and objective, then judges can’t clearly visualise how big your success was,” he said.

2. Focus on your business results

As for what successful entries do that others don’t? Hedon says they focus on the specific results businesses have achieved and keep all text concise.

“Cut the fluff out. We need facts, not a beautifully written article – you only have 250 words to use. Pick your top results and, if there are too many, turn them into a bullet point list to reduce words.”
Hedon also recommends awards applicants pay close attention to two particular questions.

“Focus on ‘What are the outcomes and results from your success?’ and ‘How do you measure the impact of your success?’”

3. Get to know your judges

Josh Howard has three key tips to help entrepreneurs create winning applications. Firstly, know the judges.

“Do your research, find out what they’re looking for, what their areas of expertise are, and what interests them,” suggested Howard.

“Then, use that information to tailor your application. If all goes well, some of these people might even end up being your mentors.”

4. Keep it concise

Another tip is, as Hedon mentioned, to keep things short.

“Submit an application with concise, punchy, and meaningful copy,” agreed Howard. “There are a lot of submissions for the judges to get through, so make yours readable, light, and fun.”
His final tip is to ask previous winners for advice.

“There’s nothing like picking up the phone and asking people who have done it before for their tips and tricks. A ten-minute phone call with a previous winner could make all the difference.”

5. Don’t leave it to the last minute

Toft suggested that people who plan to enter awards ensure they don’t leave applications until the last minute.

“Working on the applications takes up a lot of time, and you don’t want to rush it. It’s worth giving yourself the room to do it right since you can always use the information you compile for other business development strategies such as grants submissions or business plans.”

Toft also suggested entrepreneurs focus on the last 12 months when putting their applications together and include figures that show a venture’s growth.

6. Make it a team building activity

Another tip is to get your team involved in the awards process if you can.

“It really helps them to understand what the business is all about, how much you’ve achieved together and where things are heading in the future.”

One other thing Toft wants to remind people is that spell check is your friend. “You’d be surprised by how many people enter submissions with spelling errors!”

Stay in the know

Sign up for added insights and business-critical news from MYOB.

A valid email is required
Congratulations! You've successfully subscribed to our newsletter!
Something went wrong

Where to go for more awards season inspiration

The Sunshine Coast Business Awards website shares some application feedback that the judges shared after the 2019 awards, which is worth reading, too.

Some of the tips include that the strong applications demonstrated and evidenced innovation and a commitment to people development and positive team culture. Plus, competitive businesses showcased the leaders’ drive and passion.

Higher scoring applications used a logical, easy-to-follow structure for their written documents and included specific stats, metrics, and KPIs. They also reported on challenges overcome and SMART goals achieved.

Furthermore, winning businesses tended to demonstrate a positive social, environmental, and economic impact in their regions.

If you’re struggling to get sales to pick up again after a challenging period or just looking for ways to keep building your business, it’s worth finding and entering business awards.