Having been a judge for a number of awards, I’ve come across good practice and poor practice by entrants.
The tips I’m about to share with you will not – obviously – guarantee that you’ll be selected.
But they should at least maximise the chances of your making it through to the shortlist or, conversely, minimise the likelihood of your being rejected in the first round!
I have found that the strategies suggest below also work, with some modification where necessary, when putting in a bid for funding.
Before even thinking about awards
As a matter of course, ask delighted customers if you can quote them if they email you, or ask them if they might write a testimonial for you to use.
The reason is that some educational awards ask for evidence of customer satisfaction, and testimonials are well-suited to this.
The rationale for collecting accolades on a day-to-day basis is that if you leave it till when you’re going for an award you may discover that the people you need to approach are on a course, off sick, or are otherwise hard to get hold of.
Don’t forget mentions in social media, especially Twitter. If you’ve been successful in generating word of mouth for your product or service, there may be some great tweets you could cite in your submission (with permission, of course).
Before you start
Designate someone to take charge of the awards submission.
They don’t have to fill in every part of the submission themselves, but by having an overview of the process they will be able to make sure that nothing slips through the net.
Read the instructions
This should go without saying, but you would be surprised at the number of companies who appear not to do so.
For example, if the guidance states “Please provide access to your premium version”, that probably does not mean “Please give us a free trial”. A free trial sounds like there may be limitations, either of features of in terms of duration.
I would suggest that, for the sake of avoiding misunderstandings, you set the awards organisation up with access to the premium version until the contest is over.
Translate the instructions into a checklist
This is by far the best thing to do in order to avoid inadvertently missing something out. I won’t lie to you: doing this is dead boring.
However, it’s definitely a good idea. In effect it entails copying the individual instructions embedded in the text of the guidance, and pasting them into a table.
You may already have a project management tool or ToDo list software – use it to track progress of all the elements of award submission.
And if you don’t win this time? You still have the to do list ready for next year.
Answer every point
There may be some questions which are optional.
I would suggest answering them anyway because if there’s a tie between your submission and some other company’s, and the only difference is that they have answered every question and you haven’t, you’ll be at a disadvantage.
Don’t make it that easy for the judges to reject you!
Keep to the word limit
If you’re asked to provide a statement of no more than 500 words, don’t try to slip in 501.
A difficulty here is that different word processors calculate the word count in different ways.
Also, consider taking a leaf out of the news journalist’s book: place the most important points first. That way, if the judges decide to read only the first 500 words, by deleting the extra words, at least it won’t be mission-critical.
Use bullet points
If you use bullet points you will achieve two things.
Firstly, you will save on words, so if there is a word limit that will help. Secondly, you will make it easier for the judge to see the point you’re making.
Suppose, for example, one of the questions is: “Show how the popularity of your product has risen over the past year.” You could write something like:
“It was with a sense of increasing trepidation that we opened the sales spreadsheet for the last quarter. Was this going to be, we asked ourselves, the day of reckoning? Therefore, imagine our delight when…”
Not only is it really hard to see the wood for the trees in that sentence, but it uses 35 words, and it’s not even finished yet. Much better is this:
“Sales have risen by 22% in the last quarter, and by 57% over the past year as a whole.”
Not only do you see the point right away, but also at 19 words it’s just over half the length of the previous example.
… in the right order
One of the problems with choosing erudition over bullet points is that it can make it hard for the judge to tell if you’ve covered every point.
If they think you’ve missed a point, they can’t give you credit for it.
For this reason, I recommend addressing the points in the order in which they appear in the submission instructions.
It’s probably not a good idea to address a point by writing “Please see point 9 on page 2”, for the simple reason that different judges may have been given different parts of your submission to read.
In short, make each section self-contained.