Writing an Award-Winning Application
SJ Shooter Real Estate is excited to be naming rights sponsor for the Rhino Awards in Dubbo! Entering and winning awards has been a rewarding part of our business journey, and an important tool for reflection and growth.
We've shared our top tips and insights on entering awards & applying for grants, so you’re able to put your best foot forward as you pursue new opportunities for your business.
1. Should I even enter/apply?
It’s important to examine why you want to enter or apply. Be honest with yourself about this.
Some not-so-good reasons:
- Seeking external validation
- Procrastinating doing the real work of your business
- Everyone else seems to be doing it
Some good reasons:
- There’s prize or grant money attached
- It adds credibility to a new or expanding business
- To leverage the network of the award host
- It’s in line with your goals and values
- To shine a light on best practice in your area of expertise
- Awards are important to your customers / clients
- Recognition for your team
- The chance to reflect & curate the story of your achievements
When weighing up if it’s worth the effort that goes into writing the application, it’s important to remember, that sometimes if we invested the same amount of focused energy in our businesses, we could achieve some similar benefits.
That being said, there’s nothing like an external deadline to force us into action on some things that we’d never get around to in the busyness of our business work!
One of the most satisfying parts of entering awards for our business was taking an objective look at the numbers, and articulating the stories they told.
Part of making sure you get the maximum benefit out of entering, is choosing the right award or category to enter.
2. Research (AKA stalk)
There’s always a WIIFM – What’s In It For Me (or them in this case, the award / grant host).
This really is the biggest secret to writing a winning submission. We want the reader to see themselves and what they value in how we describe ourselves.
You want to uncover the things that are in alignment between who they are and who you are, and highlight those things in your application. You also want to be able to talk about what you do in their language.
Note, this is very different from telling tall tales. There’s many ways to tell the story of your business, and different aspects you could focus on. It’s all about using the limited word count you have, to highlight the parts that there’s alignment.
Top stalking tips:
- Spend time on their website
- Look at all their social media accounts
- Browse all the C-Suite’s Linkedins
- Read news articles and publications they’ve contributed to
- Get a feel for their voice or any buzzwords they use
- Note if they’re fun and casual, or factual and formal
- Have a look at previous winners
Here’s some ideas about things the NSW Business Chamber might gain from running awards:
- Elevate the communities they operate in
- Encourage businesses to connect with each other
- Promote innovation in their state
- Celebrate the wins of member businesses
- Highlight the benefits of membership
3. Friends & deadlines
Find a friend! Tell someone (or a couple of people) you’re going to enter. Choose someone who will encourage you to stick with it, and won’t mind being your proof reader at the end.
Tell them a date 1-2 weeks before the submission deadline that you’ll have your completed application ready for them, and shout them a meal or coffee while they give you their feedback.
This also gives you an earlier deadline, helps prevent self-sabotage, and flexes our often underused ‘asking for help’ muscle.
4. Read it and sleep
Get set up. Copy and paste all the questions, word count, and if available, any marking or other criteria into a word document, then leave it alone for a few days.
Mark out the due date in your calendar. Add submission writing to your to-do list. Set up the appointment for your proofing date 1-2 weeks before the due date.
Neuroscience says that our subconscious works on problems we’ve been posed while our conscious is occupied with other things. As early on as you can, read through the questions, and your brain will be on the job for you, starting to gather together some of the things you’ll write about. Be sure to have a system for catching any good ideas that will pop into your head when you least expect them.
5. Seek deep clarity
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Deconstruct the question and heed the criteria. They can only give you points on the criteria or things relating to the question.
Don’t be subtle in relating your answer back to the question. Use words from the question in your answer.
If you’re unsure what a question is getting at, go back to the award host for clarity. Here’s an example of a question we were struggling with and got clarity on:
Question: ‘Describe your business/solution competitive advantage (400)’
Describe your business or solution AND your competitive advantage.
Describe the competitive advantage of your business or solution.
The difference is subtle, but if it was the former you would spend more of the 400 words describing what you do and include an explanation of the competitive advantage, in the latter you would integrate the competitive advantage into a description of what you do and spend more words on the competitive advantage.
6. Bust out your dot points
Progress over perfection. No matter how unrefined, jot down all the things that you think would fit well with each question.
7. Zoom out
Look at your application as a whole, and also think about it in sequence from start to finish, as this is how people will be reading it.
Then group your ideas together where they best fit the question and criteria, and will also flow well.
It’s great if you can think of ways to tie in a little humour, stories, real examples, evidence and some numbers or statistics if relevant.
8. Convert your word count into WPP (words per point) & WRITE
As a rough guide:
- 15-25 words per sentence.
- 4-5 sentences per paragraph.
- 100 - 200 words per paragraph.
- Which means a 500-word limit answer = 2 meaty paragraphs with an intro and outro.
If they tell you that a 500-word question is worth 20 points, you’re working on about 1 point per 25 words.
If there’s no detailed marking criteria available, work towards 1 point per 1-2 sentences.
If you’ve finished, and you’re more than 25 words shy of the word count, consider making another point.
It’s like a school exam, they can only give you marks for what’s on the page in front of them – read it from the judge’s perspective, can you be given marks for everything you’ve said?
If part of the application is listed as ‘optional’, it’s not optional if you want to win. Use every opportunity in the application to connect with the person reviewing it and show them why you deserve to win.
9. Proof it yourself, then have it proofed
Phone that friend.
It’s amazing how we see what we want to. The missing ‘s’s, the sentences that don’t actually make sense. Your friend will help weed those out for you and may have some helpful ideas to make your submission even better.
10. Submit it
Do this at least 24-hours before the closing deadline to avoid the horror of eleventh-hour tech failures.
Always use a PDF format for document uploads. This will preserve your formatting for any device, and maintain the integrity of your submission.
If submitting by email, request a reply to confirm receipt.
Call to confirm it’s been received if it’s an online submission, or postal submission.
11. Feedback is friend
Always ask for feedback, whether you win or otherwise. You never fail – you either win or you learn.
Engaging in the process is always worthwhile, to reflect on your business and articulate with precision what you do and where you’re going.
12. Promote it
Don’t forget to capitalise on all your work!
Request assets like trophies, certificates, professional photos and logos.
On social media, remember to use hashtags and @mention sponsors and others for more coverage and encourage others to tag you in too.
Include your winner or finalist status on email signatures.
Share lots of pics on awards night.