Award wins deliver credibility, it’s that simple.  They also boost the profile of a business and its team, as well as getting the phone ringing with potential clients.  And they’re a sure-fire way of propelling a business head-and-shoulders above its competitors.

Every business should be entering awards – no matter if they’ve been in business for 12 months or 12 years.

I started The Remarkables Group on the 16th May 2012, and scooped my first award two months later.  Since then, we have been very fortunate to win four awards – Emerging Agency of the Year, Australian Start-up of the Year, Women in Media and 30 under 30.  We’ve also been finalists for another two and were nominated for Telstra Business of the Year this year.

The impact of this recognition has been remarkable.  My business was not only a start-up, but a start-up with a new offer for Australia.  I had my work cut out for me proving the value of what we were offering, and gaining the trust of the industry.   The hard work paid off.  In our first year in business, we secured revenue of $1.1million – much of which I attribute to creating a highly visible brand in the market.

I’ve also been honoured to judge a number of industry awards over the last year or so, so I’ve seen the other side of awards now – the great, the average and the downright “you call this an entry?” ones.

Based on my experience on both sides of the fence, here is my tried and tested system to becoming an award-winning business:

1. Research relevant awards

You need to be actively searching out awards opportunities – if you wait for them to come to you, you’ll be waiting a hell of a long time.  At the start of every year, start an awards calendar so you know what’s coming up when – and add to it as you find new awards to enter.  Ask your friends and industry contacts to share any that they find, and return the favour.

2. Plan awards into your budget

Many awards are free to enter, but some will require an entry fee.  You may also have additional expenses like design time or printing.  Include entering awards as a line item into your annual budget – that way if you do have expenses arising from them, they’re planned for.

3. Enter them

Sounds simple doesn’t it?  I never fail to be amazed at the reasons businesses find to not enter awards.   “There’s too much work on for me to write the entry” is a frequent one.  But sadly the most common one by far is this: “We don’t have a chance of winning”.  People allow this belief to prevent them from entering and at least having a shot at being shortlisted (a coup in itself) or taking out the main prize.

I entered my first ever awards two days after I started my business – still sitting in my spare bedroom.  I did it as clients weren’t exactly banging down my door yet and I figured that entering was a way of forcing a panel of industry influencers to read about my business and getting the word out there about what I was doing.  Amazingly, I got shortlisted and at the awards party six weeks later my name was read out as a winner.  I don’t think there was a more shocked person in Sydney that night.   Last year I was a judge for a very well established industry awards and booked out a full day in my calendar to do my category’s judging online.  it took me 90 minutes.   I was incredulous at how few entries there were.  You have a much higher chance of winning than you think – but you’ll never know until you enter!

4. Diarise time to work on the entry

Awards entries can be time consuming, but don’t let that deter you from entering.  Get started early.  Most awards allow four to six weeks for their entry period.  Diarise the deadline and spend some time upfront reading the entry requirements and making a list of all the information, references and financial data you’ll need.  Then block out time each week to work on the entry.  Battling printer issues, or waiting for a critical reference on the closing day for awards is a one-way ticket to stratospheric stress – so do yourself (and your team) a favour and be organised.

5. Answer the questions asked

If the entry requires you to prepare a presentation or document, structure it in line with the sections in the requirements – e.g: a section for financial performance, another for culture.   Treat each section like an English comprehension exam at school – answer the question asked with specific information and back it up with examples.  When I’ve judged awards, it’s patently clear which businesses took the time to read the questions and which ones dashed off their entry and failed to provide the information needed to gain points.

6. Tout your own horn

This is not the time to be modest.  You have one chance to wow the judges, so you must give it your very best shot.  Do not be reluctant to share wins, what makes your business so special (because it is), what the vision is for the future and how you see the business contributing to society.   As the American entertainer (and founder of the Ringling Circus) PT Barnum said: “Without promotion, something terrible happens… Nothing!”

7. Make it look pretty

If it’s an online entry, copy the questions into a Word document and write your answers there.  Take the time to proofread it or even better, get a grammar-savvy colleague to check it too.  If it’s a written entry, consider getting a graphic designer to add some visual polish and have it professionally printed and bound.  This will set your entry apart from the competition and demonstrate your commitment to quality.

8. Follow up

So you’ve won the award (or been a finalist) – congratulations!  Before you commission the trophy cabinet, say thank you.  If you don’t already know, find out who the judges and awards organisers were and send them a note thanking them for their hard work – this extends to people who have provided references as well.  I can pretty much promise you’ll be the only winner that does, and it puts you on their radar for future opportunities – maybe next year you’ll be asked to be a judge…

9. Leverage the win

Include the award logo on your email signature, your website, send out an email to all your clients letting them know (and thanking them for making it possible) and make sure you refer to the business as being “award-winning” in all marketing materials.  Feels good doesn’t it?

Happy awards hunting!

This piece first appeared on Smart Company.