How to write a winning business competition award entry

So how do you go about getting your hands on one of these coveted awards?

At the Startups Awards we are inundated with thousands of entries from exciting new businesses every year, but all too often, their application forms fail to reflect their true strengths. This must leave many business owners scratching their head about why they didn’t make the cut, so working with our headline sponsor Sage, we have put together some helpful tips on what judges are looking for and how to get an award entry right:

1. Nail the basics

All too often award entries are sent in containing typos, strange formatting and jargon that is lost on someone outside a specific industry. Keep it simple, write in plain English, and then get someone else to proof-read the whole thing as it is often easier for an outsider to spot glaring errors.

2. Explain what your business actually does

This may sound simple, but judges are often left confused about how an entrant’s business model actually works, and if it isn’t clear how a business makes money it is going to be difficult to justify shortlisting them.

Turnover figures often look spectacular but actually just reflect the value of transactions being carried out through the business. Judges want to see the bigger picture, as Evan O’Shea of Sage says: “We want to see the drive and ambition behind the company reflected in awards entries.”

3. Honesty is the best policy

Most awards judges are experienced business owners, investors or experts in their fields, so chances are they will see through hidden weaknesses and stretched truths very quickly. Of course you want to accentuate the positives in your business, but be up-front and honest about how you plan to tackle weaknesses and challenges develop your business further.

4. Show evidence

Making positive claims about your business is all well and good, but backing the claims up with real evidence will make you stand out. Claims that your company is “leading” the sector or offers an “unparalleled service” need to be backed up with specific, unarguable examples (with figures where necessary), or they are likely to be dismissed as more meaningless marketing fluff. “We’re looking to recognise the hard work and achievements of entrepreneurs across the UK so it’s imperative that awards applicants tell us about their business traction to date,” says Evan O’Shea of Sage.

5. Marketing fluff can be meaningless

Award judges have heard every business cliché imaginable, and trying to wow them with overcomplicated buzz words can actually alienate them. Try to stick to plain English so anyone could pick up your application and easily understand exactly what the true strengths of your business are.

6. Keep it to the point

Breaking entries up with bullet points, headings and paragraphs will make your application easier to read and help you draw attention to the key points quickly. You might be able to write dozens of pages about how great your business is, but creating an impenetrable wall of text will make it difficult to follow, losing the impact of the most important points.

7. Pick the right person to write it

Your accountant may have an unrivalled grasp of the figures, but if they are going to write an overly technical application, they’re probably not the best person to communicate the real strengths of the company. PR or marketing departments, or even agencies you use, will normally be the best option as they’re used to communicating to people outside the business, but it’s always worth the business owner sanity checking anything before submission.

8. Don’t wait until the last minute

Applications that have been rushed through in time for deadline day stand out, for all the wrong reasons. They are more likely to contains mistakes and often have text dropped in without proper consideration being given to the questions and categories.

9. Don’t hide good points in appendices

Often it is important to use supporting documents and appendices to provide detailed breakdowns of figures and context, but judges won’t necessarily go through them all with a fine-toothed comb. Any figures or information that demonstrate your strength as a business should be highlighted in the main application documents so they can’t be missed by judges. You can then reference supporting materials if necessary.

Elicia Nairn is the Event Manager for The Startups Awards. The entry deadline for the 2016 awards is Friday 16th September. For more information or to enter go to