Winning an award can help raise your profile and win new clients.

We won the Accounting Excellence Small Firm of the year award in 2020 and were finalists in the Digital and Innovative Firm for the same year. We were also finalists for the Xero Small Firm of the Year award in 2020 and the 100% Xero Award in 2019.

One thing we know for sure is that we’ve won new business off the back of entering awards

We recently signed up a client who hit the nail on the head when they told us they’d approached us because we’d been shortlisted in the digital and innovative firm category. They said they have no idea how meaningful the award is but the fact that we’ve beaten the other entrants for that award showed them that we must be doing something positive.

So this year, when I was invited to be a judge for the Accounting Excellence awards, I was honoured but also torn as judges are not allowed to enter any of the awards categories. I decided to go for it and experience what goes on behind the judging curtains myself.

I’m so glad I did. It was fascinating to find out what other accounting firms are up to and to see the different approaches to answering the questions on the application.

Based on my experience of judging these awards, along with what I learned from writing an award-winning entry myself, I thought I’d share my tips for writing an award-winning application.

Top 10 tips for writing a stand out awards entry

1. Answer the question!

Put simply, read the question and make sure you answer each and every point raised in it. It’s just like an exam where you’re giving away marks if you don’t address each and every point.

2. Be different, be yourself, and tell your story

This is your chance to tell the judges why your business is special. Think about what makes you different and tell that story.

One of the most powerful entries in this year’s Small Firm Awards had a consistent narrative that flowed through the entry making the entry both authentic and convincing.

3. Back up what you’re saying with facts

The truth is that your application will be more convincing if you demonstrate it with facts and figures. If you’re asked how much your firm has grown, give details like year-on-year turnover growth, the increase in client numbers, or an increase in your average monthly fee.

If you’re asked how you deliver great client service then support what you are saying by sharing your Net Promoter Score or talk about some of the service level statistics that demonstrate a great client experience. For example, you could share that all client enquiries are responded to within 4 hours if that is something that your firm commits to. Or that all clients get a catch-up call with their client manager at least once a month if that’s the case.

4. Give examples

Show what you are saying is real by giving examples that demonstrate in practice what you are actually doing. Talk about something great you’ve done for your clients, or how you’re doing things differently and why that’s a good thing.

5. Don’t use jargon!

Don’t just repeat generic industry jargon and expect to win an award! In the accounting world, it’s not enough to say you’re a digital, client-focused firm that is building their advisory revenue stream. What does that even mean? Go back to point 4 and give examples.

6. Take your time

This is a big one. All the successful awards applications I have written have taken days, not hours.

And what’s more, as a judge it was clear where an entrant had run out of time to properly complete their application. One application for the rising star category that I was judging really stood out as the entrant had clearly either run out of time (or steam) by the end of the application. If they had put as much effort into the last question as they did the first, they could have been a contender for winning the award but, as it was, they didn’t even make the shortlist.

7. Be honest

There’s no point making things up on your application as you’ll likely get found out as things just won’t stack up.

One Small Firm award entrant talked about how they had embraced content marketing and had even hired a content marketer to publish regular blogs. A quick look at their website and it was clear that no blogs had been written for months.

8. Write it down

You might be doing some amazing things but if you don’t include them in your application, they can’t be taken into consideration.

One of the judges in the Small Firm categories was frustrated by an application that was received from a firm he knew to be doing some great things but sadly the application didn’t talk about some of those initiatives so we couldn’t take them into account in the judging.

9. Use bullet points where you can

It makes it easier to read an application that has short sentences and, if possible, bullet points. It’s likely if it’s an award worth winning, that the judges will be ploughing through many, many applications, and the easier you can make it for them to read yours, the better chance you have of them taking in what you have to say.

10. Use your word count

I was amazed at how many entrants didn’t use the full 200 words per question in their applications. When I wrote my entry for the 2020 awards I had to work very hard to edit down my answers to include the real highlights. Not using your full word allowance is a missed opportunity to sell yourself or your firm.


Reflect on your accomplishments and set goals for the future

Whatever the outcome, going through this process is a great chance to reflect on what you’ve accomplished in the last year and also to get clear on the things you’d love to be able to say you’ve achieved this year. They are the things that need to be at the top of your list for next year.