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10 top tips to boost your chances of winning awards

We believe that entering carefully selected financial awards can be an important part of your marketing strategy. Some of our readers will disagree, and that’s fine. We aren’t here to convince you to start entering awards!

However, if you feel that entering (and winning) awards should form part of your strategy, this blog will hopefully help you do just that. We’ve asked regular judges Clive Waller of CWC Research and Phil Billingham of Perceptive Planning for their views, and come up with the top 10 tips on how to boost your chances of winning.

Entering financial awards

As we’ve said before it’s a three-stage process:

  1. Completing your entry
  2. Winning or graciously accepting a highly commended/runner-up position (and learning from the experience)
  3. Leveraging your success, which we wrote about a few weeks ago and you can still read by clicking here

1. Select awards you can win

No award entry is a waste of time. Each one will help you learn more about your business and the process.

However, the aim is to get shortlisted and, ultimately, to win. Therefore, carefully select the awards you have the best chance of competing in, from a shortlist which are worth winning. Remember, not all awards are equal.

2. Make the judge’s life easy

The most prestigious awards will receive many entries, which all must be considered. That means standing out from the crowd and helping the judges with a strong entry.

Make your entry easy to read by using short, uncomplicated sentences. Avoid superfluous words and get to the point quickly. If you can (not all entry systems will allow this) break it up with bullet points and sub-headings.

Some financial awards allow you to submit supporting documents. This can be useful, but only include items which are essential to support specific points in your application. No judge will thank you for sending more than is necessary.

The judge’s view:

Clive Waller: “As you may imagine, one way or another, I spend many, many hours on awards entries. Indeed, I resigned from the Gold Awards when I was limited for time and found that the first entry was over 25,000 words plus 31 attachments (unlabelled) and I was unable to discover what they charged. I looked at two more entries and they were similar!”

3. Answer the question

Think back to your school days. Before you sat exams you probably had it drummed into you to read the question carefully and then answer it. The same applies for awards. Carefully consider the criteria and questions you are being asked, then respond directly to both.

It’s one of the reasons why you should never cut and paste your answers from a previous entry. As tempting as it might be to try and save some time, it’ll probably mean you don’t answer the specific question being posed. And, it’s just possible that a judge will remember your entry from last year.

The judge’s view:

Phil Billingham: “Having judged financial planner/financial adviser of the year type awards within the UK and abroad for something approaching 20 years, I can confidently say that two things are absolutely crucial. Firstly, ensure you clearly show you have understood any criteria or guidance. So, if the awards are slanted towards retirement planning, ensure that you address this. In short, read and answer the question. Secondly, ensure that it’s you who completes the entry. Entries compiled at a junior level, or, even worse, outsourced to PR firms, stand out a mile.”

4. Don’t be late!

There’s really no excuse for being late; the window for most awards is relatively long and you’ll get plenty of reminders.

Some deadlines are extended but don’t rely on that. If you’re late you could ask for an extension. In our experience, such requests are often accepted. Again though, there’s no guarantee and you might be marked down for your tardiness or the judges may be alerted to you missing the deadline.

5. Work as a team

Your team will know parts of your business better than you do. Even if you’re a sole practitioner there will be people who support you whose brains you can pick.

Getting your team together to brainstorm a list of everything you want to include is an excellent way of getting the creative juices flowing. You can then take over (as Phil Billingham has already recommended) to craft an entry based on the best ideas.

Finally, circulate the final entry to your team for their feedback.

6. Remember the word count

We’ve heard some people suggest that you can get away with exceeding the word count by say 10%. That might be true. We’d rather not risk it though. If you can, stay within the word count.

7. Be specific, demonstrate excellence and avoid platitudes

You won’t win an award by being average. You might though by demonstrating excellence.

If you’re going to make a claim then make sure it elevates your business above the average, is specific, and is supported by evidence. In fact, we believe that demonstrating excellence is the single most important factor in separating your entry from the pack.

Every claim you make should be supported by evidence:

  • Your clients are happy? Demonstrate it through social proof.
  • You’ve got great client engagement? Quote your retention rate, the number of referrals you receive or open rates on client communications and so on.
  • You’re growing by taking on new clients; quote the numbers, show improvements in turnover and enquiry levels.

The judge’s view:

Clive Waller: “The serial winners are exceptional because they are never happy with where they are. They are always looking for the next step, the next way to improve the proposition or decrease costs.”

Phil Billingham: “Overstating something that’s really a ‘hygiene factor’ – picking funds, for example – as some form of ‘Secret Sauce’. I’ve even seen attempts to trademark this sort of thing. It just makes you look silly!”

8. Quote achievements, not promises

Your entry should focus on your achievements during the relevant period, not promises or predictions of what might happen in the future.

“Planning to implement…”

“Working towards…”

“Intending too…”

and so on should all be avoided. After all, anyone can promise anything. Far better to focus on what you have achieved already instead of what might happen. If you find yourself struggling, it might be the time to fast forward to our final point.

The judge’s view:

Phil Billingham: “No judge wants to reward future aspiration, rather than those who have actually done the work, so please do ensure you can show you ‘are doing’, not ‘will do’”.

9. Proof and edit your entry

Don’t be surprised if editing your entry to stay within the word limit, without losing any of your key points, is the hardest part of the entry process.  We regularly spend longer editing an entry than we do writing it in the first place.

As tempting as it might be to quickly submit your entry, especially if you are up against a deadline, it absolutely must be proofed before clicking ‘send’; typos, spelling errors and grammatical mistakes will make you look amateurish. Ideally, the proofing should be completed by someone who hasn’t been involved in writing the entry.

10. Be prepared to admit it’s not your year

If you’re struggling to fill the word count it’s a sure-fire sign that you might have chosen the wrong financial awards or it’s just not your year.

There’s nothing wrong with taking a year out or switching your attention to an alternative award. There’s little to be gained from wasting your time with an entry which stands little chance of success.

And if you don’t win?

The judge’s view:

Clive Waller: “Remember, if you don’t win, you will still learn. But, to give yourself the best possible chance follow the word count and answer the questions and avoid self-congratulatory stuff or me-too industry speak. Finally, tell me what you do and how much it costs. For me, I am interested in the investment philosophy, the science and research adopted e.g. we are relatively active on asset allocation but use only passive funds with data supplied by Morningstar. I want to know how much it costs and how the firm is seeking to drive costs out of the business. Finally, I am impressed by joined up use of technology to reduce cost and risk and to improve the proposition.”

And finally…

We’ve often heard it said that winners are chosen based on commercial factors such as who buys a table at the ceremony.

Despite these allegations, we’ve never seen any evidence to support these claims. So, we thought we’d ask Phil Billingham for his perspective. Here’s what he had to say:

“One of the silliest and most irritating old chestnuts is the “you only get an award if you turn up on the night / buy a table / spend money on advertising” allegation.

Now, there is the odd speculative email, which does try to do this – spend money in order to be entered for an award. Clearly, these are scams.

But for the ‘mainstream’ awards, can I just state for the record how puerile and insulting these comments are? Think about it. Judging is done well in advance – months usually. So, the publication in question would have to know:

  • Who was going to buy a table – and almost no planners do. Its 99% product providers who buy tables, so how that has anything to do with adviser awards is a puzzle anyway
  • And then they need to bribe the judges to select that planner

So, as a judge, I take great offence to be told that when giving up my time, travelling to judges meetings at my own expense, all in the interests of helping to raise standards and ‘give something back’, I am really a crook, being bribed by whoever is offering the award, and those that enter without buying the award are both stupid and naïve.

The pattern I notice is that those who raise these allegations do so when they are not shortlisted, but somehow, the awards they are shortlisted for are the ‘honest ones’. Funny that…..”

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