Tuesday, 11 August 2020

Business awards - the gift that keeps on giving

Business awards first crossed my radar back in the late 1980s when I was a newspaper journalist. Back then they were a big deal, certainly on the papers where I worked.The main reasons why we put time and effort into entering industry awards were: 
  • They were great for morale and boosting self-confidence. 
  • Judging panels included some big hitters in the industry, so winning was validation that you were doing a good job. It was a meaningful pat on the back. 
  • Awards ceremonies were fun (usually!) and a treat for the shortlisted staff members. The drink would flow, there would be a nice meal in a swanky venue and if it was in London or a major city away from where you lived the editor would often spring for hotel rooms for everyone. 
  • Award ceremonies were a good networking opportunity. You could chat with your peers from other papers and find out what they were doing. The innovations and ideas that had made them finalists were sometimes things you could adapt and adopt on your own newspaper.
  • Winning an award, or being highly commended, was a story to tell your ‘customers’ (our readers and advertisers). It boosted your credibility and encouraged them to keep buying the paper and advertising space.
  • Award wins helped with recruitment. The best staff wanted to work on the ‘best’ papers and do rewarding and interesting work. Individual award winners could often get poached for bigger, better jobs. 
  • Putting together the award entries was a chance to reflect on what you’d done and feel inspired to continue improving. 
  • Winning or securing nominations could get you a story in the trade press, and sometimes beyond, which was great PR. 

You can’t win an award if you don’t enter! 

Elaine Pritchard collects a BAFTA award for Headline History
Between the late 1980s and 2010, I was fortunate enough to attend a host of award nights. The highlight was undoubtedly when I went on stage in London to collect a BAFTA for a content-rich, educational website I’d devised and had commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. 

I mention that to show you that anything is possible. Reach for the stars, you just never know what might happen. I would NEVER have believed that our project, brilliant though it was, would beat the BBC and Channel Four who were also shortlisted that night. 

You have GOT to be in it to win it. If you never enter then undoubtedly, you’ll never win. 

I believe that the list of benefits above, from my newspaper days, still applies today to today’s business owners in any sectors. 

Awards are great for raising your profile, boosting credibility, networking, self-confidence, PR and more. There has probably never been SUCH a wide range of awards that businesses can enter as there is today. Don’t let the weirdness of 2020 put you off entering. The award ceremonies, and the judging, may be online at the moment, but it’s a great year to show your fighting spirit and the innovation you have used to keep going. If you have taken a financial hit, you won’t be alone. Just be honest and explain how you plan to bounce back. 

The benefits of entering business awards 

Let’s put winning to one side for a minute. There are benefits that will boost your business if you just enter. 

You can usually talk about ‘being nominated’ on social media - even if you have nominated yourself. There really is no shame in that. Everyone does it. You don’t HAVE to wait for someone else to nominate you – not in most cases. 

Putting together your entry reminds you of the great stuff you have done. That, in itself, is a great opportunity to reflect on your journey and get a deeper understanding of the customers you enjoy working with most. It can help you to develop and grow your business by seeing what has worked best and what you could do more of in the future. It’s also a self-confidence boost. 

The words you write, or have written for you, can often serve other useful purposes. You might find phrases and explanations that you realise capture what you do so well that you want to include them on your website and your social media bios. Some awards may ask for case studies or testimonials from clients. Would any of those make good blog posts or articles for LinkedIn? The words of others, our happy clients, can be a powerful persuasion tool when it comes to securing new customers. 

How can I find the time to enter business awards? 

Those of us who have moved from a salaried job to running our own ventures have to learn to be self-sufficient until we can afford to delegate work and employ others. If you start a one-person business you are suddenly responsible for sales, marketing, IT and much more. So it would be easy to think, ‘I’ve not got the time to enter awards’. 

 One way to look at it is to think of ‘the award’ as a new, important client. If you had the chance to work for someone who could grow your business, bring in new customers, raise your profile and help you build the business you’ve always wanted you would find the time to meet with them and create proposals. Yes? 

An award entry is the same sort of investment. You can find people who will write award entries for you, but remember that no-one knows your business as well as you do. If you do want to delegate the work, choose a writer who comes recommended by people you know and trust and ask them about their success rate. 

If you don’t use an awards writer, DO consider using a proofreader to make sure your entry is free of spelling mistakes and missing words. It’s so easy to go word-blind on your own work and think you KNOW what it says. 

How can I benefit from being a finalist in a business award? 

If you are a finalist, PR the hell out of it: Include it in your LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram bios; use images and words on your social media cover pictures; write a blog post; use a logo or a visual on your website home page; write a story and submit it to the trade press or your local media companies. 

If you win, or secure a highly commended award, you can do it all again and have a second bite of the cherry. 

Your success in awards is a story you can KEEP telling in different ways. You are an award-winning business. Congratulations! 

Some awards organisers will help publicise you. Make sure you understand how they can help. Some will give you mentions on their social media channels. The WomanWho awards send out ‘I’ve been nominated’ logos, followed by ‘I’m a finalist’ and ‘I’m a winner’ logos for those who progress. 

How do I find business awards to enter? 

Champagne glasses for celebration
Wherever you are based in the UK you will find that your local chamber of commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses will be hosting awards each year. You can also ‘Google’ UK business awards and find more opportunities. 

A company called Boost, which also offers help with writing your entries, has a list of awards online  and you can also sign up to get an email reminder of awards and their deadline dates. 

Social media can be a good source of information. A lot of awards organisers have Twitter accounts and will post regularly when applications are open. LinkedIn is another good social media channel for news and updates about awards and who has won them. 

When you’re next chatting to networking contacts, face-to-face or online, ask them if they’ve entered any awards and see what you can learn from their experiences. 

Of course technology and the media have changed dramatically since I was a newspaper journalist, but one way in which it’s changed for the better is that we no longer have to wait for the media to report on us – we can report on our own success stories through our websites, blogs and social media channels. Don’t be shy. Just go for it.

Monday, 1 June 2020

Bouncing back with Small Business Saturday

Tough times bring out the best in many people.

Throughout this year's crisis, the Small Business Saturday UK campaign has been blasting out positivity and energetic compassion through its social media channels. It's held Facebook Live chats to share timely advice with small businesses and the self-employed. There have been many cheerful giveaways of prizes donated by small businesses on its Facebook page. Businesses who have connected online and in the real world in recent years, thanks to the campaign, have continued to be there for each other - showing the true spirit of collaboration over competition.

If you don't know what Small Business Saturday is all about, let me tell you. This isn't a membership organisation and you don't pay a subscription fee. It's a grassroots, non-commercial campaign that shouts about the importance of small businesses to our economy, our communities and our happiness.

Celebrating 100 independent small businesses

The campaign runs all-year-round, but its name reflects the highlight of its year. Since it was founded in 2013, it has called the first Saturday in December in the UK 'Small Business Saturday'. On this day, everyone is encouraged to make a special effort to support small businesses and to shout-out about their favourite local independents. Businesses might hold a special event on the day. Five years ago, we held a 'flash' conga of small businesses through Burton-on-Trent town centre.

Burton Small Business conga
Each year, the campaign team chooses a #SmallBiz100: 100 independent, small businesses that are representative of the five million-plus small businesses across the country. They are celebrated nationally and given a day to themselves in the 100 days running up to Small Business Saturday, which this year falls on December 5.

The good news is that applications are NOW open for this year's #SmallBiz100 and will be for the whole of June 2020.

It's free to apply but it's NOT a competition as such. The Small Business Saturday campaign team is always keen to avoid using the word 'WINNERS' about the 100. That would imply that if you didn't make it into the 100 you are a 'LOSER'.  No-one who sets up their own enterprise is a loser.

Every year, the Small Business Saturday team aims to create a 100 that represents both a geographical spread across the UK and the diversity of the small business community. So, for example, you'll not find a 100 that includes 50 businesses from London, or 30 accountants.

A ready-made free campaign for any small business

Over the years I've seen a host of fascinating businesses, and some not-for-profit and social enterprises, make the list: a zoo, a magician, a filmmaker, a manufacturer of wheelchairs for disabled pets, a flotation therapy centre and a murder mystery experience business, to name but a few. So, don't be put off from applying because you think you're a bit different. The beauty of the #SmallBiz100 is the range of businesses that make the list.

One firm rule is that once you have been chosen for the #SmallBiz100 you can't apply again. You are a #SmallBiz100 for life and can join a Facebook group for alumni. Applications are only open to independent small businesses, so franchises and network marketing businesses cannot apply. The reasoning behind this is that they already get support from their parent or umbrella company. Small Business Saturday is creating a FREE, ready-made promotional campaign that every #SmallBiz100 company can pick up and use.

I was fortunate enough to be chosen as one of the #SmallBiz100 in 2015 It gave me a great springboard to promote what I did. I also loved attending events organised by the campaign to bring businesses together to network and to meet politicians.

The bus called at Burton in 2016 & 2018.
This year will, of course, be a bit different. No-one can know at this stage whether some of the usual face-to-face events can go ahead, but campaign director Michelle Ovens confirmed today, on a live Facebook launch, that the national small business bus tour WILL go ahead towards the end of this year. The team members are still deciding exactly HOW it will work, but the bus WILL tour the country to highlight the Small Business Saturday message.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has always been a supporter of Small Business Saturday and promotes any of its members who join the annual #SmallBiz100. As some of you know, I host a monthly #FSBConnect meeting (currently online) for businesses in and around Burton-on-Trent and Staffordshire.

Karen Woolley, of the FSB has said several times in recent weeks that the FSB was born for times like these, and I think she's right. The organisation's focus on lobbying Government on behalf of the nation's small businesses and self-employed has been invaluable. The FSB has listened to its members and relayed their issues to Government policymakers throughout the crisis. Positive changes in financial support have resulted. The solutions are not perfect and there are still gaps, but the FSB continues to fight for all small businesses and self-employed, not just its members.

Top tips for entering the 2020 #SmallBiz100

In other years, along with my Burton Small Business colleagues, I have helped to run free workshops for people interested in applying for the #SmallBiz100. I have also encouraged businesses I work with to enter and I'm delighted that some of them have been successful. So, here are a few tips for you to consider:
  1. Has 2020 been the toughest year yet for your business? Have you had to furlough staff? Have you faced financial challenges? DON'T let this deter you from entering. It's not about having the strongest balance sheet, it's about celebrating the businesses that are fighting on, perhaps adapting and finding new ways to work and stay in contact with customers. Small Business Saturday WILL accept applications from businesses that are temporarily closed at the moment. Being one of the #SmallBiz100 in 2020 would give you a powerful story to tell on your website and in the local media. Share your plans to bounce back.
  2. The application form is quite simple and straight forward. It's online here. The team wants to get a feeling for what makes you tick, the story behind your business and your values and vision. Businesses that work closely in the business community and give back are often well-received. 
  3. It's 'optional' to send a video but I would advise you in the STRONGEST possible terms that you NEED to make one. It can be simply filmed on your own iPhone. You DON'T need to pay anyone to direct and edit it. The key is to be authentic and honest. It won't be seen by anyone except the campaign team unless you CHOOSE to share it. You can show where you work, who you work with and what you do. Don't be shy about showing your passion for what you do.
  4. If you don't already follow the Small Business Saturday team on social media, do it now. Start engaging with them and other businesses and building relationships. It's not all about YOU. I've connected with people that have become good customers and trusted suppliers through the campaign. This isn't so much a tip about entering the #SmallBiz100, but it's the reasonWHY it makes a real difference. You can raise your profile but you can also help others. You can become a role model for future entrepreneurs and right now we need that more than ever.
I was on a Zoom meeting this morning where wellness business founder Rachael Field shared the thought that 'we're all going through the same storm but in different boats'.

Perhaps uniting through organisations such as the Small Business Saturday campaign and the FSB is one way we can link those boats together and sail off into a future that's different - but hopefully even better?

Monday, 4 May 2020

YOU are the expert you need most of all

Have you noticed how many people have become ‘experts’  in recent weeks?

Everyone seems to have opinions on the current COVID-19 pandemic, which are often coloured by a 'gut instinct' response to media reports rather than any direct medical or scientific knowledge.

Many people seem to have become self-proclaimed business and life coaches and are hell-bent on making you feel a failure if you’re not on target to have learned at least two new languages, mastered website development, started a new business, lost a stone in weight, de-cluttered your entire house and run a marathon up and down your stairs by the time lockdown is eased.

For some people, it appears that anxiety and fear is prompting them to post harsh, judgemental statements on social media on every topic under the sun from a news reporter’s shoes, through the BBC’s arrangements for recording episodes of The Archers, to perceived breaches of lockdown.

I want to encourage you to take a step away from the noise and chatter and find your own way.

I believe that at this time you are the expert you need most of all.

Reflection and retrospection

Mouse brain!
I’m enjoying the opportunity to reflect on how I was working and living before lockdown. 

I’m also finding my mind wandering back over lots of random incidents from the past, which then came into sharp focus when I unearthed some old diaries while I was doing a bit of tidying. 

I call it my mouse brain. It has a little run-around and pokes its nose into the dusty corners of my memories. The trick is to put it back into its cage after its daily exercise and move on.

There’s nothing you can do to change the past so I try and use it as a positive springboard to do better for myself and others in the future. I know there are things that I am going to do differently when I get the chance. I hope that the result is a better work-life balance and more time for the things that give me real joy. 

We can learn a lot about ourselves, our motives and what matters most to us at this time.

Be kind to yourself

Just chill
My final advice for now (and it is advice – not instruction) would be to CHILL if you can.

I realise that lots of key workers are still hard at work and must be weary of people talking about being bored, or doing online quizzes or gardening. There are also people busy at home, still working on their businesses and in their businesses as they pivot to new ways of generating revenue.

But if you have more free time than you would normally, I think now is a good time to put yourself first and be kind to yourself and others. You don’t have to be a productivity ninja every day. Cut yourself some slack and enjoy rediscovering old hobbies (or new ones); favourite books; favourite music and films. 

Lots of people are doing this, which I'm sure is why we’ve seen those chains of posts on FB with friends challenging each other to post a favourite book and a favourite album every day.

Eating well and getting some exercise, these are important for physical and mental wellbeing. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy a treat, Just be aware that too many of the wrong foods and drinks will put you in a bad frame of mind and may make any anxiety and sadness worse. 

I'm loving online yoga with Lisa Satchwell Energetics. It's something I'd only recently started at classes before lockdown and being able to do it in my home means I'm doing three one-hour classes a week which I find are doing me the world of good. Lisa also posts some great tips for general health and peace of mind.

I will be blogging again soon with some tips about writing, editing and marketing things you can be doing (if you want to) during these strange times.

Thursday, 23 January 2020

Proud to be on #TeamEnton for the launch of 'Laid Bare'

It's been a joy and a privilege to help first-time author Enton Barefoot realise his dream of publishing his autobiography, Laid Bare.

There are many reasons why people set out to become authors, but Enton's was clear to me from the first time we met. He said: "My biggest wish is that it helps someone who’s going through addiction or who’s started on the path of recovery. If I can help just one person via this book then I’ll be a very, very happy man indeed."

The 18-month journey that has brought us to where we are - one week away from the official launch in Leicester - has been full of hard work, good fortune and many slices of serendipity.

I met Enton after I was recommended to his partner Vicky by a close associate, Hannah Sookias, who thought I may be able to help Vicky with some content writing. In the course of a  chat with Vicky, I mentioned that ghostwriting was one of my services. She immediately said: "You should talk to my partner because he's writing a book."

Laddish culture of Britpop

Enton and I met for a  coffee at Langan's Tea Rooms in Burton-on-Trent and he began to tell me his remarkable story of recovery from addiction. I knew that by sharing his story he could make a real difference to people facing similar challenges, and shatter the stereotypes of how and why people become addicts and street homeless.

When he sent me what he'd already written, I went straight back to him and said: "You actually don't need a ghostwriter because you are a natural storyteller."

I was impressed by the strength and honesty of Enton's voice, which jumped off every page. I loved that he had begun to weave his favourite music into his stories. I believe it adds to the power of his book that the years of his increasingly reckless consumption of drugs and alcohol is soundtracked by the iconic tunes of the 1990s, a decade of excess and the laddish culture of Britpop.

The cover of Laid Bare by Enton Barefoot
I came on board as an editorial consultant. Over the months I've edited Enton's work and helped to structure the book. We met regularly and every time I listened in awe as Enton told me the stories he had yet to write. As an ex-journalist it was natural for me to ask questions and clarify things and then Enton wrote up those stories. I began to view our meetings as the highlight of my month and became convinced that Enton has a bright future as a motivational speaker.

I have nagged a bit, sometimes, to keep him on track. He has kindly described it as 'holding him to account' and I shall always be proud of my place alongside Vicky and the rest of #TeamEnton in the acknowledgements of his first edition.

Abstinence-based recovery

Noreen Oliver with Russell Brand and Enton Barefoot
Early on in our journey, I knew I wanted to share his story with Noreen Oliver MBE, the founder of the BAC O’Connor addiction treatment centres in Staffordshire. She met us, back at Langan's Tea Rooms, which is owned by the O’Connor Gateway Charitable Trust and run as a social enterprise.

All revenue for the tea rooms is ploughed back into community services to provide education, training and employment for people who have undergone rehabilitation at the BAC O’Connor centres.

After hearing Enton's story, Noreen contacted Russell Brand, a long-term supporter of her work, and he agreed to read an early copy of the manuscript and afterwards gave us a testimonial, which now sits on the front page of the finished book. Noreen, Enton and Russell are all strong advocates of abstinence-based recovery.

Noreen also arranged for Enton and Russell to meet when Russell visited Burton in December 2019 for a BAC O'Connor celebration night.
Enton Barefoot and Russell Brand
Russell's testimonial read: "What an astonishing story of the power of recovery in people's lives. Enton's life can serve as an emblem of hope. Change and salvation are always possible."

Noreen has called the book: "A brave and powerful story by an inspiring individual."

She added: "Enton’s book provides us all with a shining example of how Recovery can be achieved and how, despite the most difficult circumstances, it’s possible to face and overcome the challenges that addiction presents."

As the manuscript neared completion, #TeamEnton expanded with the addition of publisher Sarah Houldcroft of Goldcrest Books and PR expert Rachel Hargrave, of RDZ PR.

"Honest, uplifting and truly inspirational"

A connection of Vicky's put her in touch with actor Stephen Graham and his wife who also voiced their support for the book.

Stephen said: "Enton's journey into recovery is honest, uplifting and truly inspirational....a book that's good for your soul."

Interest from the media is beginning to gather momentum, and the official launch takes place at Lily's Live Lounge on January 30. You can buy the book now, from Enton's own website.

If you are in or near Burton-on-Trent, you can also come and meet Enton, hear him read extracts from the book and buy a copy when he does an author reading at Langan's Tea Rooms (back where he and I first met) on Thursday, February 6, from 4.30pm. The book will be on sale, with 20% of all sales on that night going to the O’Connor Gateway Charitable Trust.

Enton said: I am absolutely blown away by the support and encouragement from both Noreen and Russell and the reading night is a very small thank you for their time, generosity and support.”