Should I enter awards? Here's 6 proven benefits (even if you don't win!)

Winners of Freelancer of The Year 2017

Winners of IPSE Freelancer of the Year Wards 2017

 

Awards. Ever thought about entering?

“I’m too busy!”
”Oh, I wouldn’t win anyway”
”I’m not experienced enough”
”What’s the point?!”

Well, over the years of hosting the Being Freelance podcast I've spoken to many freelancers who can totally see the point.

 

1. Increasing your confidence

For exhibitions designer Rebecca Shipham (whose brand name ‘Ships & Pigs’ deserves a prize in itself), becoming the first ever IPSE Freelancer of the Year gave her a real boost.

“I’ve certainly seen my work increase in quality since winning because my confidence has increased – because someone’s said ‘Yeah, you’re doing well.”

Emmeline Pidgen, an Illustrator and IPSE’s Freelancer of the Year 2016, agrees:

“It's given me a lot more confidence in standing up for myself as a freelancer and charging the levels that I should … so that’s been great.”

Photographer Nisha Haq was only freelancing part-time when she won IPSE’s Aspire Award for UK Freelancer of the Year. It was the win that gave her the confidence to take her wedding photography business full-time. Nisha says:

“I had national recognition for something that I was doing part-time. It made me feel like, you know what? Maybe this should be my ultimate goal. It's a huge confidence boost to hear people you wouldn't know, like strangers and judges and people who are really high up in the industry, telling you that you can make it. It completely changes your mindset.”

And even with plenty of experience, Graphic Designer Chad Michael still feels that same rush. An injection of creativity with each win.

“Personally, there's something about winning those things, it's just so ... I can't describe it. It's such a good feeling. It's so amazing to think that people actually enjoy the stuff that I'm doing. It makes me want to create more stuff.”

I’ve entered awards myself in the past (though I’ve not won any… yet!), and I’ve found even applying to be a real motivator.

The application process makes you think about and celebrate all the Great Stuff that you’ve done.

And if you’re thinking: ‘But Steve, I haven’t really done any Great Stuff.’

The thing is, I bet you have. I bet you’ve actually done loads of Great Stuff, and filling out an awards submission form will force you to acknowledge that.

It also forces you to look at some of the stuff you’ve done that you maybe thought was only Okay Stuff, and to put a spin on it in a way that makes it sound like Great Stuff.

And guess what?

*Spoiler alert*

It was probably Great Stuff to begin with!

 
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"It completely changes your mindset"

- Nisha Haq

 

 

2. Growing your business

Some (though not all) awards come with a prize pot and/or some other form of support for your business.

When software engineer Paul Allington, also known as The Code Guy, won with IPSE in 2015, the prize money meant he was able to hire Millie, a marketing pro, as a project manager.

The additional help Paul got courtesy of IPSE also allowed him to bring his project management tool Doddle to life. Paul said:

“There was also a whole lot of support that was involved in the prize package, so I utilised a lot of that to understand a bit more about how to build a product and how to get it out. It gave me the confidence to sort of plough on with what I was doing. I think I applied for the award because I wasn't sure if I was heading in the right direction. But winning really kind of just focused me even more.”

Emmeline, who won in 2017, saw similar benefits. She said the prize money was very useful because it allowed her to turn away from commissions for a while and focus on a picture book and comics. She said:

“They're the kind of things I think will be career-defining, so it's great to have that opportunity.”

 

3. Finding new opportunities

For radio and podcast presenter Olly Mann, it was winning a student award that launched his career in media. As the Guardian’s Student Critic of the Year, Olly was awarded a week’s work experience at the Observer.

“I knew as soon as I had that, that once my foot was in the door, I needed to put all of Olly Mann through that door and shove him down everyone’s throats,” said Olly.

He turned that prize of a week’s work experience into a month, and then into writing a TV column.

A little later in his career, after starting his first podcast, he and his presenting partner Helen entered themselves for a bunch of awards. They won some and subsequently emailed masses of radio producers with the intention of getting on the radio.

It was having the awards under his belt that gave Olly something to offer when he contacted those radio producers to arrange a meeting – and it worked. They met with around 20 in a year.

Chad Michael has a very specific niche of designing for the liquor packaging industry. Numerous awards have helped him get more work.

“When a design wins, it usually gets printed in something, and people see it. That's free advertising. So if you win, people are looking, "Hey, what studio, what design agency won that? I'm going to contact them for my thing…"

Winning awards, then, can bring new opportunities to you and give you a way in when you’re out seeking them for yourself.

 

4. Gaining credibility

Since winning IPSE’s Young Freelancer of the Year 2015, Kelly Gilmour-Grassam has come a long way. I interviewed her back in the July of 2016, not long after her copywriting agency, Making You Content, had taken on its first employee.

Speaking of how important she thinks it is to put yourself forward for awards, Kelly said she feels it’s not about generating direct leads, but about the credibility that comes with it.

“It is important to apply for these things because they do give you exposure and even if you don’t necessarily get a contact out of it straight away, people will have heard of you before.”

Similarly to how Olly used his awards to introduce himself to new people and seek new opportunities, Kelly displayed hers proudly on her website and in her email footer to demonstrate her credibility to everyone she came into contact with online.

Photographer Jon Enoch has won plenty of awards in his time. They were particularly important early on his career for getting him noticed by the right people.

“Just in terms of getting your name out there. Helping cement your place in the industry. So that people have trust in you or that people just feel that you're more established.”

As a new freelancer or someone without a strong background or a huge list of industry contacts, the credibility that comes from a simple badge on your website or in your email signature can influence people to take you more seriously.

 
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"They're a gigantic

networking opportunity"

- Jessica Morgan

 

 

5. Defining your goals

Illustrator and designer Jessica Morgan says that entering the Entrepreneur Wales Awards, where she came runner-up in the Creative Industries category in 2015, helped give her a clear idea of what her business was about and where she wanted to take it.

I caught up with Jessica at the end of 2015 to find out how her year had gone.

When I asked how she found the whole submission process, Jessica talked about the benefits of writing about your business in such a way. Doing it gave her a clear, succinct message to deliver. Jessica said:

“It helped to see it all in black and white - what I wanted to do, what my build-up has been and where I want to go in the future. It was kind of nice to put that down on paper.”

Since then, Jessica has gone on to enter and win numerous awards. Her accolades include Winner in the Creative category at the Cardiff Life Awards 2017 and Finalist in 3 categories (entrepreneur of the year, brand impact and economic contribution) at the South Wales Business Growth Awards 2018.

I’d say that entering herself and her business for awards has become a key part of Jessica’s business strategy, and it certainly seems to be serving her well. Speaking of which, on to our final benefit...

 

6. Meeting new people

One of the main benefits I’ve seen from applying for and attending awards ceremonies myself is the opportunity it’s given me to meet new people. Sure, it could be potential clients, but more likely other freelancers and business owners that I could potentially collaborate with.

In Jessica Morgan's words, the whole process, from applying to attending the ceremony, is a “gigantic networking opportunity”. Jessica says:

"As well as it being amazing free PR for me and the business, it has been immensely valuable just to attend the events (even if I don’t win). Each time I’ve been to the awards nights I’ve gained some great contacts, won a few new clients and generally been able to become more known and visible to any potential clients. It’s been fantastic for brand recognition. Not to mention all the follow-up articles and press when I have won an award, which has allowed me to be even more visible. It’s been great for being noticed by bigger brands and bigger companies and being taken seriously as a business.”

Similarly, for podcast producer Matt Hill, whose number one piece of advice to other freelancers is to “just keep meeting people”, it was arranging an awards ceremony that gave him a big opportunity to make new contacts.

Through arranging The British Podcast Awards, Matt was able to connect with staff at the BBC, podcast networks like Acast, and even the ‘very elusive’ staff at Apple. Matt says:

“Everyone now has that opportunity, because if you come to the night, if you get nominated or if you just buy a ticket, you have the opportunity to go and meet the person from Apple, the person from Acast. Getting everyone in the same room together is beneficial for all of us.”

 

Key takeaways

A lot of us shrug off awards entirely, assuming it’ll be a waste of time because we won’t win. Here’s my take on it:

  1. You might win!

  2. (But you definitely won’t if you don’t enter)

  3. Even if you don’t win, entering can help you to:

  • Increase your confidence

  • Define your goals

  • Grow your business

  • Find new opportunities

  • Gain credibility and

  • Meet new people

Be it freelancer awards, small business or chamber of commerce awards, location specific awards (like your city or county), magazine/blog awards or your own industry specific accolades. Don't sit back back any longer.

What are you waiting for? Get out there and give it a go! What have you got to lose?

Oh! And don't forget - in the Being Freelance Community, each Friday we crown a ‘Non-Employee of The Week’ who wins a biscuit trophy and this here mug. So hey, clearly that’s one award we can all get behind.

PS. This post is not sponsored by IPSE or anyone else, it just so happens it's an awesome competition with great prestige, press and prize pots, so for UK freelancers I think it’s a no-brainer. Click here to enter this year’s IPSE Freelancer Awards.

Note - An earlier version of this post was published here in February 2018. It’s been updated with even more freelance guests who have benefited from entering awards.