Rosemary French

I remember in the late 1980s being invited as a guest to the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year Awards at the Savoy. Created as a tribute to Madame Clicquot, the Awards celebrate their 50th year in 2022 and are acknowledged as the first awards competition dedicated to business-women. I now know that Madame Clicquot, when widowed at the early age of 27, took control of her late husband’s champagne business and was one of the first women to lead a large company principally of men. She was quite a force to be reckoned with.

I have no idea why I was invited although I suspect it was an article in the Times that I wrote on behalf of my bookseller employer, about ending the Net Book Agreement. This dated back to post war price maintenance and fixed the price of books thus stifling competition amongst booksellers. Hard to believe today! Suggesting that the Agreement should end was hugely controversial although I was well aware I was being set up by my openly misogynist boss as a fall guy to take the resulting flack! The article certainly brought my name to the attention of publicists.

I cannot remember who won that year, but I do vividly recall that I was a young woman overwhelmed in this grand hotel, full of hundreds of high achieving women. I had been used to being the sole woman in most business circumstances and suddenly I was mixing with all these women who were striding ahead, pushing through the glass ceiling, long before we even called it that. For some it came at a price, not having children, broken relationships, or mental health, but it was then that I knew I was not alone. There were many of us, it was just that we were not openly spoken about, promoted, respected nor admired until the Veuve Clicquot Awards brought these women the attention they deserved.

I mentor several women at various stages in their growth. Whether they are a start-up or a well-established business, I emphasise the importance of entering business awards. Generally, I am immediately pushed back. ‘I couldn’t possibly do that’ or ‘who am I to enter?’
I do not give up saying that it is not about being humble, shy, or retiring. They are in business and all businesses need to promote themselves at every opportunity.

My approach is that if you do not believe in yourself and your business, how can you expect others to? It is a free form of promotion and marketing that enables you to take time to look at your business like an outsider. The best awards judges often also offer feedback which is brilliant free advice. If it is not automatically given why not ask for it?

I advise them that so few enter that they will have a high chance of being shortlisted. That national awards are no less winnable than regional or local awards. Boost Awards currently list
90 awards suitable covering many sectors and themes. However, I am
a firm believer that such applications must be written by the entrant not by a professional awards writer. Judges can tell! Also, your individualism, passion and dedication will better shine through when it is written by yourself. It is an enhanced elevator pitch.

I also stress that there is absolutely no need to stick to awards for business-women. All categories should be considered and if relevant, entered. What is there to lose?

I know it can take time to write a good and full application. I am occasionally surprised at how little some entrants offer to the judges in their applications making it easy to dispose of them during early sorting. However, a lot of time spent in the first application will pay dividends for other award entries when so much can be cut and pasted.

Another tip is to ‘answer the question,’ although for some more sloppily organised awards these questions can be so vague that it is not possible to ascertain what they are looking for. In those cases, refer to previous entries and follow a similar pattern of answers. Just remember that the judges are looking for all round business success or proven development. Outline the innovation in your business, how you manage and bring on employees, how you overcame challenges and obstacles, how you plan, do you give young people a chance with apprenticeships, how do you reach your customers? Since your business strategy should include most of these in any case, it is simply a case of getting it down on paper as though you were explaining your business to a consultant over coffee.

Finally, leave enough time to ask someone else to read over your application. An employee, your boss, a customer perhaps? Inevitably, they will spot something you have missed.

If you are shortlisted or a winner, remember to advertise this on your emails and business marketing material. It is truly something to be proud of and will give potential customers further confidence that they are dealing with a reputable and recognised company.

So, what is it like being a judge on such awards? I always groan when asked to judge because there is an enormous amount of work invol-ved usually in my own time. However, I take it as a great compliment and always accept. When I get to the end and the winner is chosen, I feel hugely satisfied that I and the other judges have done a fair job.

It is rare that there is only one judge. Actually, I would never agree to judge
if that was the case. I need at least one other judge to ‘bounce’ thoughts off. We all have prejudices and together these can be ironed out.

A decent judge will look beyond the application and arrange an interview. In the past I always visited the shortlisted entrants but recently I completed judging the Women in Construction Awards for South East Construction Expo. Due to Covid-19, we interviewed online, and it was remarkably successful as well as efficient for all parties. Once again, we were surprised, at how much extra we gleaned from the shortlisted candidates which inevitably made the job of selecting the winner even harder!

If you are shortlisted, there is nothing like the excitement of an Awards ceremony waiting for the winners to be announced. Like the proud and strong-willed Madame Clicquot, who always demanded ‘only one quality, the finest,’ women can stand behind their award entries knowing that they have offered for judgement the absolute best of their business, themselves and their employees.

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