by Natasha Rombough, CHBA Director of Marketing and Communications
Winning an award can set your company apart from the competition. In addition to the marketing opportunity that all smart businesses capitalize on, it shows potential customers that not only does your work look great, it’s got the stamp of approval from others in the industry. Receiving accolades adds an additional layer of credibility and confidence, and gives homeowners one more reason to trust your company.
To help set you apart from the crowd, consider entering the CHBA National Awards for Housing Excellence this fall. The Canada-wide competition features categories for builders, renovators, and developers, with the opportunity to recognize other member companies involved in the projects, so architects, designers, trade contractors, energy advisors, and others can also benefit.
Getting national recognition will require a top-notch entry. While each category has its own eligibility requirements and entry questions, there are universal tips for preparing a solid entry and increasing your chances of impressing judges. We’ve compiled the top five tips for creating a great award entry.
TIP #1: Choose a standout project
This doesn’t always mean the most impressive-looking project, or the most expensive project. Keep in mind that judges are often your peers. How would you assess an entry? In competitions where all the product is beautifully designed and executed, you need to tell the judges why yours stands out. What makes your entry unique, creative, or exemplary? What challenges did you overcome? Perhaps you had zoning restrictions or budget constraints that required outside-of-the-box solutions. Do you renovate or build custom homes? Maybe the homeowners had unusual needs or unrealistic expectations. Once you’ve selected a project, focus on communicating why it’s a winner when you answer the entry questions. Make sure you elaborate on the thinking behind your project and express to the judges why it stands out. Doing so will ensure your entry isn’t just another gorgeous renovation – it will make the effort and skill behind it stand out from the others.
Before and after pictures from the same angle illustrate the transformation from living room to kitchen/dining.
TIP #2: Photography matters … a lot
For many competitions, judges will not have the opportunity to see projects in person. This means the photos you submit are their only way to visually assess the space. It’s very difficult for judges to see beyond poor photography and imagine what the space truly looks like. Arranging for a professional photographer to take images of your work should be part of your construction workflow. If you’re not already, you should be using quality images for your portfolio, your website, and social media marketing. What makes for “good” photos? The space should appear bright and welcoming, with natural light flooding in. The image exposure should be high enough that you can see the details in your work. If you want to showcase accent lighting, let your photographer know; he or she may suggest shooting closer to dusk when they can capture interior lighting and natural light at the same time. Make sure to include wide shots to give judges an idea of what the space looks like as a whole. Conversely, get some close-up images of fine detail work and craftmanship that you want to highlight. Your photographer should deliver images that are in focus and true to colour. To really help judges (and potential customers) understand how the space is used, it should be staged as though the house was for sale; minimize distracting elements (remove clutter, knick-knacks, and personal portraits) and take a less-is-more approach to design. Consider adding welcoming touches like fresh fruit in the kitchen or flowers in the entryway.
If you’re entering a renovation, keep in mind that the most impressive aspect is the transformation. Judges need “before” pictures of what the space previously looked like so they can appreciate how much work was done on the design, the layout, the construction, and the finishing. Before images should show as much of the space at one time as possible so judges can see in a glance what the room looked like. Almost as important as before pictures is having an after photo from the same angle. When the transformation is easy to see, your entry becomes more competitive.
TIP #3: Be clear and concise
In addition to supplying images and floor plans, most award programs will require a written component to entries. Whether you need to answer specific questions or you have a big block of space to write freeform, be aware of the language you use. Make sure you are clear and concise. Use point form if you can, but don’t be so frugal with words that sentences are hard to read. Don’t repeat content from question to question – that’s a red flag for judges who will feel your entry isn’t interesting enough to come up with more varied responses. If you can, find out what level of expertise the judges will have. If the judges are renovators, for example, you can use a fair bit of industry terminology and they’ll understand. On the other hand, if you’re entering a category that’s being judged by the public, you’ll likely want to explain things in layman’s terms. No matter who you’re writing for, remember that judges often have a lot of entries to get through. Discuss your most important points first, write clearly, and concisely express why your entry is a standout project. Before submitting, make sure someone else proofreads your work. And if the idea of writing up an entry is overwhelming enough not to enter, consider hiring someone to take over the task. There are professionals who specialize in preparing award entries for renovators and builders.
TIP #4: Give yourself time
This tip is as basic as they come, but it’s worthy of being on the list. Putting together an entry at the last minute is not only very stressful, but puts you at risk of not successfully communicating to the judges why your project is award worthy. Give yourself plenty of cushion time. Fully read the award requirements and questions well in advance of the deadline. This will give you time to assemble all the elements you need. Be aware that many competitions require a specific homeowner permission form to be filled out, and that it may take some time to have your customer sign off on. Familiarize yourself with the award entry method, whether it’s online software or paper forms. Make sure you have all of the required documents and images; you don’t want to be disqualified for missing information. Give yourself time to put thought into how you answer questions, touching on the elements that make your project stand out. And finally, don’t wait until the final minute to submit an entry or count on an extension, or you may just be out of luck.
TIP #5: Consider judging a competition
Judging will give you a new perspective and expose you to high-quality projects from areas outside of where you regularly do business. Not only will you get an inside look at design trends and construction techniques of fellow members, but your experience as a judge will help you with future entries. Local and provincial associations are often looking for unbiased judges from other parts of the country. Consider volunteering your time. It’s an enjoyable way to give back to the association, and in return you will be inspired by the craftsmanship and innovation of your peers. Maximize your chances of winning by following all of these tips. You’ll have a great entry, and likely more marketing material for promoting your business, win or lose. And finally, if you are recognized as a top project, make sure to make the most of it! Provide your local new sources with great images and a ready-made story. Use the opportunity to connect with your customers and your community – introduce them to the team that was behind the project, let them in on added details about the home, or tell them why your company is passionate about doing such quality work. Winning an award can be a great motivator for your team, and an excellent marketing tool. So get out there and enter!