In this episode, Donna talks with Debbie Gilbert - a multi-award-winning Entrepreneur and owner of Viva Business Support, a marketing and events agency. She is also the founder of Mums UnLtd, a networking company aimed at mums in business which provides support for mums in business. Her book ‘The Successful Mumpreneur’ has been a global success, which shares her knowledge on growing a business around a family.
Over the past 20 years, Debbie has built a reputation for being an excellent supporter of small businesses and start-ups. Growing a solid network has been her priority, which has been integral to her business success.
Debbie founded The Best Business Women Awards in 2015 and she reveals more about this annual event, which recognises and rewards outstanding female entrepreneurs from across the globe. Her motto is ‘When you reach the top of your mountain – throw down a rope and help someone else up’.
Donna O'Toole is the Founder of August, and she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. She has seen, first-hand, how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.
Hi, I'm Donna rattle and you're listening to my exclusive winning awards podcast. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. I've seen firsthand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solve problems, supercharge brands and raise profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community. In this podcast, I'll be sharing valuable awards, insights, tips, and inspirational stories to make sure that you get the recognition that you deserve, so that you can go on and achieve your dreams. So what are you waiting for? It's time to start winning. Hello, and welcome to another episode of the winning awards podcast. Today I'm really delighted to have with me Debbie Gilbert. Now Debbie is a multi award winning entrepreneur and she is the owner of Viva business support and marketing and events agency. She's also the founder of mums unlimited and a networking company aimed at mums in business, which provides support for all mums in business. Her book, the successful mum printer has been a global success, which shares her knowledge on growing a business around a family, which lots of us have had to do. Over the past 20 years, Debbie has built a reputation of being an excellent supporter of small businesses and startups, and growing a solid network has been her true priority. And that's been really integral to her business success. So her business portfolio ranges from marketing support social media training, event management, networking events and business exhibitions. And she's also and this is the reason we have her hair today, the founder of the best business women awards, which she started in 2015, and are now her pride and joy. This annual event recognises and rewards outstanding female entrepreneurs from across the globe. And Debbie's motto is when you reach the top of your mountain, throw down a rope and help someone else up. I love that debate. Absolutely love that. Welcome. Thank you for being here today.Unknown:
Thanks, Donna. lovely to be here.Donna O'Toole:
So let's um, it'd be really nice for our listeners to know a bit more about the inspirational businesswoman behind the awards. So tell us and Debbie, how did you you've got lots of strings to your bow, and I can see that, but how did you get into running this awards programme?Unknown:
So I started my business back in 1998, before the internet before social media, and yeah, just like most people slowly built their business. And back in 2011, I was encouraged by a few people to enter a county based business awards. And I didn't get through, I didn't get selected. And I bumped into one of the people who had championed me to enter. They said, Oh, how did you get all in? I said, I didn't. I didn't get chosen. She was like what? She said to me, that I'm really shocked. She said, What did you you know, put in your entry? Why don't you send it to me? And I'll have a look at it. Yeah, she had a look at it. And she called me up and she said, my goodness, you have missed out so many things that I know about you that should have been in that intro. And I was like really? Which was like, Yes, look at all the charity work you do. Because you know the growth of your business, you really haven't hit those key facts. Why don't you re enter next year, making sure you really, really hone down on those key facts and see how you get on. And I it took a lot of courage, I think when you've had a rejection to the courage to go back and do it again. And I do and I want so I want one of the Hofstra entrepreneur awards. That was run by the FSB back in 2012. And, and went on in 2013 to want to win an East of England business champions award as well. And don't know what it was I sat there looking at the stage and watching Mad Men go collect awards. And I was one of about four females at both at those ceremonies, collecting awards. I mean, there was there was women that were finalists, but there weren't very many female winners, and they weren't actually the proportion between the number of men and the number of women was probably about 8020 which we've spoken about before. Yeah. And and I sat there thinking this isn't right. And the other thing that struck me at the ceremonies were that the finalists, so if you weren't a winner, the finalists weren't really being celebrated. It didn't feel like a celebration of everybody's achievements, because actually, I knew from my own experience that getting to that final was an achievement in itself. Yeah, absolutely. So I started to think I'm sure that I could set up some awards that would champion female entrepreneurs and, and create something that was a celebration for everybody. Yeah. And that's what I set about doing. And I also just really felt strongly that women have a very unique set of challenges. Yeah. That, you know, it's still still the case today that we are faced with juggling often home lives, or family relationships and things and trying to run a business as well. And only just about that, that needed to be recognised, and that I wanted to create something that women who were working for themselves as a solopreneur, and didn't have staff felt that they could enter that there was something there for them. So that was why I set it up. renatus. Tech,Donna O'Toole:
amazing. And it's been growing ever since. Yeah. Incredible. And and yeah, I mean, we obviously we help businesses down to all kinds of different competitions. And I have to say, actually, the female entrepreneurs that we work with absolutely love entering awards for women in business, because they do know that their challenges will be looked at slightly differently. And but also, not only that, they get some amazing, I think, because as ladies like to integrate and talk so much, you know, some great networking opportunities and support around you, isn't it? You know, it's you need?Unknown:
Yeah, yeah,Donna O'Toole:
definitely fantastic. So tell us a little bit about how your awards work, and how you can enter what you're looking for in a winner.Unknown:
So our awards are a business competition. So you do have to submit information about you about your business, how you market your business, how you've grown your business, and substantiate everything you put in your entry with some really good strong evidence. And then we have a judging panel, there's 21 people on our judging panel for a range of industries. And each entry is seen independently by three judges. And it's done on a scoring system. Yeah. And then the people with the most scores get selected to be a finalist, we do not select everybody. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I thinkDonna O'Toole:
that's the one is a competition at the end of the day, isn't it?Unknown:
Great. And in a way, but you know, I think, you know, if you do get selected for our awards, it's a mark of quality. Yeah. And then the judging panel, obviously, the scores are collated from the judging panel, and the person with the most points wins. And if there's a draw, then that goes over to our head, Judge Roma, who looks at the two entries, and decides who will be the winner. And I think it's a very fair way of doing things. And I think that, you know, at the end of the day, if you enter an award, and you're a finalist, or, or a winner, you want to be really confident that that is a real true, true achievement and a true mark of your success. And I think we've achieved that.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah. And I think having a robust, transparent judging processes is really important to people as well. Because often, you know, you're not going to win every year, you know, I think you've got to be realistic about it. But if you know how it's being judged, then you can also you know, kind of utilise that experience to help you develop your business and actually look at why, perhaps what your gap was this year, maybe why you didn't win, and actually how you can then use that to empower yourself to to be even stronger for the following year, I'dUnknown:
say, definitely what I'm actually quite proud of, is the fact that a number of our winners have been finalists numerous times before that. Yeah, we're proud of the fact that sometimes we've had people enter three or four times and not been selected and then they're chosen. And so I think that really demonstrates the process that that the entries go through, but also the tenacity of the people that are entering because it's great to see people entering again and coming back again. And you know, to see the win after made by Alison Warner this year he won our best coach for 2020 that was her third time of being so for her that it made the achievement even more special,Donna O'Toole:
which is of course so can you tell us any Have you got any nice stories about your previous winners? Oh, you know, awards have kind of done for themUnknown:
then I'll give you a few examples. So Davina steel. Davina has a bakery called Divina steel baking difference. And her business was born out of her own issues with eating gluten so she set up her own gluten free bakery and she set also herself the task Creating baking mixes and things that people can make at home, but also stuff that was sold into restaurants and hotels. And in the early stages of a business in the first sort of 18 months, they entered a lot of the taste awards, great taste awards, food awards, and they were winning lots of these awards left, right and centre. And they started pitching for supermarkets to get the products in there. And they weren't getting anywhere. And one of them commented on one of the pictures, you know, you've won some great taste awards, but we're not really seeing anything for business acumen. And obviously, when you're pitching for companies like Waitrose, Co Op, Sainsbury's, they want to know that the business that they're going to be dealing with has a strong business acumen. So she entered our awards, which she just about scraped in on the best new business in terms of the dates, and one with flying colours into and submitted a pitch to the power up and got the contract.Donna O'Toole:
Winning a Business Award Best, rather than a taste award. So that's one really strong example of how it can literally take you over the line from that door. Yeah, and the other great things that have come out of the awards for people I usually know who won Best businesswoman in legal services, has ended up with her own TV show.Donna O'Toole:
She she's also a guest presenter on the channel four steps launch our show. Yeah. And she got this TV show called about does crime pay? That was a BBC One Show. Because she won our award that year. And she also want to lower award that year. Awards together. Yeah, both very prestigious UK awards. And it puts you on the map for researchers for these kinds of programmes.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I mean, growing your personal profile? Well, at the end of the day, I always say, you know, if, as a researcher out there looking for a host, or you know, even just a customer out there looking for a business that they want to get some services from, I feel like it's a bit like when I walk into the shop and buy a bottle of wine, if I don't know what I want, I'm going to go for the one with an award, because I feel like I can trust that one. And it's going to be good quality, good value. You know, I'm going to walk away happy with what what I've spent my money on. And it's the same with Business Awards for entrepreneurs and for like, the ladies that you're talking about, it makes them stand out, makes them be that one to pick this confidence.Unknown:
And I think, particularly for the charity champion category as well. The in terms of profile, what that does for the charity is absolutely immense. And our winner of our champion, charity champion category, we fundraise for them the following year. When they get, you know, a few 1000 pounds the following year as a result of fundraising. A great idea. Yeah, I think it was something I bought in from year one. We don't charge for charities to enter, we don't charge for charities, we have to find a way that Yeah, because we want to champion these charities. And we want to showcase these women who are driving initiatives forward and supporting others. And we've had some really great winners, you know, Lin stanier, springs to mind who runs their futures to date, the charity in Sri Lanka. And the work that she did had our judges in tears. Because it was in the days when we used to do the judging room. It's all done online. And it's all done. Probably one of the lowest days we did it. We did it face to face and the judges were going through the entries. I mean, literally, her entry moved them to tears. She set up her charity after the tsunami in Sri Lanka. And she works with orphaned children. So she built her own orphanages, her own schools, and she's been incredibly impactful in the lives of so many people in Sri Lanka. So I think you know, at the end of the day, there is no downside is there to enter?Donna O'Toole:
Oh, gosh, absolutely. No, no, if weUnknown:
don't get through your first time, you still have that exercise of examining your business and doing that 360 degree look at it.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, absolutely. There's so much value it's just having the confidence isn't it is getting over that awards imposter syndrome, and it's having the confidence to put yourself forward and put yourself on the map essentially. And I think that this year, or last year was interesting actually, because obviously with the pandemic, you know, in awards being in flux and everyone being in flux, and not knowing whether to run events, etc. You know, I certainly found with a lot of the awards that we partner with, they actually had more award entries than they'd ever had before. Because There was so much to, there's so much transition, so much transformation, so much pivoting and all, you know all this great stuff going on that actually. And some people have more time to actually do it, you know, for themselves as well. So now this year in 2021, we're coming towards Fingers crossed the end of lockdown, we're all adjusting to the new normal, whatever that is living on zoom half the time. And this year, I know that lots of awards are some are having a hybrid model. Some are staying on nine, some are braving the live events. So it's where are you sitting Debbie with that? And what what can we look forward to with the well weUnknown:
just to give you a bit of background of what we've done since the pandemic so we had some great entries. So we went ahead last year, we were supposed to do a face to face battle back in October last year, we postponed it to weight Pro. And then in January realised that that wasn't going to happen. So we actually ran out 2025 on in March online. And we used a platform called Remo specifically because we wanted to give people the networking experience. And we wanted to be able to allow them to have breakout space to talk to each other to feel that they were actually a ceremony. And we sent everyone celebration boxes beforehand. So they had a couple of cocktails and had some snacks. They had a programme which they would have got had they come to the awards. And then we sent everybody their trophies out as well. So it was just after the awards. So it was kind of like we were trying to really emulate the night as much as we could. So that was fairly successful. But I've got to say you cannot recreate awards, find it online, we managed it, I would say about 50%. And I was happy with the end result. So what we've done for the 15th of October this year, which is the date that's planned for our final is we have booked the company that did the awards fun for us in March. And we've got the venue book, which is at the Radisson Blu Edwardian at Heathrow. And we were just gonna sit back and wait and see what happens. Because I think all of the signals are there that we probably will be able to do a face to face final, we may not be able to have as many as three or 400 people there. But as long as at least our finalists can come with one or two people. I think that will work. Yeah. And we're just hoping that we'll have an answer for people as as soon as the government tell us what to do, they can't do so that's plan.Donna O'Toole:
Excellent. Well, it sounds like you've got it all covered in any direction. So something that I learned in the last year and I'm I'm sure that this has been relevant for your winners as well is that in the advent of you know, the ceremony is something that traditionally everyone gets excited about and it's you know, it's lovely to go and celebrate together Of course, but in the advent of not being able to do that, actually so many screenshots and the logo out there on social media and you know so much and videos and you know, so much great stuff going on social media and then the feedback from our clients and also from you know, other people that I speak to who have won awards as well the the value of the award is the same, like it doesn't make a difference to the value of the award because we're still sharing that it's all over our website and our emails and all those great places. And actually, it's I'd say almost the value of an awards logo in the last year has gone up significantly in that we're all shopping online now. So we all want to see on people's websites that they've won an award and we that's what we're looking for that now more than ever before. So with or without whatever type of ceremony you have, I know that it will still be super important and super valuable to all those people all the finalists and the winners involved as well. The oneUnknown:
big change we made to our programme sat down with the judges last year we had conversations and we always do a feedback session on the judging. And we decided that from last year so from 2020, every single finalist would become a silver award winner. So we want to demonstrate that actually being a finalist in all awards means something yeah and so if you get selected everybody's obviously a finalist till the night and on the night the Gold Award winners are the the winners of the category and then everybody else gets a silver award. Yeah so we think that that shows a real mark of quality and everybody then who is selected as a finalist has that badge of honour it will say silver where it says silver awardDonna O'Toole:
lovely as you as you were saying actually lovely to demonstrate the recognition that you're giving them for just being not just being defined as being a finalist is a fantastic achievement in itself and for putting themselves forward and getting there so yeah, why don't you because it's, it's it's a big leap of faith for a lot of people. Poland and they need to be able to walk away and say, Wow, look what I achieved, you know, it's fantastic for them. So what would be your message? and Debbie, for any business women this year? I know your awards are open right now. So tell us remind us when the deadline is and what would be your message for any business women who are thinking, should I enter or should I not? I'm not sure if I've got the right story, the right vote results, what do you think?Unknown:
So our Washington the 30th of June, so you've got plenty of time, I would think go to go to your website on.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, good idea.Unknown:
You know, I mean, I always talk about is it the right time, and if you're in that first 18 months of trading, then go for the new business category, if you've only started trading in the last six months, then leave it to the next year. But, you know, my kind of rule of thumb is that if you've got good, strong customer testimonials of a good strong story, and that you can demonstrate and evidence, how strong your business is, then you should be entering awards. And, you know, at the end of the day, if you put yourself out there and you start the process, no one else knows that you've entered apart from you, and our judging panel, and the judging panel sign a code of conduct, they're not allowed to disclose anything that they read that they see, we've had a very, very strong judging panel for a long time, and you're a judge yourself, and you know, you know, you're not allowed to disclose anything. So the only person that really that knows is you that. So if you don't get selected, where you can learn from that experience, and take that forward for next year. And if you do get selected, well, you know, what an amazing opportunity is we're rolling out for pandemic, you know, it is tougher than ever to be seen above the noise in any industry. Yeah, unless you've got some strange widget that no one else has ever thought of. There aren't very many industries that don't have strong competitors. Yes. So how amazing would it be to have that kind of celebration towards the end of the year, and to be able to demonstrate how great you are to your customers? And in your own industry as well? Because a lot of our categories are industry specific. Yeah, yeah. And I think that's what draws people into our awards, because they can hang their hat and say, Well, you know, my businesses and business services, I want a business Service Award. I'm an expert. And he's an even as a finalist, you will become a silver award winner. So you'll be able to call yourself an award winning business.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah, I always think as well, you know, getting your pitch and your your entry in front of the panel of judges in itself is an opportunity for you to share your business news. You know, I know I just so many awards, and I know that I'll read an award or anything, oh, I've never heard of them. They sound great. And they'll go and Google them. And then if I'm looking for that thing, you know, I might know that that seemed to go look for it. So it's a great opportunity to just share your business news, you know, with others. And then if you do get to the final like you say, not only are you have you got that opportunity again in front of the panel of judges, but then you've got the opportunity in front of the other ladies in the room or the other ladies who have entered who are finalists, because they could be potential supporters, customers, partners, you know, all sorts of business goes on at awards, doesn't it?Unknown:
We've had lots lots and lots of stories that I can share with you, where people have done collaborations together, people have referred business to each other. The stories that come out of the awards, sometimes it can take me a year to find out about it. When we run our launch event, we invite previous winners to come along and share their stories. So we we don't invite everybody but we invite maybe two or three and and then they'll suddenly share this story that I didn't know about and they're telling me Oh yeah, you know, I'm now doing business with Denise Leary has done work with the wheelchair ambulance who they were both winners on the same night. They you know, we run a Windows Event after our awards because that was the other thing that I felt was missing from a lot of awards. There wasn't really anything connecting people after the event. And obviously on the night, everybody's like, you know, with their own family or colleagues or, you know, you're not really intent on talking to the other winners or the other finalists on the night. So we have our winners club, and we have a lunch in the summer. And we have a drinks event six weeks after the awards. And that enables people to make those all important connections in a much, much more relaxed atmosphere. You know, the hype of the night and the enthusiasm. You just don't talk to everybody on the knowing the winners drinks. That's where the magic kind of those relationships have really started to grow and develop. Yeah, and you know, people get excited and look forward to seeing people again because once you're in the winner's club, you really grow Amazing Women's Club, I think has got about 90 female entrepreneurs in it now. That's fantastic. And, you know, last year, we were supposed to go on a cruise, Thames River Cruise, which didn't happen, it will happen probably forward to. Yeah, they love it. And they love being able to get together. And we try and do our table plans carefully and think about who can we sit together so that there's some great networking that goes on and some great collaboration,Donna O'Toole:
that's really good. And you know what really lovely because being an entrepreneur can be a lonely place actually content and, you know, making those decisions yourself and knowing whether you've made the right decision or haven't and, you know, so actually having some fellow entrepreneurs to talk to who feel how you feel when I've been in your in that same boat as you can be hugely rewarding and supportive. And that's something actually that I say to people all the time is, obviously we have contrast nicer I want to win this or want to win that award. And of course, our objective is for them to win by always say to them, okay, try and forget about the winning a little bit and think about all the wider benefits as well. Because a you can take the pressure off yourself worrying about it. But be there's so much more to awards and what you can get out of them, then the win itself. So the wins brilliant, of course it is. But even if you don't win, you can still get some amazing benefits and networking, I think is one of those. Wow was interesting.Unknown:
Christine McKay, who won our business services award this year, she has a business called salamandre. They're an animation company. And I invited her to be one of our speakers, miniature event. And she shared on the night of the awards, their social media reach was over 7000. Now they don't have a massive social media. But actually, it absolutely amplified her business. The amount of hits that they got to their website, which Yeah, and one of our judges talks about that Cheryl is as she talks about the SEO impact of award, yeah, huge. Yeah. So it's all the things that people forget about that actually makes a huge difference to your business. And I've definitely had business on the strength of the awards that I've won over the years. And people will say to me, yeah, I wasn't with you, because I knew you'd won Business Awards. So I think gives you that strength and credibility than its competitors. Without doubt.Donna O'Toole:
Yeah. So for all of our listeners, if you're as for ladies who could enter the best business women awards, then please do the entries are open until mid June. So you've got lots of here to our 30th 30th of June, sorry, oh, even longer to enter. So you've gotten to the energy into Enter. And also, you know, gents, if you're out there, and you think actually my wife, partner friend, is a great businesswoman, then tell her about the awards and get her nominated for those because, you know, we need to champion and support each other now more than ever. And these awards, I know are super important to everyone who gets involved in them. And I always hear great feedback on them. So you know, please do get involved. And if you do want to find out whether you're ready to win awards, maybe you're not sure then go to our website and have a look at our win Business Awards test. It's completely free. And you can test yourself there on your different strengths. And you'll get a report to see where you stand out and where you're strong at the moment and where you can enter awards. So please feel free to do that. So thank you, Debbie, so much for joining us and for sharing your stories and your news about the awards. And we're delighted to share that with our audience as well. And I hope you have a super event this year. I look forward to hopefully coming along when you get to have a live event. I love a party. That would be fantastic. Thank you so much and good luck, and I hope it all goes to plan.Unknown:
Thank you Donna. Thank you for havingDonna O'Toole:
me. Thank you. Thank you for listening to this episode of my winning awards podcast. If you enjoyed it or found it helpful, please share it on Twitter and LinkedIn. And if you have any questions, please head over to crafted by auguste.com where you can find out more about winning awards and contact me. On the website. You can also take our free awards test, which will identify your award strengths and tell you how likely you are to win. I really hope you've been able to take away some ideas today so that you can go ahead and win awards have an even bigger impact on the world and achieve your dreams.