We recently caught up with last year’s winners, software developer, Paul Allington and freelance copywriter Kelly Gilmour-Grassam, to hear about their experiences of the IPSE Awards, and how it has helped their business since.

Paul Allington

Could you tell us about your experience participating in the IPSE Awards?

“The IPSE awards for me were a healthy mix of excitement, joy, extreme fear and total surprise.  But overall it was such a good experience – I’ve met some great people who I hope to stay in contact with way beyond when the time comes to hand over the winners crown, both at IPSE and the other fab finalists.  At the time of winning the award I felt so incredibly nervous – I was in a suit, who wouldn’t be – followed by the total shock of my story being read out, but not my name yet. I remember trying to think if any of the other finalists had a similar story and how that could possibly be me”.

Why did you decide to apply to the IPSE Awards?

“I actually decided to apply having spotted the competition in an email newsletter from one of the sponsors. I thought answering the questions might be a good exercise in taking stock and looking back on what I had achieved since I started up as The Code Guy.

“Even before pressing submit (which I must admit took me a few days) I’d gained so much from filling in the questions. In amongst the noise of projects, clients and dogs that just will not stay still on the bean bag, you rarely get time as a freelancer to sit and think about what it is you’re doing. It was a pleasant surprise to be honest.”

How did you find the judging process?

“Terrifying! Ok so answering a few questions over the phone isn’t so bad, but then I found out about the presentation (I did search for the “retract” button, but it seemed they’d hidden it). I’m not a natural presenter or public speaker that’s for sure – it’s one of my greatest fears.

In the end I decided that the best thing to do was to just be myself. If this was a normal business process, what would I do? So I picked out my best hoody (actually my wife picked it…I’m not that daft), prepared some background slides with my brand and an animated stick man, and wrote down what I’d want to say as personally and casually as possible. I wrote it once and never touched it again – whatever was in it, was me, and not a tweaked version of me. I didn’t learn it, but spoke like I was writing it again in the presentation. I then pulled out a flask of vanilla tea that I’d been carrying around all day, and a mug, and sat down to have a friendly chat with the judges. That’s how all of my business happens, over tea and as informally as possible, and it was the only way I was getting through this. The judges were so friendly and kind. They are very welcome to tea again any time.”

In what way has winning the award helped your business?

“Winning gave me an instant social media boost. I have some very proud friends and family, and my dad now introduces me as Freelancer of the Year, rather than son. The prize package has helped immensely in that it gave me some breathing space to finish the development of a product I have been working on, which I hope to launch soon, and to employ someone to help with marketing it. I also used a small part of it to give my brand and stick man a bit of a refresh which I am delighted about!”

What advice would you give to those thinking about applying?

“Please do, you won’t regret it at all, and relax in to it. Remind yourself that it’s fine, don’t panic. Oh, and no matter how many canapes you ply the IPSE PR team with, they won’t reveal a thing.”

Kelly Gilmour-Grassam

Could you tell us about your experience participating in the IPSE Awards?

“It sounds cliché, but I loved every minute of the IPSE Awards. From the moment I got the call to say I’d been shortlisted, the whole team were so friendly and encouraging, and made you feel totally at ease throughout the process.

“One of the best parts of the experience was meeting some of the inspiring individuals who applied alongside me. From fashion designers to lawyers, architects to life coaches, the awards brought together a diverse range of freelancers, who all shared a passion for being self-employed.

“On the night of the awards, we all went out for dinner and had drinks together alongside a few of the sponsors. We’re still in contact now, and hopefully planning a meet up later this year.”

Why did you decide to apply to the IPSE Awards?

“As a freelancer, it’s quite hard to gain recognition for the work you do or commitment you give to your clients. That’s what makes the IPSE Awards so special – the opportunity to be named ‘Young Freelancer of the Year’ seemed too good to miss.

“The amazing prizes on offer were also a huge incentive to apply. Last year, IPSE and the generous sponsors had a huge array of winnings up for grabs.”

How did you find the judging process?

“Being a self-employed copywriter means you rarely attend interviews or give presentations. So the prospect of presenting to a panel of judges was incredibly daunting for me. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how friendly and encouraging the judges were on the day. It was a great opportunity to meet the other applicants, and the free lunch was a bonus!”

In what way has winning the award helped your business?

“The award has certainly given my business a boost; it generated a lot of exposure for me and my growing copywriting agency, and the prize pot came at the perfect time as I begin to develop my business.

“As an IPSE Award winner, I’ve also been given some fantastic opportunities, including a slot on BBC Radio 5 and invitations to speak at several IPSE events.”

What advice would you give to those thinking about applying?

“Go for it. It’s a fantastic experience, you meet some lovely people, and who knows – you might just win!”