WHEN I became a member of NECC, I was encouraged to network within the organisation and meet like-minded business people, says Jo Hand.

One of the people I was strongly urged to meet was Nickie Gott from events management company She’s Got It.

At the meeting Nickie asked me if I had considered entering the WIN Awards. I gave the same response to this as I had always given to people when asked similar awards-based questions - I simply did not have time.

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However, Nickie is nothing if not determined and refused to accept this as a reasonable excuse!

She explained the importance of the awards and how too many women in business hide their light under a bushel.

I promised to think about it, but Nickie would not leave it. She phoned and emailed, telling me that she thought I would be a strong candidate.

Finally relenting, I looked at the awards categories. There were 13 awards in total, 12 for all types of women in business and the main award which was the Susan Dobson North East Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award.

I decided to enter “Best Small Business” and was pleasantly surprised to find it only took me half an hour to complete and send via email… then thought no more of it.

In no time Nickie called to say she’d read my application and thought it was outstanding. At that point she asked me to enter for the Susan Dobson Award as opposed to Best Small Business.

Reluctantly I did, never really believing I stood any chance. Imagine my surprise when I was shortlisted!

My staff and I attended the awards evening which was fabulous. Being shortlisted, our view was that we would have a wonderful evening together as I would not win given the strength of competition.

Having never been speechless in my life, I was dumbstruck when they announced me as the 2013 Winner of this prestigious award.

Winning has been hugely significant and benefitted the company enormously. New contracts have been won as a result of the raised profile of the business. The huge amount of PR throughout the year and the radio and TV exposure was unprecedented and has raised not only the company profile but my own, again benefitting the business. PR exposure alone would be worth thousands of pounds.

My message to all business women out there is this: It only took half an hour and look what happened to someone who thought she did not stand a chance.

I urge every businesswoman out there to put an application in for one of these awards before it is too late.