Skip to content

Helping businesses and leaders to raise their profile by achieving valuable awards for their work and achievements.

How did it all begin?

I had been working in the awards industry for a few years, and I saw the benefits that winning awards had on businesses, leaders and their teams. But I was shocked by how difficult people found it to even see, let alone shout about, their own successes. The problems were the same whether it was a high-growth entrepreneurial business or a global brand. People found it so hard to know where to begin with awards; they either couldn’t see what was truly unique about their business, or they couldn’t communicate it in a way that would win awards. And if they could, they didn’t have the time to commit to writing award entries and making presentations so they were missing out to competitors. I love working with people, and I have a very analytical mind so setting up my own awards agency made perfect sense. But, I also operate from deep values of integrity and honesty and I love finding the truly human story behind the success of a project of business. It’s these qualities that allow me to identify true impact and to explain it in a way that will win awards. Since starting my agency in 2015, I’ve been so proud to be able to train my own team of awards consultants who support me to deliver an outstanding experience to our clients all over the world.

What sets your business apart?

We stand out for our industry-leading success rate; on average our full-service clients win 9/10 of the awards they enter! This is because when it comes to winning awards, we are nothing but honest with our clients and we get the best out of them by digging deep to discover the human stories and heroes in the business, creating outstanding stories, and pinpointing evidence that will bring home the trophies. And we’re not afraid to say no! Sometimes clients want to enter awards but they don’t have what they need to win. My honesty when assessing their chances of success, and knowing when to say ‘No’ is essential to helping them achieve their ultimate goals. I help clients to enter awards that they have the best chance of winning based on their achievements, and to work towards their ultimate goals by using awards as a vehicle for success.

What is the concept behind your business or the problem you’re solving?

Who would you rather buy from; a brand that has been recognised as the best in their industry, or one that hasn’t? Research shows that award-winning businesses outperform their competitors across the board. This is because winning awards brings trust and credibility to a brand, which in turn drives customers to choose them over anyone else. Winning awards has now become one of the quickest and most effective ways of raising the profile of a business and motivating the people in it, which in turn helps the business to grow and helps everyone in the business to achieve their personal goals.

Where to next/What is your brand vision?

The next step for us is to expand our reach and help more people to achieve their own dreams by winning awards. Our unique How to Win Business Awards training programme has been very successful, and we’ve already taken the step of releasing it online. Now we are widening our international reach by developing a series of ‘live learning’ webinars to give people help with their entries and presentations exactly where and when they need it. We also want to use technology to increase engagement by giving clients an awards expert in their pocket!

Donna O’Toole

Founder of

August - The Awards Consultancy

What do you feel passionate about/what drives you?

Treating people as you would wish to be treated. As a business leader, my values are reflected in everything I do, from how I engage with my own team, to how I support my clients, to how I work with partners and suppliers. It means committing to doing my best for everyone around me, listening before speaking, acting with kindness and compassion, being brave, and showing up when someone needs my support. And I look for the same in return. Something else I’m hugely passionate about is encouraging people to shine for who they are, not who you want them to be. Some people are academic and articulate, some are practical and purposeful, some are driven and energetic, some are calm and quiet. We all have superpowers, we just have to make sure we surround ourselves with the right people who will bring them out.

Share an example of early life that has shaped you?

I had an unusual childhood, which took me from living in a castle to living in care. I always wanted to be an English teacher, and I was one of those little girls at school that teachers said was ‘bossy’ (a natural leader I say)! I didn’t get the opportunity to study after I left school and went straight out to work to support myself to live. But, I never gave up on my dream and in my 30s, with two small children in tow, I finally got my degree. It was one of the proudest moments of my life. It helped me to believe in myself enough to start my business, and to show my daughters that it doesn’t matter how long it takes, if you have a dream, and you have the determination to achieve it, one day you will get there.

Highlights of your business journey so far?

I’m really lucky that in my line of work it’s all about highlights and good news. So helping a business I’ve worked with to win The Queen’s Award for Enterprise, when they didn’t think they could ever even win a local award is beyond exciting! And helping a family to successfully nominate their mother for an OBE for her industry leadership and impact on society is amazing. But, even hearing from one of my awards trainees that they’ve gone and won an award after coming to my course gives me a massive buzz! Being recognised for my outstanding contribution to judging last year was an unexpected highlight, and I got to stop being the presenter and to feel how my clients feel when they win an award for a change! Finding out I’m in CX Magazine’s Top 50 CX Stars list this year has been equally as exciting.

Key lessons you have learned along the way?

Learning how to say no was a big lesson for me when I started my business. It’s one of the toughest words to say, but saying no is often one of the kindest things you can do, not only for yourself, but for the person asking. If they desperately want to enter an award that they are not going to win, the best thing I can say is no, and then help them to understand why, and what to do next. By saying ‘No, you’re not ready yet’ I help our clients to take a step back and not jump until they truly know how to fly. This saves their disappointment, keeps my team motivated, maintains our integrity, and keeps our success rates the best in the industry.

Best piece of advice you have received?

When I was developing my training programme, I spent some time working at the Natwest Business Accelerator amongst some brilliant entrepreneurs. The best piece of advice they gave me at the time was to ‘get out of my own way’! I didn’t realise it, but I had been putting up barriers to my own success by letting self-doubt creep in, or succumbing to imposter’s syndrome. It was early days for my business, but I’d been in the industry for years and I really did know my stuff. So when I did speak, people loved it, yet I would find every excuse in the book to avoid getting on stage – after all I was used to shining a light on my clients, not on myself! I finally realised that the only thing blocking my growth was me. And when I started saying yes to speaking gigs, I found out that I actually really enjoyed sharing my story because it had a real impact on the audience.

Advice to an aspiring entrepreneur or woman just starting her career?

Sometimes you have to free-fall before you can fly. A business woman I really respect said this to me when I was making some tough decisions in my life and starting my business. I want to pass that mantle on to other business women out there who are facing a tough choice, or just feeling nervous of what might come next. Don’t be afraid to feel a little out of control at the beginning, change is hard, but embrace the journey and believe in yourself. You can fly, you just need to spread your wings and try.

What funding route have you chosen for your business and why?

My business has grown organically thanks to our relationships, reputation, and referrals. I’ve got some big ideas for the future and I’m not averse to funding, but being an agency growing through word-of-mouth keeps our connections strong and we treat our customers like the gold that they really are.

Some of the challenges you have faced and how you overcame them?

Running a business brings constant challenges, from managing people, to cashflow, to clients. What I’ve learned along the way is to never be afraid to ask for help – whether that’s from your accountant, your colleagues, or your loved ones. Time management is also a huge challenge for me personally, and I’ve learned that it’s impossible to be at every single event I’m invited to and to feel like I’m being a good mum and partner, so I’ve learned to prioritise and to know that it’s not just ok, it’s actually vital to take a break sometimes too!

Why is it important to support women-led business?

We all face unique challenges, and I’m a great believer in men and women working together to help each other to solve them. We all have something unique to bring to the table, and that has nothing to do with gender, it has to do with our values, qualities, and experiences. For me though, connecting with other women-led businesses is about finding like-minded business leaders, sharing ideas, and supporting each other to success.

60

Seconds

with

Donna O’Toole

My inspiration is...

My teenage daughters - they inspire me to try new ideas and make me laugh every single day.

My greatest fear is...

Letting anyone down. I’ve always been an ‘always do your best’ kind of girl, so I’m my own greatest critic if something doesn’t go to plan!

The most courageous thing I’ve ever done is...

Listen to my heart instead of my head.

Guilty pleasure?

Cheese, the bluer the better!

Mantra you live by?

Never ignore your intuition, it’s there to protect and guide you, listen to it.

Female role model?

Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Now there’s one funny, naughty, brave, creative and hugely intelligent woman.

Women-led brand you love?

Spanx! Founded by Sarah Blakely, the youngest self-made female billionaire...we all have a lot to thank Sarah for!

Top productivity tool?

It’s got to be Slack. A brilliant tool for communication and collaboration. I got on board years ago and have never looked back.

August – The Awards Consultancy has created a SPECIAL OFFER exclusively for Women's Chapter Members

for FREE to view offers

Connect with

August – The Awards Consultancy

SIGN UP for our NEWSLETTER
for the latest event news, business advice and inspiration