If you’re running a small business, there are probably a few critical things that you wish you had more of: time and money. You may be a one-person shop, wearing many different hats to keep your business afloat. Even if you are able to afford employees, they are probably just as busy as you are. And it isn’t like you’ve got a lot of extra cash lying around to promote your growing business.
What if you could elevate the status of your business with minimal cost to you? Enter business awards. There are literally hundreds of thousands of business awards at the national, regional and local levels, and many are industry-specific. Business awards can be sponsored by various organizations including professional associations, banks, magazines and even industry leaders. Awards run the gamut from large corporations like Ernst & Young to your local Chamber of Commerce.
Researching the right awards for your business and keeping track of application deadlines does require extra effort, but the payoff can be huge. For starters, awards provide your business with massive amounts of free exposure. Think about how many marketing or advertising dollars you’d have to spend to get your business front and center for prospective customers. Awards also give you an excuse to do a little self-promotion - running a press release to announce an award, for example, or updating your website and marketing materials to include your new accolade.
Similar to customer reviews you read online for restaurants, strollers, or even a lawn service, awards validate your business as a trusted one in the marketplace. People want to be associated with winners. That includes prospective and current employees, customers and even investors. Customers want to purchase from an award-winning company, employees want to work for a winner, and investors want to fund companies that are already successful.
Clearly there are big benefits to applying for and winning an award. However, that doesn’t mean you should go out and apply for every award in your industry. Do some research to understand the awards that are applicable to your business. Your most important first step? Zero in on those that are the most meaningful to customers. Awards that are industry-specific, focus on your key strengths, and target the appropriate geographical region will serve your business best. Google is a good place to start for research purposes, but if you find yourself coming up short, look to your competitors for the most applicable awards.
As you start to build a list of awards, don’t skimp on the details. Look into the application process and any associated fees. You don’t want to be surprised by lengthy application forms or large sums too late in the game. Make sure you are fully aware of eligibility requirements. Some awards require membership in order to apply. And for your own sanity, set realistic goals. Understand how much time you and your staff have to dedicate to the awards process. Maybe one award per quarter is as much as you can handle for now. And consider appointing one person to manage the application forms and deadlines for accountability purposes.
Here are a handful of the nationally recognized business awards to get you started:
- National Small Business Week Awards - Annual awards in 14 different categories offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
- Dream Big Awards - Annual small business awards sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Sam’s Club. Awards one small business of the year, 7 regional runners-up, and 100 blue ribbon winners.
- Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year - Annual awards offered to entrepreneurs in industry-specific categories at the regional and national levels.
- The Stevie Awards - Annual awards in 6 major subgroupings with hundreds of subcategories.
Winning a prestigious award can mean new opportunities your business wouldn’t have otherwise. Researching award types and managing the application process can take a good bit of time, but the chance of additional market exposure and outside validation is worth it. Take the time to find the awards that create big wins for your business. Set realistic goals for the application process that don’t hinder your day-to-day activities. Winning an award may give your business just the boost it needs.