It can pay to win ⁠- and in most cas­es, you can’t win if you don’t apply.

5 min read

Opin­ions expressed by Entre­pre­neur con­trib­u­tors are their own.

Dis­tin­guish­ing your­self from the com­pe­ti­tion is chal­leng­ing, and if you’re a small busi­ness or start­up, this hur­dle is even hard­er to over­come. As the new busi­ness on the block, it can also be dif­fi­cult to gain cred­i­bil­i­ty and mar­ket share when you don’t yet have a strong track record of deliv­er­ing what you’ve promised.

Win­ning an entre­pre­neur­ial or small busi­ness award can help a com­pa­ny gain recog­ni­tion and cred­i­bil­i­ty, and the ben­e­fits don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly stop there. Accord­ing to a study on U.S. busi­ness­es by British Qual­i­ty Foun­da­tion, small award-win­ning com­pa­nies expe­ri­enced a 63 per­cent increase in oper­at­ing income and a 39 per­cent growth in sales com­pared to non-win­ners. In oth­er words, it can pay to win ⁠— and you can’t win if you don’t enter.

How to choose which opportunities to apply for

There are many awards for small busi­ness­es and entre­pre­neurs, from the well-known to the indus­try-spe­cif­ic. Avoid the urge to apply for every award you find by tak­ing time to find the right ones for you. Con­sid­er whether you’re aim­ing for a local, region­al or nation­al award. This deci­sion will deter­mine the size of the com­pe­ti­tion pool and expo­sure. Local award oppor­tu­ni­ties may be offered by your Cham­ber of Com­merce or oth­er orga­ni­za­tion. 

You should also iden­ti­fy which awards, if any, that your com­pe­ti­tion has received. Knock­ing them off their prover­bial pedestal by win­ning the award the fol­low­ing year could give you great brag­ging rights and estab­lish instant cred­i­bil­i­ty. Beyond that, don’t for­get to look at your own indus­try. Many states, region­al and nation­al orga­ni­za­tions rec­og­nize mem­bers with awards for achieve­ment, growth, cus­tomer ser­vice and more.

If you want to take it a step fur­ther, there are many region­al nation­al small busi­ness and entre­pre­neur­ial award oppor­tu­ni­ties. Fun­dera pub­lish­es a list of small busi­ness awards, which is a good place to start before con­sid­er­ing some of the best-known award options. Also con­sid­er the annu­al U.S. Small Busi­ness Admin­is­tra­tion Awards, which rec­og­nize out­stand­ing small busi­ness­es across the coun­try. And don’t for­get to dig around for less­er-known but equal­ly valu­able award oppor­tu­ni­ties for small busi­ness­es and entre­pre­neurs, such as the Busi­ness Globe Awards and The Amer­i­can Busi­ness Awards.

What to keep in mind while applying 

Once you’ve iden­ti­fied the awards you’d like to apply for, retrieve the appli­ca­tions and place the dead­lines on a cal­en­dar. If you find a per­fect award oppor­tu­ni­ty but have already missed the dead­line, put it on your cal­en­dar for next year.

Next, col­lect the infor­ma­tion you need. Busi­ness award appli­ca­tions can be sim­i­lar, so once you’ve orga­nized the data for one, you may only need to make minor changes in order to meet the require­ments of the oth­ers. On near­ly every appli­ca­tion, there’s a sec­tion that asks for more details about your busi­ness. Be sure to pro­vide all of the infor­ma­tion that is request­ed but also tell a sto­ry beyond the finan­cial num­bers. Let the appli­ca­tion review board see your per­son­al­i­ty and what makes your busi­ness stand out. Here, you can share unique infor­ma­tion that might not fit else­where in the appli­ca­tion.

Once you’ve draft­ed the appli­ca­tion, read it thor­ough­ly — then read it again. Errors, typos, poor gram­mar and incom­plete infor­ma­tion can knock you out of the run­ning before you’ve had a chance to com­pete. Before send­ing, add a per­son­al note thank­ing the orga­ni­za­tion for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to apply and for their con­sid­er­a­tion. Final­ly, be sure you send your appli­ca­tion in the man­ner required and with the cor­rect postage, if applic­a­ble. Most pro­grams have an online appli­ca­tion process but oth­ers, such as the SBA, require a hard copy to be sent or hand-deliv­ered.

Don’t for­get to keep a copy of your appli­ca­tion; you can use the infor­ma­tion to apply for oth­er awards and as some­thing to add to when you reap­ply the fol­low­ing year. And after send­ing it in, make a spread­sheet to track the awards you’ve applied for and to record whether you’ve won. It can be help­ful to sign up for the award organization’s newslet­ter to track the deci­sion-mak­ing process.

What to do if you win 

Win­ning an award presents many excel­lent oppor­tu­ni­ties for you and your busi­ness. First, it’s free adver­tis­ing. The orga­niz­ers will pub­lish the win­ners in their newslet­ters, and there’s often an award cer­e­mo­ny, at which pic­tures will prob­a­bly be tak­en and pub­lished. You can link to these announce­ments and pub­li­ca­tions on your web­site and social media accounts — just be sure to por­tray that you’re excit­ed and hum­bled by the oppor­tu­ni­ty, lest you appear to be brag­ging and tar­nish the win. 

Post the award on your web­site and high­light it in brochures, let­ter­head, newslet­ters and oth­er appro­pri­ate places. Include the logo of the orga­ni­za­tion with a tag line, for exam­ple, “Win­ner of 10 Best Places to Work 2020.” This is a sim­ple yet effec­tive way to get the word out, be noticed and ele­vate your cred­i­bil­i­ty. Final­ly, use the award to boost employ­ee morale, attract tal­ent and oth­er­wise grow your busi­ness.

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