How important is it to enter industry awards?

Ed Reeves discusses what can be gained from entering awards as a small business.

They warrant much time and effort, can be extremely costly, and can potentially be ‘make or break.’ What am I talking about? Industry awards.

Since setting up Moneypenny 15 years ago, we’ve entered our fair share of awards, from small business affairs in the early days right up to The Sunday Times’ ‘100 Best Companies to Work For’. In our experience, there is always something to gain from entering an award, even if the outcome isn’t what you expect.

But as a small business, how do you know which to enter and which are worth your time? Here are my tips on choosing which awards to get involved with, and how to get the most out of the opportunity.

Awards for awards’ sake

Don’t be fooled; the application process for awards can be lengthy and gruellingly detailed. Cue in-depth data analysis and a thorough dig for supporting evidence. As a small business, time is precious and it’s likely you don’t have an abundance of resource. So consider if you have the man-hours to devote to an award application. As a business employing over 400 people, we can now justify the time it takes to do this, but back when it was just myself and my sister running the show , it was certainly more of a challenge and consideration. The timing has to be right, and if the timing isn’t right, there’s always next year.

The key is remembering that the application is your chance to tell the adjudicators just how great you are. Assume they know nothing of your industry or business and really spell out why you’re doing a fantastic job. And if your turnover isn’t quite yet something to shout about, then don’t discuss figures if you can help it. Instead, inspire through innovation.

Ask yourself, does that particular award speak to you, or are you just seeking the accolade of having an award logo on your website? Weighing up the entry fee and the time it will take to apply is a good place to start when choosing which award to enter. Often, the fee itself will stop you at your first hurdle; your precious budget as an SME is often in need elsewhere in the business. Remember that many award bodies are commercial organisations seeking to make a profit like the rest of us. This can be helpful in choosing which award is worth your time and money.

The right award for you

Our focus has always been on people. We fully understand the value of our customers and our employees; quite simply they’re everything to us. That’s why we’ve entered award categories like ‘Best Customer Service’ in Orange’s Small is Beautiful Business Awards, and the same title in The National Business Awards. For us, these awards confirmed our values and our mission. An award says a lot about a business; its ethos and intentions. For this reason, we would never enter a call centre award, for example, as this is an association we wouldn’t want attached to us, being such a people-focussed business.

Take a look at the companies that have been involved in a particular industry competition in previous years. Are they the kinds of businesses you aspire to, and would like to be associated with? In the same vein, does the award organiser/body share similar values to your business?

Don’t be shy to aim high. You might just surprise yourself. No matter how new or small your business is at present, you should have big ambitions. As a rookie entrant in 2008’s Innovation category, we won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise, so it just goes to show you shouldn’t doubt your ability, despite your size. This isn’t to suggest that you should get carried away; involving your business in too many awards is unproductive, and devalues the awards you have.

Don’t forget there are often smaller categories more applicable to you within big, nationwide awards too, so don’t be put off by size and prestige. We started out in The Sunday Times Best Small Companies to Work For back in 2009, and have now graduated to become part of the 100 Best Companies list for mid-sized businesses as we’ve grown.

In my opinion, the top five small business awards to go for are:

1. The Queen’s Award for Enterprise – an all rounder with no entry fee.

2. Fast Track 100– great for boosting your finance and gaining media exposure. Also free to enter.

3. The EY Entrepreneur Of The Year – best for personal development. Free to enter.

4. Best Companies to Work For – a real boost to staff morale.

5. The Growing Business Awards – great for your company profile.

What’s in it for me?

Awards can be mighty; having the influence to distinguish a company’s offering from competitors. They can also demonstrate commitment, and be a hint towards growth; always good for an SME, particularly those seeking partnerships or investment.

Having that trophy in your cabinet, and the logo on your collateral, reassures customers of quality and credibility. It’s that seal of approval we all feel comforted by. And that’s just prospective customers. Staff love recognition, and as such their morale will be boosted by a successful award outcome.

Naturally when applying for an award you look back at your milestones, how far you’ve come and what you’ve achieved. This exercise can provide focus and even help you to determine your next steps; who knows, perhaps a new direction is in store. This perspective will help you analyse your practices and procedures: your areas of excellence are highlighted, your areas for improvement become clearer.

Communication is key

One of the biggest opportunities when getting involved with an award is communication and connection. Before the awards night or results are released, cash in on the free marketing by utilising the hashtag and jumping on the press surrounding the awards. Publicity is a positive by-product of getting involved with an award, but accept that you will have to do the leg work.

Meeting other SMEs and individuals is also a perk of getting involved in an award – beforehand on social media and at the awards event as well. Each award attracts like-minded businesses so there’s opportunity to be inspired, learn something new and forge relationships.

Winning isn’t the be all and end all though, just being shortlisted offers you credibility. So whatever the outcome, make sure you talk about your involvement on social media or blog about it as part of your web or newsletter content; it’s all about sharing your involvement. Likewise, involving staff in the award process is a great way to boost productivity. From our experiences, staff love the feeling of being part of something wider than the company itself, not to mention the excitement of finding out the award results.

Ultimately it’s about finding awards that reflect who you are as a business, making sure the timing is right, and enjoying the process as there’s always something to take home.

Ed Reeves is the co-founder of Moneypenny.

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Ed Reeves

Ed Reeves

Ed Reeves is director and co-founder of Moneypenny.

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