Small Business Awards, Entrepreneur Awards, Start-up Awards, Donna O'Toole

It was a pleasure to talk to ambitious entrepreneurs at Entrepreneurial Spark today about how to raise their profile through winning awards. To round up our talk, below is a list of 5 great awards for small businesses and start-ups, but first some tips…

In my experience, entrepreneurs and innovators running small businesses tend to fall into two main camps when it comes to entering industry awards competitions.

The first is the “hungry for awards” camp, who are keen and eager to start filling the trophy cabinet from day 1.

The second is the “I’m too small to win awards” camp, who stand back from awards opportunities and watch others walk away with the recognition.

Both have their reasons for their approach to awards. Both have their pros and cons.

The entrepreneurs in the “hungry for awards” camp realise the importance of gaining external credibility for their business, are determined to show the world how brilliant their business, service or innovation is, and have the drive and determination to reach the podium.

But…passion and enthusiasm won't necessarily get you everywhere with awards, and they are in danger of falling at the first hurdle unless they have enough results to make them award winners.

The entrepreneurs in the “I’m too small to win awards” camp are just as passionate, driven and determined, but perhaps less confident – they see all the big brand names out there winning awards and think they have to wait until they’ve got a few more years under their belt before they start competing.

So what’s the secret to winning awards for start-ups and small businesses?

The answer is the same no matter what the size of your business. If you don’t enter the right awards competitions, you won’t have a chance of winning – no matter how big, small, old, or new your company!

To win awards when you are running a small business, you need to be strategic. Take a bit of the confidence of the “hungry for awards” camp, add it to the caution of the “I’m too small to win awards” camp, and what do you get? A balanced and measured approach to winning awards.

Work your way through the questions below and have a look at my award suggestions for start-up and small businesses, and you never know, it could be you walking away with the next cash prize, mentorship or trophy.

Are you ready to win awards?

Q. Do you have a minimum of 12 months financial results?

  • Without at least a year’s financial results that demonstrate that your innovation, business model or service is commercially viable and sustainable, you are simply pitching a ‘good idea’… and they are pitching competitions you can enter, but industry awards will need a bit more – so don’t launch in too early, you need growing revenues to gain serious credibility and buy-in from the judges.

Q. Is there an interesting story behind your business?

  • If you have conquered adversity to get your business off the ground, or founded your business based on a new, fun, or unusual approach, you could have something special for your award entry. The judges don’t want to hear your whole life story, but if it is connected to the creation of your business, it could give you that magic USP that helps you to stand out. Some awards judges are even journalists looking for a great story to promote in their winner’s write-ups, so don’t ignore your history, use it within a slick storytelling method to breathe real life into your award entry.

Q. Do you have big plans for the future?

  • If you have a clear idea of the next steps for your business and your success is just the start of an exciting journey that you have mapped out – tell the judges what you have planned for the future. When entering awards for small business or start-up achievements, the awards organisers are often offering significant benefits to help grow the winning businesses – and they want to find a winner with a solid plan and exciting ideas. Cash prizes, mentoring, export support, and free PR are just some of the benefits of winning many dedicated small business and startup awards.

Q. Have you selected the awards you are most likely to win?

  • It’s so important to make sure you are running in the right race before you spend precious time working on your awards entries or fund outsourcing your awards project to an expert. Check out past winners, look at the awards organisers' own marketing material, find out who the awards' target audience is, who the judges are, and what the benefits are of the awards before assessing if the categories and financial requirements fit your business achievements.

6 Great awards for small businesses and start-ups

The Federation of Small Business Awards

With a cash prize for winners and a badge that shows credibility, the FSB awards are very popular across the UK.

The National Business Awards

The Duke of York New Entrepreneur of the Year – A big awards name award with a big brand audience, but with a lot of love and support for small businesses, the National Business Awards dedicated a category especially to small businesses and new entrepreneurs – supported by The Duke of York no less!

The Nectar Small Business Awards

A brilliant award that champions small businesses and the people behind them. Historically supported by Karren Brady and Sarah Whillingham, leading entrepreneurs provide expertise and insights for winners.

The Chamber Awards

Run by The British Chamber of Commerce, this is a great award for gaining local business support, allowing you to enter regionally before winners compete for a national title. Free to enter for members and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to be a Chamber member to win, and there's even a cash prize up for grabs!

The Startup Awards

Based in London, these awards offer many categories and will give you a ‘startup’ badge that could help you attract new investment or business support.

The Growing Business Awards

The awards do exactly what they say on the tin – champion the hottest small businesses in the UK. Sponsored by Lloyds bank and with inspirational talent on the judging panel, your business could get a fantastic audience just by entering the awards.

And then there are brilliant awards run by your local newspapers, magazines and business networks. Often appealing to small businesses looking to gain more local customers, local and regional awards can be a great place to start when you run a local business.

You should also check out my list of Awards for Women in Business and Awards for Entrepreneurs, Directors and Business Leaders to raise your personal profile and support your growing brand too.

And did you know that The Queen's Awards for Enterprise is open to companies starting in size at just two people, and with a minimum of two years trading under their belt? So you could even find yourself having tea at Buckingham Palace if your innovation is rocking the world! Check out my Queen's Awards eligibility tips here.

It can be just as painful and embarrassing for a big brand to lose out to a smaller company if they have entered the wrong competition as it is for a small business giving it a go and missing out, so don’t worry if you feel a little nervous or unsure about the awards you enter, you are not alone – if in doubt give me a shout!

Do you have more awards suggestions you could add? Please follow me on LinkedIn and share with me on Twitter.

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