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

October 10, 2019 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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