Have you ever selected a bottle of wine because it had lots of shiny medals?

Winning an award can be an important step for your small business that gives you an edge over competitors — but you may wonder if it is worth the effort.

Ryan Mossny, co-founder of multi-award-winning tourism business Two Feet and a Heartbeat, spoke to us about the value of entering business awards, what they can do for your business, and the best approach to finding and entering the right ones.

What are the benefits of winning business awards?

There are many, many benefits to winning a business award. Some of them are:

  • prestige and recognition from your peers and within your industry
  • opening up valuable PR and media opportunities in the short and longer term
  • credibility and social proof that gives your business an edge
  • a validation of your business idea or methodology
  • the award review process itself – you will receive feedback from experienced industry professionals on what you are doing well (and anything you could improve on)
  • confidence in the operation of your business – an endorsement that you are doing the right thing.

At what stage in your business should you consider applying for awards?

Some business owners think there is a mythical part of the business growth cycle when they are ‘ready’ to enter awards. But I don’t see it that way. You can start applying for awards when you feel you have a good story to tell about your business.

If you are in the early stages, look out for ‘new or emerging’ business award categories. If nothing else, keeping an eye out for and noting potential awards to enter can be a valuable part of your business strategy from the very start.

Writing award applications can be time consuming – is it better to outsource or do it yourself?

There is no doubt applying for business awards is time consuming. For instance, when entering the WA Tourism Awards, I set aside a whole month full-time to write them. There are some awards that are less onerous than this but you should always allow more time than you think you will need.

While outsourcing can definitely save time, my opinion is that the owner of the business or someone in a similar role like a General Manager should have significant input even if they aren’t writing the award themselves. No one knows your business like you do. Having insight into the intricacies of your business and the small details can separate an award-winning submission from the rest.

If you are outsourcing your award application, prepare to work very closely with the writer to ensure they have all the information they need to write an outstanding entry.

Ryan Mossny accepting a business award.
Award winning business owner Ryan Mossny

What steps do you follow to create a strong submission?

The first thing to keep in mind with awards is that it’s a year-round process to prepare.

Get into the habit of collecting relevant information all the time and saving it in a folder for when you need it. This may include achievements such as hitting a sales target, adding a new service stream, landing a big client or significantly increasing your social media engagement. Note the date of the achievement as some awards are for particular evaluation periods, for example a financial year.

Leave plenty of time to write your entry. As noted, I dedicate an entire month full-time to writing large, complex awards.

If the body or association that is holding the award offers a review process, in which an experienced person or panel member will review your draft for you before the submission date and comment on any potential improvements, definitely take advantage of it.

Follow the instructions. If an application stipulates the font size and margin widths, use those. It would be a shame to be disqualified for small details like this.

Tie every one of your answers to concrete examples or evidence, such as percentage increases, sales figures, visitation and so forth. Don’t make any claims without proof and definitely don’t include anything that isn’t true.

Finally, it’s a great idea to have someone with no deep knowledge of your business or involvement in the writing process, read the finished award and let you know if it is clear and easy for them to understand.

When is it not the right time to enter awards?

The times I would avoid entering an award are if you know an award is fairly worthless from a marketing perspective or just given out to anyone who applies. It will lack credibility with you and others in your industry if this is the case.

If you don’t believe your business is award-worthy yet, it might not be a good time to enter — instead, make it a goal to get it to that level.

Reconsider applying for awards if you have significant issues to sort out in your business such as finances or staffing — these need more of your attention right now.

Are there any sectors/industries you feel awards are more relevant to?

I don’t think awards are of any lesser value according to your industry. Any awards program with a robust application process is likely to be useful to your business.

Service-based businesses can benefit from winning awards as they provides social credibility that makes the intangible, tangible. On the other hand, having an award badge next to your product’s name can make a difference, particularly when comparing very similar products. All other things being equal, the product or service with the award will have the marketing edge.

Who runs business awards and where can I find out about those that are open to applications?

Industry groups and associations are a good place to start, as well as your local chamber of commerce and industry. Some local governments also run their own awards. Try to sign up for email newsletters from these organisations so you don’t miss out on announcements, and check if you need to be a member first before entering their awards. If you do need to join an organisation to participate in the award process, look at whether the value offsets the costs. For example, does the association offer other business opportunities such as networking or training that makes membership a good investment? If you are a newly established business, the costs can add up quickly if you join a lot of organisations, so take the time to assess which ones are worthwhile for you.

Competitors’ websites and marketing platforms are also good places to find out about industry awards. Look for details of the awards competitors have won or been shortlisted for to give you an idea of what is available. Your network or business mentor may also have some information.

Which ones should I avoid?

Awards to be cautious of are those run by for profit businesses. Often it is quite easy to get these awards (you may be informed that you’ve been shortlisted without even applying) but then you are upsold promotional opportunities as a revenue generator for the company. There is also a trend for businesses to create their own awards. It’s important to understand the real value of awards is in accessing a legitimate review process for your business and the credibility associated with winning a competitive award.

Are there benefits to applying for awards even if you don’t win?

Although it can be disappointing to enter an award only to miss out on the top prize, there are plenty of benefits even if you don’t win.

  • Writing an award forces you to work ‘on’ your business instead of in it, and consider areas you might not think about every day. Think of it as a health check for your business.
  • Just applying can bring your business to the attention of influential people in your industry or local business network who are on the judging panel or otherwise involved. They may be able to help or mentor you in some way.
  • Writing your first award gives you a great foundation to improve upon for the following year, particularly if you seek and apply feedback. You won’t be starting from scratch next time.
  • If you are fortunate enough to make it to the finals, you may be able to use a ‘finalist’ badge to add credibility to your business.
  • The awards night can be a good night out as well as an excellent business networking opportunity.

About Ryan

Ryan Mossny is the co-founder and owner of Two Feet and a Heartbeat, owner of iVenture, and a board member of Museum of Perth and Forum Advocating Cultural and Eco Tourism (FACET). Ryan presents a range of small business workshops for the SBDC.

Small business stories
03 December 2020