Is there any point in applying to business awards?

Discover the pros and cons of applying for business awards, and why making the time could be a valuable investment for your company.

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Winning business awards can provide your business with validation and credibility, as well as make you stand out from competitors, and can serve as a powerful marketing tool.

While most agree that awards are a benevolent force when it comes to boosting a company’s reputation and increasing brand awareness, others are sceptical about the real benefits of applying, or their chances of winning – women, and people of colour in particular. 

But with so many SMEs feeling the crunch right now, and the time, resources and effort often needed to prepare and submit an application, many are left wondering: is there actually any point in applying to business awards? 

In this article, we will explore the pros and cons of applying, plus what companies should consider before deciding to pursue them.

🥇 Business awards: the benefits

Applying for a business award can be a great way to showcase your company’s achievements and gain recognition for your hard work. Here are some of the other benefits:

1. Elevating your business to the next level

“The highest reward for a person’s work is not what they get for it, but what they become because of it.” – John Ruskin, writer, art critic, and social thinker.

The Pygmalion effect is a phenomenon in which higher expectations lead to better performance. In the context of business awards, it can be argued that the act of striving to win an award can create a self-fulfilling prophecy of excellence. When a business sets its sights on winning an award, it is essentially raising the bar for itself, and this can lead to greater effort, innovation, and attention to detail.

Businesses that apply for awards are typically required to provide detailed information about their operations, including financial data, marketing strategies, and customer feedback. 

This process of self-reflection and evaluation can help a business identify areas where it can improve and can provide valuable insights into what its stakeholders want and need.

While winning an award is certainly a worthwhile goal in and of itself, the process of striving for that award can be just as valuable in terms of creating a culture of excellence within a business.

2. Boosting customer and client confidence

In the indelible, immortal words of Lady Gaga, “I live for the applause, applause, applause.” 

An award gives a business external validation, credibility, and proves to customers and clients that they are doing something right. Winning an award shows that the company’s products, services, or business practices have been recognised by experts in the industry. This recognition can help to reassure customers and clients that they are making a good choice by working with the company. This validation can be particularly important for small businesses or startups trying to establish themselves in a crowded marketplace.

3. Cheaper marketing opportunities

Winning an award can be a great way to generate free publicity for your brand even if you don’t win. Organisers usually provide shortlisted candidates with marketing materials, press releases and content which can be reused and repurposed free of charge.

4. Brand exposure

Plus, they typically go to great lengths to promote the winners through their small business websites, social media, press releases, and other marketing channels, which can significantly increase your brand’s awareness and reach new audiences that may have never heard of your business before. The exposure that comes with winning an award can attract new customers, partnerships, and investors, giving your business the boost it needs to take it to the next level.

5. Benchmarking

Benchmarking can be a powerful tool for driving business growth and staying competitive in a rapidly changing market – and applying for an award can be an opportunity to compare your company against other successful businesses in your industry. 

The application process often requires a detailed analysis of your business operations, financials, and achievements, which can help identify areas for improvement and best practices. Even if you don’t win, the feedback and insights from the judging process can be valuable in driving business growth.

6. Employee motivation and engagement

Winning a prestigious business award is no small feat, so it’s only natural that it would be a major morale booster for employees. It’s a tangible validation of their hard work, dedication, and contributions towards the success of the organisation. Recognition of this kind makes employees feel valued, appreciated, and motivated to continue performing at their best. 

As a result, the company not only retains its top talent but also improves overall employee performance, leading to greater success and growth. The positive ripple effects of winning a business award can be felt throughout the organisation, from the leadership team to the frontline workers.

7. Attracting top talent

In today’s competitive job market, winning a business award can help attract top talent to your company. It demonstrates that your business is successful, innovative, and recognised for its achievements, which can make your company more appealing to job seekers. This can help overcome the current hiring crisis and enable you to recruit the best candidates.

8. Attracting venture capital and other investment

Winning a business award is not just a recognition of your company’s achievements, but it can also open doors to new and exciting investment opportunities. The award is a powerful validation of your business model, business valuation, growth potential, and track record – providing tangible proof that your company has a solid foundation and is on a path to success. 

Venture capitalists and angel investors are always on the lookout for promising opportunities, and winning an award can increase your visibility and credibility in the eyes of potential investors. This newfound recognition and trust can translate into financial support that can fuel your future growth and expansion plans, propelling your business to even greater heights.

9. Building valuable connections

Applying for a business award can be more than just a chance to win recognition and boost your business’s reputation. It can also open the door to valuable networking opportunities that can propel your company forward. 

Business award ceremonies and events offer a unique opportunity to connect with other successful business leaders and industry experts, providing a platform to share experiences, ideas, and insights. 

By engaging with like-minded entrepreneurs, you can create new collaborations, partnerships, and alliances that can lead to exciting new business ventures and drive growth. Whether it’s through formal business networking events or informal chats over coffee, the connections made through business awards can provide lasting value and help your business succeed in the long run.

🥇 Business awards: the drawbacks

While there are numerous benefits to applying for and winning a business award, it’s important to also consider the potential drawbacks.

Here are some of the challenges and downsides that businesses may face when participating in awards programs:

1. Expensive

Some business awards charge in order for you to apply. While some argue that this is to maintain a high quality of entries, others believe this practice creates barriers for small business owners and reinforces elitist attitudes within the business community.

The requirement to pay a fee to apply for a business award can also create a perception that the awards are designed to reward those who are already successful or well-connected. This can contribute to a sense of bias or unfairness that may discourage small business owners from applying and creating an ultimately skewered list.

2. Time-consuming

Many small business owners wear multiple hats and need to dedicate their time to must-dos rather than nice-to-have activities. Quite often, business awards require extensive documentation and data submission, which can be time-consuming to source and input. Many need a comprehensive organisational profile, performance results, and descriptions of key processes and approaches.

Others, such as the Forbes 30 Under 30, involve a lengthy application process, as well as multiple rounds of submissions and interviews. This can be particularly challenging for small business owners who may have limited resources and time to devote to the process.

3. Low ROI or chance of success

Small business owners may feel that business awards are beyond their reach, given the large number of applicants and the stiff competition they face. 

Many business awards are criticised for intensely specific criteria that eliminate many entrants or are seemingly tailored to a specific type of person or business the establishment specifically wants to win.

Most competitions also tend to only focus on the top spot – giving all the praise and recognition to a single winner in the midst of thousands and thousands of applicants.

4. A perceived (or actual) lack of inclusion

There is a lack of diversity in award applications, which can be attributed to a variety of factors. Many awards programs have a history of overlooking or undervaluing the contributions of women, people of colour, and other marginalised groups – which in turn has caused women and people of colour to be less likely to apply. 

Forbes’ annual list of young entrepreneurs and business leaders is one example of a business award that has been criticised in the past for being too exclusive and for favouring individuals from wealthy and well-connected backgrounds. Critics argue that the list is more about pedigree and connections than actual achievement.

To apply or not to apply: things to consider

When it comes to deciding whether or not to throw your hat in the ring for a business award, there are a few key factors to consider:

Your company’s goals and values: Consider whether the award aligns with your business goals and values. For example, if your company is focused on sustainability, an award that recognises environmentally-friendly businesses may be a good fit. But, if the company hosting the award doesn’t align with your business values, it may not be the best idea to align yourself with them.

Eligibility: Each award has its own set of eligibility criteria that you’ll need to meet in order to be considered. Make sure you read these criteria carefully and ensure that your business meets the requirements, otherwise, your application will likely be rejected on this premise alone.

The process: Ensure that you have the resources and time to put together a strong application before applying, to reduce the likelihood of the process becoming too tedious and time-consuming. Do the benefits of winning the award outweigh the time and resources needed to apply?

The competition: Awards can be highly competitive, with many companies vying for the same recognition. Before applying, think carefully about all the things that make your business stand out and evaluate your chances of winning. If the competition is too fierce, you may want to consider waiting until your business has achieved more significant milestones, or until you’ve completely honed in on your USP and story.

Benefits of winning the award: Consider the benefits of winning the award. Will it provide valuable exposure for your business? Will it help you attract investors or customers? Will it boost employee morale and motivation? If the benefits outweigh the effort required to apply, then it’s worth considering.

Conclusion: Is there any point in applying for business awards?

The simple answer is yes

Applying for business awards can bring numerous benefits to your company. It can increase your visibility and credibility in the industry, attract potential investors and customers, boost employee morale, and help you stand out from the competition.

However, it’s important to note that not all awards may be the right fit for your business, so it’s essential to do your research beforehand to ensure that you are applying for the awards that align with your values, goals, and mission.

The Startups 100 index offers numerous benefits worth considering. As one of the most prestigious awards for early-stage startups, it offers a great platform to showcase your business, gain recognition, and connect with like-minded entrepreneurs. Plus, we have tried to make the application process as easy as possible, so you can focus on what matters most: growing your business.

For more information on how to apply, check out our top 5 tips to boost your Startup’s 100 entry

Alternatively, head here to apply now.

Good luck!

Startups 100: Our commitment to DEI

As a team, we at Startups 100 have made a promise to adhere to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) practices and to ensure that our list is as unbiased and inclusive as possible. 

We strongly believe that diversity and inclusivity are essential components for any successful business, and strive to reflect these values in our selection process. 

Our commitment to DEI means that we actively seek out businesses led by underrepresented groups, consider a wide range of factors beyond simply revenue and funding, and create a list that truly represents the UK startup ecosystem and celebrates the diversity of talent and ideas that make it so vibrant. 

These principles help us to identify and showcase innovative businesses from all walks of life and level the playing field for underrepresented entrepreneurs.

Head here to apply for the Startups 100 2024 index.

Written by:
Stephanie Lennox is the resident funding & finance expert at Startups: A successful startup founder in her own right, 2x bestselling author and business strategist, she covers everything from business grants and loans to venture capital and angel investing. With over 14 years of hands-on experience in the startup industry, Stephanie is passionate about how business owners can not only survive but thrive in the face of turbulent financial times and economic crises. With a background in media, publishing, finance and sales psychology, and an education at Oxford University, Stephanie has been featured on all things 'entrepreneur' in such prominent media outlets as The Bookseller, The Guardian, TimeOut, The Southbank Centre and ITV News, as well as several other national publications.

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