Business awards: are they worth it for solopreneurs?

And Solopreneur of The Year Award Goes To...

It’s awards season. As you watch the A-list award-winners tottering down the red carpet, in their impossible designer dresses, do you think that you should be entering business awards?

After all, the Oscars, the Brits, the Baftas and the rest, are all just business awards. As befitting show-business, they’re grander and more glamorous than most – but they’re still just business awards.

And you’re in business … So why not go for it?

Of course, some people think we live in an era when winning has been devalued; just turning up seems to win you an award. So, do awards still mean anything, or are they merely a platform for the organisers to make a killing by selling seats at a grand ceremony?

As with anything in business – you have to weigh up the challenges and the positives.

So, let’s look at the nominees…

The challenges

Awards are big business. The company running the awards are going to harvest sponsor revenue and huge publicity benefits, as well as charging you to enter and to attend the ceremony. That’s their business. Is it worth the time and the expense for your business to be part of that?

With business awards, you don’t get to be the pop diva who’s too busy (or just too cool) too attend, if you haven’t paid for a table at the ceremony, if you can’t go up there and collect your slab of engraved clear plastic in person and get your photo taken … Are you really likely to win?

Entering awards can take time and, especially for the solopreneur, time is in short supply. Written awards submissions take time to craft, putting together a portfolio of supporting material, similarly, is dead time; time when you’re not running your business; not earning.

The cost in lost revenue is, of course, a theoretical thing. You can’t count money you don’t have. But you can count the cost of the award entry. Most awards charge what is, essentially, an admin fee when you enter. Some awards won’t consider your submission unless you commit to buying a table at the ceremony – and that will not be cheap.

What if the ceremony is in London, or Paris, or New York? You’ve got to budget the time and the expense of actually getting there. To be fair, most event organisers will let you know if it will be worth your while attending. They might not be allowed to come right out and tell you you’ve won… but they might, off the record, indicate that it would be good for your business if you did attend.

In which case, talk to your accountant and find out just how much of this you can claim back.

Finally – do you even want to win? Maybe you don’t want to be seen as a one-person band working out of your back-room. Maybe your ambitions are to deal with bigger clients, who might not understand how solopreneurship works for you. If so, winning a ‘Best Solo Trader’ award might not work in your best interest.

The positives

Business awards: are they worth it for solopreneurs?

Business is inherently competitive. Therefore, beating a competitor to an award could feel almost as good as beating them to a sale.

Even the process of auditing your own work with a view to entering a competition, can be beneficial. It can remind you of your strengths, of your moments of inspiration and excellence. When you’re bogged-down ’til late at night, poring over the books, or dealing with whichever minor disaster has reared its ugly head today, it’s easy to forget that you’re really very good at what you do.

Writing up a pitch for your award entry, or putting together a portfolio of entry materials, can be a real boost for the ego – and something you probably wouldn’t have budgeted time for, otherwise.

Similarly, if you have a team; encouraging that team to put together an award entry can be great for morale. Actually taking that team to the awards ceremony, whether you win or not, can be a great bonding exercise. It’s a reward, a chance to thank and congratulate your people for all their hard work. And what’s good for the staff, is good for the business!

This is also true for you, working as a solopreneur. You are, after all, your most valuable employee. Awards give you a chance to treat yourself as such.

Think about it: all Hollywood actors are freelancers, these days, so an award for a performance is really an award for their small business. If it’s good enough for Meryl Streep and Daniel Day-Lewis, it’s good enough for you!

And, don’t forget, you don’t need to actually win. Just being part of an awards process can be great places to pick up inspiration and best practice. Other people who do what you do will be putting forward their best work. Seeing excellence in others is always inspiring – especially if it gives you ideas for how you can up your own game.

Going to a ceremony can be a great networking opportunity. You don’t know what skills and services you offer that could overlap with the needs of someone else there. On the other hand, you don’t know what ideas, advice and services they could offer you. You might be competing with these people for an award, but you’re not necessarily competing with them in business.

Taking a client to an award ceremony with you, is also a great way to cement your business relationship. You’ve shown your client a good time, and they will respond by talking to their colleagues about how great you are.

And all of that is true, whether you win or lose.

The coverage that goes along with awards can also be great news for you and your business. If the award has a website featuring entrants’ case studies – that’s a platform for you. If you win something, the publicity that goes along with that is a platform for you.

And, while we’re on the subject of winning something – don’t forget that even getting shortlisted is something to crow about. Any success in a business award, is something to add to your own marketing and to your social media profile.

Then there’s the money. Some prizes – especially ones focused on small businesses – carry a prize of cash or services, or both.

And the winner is…

Make sure that you look for awards that serve your best interest. They may not be the most prestigious awards; they may not be household names; but winning any award is going to reflect well on your business – so pick one that makes you look good and that you might actually win.

If you’ve decided that a particular award is for you – the key to a successful entry is to be honest. Don’t over-promise, don’t exaggerate. Take a long, clear-eyed look at your business – faults and all – and represent yourself fully.

That, in itself, can be a great and profoundly useful process.

Assembling testimonials from your clients and putting together case studies of the work you’ve done, can be great for your morale – and it’s a brilliant opportunity to re-assess and decide how to do it better, or faster, or more efficiently next time.

If you do all that, then your business will be in a better place. You can justify the expense, because of the benefits your business will gain from that extra bit of self-awareness.

We rarely allow ourselves the time to sit back and think about what we do well – we’re usually too busy with our heads down just getting it done. So, if an award entry gives you that excuse to take a moment, to step back from your business, take a good look at it, and highlight what you are doing that is pretty darn great – then you’ll be able to move forward knowing more and feeling better about yourself.

And then, the winner is you!

Matthew Pattinson
Matthew is the director of design and marketing agency, CMA. The political journalist, turned freelance writer, turned agency heads, works to the adage that strategic thinking is the soul of creativity. That, and coffee is essential.