When you run your own business, you’re constantly aware of the need to promote yourself to potential customers. There are lots of ways of doing this, from social media to good old-fashioned networking, but one particularly effective way of marketing your business is to win awards. With numerous awards aimed at freelancers and small businesses out there, let’s look at all the reasons to go to the trouble of filling in some application forms.
The benefits of entering freelancer awards
The advantages of putting yourself up for an award go far beyond the simple fact of winning a prize. In this interesting article interviewing winners about how they’ve benefited from the HOW Promotion and Marketing Design Awards, winners cite a host of different reasons why winning has been great for their business. A few highlights include:
- Appraisal and validation from industry experts: “We care about critique from proven professionals whose opinions we trust. It helps us get better.”
- Attracting new business and staff: “People like to work with winners. That goes for clients and staff. Winning serves as both new business and recruitment tools.”
- Showcasing creativity and commitment to your profession: “For prospective clients, the publicity showcases the type of thinking and level of creative solutions our firm provides. For the design community, the distinction demonstrates our commitment to elevating the standards of the profession”
- Demonstrating expertise: “…there is a business value to this award. We aim to help our clients lead in their own industries, so sharing our successes with them recognizes that we work from a place of valuable experience.”
Studies show that the numbers back up these anecdotal benefits. For example, research by the University of Leicester for the British Quality Foundation and the European Foundation for Quality Management, quoted here by the Epsom Business Awards found that, “Three years after receiving an award, the 120 award winning companies outperformed the comparison companies by an average of 17% for sales and 36% for share value.” Improved performance had already been observed just a year after they’d won the award, suggesting that the benefits are quickly seen.
With that in mind, let’s look in more detail at the main benefits of entering awards as a freelancer or small business.
First and foremost, entering awards is a great way to get your name out there and build brand recognition. It’s fantastic free publicity, and even if you’re just shortlisted and don’t go on to win, you’ll still appear in press releases, blogs and social media about the awards. Jessica Morgan, a runner-up in the Entrepreneur Wales Awards 2015, is quoted in this article talking about “all the follow-up articles and press when I have won an award, which has allowed me to be even more visible. It’s been great for being noticed by bigger brands and bigger companies and being taken seriously as a business.”
For regional business awards, you’ll typically get a mention in local papers and radio, putting your name in front of local people and businesses who could turn into customers, suppliers or partners. For bigger awards, you could get mentioned by industry-related blogs or news sites that get read by bigger brands and agencies, which are always on the lookout for good freelancers.
Another good reason for entering awards is to get a bit of well-earned recognition for all your hard work. As a freelancer, most of your efforts go unacknowledged, as you often won’t get given credit for it when it’s published. Freelance awards are a great way to highlight the work you’re proud of and gain recognition for the hard graft that goes on behind the scenes. It’s a confidence boost, too; some external validation can help spur you on to even bigger and better things, not to mention giving you the confidence to stand up for yourself and charge what you’re worth when it comes to fees.
On that note, some anecdotal evidence comes from the SME National Business Awards website, which quotes one of last year’s winners describing the benefits they’d seen from having won the Community Business of the Year Award: “We found the experience very worthwhile with many companies acknowledging the award and congratulating us on our success – It has offered us a tremendous PR platform. As an ‘entry exercise’ it gave us focus to develop our business even further and made us appreciate our achievements over the last 5 years. We certainly recommend any up and coming small business to enter the awards and experience the recognition and good feel factor your business and its people can achieve…”
Being shortlisted, selected as a finalist or ideally winning awards all adds to your credentials and helps make sure your business is taken seriously. You’ve made the shortlist because experts have selected you, and when you’re competing with lots of other freelancers or small businesses, this can make all the difference in proving your competitive edge. Adding awards logos to your website helps to show that you’re recognised for being great at what you do, and they look good on your sales deck when you’re pitching for business, too. If you specialise in a particular industry, it’s an effective way to prove your skills, as a win (or even shortlisting) shows that your work has been assessed and approved by experts in your field.
Of course, there are material benefits for the award-winners, and not just another trophy for your cabinet. This could be a cash prize for you to invest in your business, or other things such as free advertising or access to resources (such as business groups) designed to help grow your business. The Epsom Business Awards, for example, had £1,000 of free radio advertising up for grabs, along with a tour of the House of Commons with Chris Grayling MP, a full page advert in a local magazine, a business coaching session and a year’s membership of Surrey Chambers of Commerce, a valuable business network.
What awards could you enter?
If you’ve reached this point feeling convinced that you need to start filling in awards applications without delay, here are a few for starters. National awards include:
- Lloyds Bank National Business Awards – bigger awards, but includes categories such as New Entrepreneur of the Year and Small to Medium-Sized Business of the Year.
- FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards – categories include Family Business of the Year, Micro Business of the Year and Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
- IPSE Freelancer of the Year – cash prizes of up to £5,000 to recognise talented freelancers, including categories for young freelancers and those who’ve begun freelancing in the last two years.
- British Small Business Awards – categories include Sole Trader of the Year, Female Entrepreneur of the Year and Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
- The Small Awards – celebrating small businesses, categories include the ‘Legacy Award’ for best family business, ‘New Kid on the Block’ for businesses younger than 18 months and ‘Sole to Sole’ for best self-employed small business owner.
- SME National Business Awards – categories include Entrepreneur of the Year, Business Woman of the Year and Best New Business.
- Best Businesswomen Awards – open to women in businesses ranging from sole traders to medium-sized enterprises.
Regional awards are a great way of getting some publicity for your business locally, such as the Epsom Business Awards or Oxfordshire Business Awards. Google “business awards” and your region to see what you can find for your area. The same goes for your industry; you’ll almost certainly find some industry-specific awards you could enter, such as the Drum Design Awards, Design Week Awards and HOW Promotion and Marketing Design Awards for designers.
Top tips for entering awards
Having decided which awards you want to enter, it’s time to write a winning application. Here are some things to bear in mind:
- Read the submission guidelines carefully – filling in the application form incorrectly or entering the wrong category is a sure-fire way to lose out on an award.
- Don’t enter every category just for the sake of it – choose the most relevant one for your business.
- Check whether you can submit the same work more than once – if you’re entering a specific piece of work, you might find that you can only submit work that hasn’t been entered for an award before.
- Get the client’s permission before entering the work you’ve done for them. It’s great publicity for them, too, so it’s unlikely that they’ll object.
- Back up everything you say with concrete evidence – it will lend more weight to your claims if you have facts and figures to corroborate them.
- Be yourself – tempting though it is to write what you think the judges want to hear, being human and telling your story honestly will help them understand what makes you interesting and different.
It’s not just the winning – it’s the taking part
The benefits of entering awards go beyond the simple kudos of winning, and there’s both anecdotal evidence and studies to suggest that you can benefit from putting yourself up for awards in a number of ways even if you don’t actually win. As this Science article suggests, the actual process of applying is a great opportunity for self-assessment — a chance to analyse your strengths and weaknesses and see where you could improve.
Looking at what others on the shortlist are doing can be a fantastic source of inspiration, too. The awards dinner itself is also a great place for networking with fellow business owners, who may well turn into valuable contacts, partners or even investors. Jessica Morgan, who we mentioned earlier, explains in this article that:
“As well as it being amazing free PR for me and the business, it has been immensely valuable just to attend the events (even if I don’t win). Each time I’ve been to the awards nights I’ve gained some great contacts, won a few new clients and generally been able to become more known and visible to any potential clients. It’s been fantastic for brand recognition.”
So, whether you win or not, you’ve got nothing to lose – and potentially a whole lot to gain – by entering your freelance business for some awards. For more great tips on how to succeed as a freelancer, take a look at some of our other posts on being freelance.