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Any entrepreneur would love to be named “Businessperson of the Year” or win “Company of the Year. I mean, who doesn’t want to be recognized for all their hard work? I certainly did. When I was growing my last company, I made business awards part of my strategic planning.If you’ve wondered what it’s like to win a business award, read this to get a glimpse of the experience, and how to prepare to make the most of it.
First - Setting the goal
When I left my cubicle corporate life to start my own company, I immediately became involved in the local business community. I joined the Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau, and networking groups. Not surprisingly, this involved going to lots of meetings. As in, old-school, get in the car to drive and park and walk into a room of strangers meetings. One event was a gala evening for the Businesswoman of the Year Award. Champagne flowed. There was swag and glitter and local media with cameras. It was a very high profile event in the capital city where I lived. And as I watched the winner go on stage, I set a goal. That one day, I’d win Businesswoman of the Year.
Next - Long term planning
By the time I submitted my 10 page nomination package to the Businesswoman of the Year Award committee, I’d adjusted my expectations. Several years had passed. I was more seasoned both as an entrepreneur, and with award programs. I already knew what it’s like to win a business award. My company had been a finalist for Company of the Year, and twice won the Torch Award for Business Ethics. Also, I’d been named to the coveted Forty Under 40 list for my city. Although these were rewarding and fun experiences, they were also part of my long term planning. Actually, these awards were strategic, to boost my nomination package for Businesswoman of the Year. Because by this time, I knew how much publicity and prestige the finalists received in the run-up to that gala event. Therefore, my goal was to get into that final 3 for the Entrepreneur category. And I did that by building my resume and accomplishments to deliver what they looked for. I evaluated the award criteria and compared it to the profile of the winners. Accordingly, I made choices which had immediate benefits and also served to support my nomination package. For example, taking on a volunteer leadership role for the board of a local women’s shelter.
Then - the preparation
Every business award event involves preparation. After all, you can’t just roll in like it’s a casual breakfast meeting. These things do tend to be gala evenings. Expect black tie, a 4 course meal, and cameras everywhere. Also, because it’s such a high profile event, there may be local celebrities and dignitaries. So if you’ve ever wanted to shake hands with the mayor of your city, this is a chance to do it.
Without a doubt, the runup to the Businesswoman of the Year Award was the most exciting preparation I experienced. First of all, there was a photoshoot by a famous Canadian photographer. Coincidentally, that photographer was the very same woman I watched win the Businesswoman of the Year Award all those years earlier – the inspiration for my goal. Also, there were interviews with local media. However, my favourite part was going to a high-end jewellery store to select items to wear on the big evening. These beautiful and expensive pieces would be loaned for the night under very tight security.
At last - the Gala
The day of the gala evening was like the run up to a wedding. A tuxedo for my husband. Hair and makeup for me. And a huge sense of anticipation. The loaner ring on my finger cost more than my first car. It felt like a costume party to be so dressed up and out on a school night. We shared my table with friends from the business community. It was genuinely a good time, mostly because I had no expectation of winning. After all, I’d reached my goal. It was this – the publicity and credibility of being Finalist, and the fuss and celebration of the Gala. Another Finalist in my Entrepreneur category had been in business much longer, and I believed she would win.
Finally, the moment for my category arrived. From the podium, in front of hundreds of people, my bio along with the 2 other Finalists were read out. Meanwhile, footage of pre-recorded interviews flashed on the big screen above the stage. The moment they broke the seal on the envelope, I knew they’d be calling my name. And then, they did. They called my name. Immediately, everyone at my table jumped to their feet, and a TV camera was in my face. I made my way to the stage reaching for balance in my high heels and for words to say. I had not prepared a speech. Meanwhile, from the table, my friend and marketing expert Deanna White quietly clicked “send” on a press release. The news of my win hit the inboxes of key media contacts before I even got to the podium.
Being the winner
The next couple of days were surreal. In large part to Deanna’s preparation and marketing expertise, my win was covered by local media. Taking my youngest to school, the crossing guard called out “Congratulations!”. Several parents and teachers approached me to say the same, and ask questions about my company. Floral deliveries arrived at my office. My email was flooded with congratulations from almost all my contacts, and from people I’d never met. Naturally, by the time the flowers were wilting, everyone had moved on, and things went back to normal. Nevertheless, I had the pleasure of keeping the Businesswoman of the Year Award in my office for a whole year. And like the Stanley Cup, my name is still on it. Though it was truly a surprise to win, it was a deeply rewarding and affirmational experience.
What to expect from participating in business awards
There are many reasons to include business awards in your strategy. Perhaps it’s to raise the profile and visibility of your brand. Also, it may be used to strengthen a pitch for investors, or attract a buyer. In any case, here are some tips on what to expect from reaching the short list or finalist stage, and what to expect from winning a business award.
More sales pitches
As soon as you and your company hit the list of nominations or finalists, expect more email and calls. Some will be spammy, because bots scraped the web and added you to email lists. However, many will be local, and personalized. From SEO specialists to investment advisors to graphic designers, you are now on the radar of businesses looking for new clients. Be open to these opportunities to expand your network. After all, a higher profile is one of the reasons to get involved in business awards.
If you thought preparing the nomination form and submission package was the end of it, think again. This is one thing about what it’s like to win a business award; it does create more work. So expect more leads and customer enquiries. Clearly, this is one of the benefits of doing it in the first place. Therefore, prepare ahead so there is capacity for this extra work. Furthermore, there is the work involved to fully leverage your win. For example, updating marketing material, social media profiles, and client communication.
You may hear from people you forgot you knew. Of course, the level of attention correlates to the profile of the award, and the skill of your publicity person. Regardless, expect more attention from people seeking a mentor, business advice, or to ask about your business.
Being part of a gala evening costs money. So in your strategic planning, build that into your business budget. After all, the tickets are not free. Buying a table is the norm, so you can share the event with a spouse, business partner, key employees, friends, and colleagues. There may be babysitting costs, transportation, hair and makeup. Obviously, there is the wardrobe. Men have long had formal wear rental options available. Happily, this is now available for women with companies like Rent The Runway, which has a category just for award season.
After the rush and excitement of the award ceremony, the win, and all the attention, expect a bit of a slump. After all, there may have been weeks or even months of anticipation and buildup. Especially if the awards had been part of your long term strategy. And just as there are post-holiday blues, the same deflating feeling may creep up. Seek the support of your inner circle, and look for a new project to occupy yourself.
Preparing to win a business award
Clear time in the schedule after the winners are announced. Have your marketing plan prepared and ready to go. Prepare to bask in the glow of the winning spotlight. Also, create the space to take advantage of the opportunities your award brings. Book those meetings to expand your network. Broadcast the win across all social profiles. Add the award to marketing material and messaging. Oh, and prepare a speech, just in case. For a full list of how to leverage your win, see “Are Business Awards Worth it?”