Smarta went to the 'Sunday Times 100 Best Small Companies to Work For' awards last night. And there were some great businesses up there. But you know what? You could have been one of them.
Winning awards is not the sole preserve of multinationals whose logo-printed tentacles reach every last corner shop from Uruguay to Uzbekistan. There are more prizes out there for the UK's small businesses than ever before. And, frankly, if you're not applying for them, you're being lazy.
You don't need to have dozens of staff and a turnover of millions to get noticed. You just need to be acting smartly with what you've got.
The Smarta 100 is an absolute case in point. We set it up to reward companies for achievement, whatever their resource or size. We've got winners who started a business for less than £20, and one-man-bands who've got no intention of serving any more than a handful of customers by themselves. You should be applying for awards like this. It can take less than an hour to put together an application. And for those 60 minutes, if you win, you get tons of free PR, increased brand awareness, boosted credibility with customers and a phenomenal shot of validation and recognition.
There are plenty of ways to win an award that don't require hand-nosed business strategy and super-fast growth. As last night's ceremony proved, you can win a major award just by making sure your staff are happy. There were winners who'd done simple things like give their staff free fruit, put on regular fun nights, set up a scheme where employees who don't know each other take each other out for lunch. These steps cost very little - many were free. But they can get you a prize that's going to be publicised in the biggest Sunday newspaper in the UK.
Look into every award going for your sector and region. You might think your organic egg stall isn't big enough to win a national business award, but it could win a local business prize or a trade magazine award. Go niche.
When you apply, emphasise all the fantastic qualities a small business can offer that give it a competitive edge over larger competitors: brilliant customer service (include testimonials), a close-knit team (ask your staff to provide quotes and mention staff retention figures), an eye on ethics or nicheness of service.
If you don't apply, you'll never know.
(One word of warning - some business awards can charge ludicrous amount to attend the ceremony. It's still worth applying, as even to be shortlisted is an accolade - you can then just not go to the actual ceremony to save costs. But focus your efforts on free or cheap awards. The Smarta 100 is completely free to enter and to attend, and there are others like it out there. Just persevere with finding them.)
What are you waiting for? Read our feature on how to win small business awards for more advice on the application process and for info on where to find awards, then get applying!