You know how great your small business is; your customers know how great your small business is; so isn’t it time for some recognition and unbiased external validation? One way to get it is to nominate yourself for local, regional, and national small business awards. If you win, not only do you get third-party validation that your small business is on the fast-track to success, you will typically also get cash and service awards that are designed to help your small businesses continue to grow and flourish. Even if you don’t win, you’ll still get free publicity during the nominating process via the contest sponsors’ promotion efforts and via online entry viewing and public voting.

When considering small business awards, start with local and regional competitions—as the pool will be smaller, and the audience will be more targeted. There are thousands of them each year, and the best way to find them is to enter “small business awards nomination” along with your city/town, county, region or state into a search engine. (Try filtering the search results for the past month to find those that are currently accepting nominations.)

National small business awards are fewer and farther between, but winning a prestigious national award can not only bring a large cash prize, but also mentoring from small business experts. It is also a large bright feather to be worn in any entrepreneur’s cap. The following are 5 national small business awards competitions that are currently accepting nominations:

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  1. 2017 National Small Business Week Awards
    This small business awards competition is one of the most prestigious in the United States. Sponsored by the US Small Business Administration (SBA), it has been around since 1963. During National Small Business Week (next held April 30 – May 6, 2017) small businesses from across the country will be recognized for the contributions they make to their local communities and to the national economy as a whole. Awards will be presented in 14 categories including Small Business Person of the Year. For complete details, including descriptions and eligibility requirements for each award, see the Award Guidelines. Nomination forms for all awards can be found here. The nominating process has begun, and you can submit nomination forms to a local SBA Office only (this year online submissions are not being accepted).
    Deadline: 3:00 p.m. ET on January 10, 2017
  2. 2016 Indie Awards
    Sponsored by Independent We Stand, a “movement” created and maintained by STIHL, Inc designed to promote independent business owners and the importance of “buying local,” the Independent Small Business of the Year awards (also known as the “Indie Awards”) highlight the real value that small businesses bring to their communities. You must be a US business and a member of Independent We Stand in order to be eligible (take the free membership and also get a free business listing and some useful marketing tools). Then complete the short nomination form online, being sure to pay special attention to the 300-word “Tell us why this business should be chosen for the 2016 Indie Awards” question. That’s your chance to describe how your business is helping its community and making it a, “better place to live, work and prosper.” Your entry will be posted online for a public voting period (great PR!), and the final winners will be selected by a panel of judges. The winner gets $5,000 cash, a free web marketing package (including a custom designed website), a 3 day trip to Virginia Beach (and a visit to the STIHL plant), and more. The nominating process is now open, and winners will be announced on December 14, 2016.
    Deadline: November 13, 2016
  3. The Brassys
    Sponsored by Square, the Brassys will recognize 35 small businesses finalists for outstanding Vision, Innovation, Community Involvement, and Customer Delight. Five Winners will be selected, based on public voting and professional judging, and each will win $10,000 cash and a mentorship session with “business luminaries.” Nominate your small business here, and use the application to tell your story. (You can also view and vote for other entries here—it will help to look at the other entries before crafting your own.) US businesses with under $20M annual revenue are eligible. See all the official rules here. Nominations are currently being accepted, public voting runs through October 9 (so the earlier you get your entry in, the more views you’ll get), and the 5 winners will be announced in mid-November, 2016.
    Deadline: October 9, 2016
    NOTE: I don’t typically cover competitors in Tip posts, but since this is a great opportunity for small businesses, and you don’t need to be a Square customer to enter or win, I wanted to be sure to let you know about it.
  4. National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation 2017 Recognition Awards
    If your small business is in the restaurant industry, consider nominating yourself for one of these prestigious industry awards. Founded in partnership with American Express, the Restaurant Neighbor Award celebrates and highlights the outstanding charitable service performed by restaurant operators. Three winners (one small business, one medium business, and one large national chain) are selected each year, and given a $10,000 grant to support a charity or community project. Nominate your restaurant here. In partnership with PepsiCo Foodservice, the Faces of Diversity Awards program honors individuals in the restaurant industry who have realized the American Dream through hard work, determination and enterprise. Along with recognition and publicity, a $2,500 scholarship will be made in the name of each winner to an aspiring student pursuing a career in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Nominations can be made here. Nominations are currently being accepted online, and the winners will be recognized at a gala awards dinner in Washington, D.C., during the National Restaurant Association’s Public Affairs Conference in March 2017.
    Deadline: October 15, 2016
  5. People & Planet Green Business Award
    Green America sponsors seasonal awards to recognize, “green businesses nationwide for their contributions to a just and sustainable economy.” The current award is for business involved with animals, and is designed to highlight businesses that have, “BOTH an overall green way of doing business, AND demonstrate a strong commitment to green pets or raising animals responsibly.” Submit the short online nomination form here, and be sure to emphasize why your business is, “good for both people and the planet.” 10 finalists will be selected and asked to provide additional information for online public voting (more free PR!), and two $5,000 winners and one grand prize $10,000 winner will be selected. Animal/pet-related small businesses with 50 or fewer employees are eligible. The nomination process is active now, and the winners will be announced in December, 2016.
    Deadline: October 3, 2016

NOTE: All of these awards accept open nominations with no fee. Be very cautions of awards competitions that require (sometimes hefty) entrance fees– they are seldom worth your money, time and effort.

As you’ll quickly realize by examining the nomination requirements for the above awards, they can be as basic as completing a short form with a simple description, or can require pages and pages of information. Clearly, the time and effort you need to spend on the application should have some relationship to the value you’ll get from the award—be it publicity, expert advice, or cold hard cash.

If you are going to embark on an entry, make sure you put your time to good use. Pay close attention to the award criteria, and craft all of your answers to address them. How to write an effective submission for an award application provides high-level tips for completing award nominations. How to Win Business Awards – From a Judge’s Perspective provides helpful insight for making your nomination form stand-out in what is likely a very large crowd. And, Nomination Promotion: How to Promote an Award Nomination provides advice on how to generate support for public voting portions of an Award selection process, as well as how to promote your victory when your small business wins an award.

While modesty can be a good thing, the ability to toot your own horn is essential to trumpeting your small business success story. Don’t hesitate to nominate yourself for any small business award. That said, there is no greater compliment than nominating a colleague you admire, a mentor who has helped you achieve success, a local entrepreneur making a significant contribution to your community, or a business you frequent yourself. It’s also OK to encourage your best customers to nominate your small business. However slim you think your chances are, they are guaranteed to be zero if you don’t enter the field.

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Lisa Hephner

Lisa Hephner

My name is Lisa, and I'm the Vice President of Knowledge, responsible for the management of corporate, product, competitor, marketplace, legal, and regulatory knowledge, and creation and dissemination of knowledge tools using these assets to PaySimple prospects, customers, employees, and partners.

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