AWARDS CAN GIVE COMPANY BOOST
Honors bring recognition, but also make an impact on potential clients.
After Finegold Alexander Architects began winning awards for its work on synagogues, calls started coming in from congregations around the country.
“‘You clearly know how to design a synagogue. Can you talk to us?'” firm partner Tony Hsiao recalls the rabbis and executive directors asking.
The Boston-based firm has won more than 150 architecture-related awards for a variety of building projects in its more than 50-year history, including 15 in the past three years. The honors have brought Finegold Alexander a considerable amount of new business.
Awards can be just plaques on a wall, but also can be a catalyst for growth. They can get a small or mid-sized business noticed, help create or buff up a reputation, and catch the eye of prospective customers. And — critical in a digital world — any publicity, online article, social media mention or blog post can help a company improve its visibility in online searches.
Honors that include cash prizes also can give a small company the needed capital to expand. In some competitions, businesses vie for grants for specific projects, but by winning, they also get the benefits of recognition.
“There’s so much noise and competition, and your customers are just looking for a bit of a differentiator, that little extra bit that sets you apart,” said Gene Marks, owner of The Marks Group, a small-business consulting firm based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.
Awards vary widely in prestige. Some are well-known, like the Small Business Administration’s Small Business Person of the Year awards or Inc. magazine’s rankings of the fastest-growing small companies. Some are recognized within specific industries, such as advertising’s Clio awards. Chambers of commerce and other local business groups often hand out prizes as well.
But some can be scams, as when a business is approached about winning an award, and gets a plaque or certificate in return for a monetary payment.
“If they ask you for any money other than postage, then it’s a disingenuous award scheme and not worth your time,” Marks said.
Awards are part of Julie Auslander’s marketing strategy for her company, cSubs, which manages magazine and other subscriptions for clients including large corporations. It has won small business awards including several from the consulting firm Ernst & Young and the philanthropic Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. It also was named one of Inc. magazine’s 5,000 fastestgrowing companies.
Auslander chooses competitions that will win the notice of different customers; for example, she pursued the Inc. award because it would make an impression with corporate executives.
“If you just go apply willy-nilly for awards, it won’t give you the benefits you want,” said Auslander, whose company is based in Montvale, N.J.
Companies also need to assess whether an award is worth the time investment to apply, Marks said. Many, if not most, require a company to put together a submission or be nominated by someone else. A submission, which includes an application and documents to help a company make its case for winning, can be timeconsuming — hours of essay-writing, according to Auslander.
Hajj Flemings won nearly $165,000 from the Knight Foundation Cities Challenge competition last year for his proposal to help small businesses in Detroit develop an online presence and a brand. The money is intended for the project alone, but Flemings, who runs several ventures to help people market themselves, has been able to make contacts as a result of the award.
“The fact that we are a Knight Cities Challenge winner opens up media opportunities,” said Flemings, who didn’t think he had a chance to win and had to be persuaded to enter. “It gives us instant credibility.”
Hajj Flemings won nearly $165,000 from the Knight Foundation Cities Challenge competition for his proposal to help small businesses in Detroit develop an online presence and a brand.