By Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang
Making the decision to attend a function can alter the fate of a small business. In 2006, at the onset of our business, we had to learn very different skills than those required by a corporate day job. Driving down a major highway on our way to a networking event, we saw a sign.
Actually it was a billboard that said, "Entrepreneur Expo - Where Business Gets Done." As brand-new entrepreneurs, we made a mental note to attend; that decision would directly impact the direction and success of our merchant service business.
Attending the expo was free. The City of Fort Worth sponsored the event to help drive the growth and success of small businesses. There was also a lunch you could attend for a fee that was expensive to a new startup. But others who had attended said it was well worth the money, and we decided to upgrade to the lunch and speaker program.
The expo was like any other tradeshow, with one major exception: attendees were from all facets of industry, from small-business start-ups to Lockheed Martin Corp. and the U.S. Department of Defense - a very diverse group.
We spent the entire day walking the aisles, handing out business cards and meeting our local competitors. We learned about organizations that were there to help grow new start-up businesses. Then lunch came, and that was when the interesting stuff started.
In the banquet hall, an agenda had been placed at each seat. Within the agenda was a list of nominees for various awards, including the Mayors Award, Small Business Award and others. Following lunch, the award ceremonies began. Each nominee was recognized on giant screens, and with biographies and business descriptions within the agenda. When the Small Business Award was announced, my heart stopped and I said, "That will be me next year."
In 2007 we were announced as the Star Telegram Small Business of the Year - just one year after we started our business. We won $10,000 in advertising, and our name was splashed all around the Dallas-Forth Worth metropolitan area, in various papers, e-mail blasts and Web sites.
The application for the award itself was a short five questions, which took less than a week to complete. In return we received instant credibility among the thousands who saw our award.
A close competitor of ours stopped by and commented that he had never seen a merchant service provider win an award and that it was time we start to show the business community how we add value to the communities we live in and serve.
It seems that ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) are starting to gain more recognition. Henry Helgeson, President and co-Chief Executive Officer of Merchant Warehouse, was a finalist for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2009 Award in New England. Also in 2009, Merchant Warehouse was awarded ISO of the Year at the Electronic Transactions Association's Annual Meeting & Expo.
In 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008, Authorize.net received the Achievement in Customer Excellence (ACE) award from CustomerSat, a division of MarketTools Inc. ACE awards validate an organization's effectiveness in serving customers and building loyalty. Who qualifies is determined by regular customer satisfaction surveys.
Fast Transact Inc. (co-founder and President Anna Solomon is a frequent contributor to GS Online's MLS Forum under the moniker FastTransact) has won many awards. In 2008 the company picked up The Association of Washington's Better Workplace Award and made the Inc. 5000 list. Fast Transact was also a finalist in the Business Examiner's 2007 Top Places to Work for Washington State's South Puget Sound area.
In 2009, Vanessa was nominated for a Stevie Award for Best Young Entrepreneur, which can be characterized as the Oscars for business owners. Many very well known businesses, such as Constant Contact Inc., have been recipients of Stevie Awards.
Out of hundreds of nominations, 888QuikRate.com was a finalist. While we did not win, just the nomination and the buzz it created resulted in increased visibility and credibility. The point is ISOs and individuals are being recognized for their achievements, and so can you.
In many ways, the opportunity to write the Street Smarts column in The Green Sheet was an award. We are very new to the industry compared to past Street Smart authors, but The Green Sheet staff saw us giving a presentation at an acquirers meeting and approached us with this opportunity.
It was another situation where simply attending a function and networking delivered an unforeseen bit of good fortune. We have named just a few of the more prestigious awards for payments industry businesses. Opportunities for awards are around every corner and can be found through research or word of mouth. A great place to start is at your local chamber of commerce.
Awards like Member of the Month or Best Volunteer of the Year can help increase the number of prospects you gain and give you an edge over competitors. Local clubs like Lions or Kiwanis clubs have annual awards as well. Most recently, a very strong referral partner we work with was nominated as one of the Great Women of Texas, an award offered by a well-respected local business publication. It was Vanessa who nominated the partner, who ended up winning. There is a reciprocity associated with awards. Don't just think of receiving or being nominated. Go out and nominate people you think deserve the recognition, and the karma will come back around.
Once you receive an award, the next step is getting the word out in a positive way. Social media is a very powerful tool for spreading the word about company achievements.
Also, make sure to notify industry publications like The Green Sheet, which will often write about such awards. One of our longtime customers, and author of a book about how to attain free publicity, does this for his clients every day. He knows that when something is in print people tend to assume it is true. Using awards and achievements offers instant credibility and can help increase the number of accounts you land per month.
While winning an award or being recognized for an achievement will not guarantee success, it can be an inexpensive way to create buzz around your company. Talk to your peers in the industry, to local chambers of commerce and other associations you work with to find out what award opportunities are awaiting your business in 2010.
Jon Perry and Vanessa Lang are the owners of 888QuikRate.com, an ISO based in Ft. Worth, Texas, that was named Small Business of the Year by the local newspaper, The Star Telegram. For more information, tweet them at http://twitter.com/dfwcard, comment on their blog at http://merchantservices.cc or visit their profile at http://linkedin.com/in/jonperry or http://linkedin.com/in/vanessalang. Alternatively, you can contact Jon and Vanessa by phone at 817-857-3557 or by e-mail at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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