Awards are a great way to recognize your small businesses in small towns. Unfortunately, most business awards encourage the people who need the least encouragement: those who are long-term successes.
Sure your long-time businesses deserve some recognition. It also helps inspire others to see the successes. Keep doing that. Just don’t let that be the only recognition.
Pick 20 (or more!) local businesses that started this year. Give them all a Rising Star business award. All of them.
Important note: you don’t have the be the chamber of commerce or an official organization to give awards. You could just be a small group of people who care about the town and want to give awards. Don’t wait for permission. Just start.
Find your Rising Stars
This forces you to find out about all the new businesses in your town. Don’t think you have 20 new businesses this year? Look harder.
- Look for your local entrepreneurs online
- Look around town for micro-entrepreneurs inside other businesses and in temporary spaces
- Invite everyone to nominate or suggest new businesses they know of
- Use online and offline tools to spread the word: the paper, radio, social networks, text messages, flyers
- Reach out to new groups of people you don’t normally talk to about business, including newcomers to town and people from ethnic groups different from yours
Now you’ve got 20! Maybe more.
You know how surprised you were to find these 20 new businesses? Imagine how many other people in town are going to be surprised. By sharing these promising new businesses publicly, you’re changing how people think about your town. You’re raising people’s awareness of the very idea of being entrepreneurs.
Support your Rising Stars
In addition to the obvious things like certificates and recognition in public, give all 20 some business support. Arrange an hour or two of mentoring or a meeting with a business advisor. (Here’s a list of business support services that might help. Maybe they can divide the list of Rising Stars and each help a few.)
Do NOT pick one overall winner and give them a big prize package. You don’t know which ones will succeed. Even professionals like loan officers who do nothing else find it difficult to pick the winners at an early stage. You can never tell which business might be hit with a natural disaster, lose a key customer, suffer a critical data loss, or be bankrupted when a family member gets ill.
Better to divide up your potential prizes and give some support to all of them.
Keep watching those Rising Stars
Then, in 5 years, give all the Rising Stars who are still around another boost, more recognition and more support. Each year, keep adding a new group of 20 Rising Stars.
The larger purpose
It’s more than just something to fill time at an annual banquet. It’s changing the trajectory of your town’s business ecosystem.
- You’re discovering lots of potential entrepreneurs
- You’re supporting business that start small, or even tiny
- You’re building a continuous pipeline of emerging local business leaders
- You’re staking a claim on being a community full of entrepreneurs, changing how people see your community
When you do this, we want to hear about it. Show us in the comments or by email.
More ideas for growing your own entrepreneurs
Deb Brown and I share more ideas like this in our latest video at SaveYour.Town, Grow Your Own Entrepreneurs. The video is available on-demand starting Friday, November 9, 2018, and it is only available for two weeks. Your questions, stories and examples from your own town are welcome, too.
- About the Author
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Becky started Small Biz Survival in 2006 to share rural business and community building stories and ideas with other small town business people. She and her husband have a small cattle ranch and are lifelong entrepreneurs. Becky is an international speaker on small business and rural topics.