Small Business editor of the NZ Herald

Small business: Auckland Business Awards

Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.
Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce.

Small business owners often talk about the busyness of being in business. Juggling multiple roles throughout the day is a necessity in a small team (or when you're a team of one) and then there's the ubiquitous admin/paperwork/everything else to catch up on in the evenings.

One strategy that some employ to raise their heads up out of the day-to-day and gain an overview of how their business is faring is to enter awards.

There's a huge number out there, recognising success in everything from innovation to sustainability, exporting to achievement in various industries.

This week I've interviewed a handful of winners from last year's Westpac Auckland Business Awards to get a steer on why they've entered awards and the impact the awards process - and winning - has had on their businesses.

Michael Barnett, chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, which is running the awards in partnership with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) this year, says entering awards provides a good opportunity for businesses to take stock of their achievements.

They also open a door to learn from others, he says.

"At the end you have the award winners, but the biggest thing for some of these firms is the opportunity to be exposed to the passion and ideas of others and take those away and rewrite them to fit their own firms," Barnett says.

Sanjesh Lal is the founder and managing director of west Auckland-based construction firm Keola Homes, which was named best small business in the Westpac Auckland West Business Awards last year, and a finalist in the awards' excellence in innovation category.

Lal says the firm's primary motivation for entering the awards was to learn.

"There were a lot of questions to answer and we had to take a good hard look at what we were doing," says Lal. "But, more importantly, it makes you look at what your business is not doing. That process allowed us to dig deep and find answers to those questions. The main thing for us was to aim to improve on things we were not doing so well."

Lal says putting together the company's entries was time consuming, but like others interviewed on the topic says it was time well spent.

Genevieve Knights, founder of boutique food brand and specialist pate producer Genevieve's Cuisine, has entered and won a number of awards for her business, including the research and development prize in the Westpac Auckland South Business Awards last year.

"Explaining to others what makes your business special gives you an opportunity uncover angles you have never thought of before, " says Knights. "You discover new ways to sell your business and it also helps to solidify your future goals and expectations of where you want your business to go."

Knights, an experienced writer, emphasises the importance of telling a great story to catch the judges' attention when entering awards.

"You need to remember you are competing with other vibrant, brilliant brands and your entry needs to stand out from the others. So anything that is unique about your business or your products and/or services needs to be spelt out very clearly and confidently," she says. "The judges want you to take them on an inspiring and unique journey."

While entering can have its own rewards, it's also nice to win.

Paul Macaulay, CEO of central Auckland-based tourism venture Auckland Adventure Jet, which won the excellence in workplace safety and excellence in marketing categories in last year's Westpac Auckland Central Business Awards, says all his staff have contributed to putting together their award entries and feel chuffed to see their efforts recognised.

"To me, business is all about having the right people around you and believing in what you are doing, as well as having goals and pushing yourself towards those targets. Putting yourself out there by going for awards makes you stronger and it's always a great feeling to be rewarded for doing something you love," he says.

Michael Barnett is the chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, which is partnering with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) this year to run the Westpac Auckland Business Awards.

Why should small business owners consider entering awards?

Awards generally are about firms acknowledging that as a part of being in business they are on a journey. And a lot of their journey is is about learning on the job; they're learning as they're doing - and many of their people are learning as they're doing. So entering awards always provides a neat opportunity for people to say 'this is what I've done and it's delivering me success'. It's a good chance to do a little stocktake.

But I think people also have a great interest in what other people are doing that's delivering them success, so the awards process also creates a pool of success ideas that people can share. At the end you have the award winners, but the biggest thing for some of these firms is the opportunity to be exposed to the passion and ideas of others and take those away and rewrite them to fit their own firms.

Can it be a daunting prospect, particularly for smaller businesses, to go through the process of entering a programme like the Westpac Auckland Business Awards?

The daunting thing for some people is the thought of sharing private information about their business. Smaller firms need to understand that, yes somebody will probably have a look at how you're managing your business, but the greater interest is in the sorts of behaviours you have or your particular focus around customer service or health and safety - a whole range of other issues. Someone is going to want to take a look at some of your accounts, but the stories that we want you to tell are around what it is you're doing that makes you successful.

And that is so dynamic. Someone that's entering into the business world today with a passion and an aspiration is probably doing something hugely different to what somebody else in their industry did two or three years ago that delivered them success.

Are some firms more likely to put themselves forward than others?

A medium-sized business that has a bit of history and success behind it is are going to be easier to convince than a small business that's still out there feeling its way. Yet there are benefits for both of them. The small guys have probably got more to learn from the process, and some of them will be surprised that they're going to learn as much as they do. The medium-sized firms often enter as part of their marketing strategy and to further build their profile, but it's also another opportunity to put themselves out there and benchmark.

What advice would you have for small business owners considering entering the business awards?

The process is going to be simple and not too time consuming, but the opportunities they will get to measure and compare themselves next to others as well as learn and teach will be immense.

- NZ Herald

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