And The Winner Is…

Traditional marketing methods such as advertising, direct mail, and telemarketing are frequently used in a small business’ arsenal. But savvy entrepreneurs such as Judi Henderson-Townsend, CEO of Mannequin Madness Inc. in Oakland, California, also include business contests and competitions on that list. While Henderson-Townsend was surviving a five-month elimination process to reach the finalist stage of a national business contest, her company was already reaping rewards.

“I try to enter one contest a year,” explains Henderson-Townsend, not only for the potential prizes but as a tool for regularly reviewing the performance of her business. One of her latest entries, The World of Difference contest, sponsored by chipmaker Intel and the Small Business Technology Institute, pushed her to explore what technology could do to improve her company’s operations. The contest ultimately netted her a $100,000 credit for information-technology products, services, and training from Intel and a cash prize of $5,000.

Unfortunately, too few small business owners tap into the contests and potential awards arena. However, with careful planning and preparation, you can improve your odds of winning. Even if your company doesn’t win, being nominated is an excellent way to publicize your business.

Interested in entering a small business contest? Here are four competitions worth the challenge:
UPS Best Out-of-the-Box Small Business Contest — This national contest honors the most innovative small businesses in the U.S. Prize: $10,000 cash or $10,000 in free UPS shipping (

The World of Difference Awards Contest — An opportunity for your small business to discover the potential of technology. Prize: $100,000 in hardware, software, and services (

Dell/NFIB Small Business Excellence Award — A contest sponsored by Dell Computer and the National Federation of Independent Business. Prize: $30,000 in tech gear and services (

The Miller Urban Entrepreneurs Series — Offers adults 21 to 35 an opportunity to enter its Business Plan Competition. Prize: $50,000, $20,000 or $2,500 in grants ( inthecommunity/urban)

Winning a contest may be easier than you think, say judges of past contests, who offer the following advice:
Follow instructions. “Read carefully how to fill out the form, what the format is, and when the deadline is,” advises Andrea Peiro, CEO of the Small Business Technology Institute. With thousands of applications, the first round of elimination often comes down to ruling out applicants who didn’t follow the rules, he says.

Send it in. “Your odds of being seriously considered are probably higher than you realize, especially since as many as 30% of applications are disqualified, significantly reducing your competition,” says Marcia Yudkin, author of 6 Steps to Free Publicity (Career Press), and a past judge of a national Web awards contest.

Start small. Henderson-Townsend believes that her experience entering smaller, local contests helped prepare her for the larger ones, simply by gaining practice in writing essays and refining her business plan. “I got my feet wet,” she says, and then moved on to the big leagues.

Communicate clearly. According to Lynn Castlevetro, worldwide director of small business marketing strategy at Intel, Henderson-Townsend did an excellent job of telling contest judges