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OPINION: So, what's behind the incredible success of Highland firms at national small business awards?

By David Richardson

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Entering for awards has a range of potential benefits – and it's not necessarily just all about winning them.
Entering for awards has a range of potential benefits – and it's not necessarily just all about winning them.

The online audience at our recent FSB Celebrating Small Business Awards UK Final heard compere Clare Balding OBE say the immortal words, “And the Federation of Small Businesses’ UK Small Business of the Year is… Woodlands Glencoe of Ballachulish”.

Incredibly, this is the second time in succession that a Highland business has won the top UK accolade – last time it was Ft Augustus’s Cruise Loch Ness.

There are around six million businesses in the UK and around 25,000 in the Highlands. For a region with 0.4% of the country’s businesses to produce two winners in succession is truly remarkable. Not only that, but while home to only 15% of Scotland’s businesses, the Highlands, Islands and Moray consistently punches above its weight, together producing over 40% of Scotland heat winners!

So what’s going on? Well, distant from markets and with a difficult geography and sparse population, most of this region is dominated by highly seasonal, visitor-based economies in which making a living can be a struggle. Entrepreneurs must be able to think outside the box and innovate, and aside from being great leaders, they must also be determined, resilient and nimble; able to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances like pandemics.

Moreover, the people behind our greatest businesses are not driven by the desire to make fast bucks – there are better places to do that. Most are driven by pride and passion for the areas and communities in which they live. They put quality of life ahead of standard of living; they want to create solid and secure businesses for their children to inherit if they so choose; and they really want to make a difference. It’s about lifestyle, legacy and community.

David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB.
David Richardson, regional development manager at FSB.

So how do business awards fit into the picture? Well, the first point is that the people who enter business awards are not simply in it to massage their own egos – they haven’t got time for trivia. They enter because they are proud of all that they have achieved and they want to test it against their peers in open competition. And having helped judge a number of different business awards over the years, the competition is always extremely high.

Of course winning, or just being shortlisted, brings immense direct benefit too. Not only is it something to promote to customers and potential customers in print and online, but it also gives staff a real morale boost, and customers like it too.

But win or lose, the process of entering awards really can benefit businesses, for it obliges applicants to take steps back, count to ten, and analyse their businesses with a critical, impartial eye. What has and hasn’t worked? What could they have done better. What is the direction of travel? Are they going about getting there in the most effective way? And so on. Entering awards helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses and the support you need to take your business to the next level.

The FSB’s Celebrating Small Business Awards 2022 are now open for entries, so if you run a business to be proud of, why not show it off to best advantage by applying - www.fsbawards.co.uk? Still not sure? Hear about the whys and wherefores of entering business awards from previous Highland winners in our special Awards Webinar on the 29th of September - www.fsb.org.uk/event-calendar/fsb-awards-webinar

David Richardson is the Highlands and islands manager of the FSB

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