Winning awards and accreditations can be not only recognition of the hard work that goes into running a business, but also ideal marketing material. Yet there are also concerns, as Tim Smedley reveals
As a lifelong Arsenal fan, Geoff Wilkinson saw meeting former Gunners’ goalkeeper Bob Wilson at Wembley Stadium as an award in itself. But it was actually just the icing on the cake after the Managing Director of Wilkinson Construction Consultants won ‘highly commended’ in the Best Business to Work For category of the Red Ribbon Awards 2016.
The awards, which recognise the most innovative and exciting family firms, had received more nominations than ever before. Mr Wilkinson describes winning his award as “fantastic recognition of everything that we have done over the past seven years of trading”. It’s also “a great marketing tool to say that you have been accredited by a third party or won an award”, he says.
External accreditations are increasingly important for small businesses. In some sectors, such as the gas industry or public sector, it’s a legal requirement to have a particular badge, or to be approved by a trade body. In others, the need may be less but the advantages from receiving industry recognition can still be great.
Accreditation of a particular product or service can also bring business benefits. David Broadhead runs Partners in Management, a small leadership and management development training company in Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, specialising in middle and senior manager development.
After the recession, “we quickly realised that both individuals and organisations were no longer prepared to pay for qualifications when faced with increasing time and cost pressures”, he says. In late 2015, he decided to put the company’s flagship ‘21st Century Leaders’ programme through a national standards recognition process run by the Chartered Management Institute (CMI).
However, not all awards are equal. The rigour of the entry and judging processes can vary and some, argues Mr Popely, “are not worth the paper they are written on”. “Some of the awards don’t even check your application,” he says. “There are no questions, no feedback and, hey presto, here’s your award, which to my mind makes them worthless. Most customers do not know this and it is up to us to educate them.”
In the public sector, gaining industry accreditations can be a prerequisite when bidding for work. Here, Tim Colman, Chairman of the FSB Procurement Policy Committee and owner of HR outsourcing company Abacus HR, explains why this is a tortuous process for small firms and how they can help position themselves to bid for such work.
Question: How much focus is there in public sector procurement on the accreditations and qualifications held by potential small business contractors?
Answer: There is a massive focus, particularly in the construction industry. And the situation is a mess. There are more than 20 different health and safety related-accreditations, and different local authorities have their own favourite.
Some local authorities now recognise accreditation bodies that are Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP)-registered, but as yet this recognition is not widespread.
The requirement for an ISO9000 quality accreditation is now widespread in the public sector, and there is also an ISO14001 environmental accreditation. These are not too onerous to get, but you will need well documented processes in place, and the cost of getting accredited will generally run into thousands of pounds.
Question: What sort of policies and procedures need to be accredited to tender for public sector contracts?
Answer: The key is to be ‘bid ready’. Many small businesses don’t even have the most basic policies written down, even when these are required by law. Some examples are disciplinary procedure, grievance procedure, appeals procedure, corporate social responsibility (CSR) policy and equal opportunities policy.