I sense something in the air. If I’m not mistaken it's love and appreciation for small businesses. Finally, we are beginning to get the respect we deserve. As the economic engine of the United States, small, startup, and growing businesses play a vital role in job creation and value creation.
The latest company to recognize this role is Intuit Inc., the software company founded in 1983, which markets software targeting small businesses. They have recently launched the "Love a Local Business" project, which offers $1 million in grants for hiring among small, growing businesses. The project previously awarded $500,000 in grants to small businesses. For the current round the total amount to be distributed has doubled.
How the project works
There are multiple contest periods. The most recent period ended on June 30, 2011. As soon as a current period ends, another three month contest period begins. This cycle will repeat until March 31, 2012. So if your company does not win in the current period you have the opportunity to try again multiple times. Winning companies receive a grant for $25,000 to defray hiring costs. Some companies may be selected to have that award increased to $50,000 in a final round.
One of the more attractive aspects of this competition is the requirements for winning. The contest is being run like a raffle but instead of using raffle tickets Intuit is using votes. Every time you, a customer, vendor, or fan vote for your business your company receives an electronic raffle ticket. Therefore more votes directly correlate to greater chances of winning.
How your business can participate
Votes are tallied on the website. You must first register your company there in order to participate. If your company isn’t already listed you can simply enter a manual registration which only requires basic information in order to proceed. At the conclusion of the registration process you nominate your business to participate in the contest. Once nominated, the website helps you request votes from your existing networks via LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo. It is also important to promote your request for votes via e-mail, electronic newsletters, and even through in store requests to customers.
After sending the requests out to your social networks, the program provides additional tools and advice to help you promote your business including customer banner ads, prepopulated tweets, status updates, and more. These are located in the Winner’s Playbook. It also provides a monthly ranking so you can see how your vote tally compares to every other business competing. In the most recent round (as of this writing) there are under 7,000 companies competing. If you can tally sufficient votes those odds aren’t too bad.
Is it worth playing even if you don’t win?
While most people will play to win, there are other reasons for you to participate. First, it sends the right message to your stakeholders. This competition is about passionate owners competing for resources to grow their businesses. That message has precisely the right tone to motivate others to keep working with you.
Second, it provides a great excuse to reconnect with your customers and valuable contacts. It’s a great way conversation starter which provides an opening to discuss other business or simply reconnect.
Finally, it offers an opportunity for you to craft positive messaging around your brand which can be repurposed for online marketing programs in the future.
Give it a try. I just did!