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Contest serves credibility of Your Virtual Butler

A lot of contests are targeted to small businesses, with prizes ranging from grants to retail sales agreements to office makeovers.

Each of them have similar goals: to build more awareness and forge stronger relationships with small-business owners. The question is, are contests worth the time and effort that goes into the submissions? After all, when all is said and done, there is only one winner.

My recommendation is yes. But not just for the prizes. The third-party credibility and promotional activity that accompanies the contests are worth their weight in gold.

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Advertising is no longer a way to earn trust for a product or service – it does not carry the reputational benefits of earned media. Anyone can buy an ad. Snappy jingles and catchy taglines don't sway customers as effectively as they used to. Winning a contest can build your business in ways you never thought possible.

A great example is Your Virtual Butler. The company creates cloud-based software that enables office business centres to bridge the gap between their property and their customers. These centres are growing, as businesses of all sizes are looking for flexible, shared, professional office space fully equipped with administrative support for a flat monthly fee.

Through software, it is possible to automate the entire office business centre, enabling small firms to virtually book meeting rooms, handle invoicing, and manage administrative support. After several years of development to ready the product for market introduction, Your Virtual Butler entered a contest sponsored by Microsoft called the Cloud Startup Challenge, and won.

The contest granted the winner a $15,000 cash prize, along with entry into the Microsoft BizSpark program, a published case study, Windows Azure hosting service, office space in Toronto, and inclusion in PR outreach.

"Winning the competition gave the product immediate credibility," says Mark Burge, vice-president of sales at Your Virtual Butler. "Too often small businesses forget to share their story and benefit from their wins. We knew it was important to let people know about our involvement in this contest and use it to further gain awareness of what our software could do."

The contest win was also a huge employee morale booster. In the early stages of starting a company, recognition for a job well done from a respected, outside organization brings an enormous amount of internal value.

Entering new business contests allows your business to be recognized on a much larger scale and gain exposure with audiences you can't afford to reach on your own. Even if your company doesn't win, participation alone can earn your company invaluable media mentions and exposure to influential and experienced professionals involved in the judging process.

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The potential upside to winning, even one award, makes the time and cost of submitting worthwhile. After all, in today's ultra-competitive business world, a high-profile endorsement can go a long way.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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