What do you trust more: a hotel that pays to get to the top of Google or the one 500 people vote to rank as No.1 on TripAvisor?

As a consumer I buy from brands I trust. That trust isn’t based on what that brand tells me about how it treats its customer, but how its customers tell me that brand treats them.

As a businessperson, my company’s products have to create positive experiences that my customers want to share and repeat.

Influence isn’t just a product of customer recommendation, however. Credibility comes via other activities too.

In the first year, my company Smarta partnered with the likes of RBS, Vodafone and Intuit, lending us far more credibility and authority than would have otherwise been given to a five-person, pre-revenue start-up.

Securing an experienced and respected investor or non-exec is another way to convince clients and customers you’re the real deal.

In my opinion though, there’s no more cost-effective or powerful way of amplifying how great your fledgling business is than earning a public stamp of approval by winning an award.

When an independent body, respected in its field that high profile individuals and the media are happy to associate with presents your business an award, customers, clients and investors alike sit up and take notice.

Awards are the ultimate third-party endorsement. It’s like being able to walk into a sales meeting wearing a big badge saying ‘someone really important thinks I’m better than everyone else you could be working with’. BIG WIN.

Pick your awards carefully: select only awards respected by your industry and with an alumni of proud winners. Avoid awards that don’t excite you or whose priority is to take money off you.

When you’re applying, treat the judges as a customer: they need to buy into your product and you as a person. Demonstrate why your customers buy into you. Delight and excite – just don’t make wild claims you can’t back up. Evidence everything.

Get this right and you’ll earn the recognition your business deserves. Just be sure you’re ready for it. If you’re exposed overnight to hundreds of thousands of potential new customers, make sure you’re geared up to capture them and ready to take full advantage of the opportunities that suddenly come your way.

In 2012, our Smarta 100 winning businesses were viewed more than 1 million times; attracted 100,000 public votes, trended on Twitter, were pictured in the national and regional press with our Dragon judges and were inundated with new enquiries.

Our winners have gone on to secure £5m investments, exit and treble in size in the space of 12 months – the really smart ones are doing even better.

Don’t miss the 1st September 2013 deadline by completing your application online in under 10 minutes: smarta.com/smarta100