Telling the truth about SME life today

Celebrating British Excellence with Sarah Austin

Sarah Austin had a nearly fifteen-year-long career in corporate event management, including a highly respected position in an FTSE 100 company. Now, she’s the proud Founder of Sarah Austin Events, the company that celebrates the fantastic, innovative work of companies across the UK with the British Business Excellence Awards.

After having a baby in 2019, Austin found her career disrupted by the pandemic, and an extended period of leave from work meant she was returning to a workplace, and a wider world, that felt very different. Choosing to follow a new direction in life, she left her full-time role and was initially intimidated by the amount of freedom she had when finding the next step in her career.

“I had a lot of doubts and some immediate regret about leaving my corporate career. I had worked so hard for so many years and I wasn’t ready to leave the events industry behind completely. With the loving support of my partner, who runs his own business, I decided there was never as good a time to start my own business. I think it was only a week after leaving my previous role that I had registered with Companies House. It is an amazing feeling, that moment of self-acceptance when you realise you are on this brilliant journey, and you are not looking back.”

It was a risk to launch her own events business in 2020 when all public events were illegal. She found an immense amount of support within the industry, as the camaraderie between businesses that were determined to survive and uplift one another blossomed. As many events went digital, Austin and her peers found themselves quickly having to pivot and innovate.

“Most of my previous experience was not in virtual events or conferences, so it was a huge learning opportunity as we all effectively re-trained to become something akin to TV producers. In some ways, I quite liked the challenge and the way the industry worked hard to re-invent itself and pull through the pandemic.”

Sarah Austin Events’ crown jewel is the British Business Excellence Awards. Launched in partnership with Lloyds Bank, the BBEA sets out to find the best and most innovative businesses across the UK, recognising the achievements of SMEs that are making great strides in sustainability, diversity, and equality. The BBEA enjoys acknowledging the most resilient business owners and those who are making a strong impact in their wider community.

“The BBEA is a co-creation of mine, in partnership with Lloyds Bank, who I have worked with for many years. I wanted to shake up the type of awards businesses were receiving, awards that truly reflected modern business life, and the attributes of an entrepreneur that should be acknowledged and celebrated. When I became a business owner myself, I decided it was the perfect opportunity to build an awards program that truly suited UK SMEs and I was thrilled when Lloyds Bank agreed to support the new venture, and equally happy that they continue to do so.”

“I created the program from scratch, and I felt this huge sense of freedom, to be creative, to build categories that accurately represent different aspects of business. The British Business Excellence Awards was my work baby, and I could not have done it without the incredible support of Lloyds Bank, and so many others.”

Creating a brand-new awards program during a global pandemic isn’t at the top of everyone’s to-do list, but Austin embraced the challenge. The key to keeping the program and her business thriving was to be fluid and flexible in her decision-making. Austin’s end-to-end management style means she offers her clients an inclusive package, handling the event marketing and press alongside the planning and execution of the event itself. This gave her the chance to have more influence over how the event was presented to potential attendees and she could advise her clients on the careful messaging around postponed or future events.

“Luckily for our event, the British Business Excellence Awards is a year-long program. We officially open our categories for nominations in March-April and the official event isn’t held until November, which put us far past the national restrictions lifting date in July last year. We then keep producing content and press for all the finalists and the winners right up until the start of the new year, so businesses benefit massively from our extensive, ongoing marketing, bringing them exposure that they truly deserve.”

While Austin believes she is still in the early stages of her business herself, her advice to new or aspiring entrepreneurs is simple and timeless. Trust your gut, build a reliable network that uplifts and supports you, and make sure to find a balance between work, family, and taking care of yourself.

If you think your business has achieved brilliant successes or reached new levels of innovation, check out this year’s categories and enter the British Business Excellence Awards. Entries closed on July 1st, 2022. Find out more here.

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