Inspirational Woman: Sarah Austin | Founder, British Business Excellence Awards

Sarah AustinThe road to entrepreneurial success for leading businesswoman Sarah Austin, Founder of The British Business Excellence Awards, has been fraught with peaks and troughs dotted throughout her longstanding career in the events industry.

Sarah’s career doesn’t stop in the events industry, she recognises herself as a mum first and foremost, as well as a strong, independent businesswomen. After being made redundant after giving birth 13 months prior, Sarah launched her own business, after realising that she could no longer mould herself into traditional roles in which it’s the norm to leave the house at 7am and not return until 7pm. 

Sarah launched the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards on International Women’s Day 2021, Sarah Austin Events aims to help empower women, particularly women in business, while ensuring events are run to the highest of standards.

After launching her own events company, Sarah started to be approached by many organisers within her business network asking for help with arranging both events and award ceremonies (both virtual and in person).

With the National Business Awards having come to an end, Sarah took the leap and set up the British Business Excellence Awards with Lloyds Bank as the headline sponsor. Having worked as an international business awards Director for nearly 15 years, The British Business Excellence Awards Founder and Director was determined to fill the void with an awards programme that would be just as prestigious to celebrate British businesses.

The British Business Excellence Awards took place for the first time in 2021, highlighting and awarding the best businesses and individuals within British business. Sarah is currently organising the awards for 2022, hoping to highlight and celebrate even more British businesses, especially those with a focus on sustainability and the future of business.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Sarah Austin, and I am the founder and Award’s Director of Sarah Austin Events, who in turn, owns the UK’s largest business awards programme – The Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards.

We champion the backbone of Great British Business, particularly the SME community, through an annual programme of networking, workshops, and an extensive judging process.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Despite the institutionalising nature of my previous career, I always believed deep down I was destined to be an entrepreneur. By the very nature of entrepreneurialism, it was much more a case of having a vision, perceiving immediate obstacles as temporary and just taking the leap. In the case of business, there is an argument that planning for ‘too long’ can just be internalised doubt seeking to break-out and scupper the greatest ideas. 

You’re the founder of the British Business Excellence Awards – how did the awards come about?

In the past, I had always dreamt of running my own awards and events business, however, I’d always been too scared to do it. My career had been corporate focused, working for a FTSE company, traveling the world and running events, yet somehow, I’d become institutionalised and never realised my inner entrepreneur.

As I returned to work after maternity leave, during the pandemic, it was clear to me that the world had changed to become a different place, which in turn, led to me pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Within a week of leaving my previous role, I set up my business – Sarah Austin Events.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Being a business owner, even one in the events industry, can be a very lonely place sometimes. The constant pivoting and uncertainty related to the pandemic throughout 2021 was a particularly lonely, challenging period. But I am a firm believer in overcoming adversity as the true mark of strength within business – we have only become stronger and more resilient as a result of the challenges we have fought through.

It’s also important to note that I initially launched my business when my little boy was only 18-months old, at a time where events were currently banned across the UK due to the imposed restrictions on the industry. To classify this as anything other than a challenging combination of circumstances would be entirely false – with every single day presenting another obstacle to overcome.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

My greatest success to date is launching my business during the pandemic and not only being operational, but successful to this day. Success as a measurement can mean different things to different businesses, but for me I see success through the inundation of applications to the awards and the level and prestige of sponsorship we receive and most poignantly, the kind words that follow an amazing ceremony.

How do you feel about mentoring?

Mentoring is not only a key facet of furthering gender equality but is also vital in the continued success of SMEs across the country. The key is in the presentation – mentoring does not always have to take the form of an overly formal agreement, it’s actually as simple as being an effective leader. Treating employees with respect and celebrating their wins as well as intuitively supporting them during setbacks is the bread and butter of mentoring for success.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

Gender inequality is an issue not only institutional, but generational. It is for that reason that investment in education and shaping young minds – be that through parenting or schooling – would be my core focus to accelerate change. Providing positive female business leaders as role models for younger generations will not only enable young girls to have ‘aspirational inspiration’ but will also show young boys that the world of business is one shared by people, not gender-locked and completely accessible.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?

My only piece of advice to my younger self would be simply to believe. Believe in the process, believe in the business, believe in your instincts and most of all, just to believe in myself. I have become a successful businessperson through the toughest times imaginable, particularly when you consider how hard the events industry were hit during the pandemic – belief was vital to any business making it out intact.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Over the next few years, the aim is to observe growth in the business, allowing us to support businesses across the board. Empowering businesses in need, and their owners by extension, is my ultimate goal and the most satisfying aspect of the work that I do. With challenges such as post-pandemic uncertainty and gender inequality still present in the industry – my work will continue until both are eradicated.

If you’re interested in entering the awards on behalf of your business, you can enter the British Business Excellence Awards, before the deadline on 17th June, here:

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