Sarah Austin Profiles in Excellence

Sarah Austin Events and the launch of the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards

How did Sarah Austin Events and subsequently, the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards come about?

I launched Sarah Austin Events on International Women’s Day 2021. It felt only appropriate that I should launch on such an important day to empower women and in particular, women in business. I had worked for big corporates in the events industry for over 12 years and in some ways, I felt that I had become institutionalised – I was conditioned to big corporate offices, horrendous and tenuous processes, and epic financial spreadsheets. Despite this, I had also access to some of the best talent within the events industry to learn from and it was recognition of these skills and experience that drove me to go it alone.

I was made redundant in November 2020 due to my former employer cancelling several events and it felt rather terrifying as an awards events professional seeking work during a pandemic that had cancelled all events…

Needless to say, it was the best thing that could have happened to me.

After I had launched Sarah Austin Events, I was approached by many organisers in my network asking for help with events & awards (both virtual and in person) for 2021. As time moved on, I was becoming increasingly aware that there was a gap widening in the market for an incredibly prestigious business awards programme. So, using my experience and with the support of my partner and family, I took the risk and set up the British Business Excellence Awards. I spoke to every one of my contacts and they all joined me on the journey and supported me. Most of all, the team at Lloyds Bank were incredibly supportive – not only have they agreed to support the event as Headline Partner, but they also supported me personally by simply asking me if I was OK! I was a new business owner in incredibly unusual times and I can confidently say that Lloyds Bank do practice what they preach – they are here to stand by the side of business.

What has been the biggest challenge starting your own business?

Starting a business is incredibly daunting and exciting at the same time. I am a person that likes processes and spreadsheets and a good list to work to… I felt that I didn’t have that list to hand, and it was hard to know what to focus on first. 

In a ‘normal’ year this might have been a slightly easier venture, but with such heavy restrictions on events, I had to identify what was really the main priority. We have all had such uncertainty over the past 18 months but one thing I am sure of is that human nature wants us all to get back together and to celebrate all that we have learnt from this challenging time.

One thing you love and one thing you find challenging about being your own boss?

One thing that I adore about being my own boss is that myself and my team will be the ones that reap the benefits of our labour – not a shareholder’s report. I love being able to make decisions quickly, be creative with the event programme and not have to answer to others.

On the flip side of that however, there are certain challenges that are definitely magnified beyond belief. I have a toddler and being a working mum and business owner definitely has some trying days – for example if the little one is ill then I am left with no childcare due to COVID-19 rules. I am sure that many people can relate to this issue and like me, they find it hard to do Zoom calls with a crying toddler in the house!

If you could travel back in time and give some advice to your younger self, what would it be?

A few people have asked me this recently and its hard to answer because I am a believer that everything happens for a reason. Looking back at my events career as a whole… I am so glad that I used every single opportunity that was available to me, I am a firm believer that hard work pays off and always remember that first impressions are incredibly important!

When I look back over the last six years in particular, I wish I had been a little more outspoken about my beliefs and experiences about gender equality. I have been in meetings where I have not said how I truly feel in fear of being branded as a raging feminist. Well now, I would be proud to be known as a feminist and I wish I had said more to call out wrong doings. My advice to myself would be more confident in voicing your opinion about what you believe in.

Finally, someone said to me around two years ago that the minute you leave the safe confines of a big company, you realise how valuable your own talent and skillset is to others. Now two years later, I couldn’t agree more. I think we can all agree that the way we procure business opportunities in 2021 has changed and people buy into people now more than ever. Launching the Lloyds Bank British Business Excellence Awards threw me into action to start standing up for what I believe in – resilience, innovation, sustainability, diversity, equality and celebrating business excellence.