'My first time at a business awards event'

For some business owners, the Optus My Business Awards 2016 was the first time they attended a business awards event. It was also a first for me – so, as a newcomer, what was it like?

There are over 2 million SMEs in Australia. It’s hard to grasp how big that number really is until you attend a business awards event.

I hadn’t quite prepared myself to see so many people there, and it was awe-inspiring: all these business owners in one place, mingling, sipping champagne, laughing. The sheer number of business owners in the one place really bowled me over: there were over 50 tables, and they were packed.

A photo of tables at the Optus My Business Awards 2016One would think such an event could be quite an isolating experience – sitting among 500 complete strangers, most of whom operate in different industries and different regions from yourself. However, it was clear early on that this wasn't the case. Instead, there was a tangible sense of community, of camaraderie, and a willingness to engage with, learn from, and congratulate others on their achievements.

Having had the opportunity to mingle and chat with many in attendance, there were clear commonalities evident among the business owners there: a genuine love of what they do and the customers they serve; a consciousness of the rapid technological changes affecting their businesses, combined with a realisation of how, with an innovative mindset, they could embrace these changes for the benefit of both their customers and their own bottom lines.

Discussions centred heavily around cash flow and access to working capital, competing against much larger players and the everyday challenges of people management. Yet at every table, these discussions were much more than merely crying on each other's shoulders – people were sharing their own experiences and approaches to dealing with these issues.

One business owner I spoke with talked about how many operators in his particular industry – and possibly further afield – inadvertently become too centred on what their competitors are doing, rather than hunkering down to focus on providing the best from within their own business.

I also spoke to the owner of a services business about how they are actively looking to engage more closely with other SMEs as a means of growing their business, and how the personal connections forged at events such as this are much more valuable than any advertising or marketing efforts.

Then there were the empowering speeches from the winners – the young real estate agent from Victoria who built her business from nothing, having already lost her parents and her grandparents; the entrepreneur who built a business with a $50 million turnover in just five years. These are inspiring real-life stories that, unless you attend events like this, you simply miss out on.

It’s not every day that more than 500 business owners and SME supporters are in the one space – that's a really broad and diverse range of expertise to share. I'm confident many people walked away from the evening not just having had a fun night out on the town, but having also grown their professional network, expanded their potential customer pool, found inspiration from someone overcoming significant adversity, or even identified ways to enhance their business offering and their ways of working.

So in a way, everyone present was a winner that night, regardless of whether they left with a trophy in hand.

Sasha Karen, Momentum Media

I hope to see you all next time!

Sasha Karen is the content coordinator at My Business.

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