In opening the My Business Awards on Friday night, I spoke about how inspiring the SME community is in building and creating opportunities for so many Australians.
But all too often, the efforts of the self-employed go unnoticed and underappreciated — even by themselves.
Throughout the night and since then, I have had numerous business owners say that my words really resonated with them, about the day-to-day pressures of running a business and how the self-employed can draw hope and inspiration from one another, as well as from themselves and their own accomplishments.
In a bid to help other business owners take a step back and appreciate their own efforts in building a business, creating jobs and supporting all the families — including their own — who rely on that business for their livelihood, I wanted to share the speech with other My Business readers.
It’s a really tough gig to run a modern business, with so many inputs and demands on your time and energy. But it’s worth remembering why you do so, the scale of the impact you make and the often unspoken admiration others have for your efforts.
I hope that, having read this, you take a moment to celebrate your triumphs, admire your hard work, and get back in touch with yourself — because success is worth celebrating.
My Business Awards 2019 opening speech:
Well, welcome everyone! It’s fantastic to see you all here tonight — dressed in your best. Here to celebrate. Awash with excitement and nerves.
You know, speaking of nerves, people often ask me whether, as a journalist, I get nervous interviewing high-profile people. The answer is... sometimes, a bit. There is a certain amount of awe when speaking one on one with, say, an accomplished sports star; a degree of professional self-consciousness when interviewing a TV presenter; and I have to admit you can find yourself mentally poring over your most recent tax return when speaking with a senior figure from the Tax Office!
But in all honesty, it’s moments like this that make me most nervous. Because I can tell you from experience, it’s not necessarily the rich and famous who are the most inspiring. When it comes to inspiring people, you need look no further than those sitting in this room.
Collectively, our finalists in these awards — all of you here tonight — employ a lot of people. 6,614 people to be exact. That’s over six and a half thousand jobs that have been created by you.
With an average household in Australia comprising 2.6 people, that means the businesses here tonight directly support 17,196(.4) Aussies by having invested in and built up your businesses. That’s pretty impressive!
There’s no doubt that your families and loved ones, even though they may not say it regularly, are incredibly proud of you and your efforts. Take, for example, this nomination we received for this year’s awards:
“I came to Australia in 1998, we fled the Yugoslavia war; I wanted to give my daughter [the] best life in Australia. My daughter learned English and finished university in 2015. She opened a business with $2,000 — the first company in Sydney to do this kind of work. If and when you meet her, you will never forget her. She has amazing and pure energy. Whatever she puts her mind to, she can do.”
That’s a pretty proud dad!
Or there was a woman I saw at another awards event recently, in the lobby, by herself, with her back to me but clearly sobbing while on the phone. Now, I started approaching her to see if she was alright. But as I did, she turned in my direction and I saw that she was actually beaming. And she says down the line, while wiping her eyes, “Mummy did it, she won! It’s all been worth it.”
But it’s not just your families who admire what you do.
Take a look at the many entrepreneurs who inspire one another — rather than shying away and hiding their mistakes, embarrassments and low points, they stick their necks out to openly share them, so that others may learn from them.
At last year’s awards ceremony, for example, I spoke about the unfortunate experience of one business leader — a previous winner of the My Business Awards, I might add — who fell off a stage in spectacular fashion, in front of many of her peers. But after composing herself, she took to the microphone and said, “Well, that’s what running a business is all about — you fall, you pick yourself up, you learn from the mistake and keep going.”
Then there was the real estate principal who had a lesson in paying attention to the details, after receiving a panicked call from someone at the open house they had just run. He had forgotten to check that everyone had left and inadvertently locked the prospective buyer in the backyard.
For me personally, one of the most inspiring and moving interviews I’ve ever done was earlier this year with someone, self-employed, who revealed in great detail his mental health struggles.
I was actually fighting back the tears listening to the struggles that pushed him so low that he thought there was no other way out. But then I found myself fighting back more tears — tears of sheer wonder and amazement and joy — when he moved onto describing the lengths he has gone to recover from this, the steps he has taken to improve and safeguard his mental health, and the profound turnaround this has had in reshaping his life. He voluntarily put such an intimate experience out into the public domain, because he selflessly wanted to help others — particularly other business owners — who may be feeling isolated and lost, to find hope and encouragement.
And so that’s why I get so nervous about moments like this. Because I am standing here in front of not just one or two, but literally hundreds of people who inspire, teach, support and lead by example.
So often as business owners and employers, you give first and put yourselves last. You work ridiculously long hours to ensure everyone else gets what they need and require.
And while it may feel lonely sometimes along the way, I can tell you that you are not alone.
Whether you are a multimillionaire tech entrepreneur or the local publican pulling beers behind the bar year after year, you are supported by so many others every single day. Your families are incredibly proud of you. Your employees look up to you. Your customers are grateful for you. And I for one am inspired by you and humbled to be able to share your stories with others.
So win, lose or draw tonight, please — take that message home with you. Because you’re all awesome, and you all deserve our congratulations and our admiration for the thriving, vibrant, successful businesses that you have created.