So you might have seen that I was recently a finalist in my local business awards. I want to thank everyone who voted for me and let you know that I didn’t win. But here’s what has happened – a lot of thinking.
I’ve ummed and ahhed about writing this piece, worried that I will upset the gorgeous awards team – that’s not my intention. They have done nothing wrong; this article is actually about me and my experience and thoughts about awards generally. I have also considered that people will see this as sour grapes – there’s nothing I can do about that. What convinced me was the number of hushed conversations I’ve had on the night and since – that shows me that my thoughts are not unique. So here goes, here are MY thoughts on business awards based on 7 years of experience.
Already a winner
Going into the awards my best friend, husband, and my closest clients all told me that I was already a winner. Originally, I shrugged it off as them being kind, wanting to say something in case I didn’t win. Here’s the thing, they were right.
On the night a colleague asked me what it meant to be a finalist. I said that it meant very little because I am always focused on the client in front of me. That makes me a winner.
A little after that, I ran into one of my coaching clients who is going through a short series of sessions. She gave me a massive hug and told me she was so excited that I was nominated and it was well deserved. That makes me a winner.
When I came off stage and I snuck past the head table to say hello to my friends, one quietly whispered, “I voted for you”. That made me a winner.
When a winner of another category searched me out to tell me that my former manager, and a friend of hers, had asked them to pass on their congratulations and best wishes. That made me a winner.
Looking back, I realise that my closest friends, family, and clients were right – I am a winner. I needed to trust them when they said it.
What do you get out of business awards?
On two separate occasions that night, I was asked, “so what do you get out of being a finalist or winner?”. One was a colleague, and one was a friend who runs multiple successful businesses. I said, “nothing other than ultimate bragging rights”.
Here’s the thing. They both agreed with me.
I admitted that for some prospective clients being an awards finalist or winner is important and can sway their decision. Let’s face it, it’s another form of third-party endorsement and I know they can be effective. I also said that I am likely to add it to my website for that very reason.
Thing is, after 7 years, I still haven’t had a client say that it was me saying that I was a nominee or finalist in a business award that swayed them to book. Why? That’s not how my business works. It’s me they want. They need to be convinced that I will work for them. Accolades are nice but they hold no more power than any other third-party endorsement I have on my site.
Money doesn’t always equal success
Every award application I’ve done has required me to disclose my financial position. I get it, there needs to be some objective measure of success. The thing is that income doesn’t always equal success.
A little after my first business award nomination, a number of high-profile female business coaches published their quarterly financials online. They listed their income (naturally) but also their expenses. While they were making seven and eight figures, they were barely profitable. One of them had also amassed a large credit card debt. One had spent most of their income on advertising to earn the income. As a business coach, I understand that debt is a way to manage cash flow. I also understand the role of marketing and paid advertising in client acquisition. I also understand the importance of having a profitable business, not just on business longevity but also on the stress underperforming businesses causes business owners. As a business coach, I can not condone income as a measure of success having seen a little behind the scenes of what is commonly accepted as success (I’m looking at you 7 figures).
When it comes to my business, I choose how much work I do, how many clients I take on. I’m in an extremely fortunate position that I do not need to generate a large income to benefit my family. The biggest benefit that my business affords my family is my ability to be present. Yes, I worked a desk job when my kids were little and even up until my youngest entered school – I understand that juggle/struggle too. It is actually why I left corporate. My family needed me. My success is based upon the wellness of my family, and boy have we had some struggles, but it’s how we come through it that demonstrates my success. Sometimes that means that my business gets put to the side and I have to reduce my activities to my Minimum Viable Product and I’m totally ok with that. Why? Because my success is not a function of my income.
Comparison and mental health
I want to address the elephant in the awards room. Comparison.
After spending a few days gathering my thoughts on this whole process, I came to the point that the comparison I wittingly put myself under was not good for my mental health. While I didn’t feel like a failure, worthless, depressed, I did feel a certain degree of ‘not enoughness’.
I’m not quite good enough
I’m not profitable enough
I’m not making enough
I’m not big enough
All of these chipped away at my confidence. Little by little.
I’d like to say that being told that I was “so close” helped. Although it was well-intentioned and heartfelt. It’s just another way I feel not good enough.
When your success is dependant upon how well you stack up against someone else there is likely to be a degree of not-enoughness.
What concerned me was when I was talking to another friend and multi-award winner she said that she pulled out of the award process for this very reason, the impact comparison has on her mental health. While I know that some people don’t feel the same, I also know that others don’t. It’s for those of us who feel the sting of not-enoughness, even though we know we are successful, through the comparative nature of awards that I write this.
So what advice would I give myself, as a client, to overcome not-enoughness?
Firstly to look at the story I’m telling myself and then look at the facts. I hope you can see that from the above, there are few contemporary facts to support my story. I need to rewrite my story based on the facts.
I can also consider what triggers the story and what I can do about that. I needed to consider if it was the awards process, being a finalist, or being at the awards that made me feel like this. I can say that neither being at the awards, being on stage, being photographed, nor the actual announcement made me feel like this. What I can say is that I procrastinated at writing and submitting my application and I loathed asking for votes as they all made me incredibly conscious of my ability in comparison with others. So it was the award application and the process leading to the award ceremony that was the catalyst, the evening just made it clear. So what advice do I have for myself? Based on experience and evidence, is it in mine or my business’ best interest to participate in business awards. Given all that I’ve written the answer needs to be, no.
Lifting up other women
I love women in business awards for raising the profile of our achievement. For celebrating us, especially those who aren’t ones to brag. To give us a safe place to be together. To give us our community.
I love celebrating the success of other business owners, especially women. I wouldn’t be much of a business coach if I didn’t.
Business awards play a special part in this.
What I encourage business owners is to go into the awards process wide-eyed about the impacts on them, their mental health, and their time (one friend mentioned that just one part of an award process was expected to take 16 hours to complete). Business awards will give short term accolades and third part endorsements – neither of which have a tangible value. Business awards can have a negative impact on mental health. Business awards are not mandatory. Business awards should not replace trusting what your audience says about you – this is the most important accolade you will ever receive.
Final word on business awards and me
In short, I’ve learnt some important lessons about myself. I’ve confirmed thoughts I’ve held for a number of years. I’m grateful for the nominations I’ve received and continue to receive (I received one as I wrote this) as it reinforces the story I tell myself about my achievement. That said, I’ve decided that for the foreseeable future I will no longer be applying for/accepting nominations for business awards. I’ve got more to celebrate than an award could ever recognise.