Black tie events are thankfully a rare experience for me. Feeling more at home in jeans and a t-shirt, having to polish my smart shoes and iron a crisp white shirt only serves to induce a mild sense of anxiety. But some occasions call for that special sartorial effort.
Last Thursday evening was one such event. All dressed up with somewhere to go, my wife and I waved goodbye to the kids (with the parting comment from my mother-in-law that we both looked better dressed than we did for our wedding last year) and made our way to the Toast of Surrey Business Awards.
Entering and winning awards has long been a part of our marketing strategy at Informed Choice. Over the years we have enjoyed a reasonable amount of success in various industry awards, along with several notable occasions of crushing disappointment.
But these awards were different. Rather than put ourselves up in competition with our peers, we lined up for inspection against other businesses of all types across Surrey.
Surrey is a pretty big place. According to the blurb in the awards brochure, Surrey is the economic powerhouse of the South East.
The host of the awards explained there are more than 60,000 businesses in the county. Our ‘village’ of Cranleigh – technically a town with 12,000 residents but proudly called the largest village in England – managed to muster three finalists this year.
As the awards got underway, the tension built as the waiting staff forgot to bring any dinner to our table. Missing out on being fed was perhaps not the most auspicious start to an awards evening, leading some in our party to believe we were destined for bad news.
Would I be sharing this story if we had failed to walk away named winners of Best Company with Turnover Under £1m and the heaviest trophy I’ve had the pleasure of hoisting aloft in front of hundreds of inebriated businessmen and women? Probably not.
As the sponsor of our category revealed the exciting news and we made our long walk to the stage with beaming smiles, my marketing driven mind was already whirring with ideas for making the most of the victory. And of course thinking about how early I needed to get up the following morning after a long night of celebrations.
We enter awards to win, obviously. We also enter them to test ourselves against the best.
One important policy here at Informed Choice, which is embedded deeply within our corporate psyche, is to only ever enter awards which are impartial and thorough. That means a detailed application process, interviews from the judges with our team and clients, and challenging competition.
If we win, we know we deserve it. If we lose, which happens fairly frequently too, we value the feedback and get to work on improving any areas of weakness.
This culture of continuous improvement has served us well for the past 22 years. Being open to criticism and willing to get better at everything we do, regardless of how good we might think we are, takes a certain thickness of skin.
Entering awards is only one route to getting this valuable feedback. If we are to do a better job for our clients, year on year, then finding out how we need to improve is objective number one.