If 2011 was a tough year for UK companies of all sizes, there was still scope for those at the smaller end of the scale to buck the trend – as there always will be.

“The midmarket is a wonderful place because you can have these pockets of outperformance and of brilliance, with companies seizing an opportunity in what is a difficult market,” says Karsten Langer, a partner at Riverside, an international private equity firm that focuses on the lower end of the midmarket.

This outperformance is recognised each year by the PLC Awards, which laud the achievements of small and medium sized companies trading on the London Stock Exchange.

Mr Langer, who is also chair of the European Private Equity & Venture Capital Association (EVCA), says 2011 was a year of two halves. “There was a lot of optimism in the first half, and a belief that the economy was heading back to some sort of sustainable growth, but that was washed away by the summer storms.

“[Then] it was all about the euro crisis and the realisation that the problems of the economy as a whole were probably a lot deeper than had been thought in the first half of the year.”

Small and medium sized companies can be more affected by such conditions than their larger counterparts, he says, because they may have a more concentrated customer base or be more subject to individual events.

But, because of their size they do not reflect the market average: “If they have a brilliant product that is well priced, they might grow even when economic conditions are difficult or overall growth stagnates.”

The PLC Awards’ Company of the Year for 2010, Domino Printing Sciences, is a case in point. The Cambridge-based producer of coding and printing technologies continued to flourish last year, delivering a 5 per cent rise in sales and record profits for the year ended October 31.

It was Domino’s 33rd year of sales growth, and reflected a strong performance from new products, increased investment in sales and service capacity to fuel growth and market share gains. The year also saw a $50m (£32m) investment in a new company that will develop proprietary food safety and traceability technologies for the US egg industry.

The awards’ judges have been looking for similar achievements and forward thinking from the entrants for the 2011 PLC Awards, which mark the 26th year of a programme founded by Ian Restall and sponsored since the start by PwC. The aim is to recognise those companies that have achieved something for shareholders and customers over the long term rather than for brief periods only.

As in previous years, Financial Times readers have the opportunity to help choose the winners of seven of the awards by using the voting form below. Nominations from the public were whittled down to shortlists of four companies per category by a panel of fund managers, brokers and other City professionals last week.

The winners of these seven awards – which cover calendar 2011 – are chosen via a 50-50 split between the views of the panel and the public vote.

The two other categories that make up the PLC Awards – Best Performing Share (sponsored by Winterflood Securities) and Best Performing Smaller Company Fund (sponsored by Espirito Santo Investment Bank) – are chosen on the basis of performance alone. For full descriptions of all the Award categories, please visit www.plc-awards.co.uk.

There are one or two familiar names on the shortlists but plenty of new ones, too. Renishaw, winner of the 2010 Best Technology award for its precision measurement systems, is back on the shortlist for that category again. TelecityGroup, shortlisted in both Best Investor Communications and Achievement in Sustainability for 2010, is up for the main Company of the Year award this time round – as is NCC, whose chief executive, Rob Cotton, was shortlisted for Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010.

As for the other two companies shortlisted for 2011 Company of the Year, Croda International makes it for a second year running, while Oxford Instruments was shortlisted for Best Technology a year ago.

Otherwise, it is an entirely new list of companies this year, compared with 2010, illustrating the diversity of the UK’s small and medium sized company sector.

The Achievement in Sustainability category saw the number of nominations double, to 20, and was the one section where changes have been made to the shortlist selection process. A new scoring system has been introduced based on seven improved indicators of sustainability – risks, opportunities, governance, strategy, impacts beyond the business, stakeholder engagement, and key performance indicators (KPIs) and targets – with the aim of illustrating the maturity of sustainability thinking and reporting.

You have until Friday, February 10 to vote, either by using the form (download pdf) or at www.plc-awards.co.uk.

The winners will be announced on March 1 at the PLC Awards dinner in London, in front of some 1,500 guests at the Grosvenor House Hotel. The results will be published in the FT’s Mid-Market Companies special report on Friday, March 2.

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