#SBS lessons learned from Theo Paphitis

FLDC #SBS Badge_2Last Friday some 800 representatives of businesses that have won weekly Small Business Sunday Awards since 2011 (#SBS on Twitter) as chosen by famous business dragon Theo Paphitis, travelled to Birmingham’s ICC.

We were all there to attend a full day’s programme of events including networking, presentations, a question time session and the opportunity for newbies to collect their award certificate and have a photo taken with Theo.

Let’s be quite clear, this was January, with snow on the ground (and horizon), some travelling as far as Cornwall and Guernsey and often solo which can be a daunting prospect for many. Such was the evident determination of so many to celebrate the #SBS Winners Day 2015 in good company.

Whilst others will undoubtedly write about the day itself, the fab cakes, the packed goody bags, generous sponsors Ryman, Robert Dyas, Boux Avenue, Red Letter Day and iLaw, I wanted to write about the lessons I learned whilst the memory and inspiration still lingers fresh…


1/ Everyone’s a Winner

A winning philosophy is very powerful. We are all #SBS Winners and members of an elite club. Newcomers are welcomed and congratulated. We all know other businesses that want to be part of this family but haven’t made the cut yet (keep trying…). We were treated like winners on the day.

All this puts we winners in a good mood and in good company. Everybody loves being recognised for their business efforts…

And yes, the event was free so we won on that score too.

The sponsors WILL win too (even if they didn’t have a choice, perhaps…), we winners WILL go on to bigger and better things and ultimately Theo WILL cherrypick the best winning businesses to work with/invest in (?), ahead of others.

That’s an all round WIN WIN philosophy and one well worth considering in my business.

2/ The Importance of a Website

Chris Wheeler launched the new #SBS Winners website that his company Metalfrog Studios has developed in record time. This is a huge leap (frog?) forward and is going to make a big difference to all #SBS Winners. We can all add offers, news and blogs and the website is fully SEO’d to make sense of this. That’s very impressive, it’s free and it’s exclusive to all #SBS Winners.

The significance of a website was also touched upon during the Q and A session when someone asked whether to invest a limited budget in a website or social media.

‘You need both’ replied Theo.

I agree from experience. So many small businesses in the motor industry still rely on the likes of online directories that tie them in to a domain address they don’t own, instead of investing in a website and domain they can control. Knowing that anyone can open a garage in the UK and that mechanics don’t have to be licensed to repair cars (with all the rip off and safety implications) the ONLY surefire way for motorists to steer clear of the cowboys is to choose a business with a professional looking website, demonstrating a clear commitment to customer service and every conceivable sign of measurable quality… And you won’t find the cowboys using Twitter or LinkedIn…

3/ How To Play the Long Game

Even Theo admits he didn’t get everything right to begin with. Phew, not just me then. But let’s see how he is helping us all to make more of a success of our business so we are more likely to payback in some way in future. In addition to a much improved website mentioned before, here are a couple of excellent examples…

#SBSWinnersHour run by the remarkable Angela @PearlySmith – driving awareness and attention to the #TheoPaphitisSBS website for us all to benefit from

#SBSAngels– a new opportunity in May 2015 for #SBS Winners to pitch to a combination of business angels, banks, venture capitalists and the like. Described as speed dating for money, businesses will have 5 minutes to make their case and amazingly will be offered money there and then (terms apply). This sounds like good TV in the making to me…

4/ Dreams vs the small business reality

judy_naakeYes, we all want to be as successful as the wonderful Judy Naake – turning c£4000 set up monies into a £70 million windfall in just 11 years. If only getting St Tropez to that stage had been at all easy…

The reality is very different reminded Theo.

“We start by feeling privileged to work for ourselves and can’t believe our good luck but the reality soon dawns – hard work, long hours, tears and untold shit with dead fire certainties never coming off…”

Who doesn’t identify with that!

5/ Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth

I am not a fan of The Sun. Why would I be when I have been offended by Page Three for most of my life, even if some women are prepared to model there for money.

But now that The Sun is going to do something special to do with #SBS (says Theo) will I want to be involved? Of course I will. And I can justify this now because it does seem that we’ve kicked Page Three into touch.

Just imagine! #SBS Winners on Page Three of The Sun instead – that’d be SUCH a result for a feminist like me, even if 000s of men are mourning the loss of their daily titbits. Bless…

6/ Traditional Marketing Works Too

This was an excellent point well made by Julien Callede from Made.com. We might run online businesses (as many #SBSWinners do) but to communicate a message to as wide an audience as possible Made.Com found that offline could be as, if not more, effective than online but it usually involved discounting and measuring sales by using voucher codes.

I should know – most of my living room furniture comes from Made.Com and I love it.

7/ The Value of a Good Business Story

Few have as compelling a business start up reason as GandysFlipFlops founder Rob Forkan after losing both parents in the Sri Lankan tsunami 10 years ago. Clearly not an event he wants to be reminded about on a regular basis yet Rob and his co-founder brother Paul had to decide whether they wanted to tell the world about this.

Gandys’ strapline of ‘Orphans for Orphans’ gives us all a clue about their situation and aspirations, explaining the link between flip flops (other products to follow) and building children’s homes…

Not only does it make sense telling a story that’s relevant to what you do, this can then become a business culture. It’s well worth visiting their website to see how this has moved on. Do read the bit about their finding the right investor for the future…

8/ Words of Wisdom on the Day

“You make your own luck.” Theo

“Shout about your business. From the rooftops.” Theo

“I owe it all to Victoria Beckham…” Judy Naake, Founder of St Tropez (ask her about David’s role at some stage and her stories about the many celebrities she has tanned herself…)

“Take something and do it better.” Julien Callede of Made.Com

“Not just a charity, we wanted a business to reflect our parents’ philosophy.” Rob Forkan of Gandys Flipflops.

A wonderful day, lots of business advice for me to adapt and new business friends to nurture to mutual effect.

Thank you Theo and the #SBScrew who perfectly reflected your business values through what was, for them, a long and very busy working day.