The #SBS club has 2,256 winners as of Friday 23rd February 2018. But what is #SBS? It stands for Small Business Sunday and was started by Theo Paphitis in October 2010 when he was feeling a bit bored after a Sunday lunch.
Theo was constantly being ‘pitched to’ and he wanted to help small businesses so it made sense to set up a time and place to do that. So, it’s on Sunday evenings 5-7.30pm. The winners are chosen each Monday and Theo sends a tweet to his 506k followers at 8pm to announce the six winners that week. Twitter goes crazy. There have been 329,000 applications since it started in 2010.
Theo says, “Small Business Sunday was born so that people have a specific time slot to tweet and can pitch their ‘sell’ directly to me.”
You probably know Theo from his time on the TV programme, Dragons’ Den, but he calls himself a shopkeeper. He is Chairman of Ryman Stationery, Boux Avenue Lingerie, Robert Dyas, and London Graphic Centre.
There is an annual event where Theo invites all the winners to meet, network, and have the opportunity to have their photo taken with him.
This year’s event has just taken place at the ICC in Birmingham. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything as it is a great opportunity to meet like-minded business owners and book 1:1s with Theo’s team from his various businesses.
For me, meeting the buyers from Robert Dyas was invaluable, especially as one specialised in gardening. Perfect. I was able to show them Border in a Box, talk about my ideas on various aspects of the business as well as receive feedback from a commercial perspective. The first comment was, ‘I was expecting wall paper’! The other buyer said it looked like a tin of stationery. You might be thinking I would be put off by these comments. Actually I found them insightful, especially coming from a male perspective. We talked about the contents, marketing, where I should focus – all things that I’m currently working on. So my brain was buzzing after my 10 minute discussion as we covered a lot of ground (no pun intended).
As I walked down the stairs, I was talking through the conversation with my business-buddy and as we stood at the bottom, we were approached by one of the team who hurried us into joining the business speed-dating sessions. We were completely taken by surprise and felt very awkward being plonked in front of a total stranger. However, as luck would have it, I met the Head of E-Commerce for Rymans. Although I felt totally unprepared for our conversation, it went well and it was another insightful chat. This time focused on selling on Amazon. I left with great tips on how to enhance my pages on Amazon – brilliant!
My next speed-dating session was with the Marketing Manager for Robert Dyas. I couldn’t believe my luck! As soon as I sat down, I showed her my tins and she looked up my website as I chatted about what BiaB was all about. She loved my branding and talked about how attractive the packaging was and that her mum would love it too. Another brilliant conversation and more ideas on how to market my product.
So, within the first hour of arriving at #SBS, I had many fabulous ideas and new plans on how to improve various aspects of my business. I couldn’t believe how helpful and engaging these people were.
Insights and perspectives
Kypros Kyprianou, Ryman CEO, opened the event and introduced the sponsors on stage – iLaw, Hewlett-Packard, Robert Dyas, 123 Reg, DHL, Square, and Western Union.
Next, the man himself. Theo was mesmerising and talked through the results from their survey of the winners:
- 54% are sole traders
- 82% are feeling optimistic about the future
- 42% worry about cashflow.
Theo then opened the floor to questions and after a few people had spoken he suddenly said, “Shut the f**k up! I don’t want to hear negative comments about being small. A small business will win my business as I know I will get extra special service from them.” That told us! To be fair, we needed a kick up the backside and to be reminded how amazing small businesses are and that we can offer something in addition to the big businesses we compete with.
Next on stage was Stephen Cheliotis, the CEO of Superbrands. In a nutshell, Superbrands commissions independent research to identify the UK’s leading brands http://www.superbrands.uk.com/
It was a thought-provoking presentation. One of the slides was a quote from Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon:
“Your brand is what other people say about you when you’re not in the room”
It certainly made me think about Border in a Box differently. Theo said that no matter what size of business you are, you can compete with larger corporate brands by being professional and by treating customers well. He went on to say that:
- small businesses have the flexibility to change with the times
- they are disrupters and
- we weald more power than we think we do.
The lunch break arrived which gave more opportunities to network, speed-date with the brand and marketing experts, chat with the sponsors, and also to play games to win some great prizes.
I also went to a presentation by Stuart Myers – what an inspiration. He was born in 1982 without arms. He talked about his life growing up and overcoming the tasks we all take for granted such as learning to drive. He described himself as just an ordinary guy, married with 2 kids, a house, a car, and a career. https://www.schoolspeakers.co.uk/speaker-listings/stuart-myers
In the afternoon was a ‘fireside chat’ with AO.com’s John Roberts. I had no expectations of this session but, wow, what a story. It all started over a drink on Christmas Eve in 1999 when he bet a friend £1 that he could change the world of white goods retail. In 2014 they completed an IPO valued at £1.2bn. He talked through everything including a funny story about recording background noise at a friends’ call centre, so whenever he got a call in his office he could replay it to make the caller think it was a much larger operation than it was. It was only 3 guys around a table in the early days. He also told us about sponsoring TV show ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ last year. The aim was to raise brand awareness and obviously increase sales. He said it was one of the worst deals ever as he spent his annual marketing budget in 6 weeks and saw no increase in sales. For me, that was a real eye-opener as it just shows no matter how much experience you have, what your budget is, you can still fall off a cliff.
John’s philosophy is all about customers – and he treats them like he would treat his Nan. He gives his staff complete authority to resolve the customers’ issues (within reason!) and he personally reads and signs the letters that are sent out to customers. He believes customer service is what sets AO apart.
John also gave us advice to be ‘fanatically anal’ about what works and what doesn’t work. Look at all the online information click by click.
Other nuggets included:
- Do your research – if you’re starting a new service/product, ask people for a review in exchange for a product sample
- Have 3 or 4 routes to market & pay for adverts
- Influencer marketing – find out who’s hot in your industry and get them to review your products & services
- Cash is King
Sadly, this was the last presentation of the day, however, it was also one of the highlights as I met Theo there and gave him a Border in a Box and had my photo taken with him.
So, if you’ve been thinking about tweeting Theo – do it! It was a brilliant day out and it’s so full of energy, which you can’t fail to absorb. The downside is my to-do list is longer, however, it has spurred me on to do more and I know Border in a Box will be even better. Watch this space!
(I hope Theo loves his Border in a Box…
official photos available shortly)
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