Theo Paphitis SBS Event 2019

On 1st October 2018, we were lucky enough to get that golden #SBS retweet from Theo Paphitis. Having entered every Sunday for what had seemed like forever we celebrated by jumping around the kitchen screaming for a good five minutes, followed by texting every person we knew. In the meantime our phones blew up with constant new follows, likes and retweets…

For those of you who have no idea what we’re talking about (and those of you who do), this week’s blog post will try to explain what #SBS is, and give you an insight into the best day of our year so far - the SBS Event 2019, held at the ICC Birmingham on Tuesday 12th February.


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what is sbs?

SBS, AKA Small Business Sunday is an initiative started by Theo Paphitis in 2010. Every week Theo encourages small businesses to tweet him, describing their business and summarising why they should be chosen in just 280 characters!

Every Monday at 8pm Theo then reviews all entries and retweets his favourite six. With a retweet going out to Theo’s 500,000 twitter followers, plus a place at the annual SBS event up for grabs, winning is a big deal!

We immediately noticed increased followers and engagement on our social media channels, which we’re positive has led to increased sales and brand awareness in the long run!

Top Tips for entering SBS:

- Persevere! We lost count of how many Sundays we carefully crafted our 280-character business pitch, and every Monday we had to review what we could do differently the next week. The sheer number of entries validates exactly why an SBS win is worth every minute spent pouring your business into a single tweet.

- Keep it simple! This goes without saying when you only have 280 characters, but try and think about what it is that really sets you apart and is your ‘USP’ and focus on that. Remember Theo reads hundreds, if not thousands of entries a week, so try your best to hone in on what makes you different from the rest!

- Use pictures! They say a picture paints a thousand words and we found that where we were lacking with characters we could tell our story through the four pictures we were able to include in our tweet.

- Do your research! Now without wanting to sound like stalkers or cheats, we did our research and found that Theo is himself based in Surrey, so we used this information to our advantage and included a picture of our Surrey candle to grab his attention.


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#SBSevent2019

For us the most exciting thing about winning SBS was our invitation to the annual SBS events, where we could meet 700+ like-minded small business people, as well as the man himself!

Having just come back from our first of hopefully many SBS events we are blown away by the community Theo has created. The event is completely free (thanks to the amazing sponsors Robert Dyas, Ryman, DHL, Autumn Fair, ilaw and Webroot), held at the ICC Birmingham every year.

On arrival we were given the opportunity to have a new head shot taken at the HP Photozone and were immediately blown away by the scale of the event - over 700 small business owners attended and there was a noticeable buzz in the room.

Super helpfully the hall is marked with huge coloured balloons which mark out which industries you can network with at each. Our giant pale pink balloon (gifts and shopping) was thriving with creative makers and shop owners and for those people we didn’t get a chance to speak to we took advantage of the business card swap.

The great thing about the event is that once you’re ‘in the crew’ you’re invited to attend every year, so it was fantastic to meet some businesses who have been through the SBS journey for up to 8 years now, and also some like us who were first-timers.

After a cuppa (and a couple of biscuits) it was time for our pre-booked ‘meet the experts’ slots…


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meet the experts

Our first 10 minute slot was with Rob Hayes, Key Account Director at the Autumn Fair. Having just come back from our week at the Spring Fair it was amazing to gain insight from the organisers as to how to increase trade show success and what to do differently next time!

Our next slot was with the Senior Buyers at Robert Dyas, and what an amazing 10 minutes it was! We’d taken along a couple of our candles (of course - do we ever go anywhere without our children?!) and it was absolutely invaluable to get their feedback on our products. By pure luck we’d taken along our Surrey candle, where they were both based and the soothing scents of English Lavender and Chamomile worked their charm! We came away with practical, actionable advice from a huge retailer, and more confidence to go after the big boys!

It was then time for Theo to officially open the event, and what a fantastic job he did. Cool as a cucumber, charming and funny he was totally honest and open, telling us all to “just bloody go for it”!


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let’s talk tech…

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a total technophobe, so I was really looking forward to the presentations by Webroot and Google (I need all the help I can get after all!).

Webroot explained the importance of digital security and gave us all practical tips on the steps we can take to ensure our business’, and more importantly our customers’ data is never left exposed.

Next Raja Saggi, Head of SME Marketing at Google presented on Digital Best Practice for Marketers. With Google being the complete enigma that it is, it was incredible to hear actionable tips ‘from the horses mouth.’ Scribbling notes the whole way through this talk, we’ve come away with a list of action points which, with any luck, will improve our website loading speed, conversion rate and ultimately Google ranking.

Thank you Raja!


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sir tom hunter, the star of the show!

After a delicious lunch (and a glass of wine or two) it was time for the main event - Theo in conversation with Sir Tom Hunter. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Sir Tom’s work:

Like the smallest of #SBS winners he started out selling trainers from the back of his van… His business, Sports Division, grew to become one of the biggest sports retailers of the 1990s. It was sold to his rivals JJB Sports in 1998 for £290 million. He was knighted in 2005 for services to entrepreneurship and philanthropy. From trainer salesman to Scotland’s first homegrown billionaire…”

You could feel the room wait with bated breath, ready to learn the secret to becoming a billionaire from two of the most successful business men in the UK. As soon as it got going though it was as if we were all mates down the pub having a chat. It was refreshing to see how relaxed Theo and Tom were with each other, and Tom gave a totally honest and inspiring down-to-earth account of his business journey to date.

The story that stuck with us is the one where Sir Tom described his first meeting with a large retailer. Following the collapse of his father’s business due to the recession Tom had begun selling trainers from a market stall. He’d decided that trainers (relatively new at the time) would go well with jeans, so had contacted just two retailers to offer his services with putting some trainers into their stores. He got a reply from one and drove to meet them, coming away with the contract for concessions in three large stores. On the drive home he thought (in his words, not mine) “shit, where am I going to get the trainers from?!” Needless to say he made it work, with some help from his Dad and the bank and some incredibly good luck and hard work. The rest, as they say, is history…

The reason that struck a chord with us is because from the beginning we’ve always lived by the mantra of “fake it till you make it” - work hard and go for it and the rest will come! It gave us the confidence to come away and decide that we aren’t too small to pitch to anybody, and to go after the contracts we want to allow us to grow!


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the man himself…

To close the show it was then time for this year’s winners to collect our certificates and have a photo with the man himself, Theo Paphitis.

Having not received a certificate since graduation, it felt amazing to be awarded with something tangible which affirms the hard work we’ve put in throughout our first year. As small business owners it’s very rare you find the time to give yourselves a pat on the back or reflect - it’s always onto the next one straight away!

Theo couldn’t have been friendlier (even when I did have to point out that we’d have to swap positions to get the photo from ‘my good side’)! It’s clear to see the passion he has for SBS and we felt he genuinely wanted to hear about our day and wants every attendee to get the most out of their experience.

We cannot thank him enough for having us, we really do feel that our first SBS event was just the tip of the iceberg - the community is full of such brilliant, like-minded contacts that we feel the possibilities really are endless!

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Hannah Spinks