Just before Christmas, coming hot on the heels of my trip to Downing Street (courtesy of Small Business Saturday UK), I received news of two further business awards. One came from Jacqueline Gold MBE, CEO of Ann Summers, and focused on businesses run by women. The other came from Theo Paphitis, multimillionaire entrepreneur and self titled Shopkeeper.
Theo started his Small Business Sunday awards, hashtagged on Twitter as #SBS, in 2010 following, he says, an afternoon spent trying in vain to chat with his wife Debbie (affectionately called Mrs P). Bored and with nothing better to do, Theo came up with this idea to help promote the small businesses he believes are the future of the country.
Every Sunday thousands of businesses compete to be chosen by Theo as one of his six winners and join the prestigious networking group he has established. My turn came on October 16th.
I was astonished that Theo had chosen my business as one of the ones he would promote, thanks to the #SBS network and stunned when I discovered that I would be meeting Theo himself a bit further down the line.
Last Friday my husband Grant and I travelled down to Birmingham’s ICC to attend the 2018 #SBS convention. Many of the other businesses attending travelled down at least the night before and most were staying the night after – Grant and I had no choice but to travel there and back on the day. Work and family committments meant we just couldn’t afford to take more time off. However, Virgin Rail operated a straight through train from Carlisle to New Street Station which took three hours, so we were lucky enough to be able to squeeze such a prestigious day into just one day!
We arrived a little late, but just in time for the main event. The convention was free to attend, but must cost a pretty penny to put on. Thanks to the event sponsors the winners and their plus ones were treated to an amazing day in fantastic surroundings.
We heard from each of the sponsors, each sharing inspirational anecdotes, before Theo himself took the stage. I alwasy enjoyed watching Theo on Dragon’s Den and he came across exactly the same as he does there – honest, forthright and passionate about small business. Passionate to the extent that after fielding a few negative questions from the floor he told us to “Shut the f*** up!” and stop moaning about what can’t be achieved by small businesses. It was manna from heaven for someone like me who gets so annoyed by the constant downgrading of Dumfries by its inhabitants. His message was clear – small businesses are in a position today like no others before them. The internet has levelled the playing field between us and larger businesses. We need to take advantage of that and Be Big.
This idea was continued after lunch when his star guest John Roberts, founder of AO.com, talked to us about his business from a £1 bet start-up to its current Comet crushing status. AO.com has taken the same control of the market that Amazon has, utilising the internet to provide low cost goods direct to the consumer. The rise of AO.com is inspiring in itself, but the thing that got me was the down to earth attitude of its boss. His ideas on customer servce are what have really made his business what it is and it is this that resonated so much with me. John had told his staff to treat each customer as if they were their own granny and gave them automony to fix problems as they saw fit. It’s worked and AO’s reputation is second to none. This is such a small thing, but so very important. Too many companies have forgotten the importance of their customers and in choosing to be a friendly and approachable gallery, I’ve firmly declared that I haven’t!
During the day I met up with a few people I’d met before, such as Alister from Tillycroy Support Services, and some who I knew only through Twitter, such as Susan from Shop Scotland – below.However, the absolute highlight of the day came at the end, slightly before an excellent curry from Jimmy Spices on Broad Street. All of those of us who had been chosen as winners were individually greeted by Theo and presented with our winners certificate. How proud do we look?
Having experienced the day, I can’t wait to return next year – perhaps slighty more relaxed than I was this year and for slightly longer! Two words to some up the whole day?