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Life is what you make of it: An Interview with Theo Paphitis

By Thomas Costello - February 17, 2017

Theo Paphitis has helped thousands of businesses to grow and succeed. From offering advice on social media to giving huge sums of investment, Paphitis is arguably the UK’s number one champion of small businesses. He is also one of the UK’s most recognisable, having appeared for 7 years on Dragon’s Den – again offering huge amounts of investment to help small businesses realise their potential.

Always keeping up with the times, in October 2010, this advice went digital. He set up the hashtag #SBS on Twitter, giving small businesses the opportunity to tweet him @theopaphitis and showcase their business between 5 pm and 7 pm on a Sunday.

Each year, each week’s winners are invited to the annual #SBS conference, held at the ICC in Birmingham. The event, which has been sponsored by 123 Reg for the past two years, gives small businesses the chance to learn from other successful entrepreneurs, meet sponsors and ask questions about the things that are holding their business back. Led by Theo himself, the #SBS brand has harnessed an incredibly strong and enthusiastic community of businesses at varied stages of their business journey. This year, 123 Reg joined DHL, iLaw, Red Letter Days, Robert Dyas and Ryman at #SBS2017.

To help other small businesses, 123 Reg sat down with Theo to learn a bit more about the importance of the #SBS community. In the video below, Theo offers his advice on the changing digital landscapes and how small businesses can grow and succeed in ever-changing times. The full interview can be found below:

Theo, you are well known for being a supporter of small businesses, but why is it you’re so passionate about small companies?I’ve always been passionate about small businesses because I still consider myself being part of that world – that’s how I started. I started ‘one man and his dog’ as they say, in a little cubicle in a small office and I have gone through all that pain of growing a business, finding the ability to be scalable the reversals you have in business and the difficulties you have in business. From growing a business to taking on your first employee and those experiences never leave you. No matter how successful you are, they never leave you. Every time I see a small business I am incredibly proud and it reminds me so much of myself and I wish someone was there for me when I started out.

Why did you decide to set up SBS and what do you think it brings to SMEs who get involved and the wider community?

Small Business Sunday, #SBS, started off in Mrs P’s kitchen. I had just started using and learning about Twitter and in the space of a few days, I had 20,000 followers. I thought, ‘heck!’ When I first started my business, if could have marketed to 20,000 people, the next year I could have been a millionaire! I had the power in my hand but actually, I don’t need them now, but other people do. So I thought wouldn’t it be great if other business out there, like me, prepare for the coming week on a Sunday night once the kids have gone to bed. Lots of businesses do that, you want to hit the ground running on a Monday. So Sunday night, kids are in bed, you start thinking about what you want to do. So, wouldn’t it be great if I gave them a leg up, or shared those 20,000 followers with them. So, the first 6 businesses who tweeted me, I retweeted them to my 20,000 followers! And it grew from there!

What does it do for a business who becomes a #SBS winner?

Becoming a #SBS winner means you go on the SBS website, you can join the SBS shop and sell your products through the SBS shop, and you get advice and help and importantly, PR advice. What’s great if that when you become a winner, you can go to your local paper and say you have been picked as an #SBS winner and there is a picture of your business. It knocks the cat stuck up the tree off the front page and you get the publicity. It can be whatever you make of it – you can work it as hard as you like or not at all. You get out, what you put it!

Can you talk about your life as an entrepreneur and what being an entrepreneur has meant for you as a person?

It’s too difficult to summarise in a few minutes how my life has become what it is by being an entrepreneur. I never set out to be one, it just happened. It happened because I was dyslexic, I couldn’t go and work for anyone, I couldn’t stay at school. There were lots of difficulties in my life. But lots of people find themselves in this position. As we heard on stage, the incredibly moving story of Jodie who started Gummy in her front room after a number of failed ventures. She was a high school drop-out, she felt everything she tried to do academically, and she had 27 jobs. She became an entrepreneur, failed but going again and becoming hugely successful. I think a lot of people find themselves in that position, and it’s what you make of it. For me, I had no other choices but to do it by myself. It didn’t always go sweetness and light and there were lots of reversals, but in life, you power on. I enjoy every last minute of it and I can’t think of ever wanting to do anything else!

What are they key traits that an entrepreneur needs to succeed?

To really succeed, an entrepreneur needs to have passion. If you are not passionate about what you do it is very unlikely that you will be successful in what you do. There are so many so many difficulties that get in your way and something needs to drive you to get over them and not give up. You really need to be passionate about what you are doing and want to succeed and drive yourself and see success as a measure, not just the money, but a measure of your own achievements. For me, every day that I get out of bed, it’s not to make money – that’s a scorecard. I want to do, what I want to do!

#SBS is digital, and we are in something of a digital revolution. What do you think the opportunities are in digital for small businesses?

We do live in a digital world. A number of people who ask me for career advice, especially kids and university students up and down the country. The first thing I say to them is to find what you are passionate about and if you can be in the world of digital you have wonderful opportunities every single day. If I started again, I would probably be eBay trading or finding products to sell on a website. No longer do you need 200 shops spread across the country to reach a customer. You can now reach a customer from your bedroom.

What has happened at #SBS2017?

We have had great fun, had incredibly motivational speakers who started from nothing and succeeded but had reversals along the way. We have spoken about 2016, we have talked about Brexit and the effect on small businesses. We have talked about sponsors and for businesses to ask for help. And most important, the fact that nobody is going to do it for you, you’ve got to do it for yourself!

Theo, thank you.