Theo Paphitis #SBS Event 2020 Celebrating 10 years

Theo Paphitis is celebrating the 10th anniversary of #SBS – a network of like-minded people who run small businesses. We are all proud to be part of the 3000 winners.

The annual event took place at the ICC in Birmingham on Friday 28th February. Everyone I spoke to and the social media posts I read afterwards all said the same thing -WOW what an amazing day, so much information was shared to grow our businesses and how inspiring all the presenters were.

So if you’re thinking ‘what is all this #SBS malarkey and why is it trending on twitter’ then read on and I’ll tell you about why I love it and how you can get to next year’s event.

Firstly the event is FREE, no charge to attend – please don’t think it’s a chance for Theo to sell his products to us, and get a sausage roll and luke warm cup of tea thrown in. NO! This is one of the best organised and useful events I’ve been to (and I’ve been to loads over the years) – its sponsored by Ryman, DHL, Robert Dyas, HP, Square, Western Union, Autumn Fair, iLaw and Nat West. Which means its professional and the presenters are world class.

Who did I meet?

SBS audience

The SBS Winners starting to take their seats first thing!

As this is my third event, I made a point of booking an appointment with the buyers at Robert Dyas as in the past they have been instrumental with providing advice on my product and retail in general. I was in IT for 20 years before designing and creating my business, so retail is all new to me and any insight and support is very welcome.

I showed them my new products which were about to launch on Not On The High Street and gained useful feedback. Such as the forthcoming legislation that my gardening snips would fall into (that I was completely unaware of) and I also gained advice on Christmas gifting, packaging and additional improvements. A great way to start my day.

I intended to go and join the ‘speed networking’ sessions for social media, ecommerce and marketing, where you can meet Theo’s team to get advice, but I kept bumping into people I knew and it was so nice chatting with them and catching up on their progress since we last saw each other. So I ran out of time.

There is so much to do in addition to networking, such as getting a new headshot photo (always useful) taken. Meeting the sponsors who were so helpful and as a sole trader you don’t always get the time to discuss everyday topics such as printing (thanks HP!).

The Main Event

What an agenda! First up it was an introduction by Kypros Kyprianou, the CEO of Theo Paphitis Retail Group who introduced Theo on stage.

Amazing stats:

  • #SBS has been supporting small businesses for 10 years
  • Over 400,000 #SBS applications
  • A network of over 3000 #SBS winners
  • Which equates to less than 1% of entries will win
  • 75% are female owned businesses
  • 23% started a business aged 45+
  • 6% were under 19 when they started
  • 52% are sole traders

Theo Paphitis Nikki Hollier Border in a Box SBS

Google Digital Garage – Priya Chauhan

This presentation was designed to help us become more visible on Google and enable our customers to find us easily. This session was packed with nuggets of information and my ‘To-do’ list has grown considerably.

  • Free digital online course –
  • Look at trends for your industry and see what the world/UK are searching for –
  • Create a business listing for free – Google My Business Account and create a Business Profile which lets you easily connect with customers across Google Search and Maps. If you work from home, you can click a button that says ‘don’t show my address’ – keeping ‘workers from home’ safe online!
  • Use Keyword search planner – this helps with potential customers trying to find you by adding those search terms to your website and content. Use short and long tail keywords. This can also help with paid ads and marketing.
  • Also keep information up to date, add in photos, virtual tours, respond to reviews (good and bad), show you care and show your personality.

Phew what an epic presentation. I loved it when Priya talked about when she moved into her new home and had no clue what to do with the garden. I hear you Priya, that happened to me and that’s why I started my business to help everyone achieve a gorgeous garden easily. No green fingered expertise required with my kits as I’ve done it all for you!

NatWest – Darren Pirie

This presentation was going to be an interesting one for me because I applied to their accelerator program when I first started Border in a Box. I got chatting to one of their advisers who works with Darren, at one of their social events. The ‘mentor’ kept saying over and over that he ‘didn’t get it’ and advised me to go and find another job/business as this was never going to work.

I don’t remember his exact words but I will never forget how I felt.

If I had followed his advice I would have missed out on some amazing opportunities such as #SBS, the WINN award for innovation (with £12k prize package), creating a show garden border at BBC Gardeners’ World Live at the NEC and winning Platinum, Best Border and being featured on TV by Mark Lane. Plus, many more, too long to list. Border in a Box is celebrating it’s third birthday this month.

So if you want to apply to join their free program here’s the link – there are many #SBS winners who rave about their hub –

MIND – Faye McGuiness

  • We all have the right to thrive at work.
  • Mental health can happen to anyone, and there is still a stigma and fear of what people think about us.
  • 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems
  • The cost to the economy is £42-45Bn a year
  • On average, for every £1 spent on supporting their staff’s mental health, employers get £5 back on their investment in reduced absenteeism and staff turnover

You can read more about Deloittes research here –

Faye MacGuinnes MIND SBS

Faye went onto say its important to create wellness action plans for ourselves as sole traders and our team members. So, to support our wellbeing we need to do two of these five things each week to improve our mindset.

  • Give
  • Keep learning
  • Be active
  • Take notice
  • Connect

LinkedIn – Charlotte Davies

Charlotte Davies LinkedIn SBS

I’ve been using LinkedIn for many years and used it to connect with clients and help with networking when I worked in IT. I love using it but when I became a garden designer all my contacts were in IT and I thought they wouldn’t want to hear about my new career. How wrong I was – I’ve had so many people message me and ask how I changed career and how much they love the respite from endless chat about IT and hear about gardens instead.

I definitely need to update my company page, which I’ve left hanging and simply focused on my personal page. I was also surprised to hear that we scroll 96 metres of content every day, which is more than the height of Big Ben. Which means it’s so important to create content that people are interested in.

Charlotte’s Tips:

  • Build your company story / show your brand
  • Post great content regularly
  • Create a content strategy
  • Don’t write spammy messages selling your business/services on the first connection

Fireside Chat – Theo Paphitis & Sara Davies

Sara Davies Theo Paphitis dragons den

What an inspirational afternoon.

If you don’t know who Sara Davies MBE is, she’s a British entrepreneur and the founder and owner of Crafter’s Companion, a company she started while a student at the University of York – she was 19. She joined Dragons Den in April 2019 as the youngest Dragon.

Sara’s parents were business owners, they own a hardware shop. There were no plans for her to take over the store, so she went to York University and gained a first-class honours degree.

Whilst at university Sara joined a small crafting company as her placement. She spotted a niche in the market to make envelopes to match crafters cards rather than using bog standard manila or white cards.

Sara went to her Dad (an engineer by trade) and between them they created the Enveloper. Sara was still at university when she set up her business and was turning over £500k by the time she finished her course.

The Enveloper was sold on TV shopping channel, Ideal World. Sara recounted the story of her investment in stock for the first show and how the purchase order was reduced from the original agreed amount and how that left her in a deficit. However, Sara sold all 8000 products, so all was well.

From a young age Sara was inspired by her parents, their hard work and family values. Sara wanted this for her family and have a career that was flexible around her family. Sara is now married with two children aged 3 & 6.

The harder she worked the more confident she became. She told us that she was at an event for an award and was one of 8 people shortlisted. She was the only woman and had a northern accent and was in the crafting industry, so she thought she had no chance. Obviously she won, and it was a sweet success.

Sara’s top tips for us

  • DON’T REDUCE YOUR PRICE – If you’re selling a service, do a little bit for free so the client can understand/see the return on investment.
  • If you want to sell on TV shopping channels but struggling to get noticed, create your own infomercial. Talk about why they need your product in their lives rather than lead with price.
  • Work hard
  • Be you
  • Don’t talk gender – she’s in business rather than a ‘businesswoman’
  • Focus on the positives and not beat yourself up over things not done

What an inspirational lady.

If you want to be part of next years #SBS event all you need to do is:

  • Follow @TheoPaphitis and @RymanStationery on Twitter.
  • Tweet about your business directed to @TheoPaphitis, adding the hashtag #SBS.
  • Tweet on a Sunday between 5.00-7.30 PM.
  • Having a website increases your chances of being noticed.
  • It helps to know the names behind the business. #SBS is for small businesses. The personal touch is liked.
  • Just tweet once in each weekly time slot.

See you there next year and claim your fabulous goody bag – the notebooks are brilliant!

SBS Goody Bag 2020


Platinum & Best Border show garden at BBC Gardeners’ World Live 2018 by Border in a Box

What goes into creating a Border in a Box product?

Border in a Box garden design worcestershire

What goes into creating a Border in a Box product?

Ever wondered what goes into making a product and how it gets to market? It’s something that never crossed my mind until I started my business a couple of years ago. It has been a steep learning curve and the amount of thought, energy and money that goes into all the ‘behind the scenes’ stuff was a bit of a shock, so let me share the journey and process with you…

Turning the idea into reality

I had a problem with the garden when I moved into my new-build property – I had no clue where to start! I didn’t know what plants would grow well, I didn’t know what plants would look good together and to make matters worse, I had next to no money.

So when I came up with the idea of a kit with a ready-made planting plan that detailed what plant goes where and a shopping list of what to buy, it was a simple idea that I thought would be easy to create and help everyone else in the same boat as me.

However, the initial designs took over six months and thousands of pounds of money to create and here’s why:

  1. Market assessment – had the product been created by another organisation? If so, was I reinventing the wheel or was it a new idea?
  2. Creating the contents – I had to come up with a list of plants for each design then draw all the plans. Everything had to be designed for someone with zero plant knowledge, skill or desire to research. It had to be a simple to follow plan that could be implemented in a day without a huge price tag.
  3. Sourcing suitable packaging that looked appealing and eco-friendly but also budget friendly – this turned out to be my biggest issue.

Once I had this information, I needed to turn my ‘scribbles’ of ideas into a product. This was beyond my skillset, which meant finding someone to work with who had the talent and expertise to help me.

Brand identity

I needed to find an amazing brand ambassador who could take my ideas and create a gardening gift – I wanted something that the recipient would love to receive and feel excited about creating their own garden.

This involved the creation of a logo, icons, fonts, colours and designing the packaging. I had no idea how much time, effort and money would go into this part of the process.

It was imperative to get this right as it would lead onto the creation of the website and product itself, so it’s a key part of the process and needed time to create. I also had to be mindful that more time spent with other designers, the costs increase. So as a sole trader, you have to be careful with your investments as it’s easy to get carried away and run out of cash in the early stages.

I also invested in protecting my intellectual property by trademarking my logo and joining ACID, which is an organisation who helps protect businesses like mine – they have some amazing lawyers who advise how to protect a brand and product. There are plenty of stories how David has taken on Goliath and won. So it’s worth the membership fees.

Cottage garden border in a Box Border in a Box cottage garden

Original packaging on the left replaced with new eco-style packaging on the right


Coming from an IT background I had no idea where to start with sourcing my packaging – I relied on internet searches and also my network who recommended various suppliers.

I expected to find ‘off the shelf’ suppliers for all my products to keep costs low, but nothing was suitable, so all the packaging has been designed and created to my standards. This all took a vast amount of time and increased the cost of the products due to being bespoke.

Everything I do, has to be good quality and beautiful. I currently create everything from my kitchen  table, so nothing is mass produced.  All of my suppliers are based in the UK and it’s all printed on FSC card and paper.

I also have to pay for everything up-front so juggling stock and sales is tricky – creating a new product means there is no sales history, so you have to guess how much stock you need to purchase. It’s also likely that it will cost more when buying small quantities.

Another area I hadn’t considered was how to post the gift to ensure the product arrives safely. This is one of my largest costs – at first the boxes were deep and cost £3.45 just in Royal Mail postage, which was without packing material costs or the time and expense it took going to the post office. I learned that it helps to create letterbox friendly product as it can reduce costs.

Marketing and PR

When I first started I went down the traditional route of advertising in magazines and I spent hundreds of pounds per advert but received zero orders. This had to change – I had to find a cost effective way to raise awareness.

Eventually I met a PR guru who provided (paid for) advice on how to get my brand out there. It was worth every penny and it enabled my meagre/non-existent budget to go further. Border in a Box has been featured in many glossy magazines, trade journals, national and local papers.

Border in a Box Country Homes and interiors magazine

Border in a Box featured in Country Homes & Interiors magazine

I write a lot – I never expected that I would write articles, blogs or website content, but it’s a large amount of my day-to-day work. It can be time consuming too – for example the regular newsletter I create will take at least a day or two per month. Choosing photographs and getting them re-sized to fit takes enormous amount of time, but I love doing it. It is something I could outsource, but it keeps me in touch with my clients and potential clients, which is important to me. I also write a monthly gardening article for the Pershore Times.

There are many markets and shows to attend – which can cost anything from £600 upwards and that’s before any thought has gone into the design of the stand, stock and promotion – plus travel and accommodation. That is a lot of sales before breaking even!

Nikki Hollier, Border in a Box, Theo Paphitis, #SBS, Autumn Fair, Nancy Poller

Winning exhibition space at the Autumn Fair, NEC, Birmingham thanks to Theo Paphitis

Selling via marketplaces such as Amazon is a great idea, and depending on which one(s) can cost around 25-30% in commission, plus a joining fee and/or monthly fee.  I must admit, I thought it would be simple to do – but trying to stand out in a crowd is difficult. Anyone can pay to get onto the front page but depending on what page, what day, time etc it can burn a hole in your budget within hours, so it’s imperative to do your homework beforehand.

When working with a market place they all want a particular style of photography to fit with their brand and ethos. This means professional product photography as you need to make the products look fabulous – as the saying goes, you don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression! A half day with a photographer can cost anything from £3-400 upwards. It’s worth the investment but it’s another cost to budget for.

product photography Terry Livesey

Product photography with Terry Livesey

Winning awards is great PR and also a morale boost. Within a few months of launching Border in a Box I won ‘Garden Product of the Year’ with Country Homes & Interiors magazine. Closely followed by #SBS Winner by Theo Paphitis. Then launching on Not On The High Street. A few months later I won the WINN award for innovation with the prize money funding my show garden border at BBC Gardeners’ World Live where I won Platinum and Best Border (and featured on the TV show). I turned this garden into the Wellbeing Border to enable people to recreate a sensory garden at home.


I created my own website at first – I thought it was pretty good considering it was a ‘cheap and cheerful DIY’ company to host my website and I simply added my own text and photos to the template. However, I couldn’t use my font and colours from the branding project, which felt like a waste of money and investment, so I started working with a specific website building company.  It was a huge investment for me, and one I wished I had waited a bit longer for, but I felt it would increase sales but it didn’t. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but it all turned out OK in the end. It ended up costing £thousands which created another hole in my budget.

So when you add-up all of these investments, it is eye-wateringly expensive.  You only have to watch TV programs like Dragons’ Den to see how much money the entrepreneurs invest into their dreams to realise it’s not for the feint-hearted!

So if you have an idea for a product or service, do your homework but follow your heart as you never know where the journey will lead!



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white fence with pink roses, alchemilla mollis and salvia caradonna

Garden designers adding colour to the world on International Women’s Day 2018

Garden designers International Womens Day 2018

I was genuinely shocked when I read this article in The Telegraph – – written by Victoria Ward with the headline of “Women garden designers smash Chelsea Flower Show’s ‘grass ceiling’” – we’re in 2017 so this shouldn’t be unusual and making headlines. But sadly it is.

Thankfully I’ve met some fabulous women in horticulture in the last few years and they have some inspiring stories to share.  We may not be curing cancer but we are adding colour to people’s lives and gardening is great for your mental health and well-being.

So to celebrate International Women’s Day I would like to introduce my inspirational & wonderful friends – Charlie, Pip and Elly who I’ve met through our shared passion of gardens.

Charlie Bloom

Charlie Bloom garden designer

Charlie lives in the south-east and we met at Hampton Court Flower Show in 2015 – I was volunteering on the neighbouring show garden and we got talking and have become good friends.  I asked Charlie how she got into garden design and she told me that after spending 4 years working in a stockbroker with a daily commute she decided to take the plunge and follow her heart and dearest passion… no not gardens, but dressage. After a brief baptism of fire into the competitive dressage world she realised she wanted to be outside in nature and without the dictatorship of a mad boss (we can all relate to that!).

She went on to learn the trade of Head Gardener, achieving The Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) Advanced Certificate in Horticulture which she studied via an evening course. After her first year of being self-employed she had the mad idea of submitting a design for RHS Hampton Court and was rejected twice and diverted to Gardeners’ World Live. With very little knowledge, no financial sponsorship and a team of non-horticultural friends she managed to pull off two National level Show Gardens and was then accepted to Hampton Court on her 4th attempt.  Charlie’s motto is “if you don’t succeed, try, try again, take a leap of faith and a risk and it will pay off eventually”. She now has 4 RHS medals and is exhibiting another Show Garden at Hampton Court Flower Show this year, made up of a cooperative of trades, instead of corporate sponsorship.

Here’s Charlies’ garden ‘The Colour Box’ at Hampton Court Flower Show 2017


Charlie Bloom Colour Box show garden Hampton Court 2017

You can contact Charlie Bloom – or Twitter @bloomsblogs. Or meet Charlie at her show garden at Hampton Court 3-8th July –

Pip Probert

Pip Probert garden designer

I first met Pip Probert when she created her show garden at RHS Malvern in 2015 and is a multi-award winning garden designer with many years of experience in design, build and planting works.

Pip is a natural – she got into design when she was young and thrived on project work, thoroughly enjoying the research and the presentation side and obviously drawing the pictures regardless of the subject matter! Although Pip loves designing she felt that it would be hard to stand out amongst all the other graphic design students so with a love of plants and copying photographs that her dad had taken whilst on family garden days out, she felt there was a connection with Garden Design.

Pip says “Garden design is a passion and something I’m very proud of.  There is always room for improvement and I hope to be constantly learning and improving on my skills for the rest of my career”.

She went on to say “there is so much more involved to designing a garden – you need to be an expert on a lot of different things from materials to practicality in the construction of your ideas.  Garden Design is job for someone willing to learn, put the hours in and be involved in every aspect of a project”.

I love Pip’s style and her planting combinations – here’s some of her work which will hopefully inspire you too.


Pip Probert RHS Tatton

Here’s Pips illustration of her show garden at Ascot Spring Garden Show 13-15th April 2018, sponsored by Yardley –

Pip Probert Ascot show garden 2018

You can contact Pip via Facebook or her website –

Eleanor West

Eleanor West garden designer

Elly and I met studying garden design at college together – here’s her story:

“My career as a garden designer began a few years ago, when personal circumstances led to a house move and desire for a job that was flexible and could fit around my two young children. I had a background in horticulture and design, having worked at BBC Gardeners’ World Magazine in a previous, pre-children life, plus a passion for plants and planting. Retraining as a garden designer made perfect sense, and has been the ideal job for me in that I can work hours that suit my lifestyle. Anyone can start their own business, and there’s nothing distinctly female about being a garden designer, but on International Women’s Day, I’ll go with the idea that perhaps I do bring a woman’s touch to the job. I’m always sensitive to a clients’ needs and have good attention to detail. I’m also well-organised and conscientious. Chatting to other mums at the school gate, jobs that are school hours with the option to work from home are like gold dust, so I do feel extremely fortunate that this new career has blossomed into something I love, and that still allows me to be there when the children need me”.

Visit to find out more about Elly’s work.

Nikki Hollier (that’s me!)

Nikki Hollier garden designer RHS Malvern 2016

I became a garden designer after suffering from stress a few years ago and the garden was the only place I could gain any peace. I had no clue what I was doing, so I enrolled on a course in horticulture at the local college. I never intended that it would change my life so dramatically – I left my 20 year career in IT and retrained as a garden designer.

I had to move house again which was a ‘new build’ and although I had studied horticulture the course didn’t include much design work so I enrolled on a further garden design course which finished in November 2015. Three weeks later I submitted my application and designs to RHS Malvern Spring Show. I got accepted and built my garden in May 2016 and won a Silver Medal and the People’s Choice Award. Not bad for a newbie!

These events inspired my business Border in a Box.  Living in a new build property with a blank canvas garden I felt there were many people in a similar situation who probably wanted a nice garden but didn’t know where to start and on a tight budget. I’ve created these ‘purse friendly’ kits to help people achieve a gorgeous garden easily and in less than a day. Available from, Not On The High Street and Amazon.

Here’s my illustration for the garden border I will create at Gardeners’ World Live at the NEC in June.

Gardener's World Live 2018

So if you’ve been dreaming of another life, whether it’s running your own B&B by the seaside, making the best tasting gin or becoming a garden designer just do it. If you want to stick your toe in the water and shadow an expert in your chosen field check out for advice. There will be many stories about amazing women on International Women’s Day – so lap up the good energies and get inspired to follow your heart.

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Theo Paphitis the shopkeeper & the #SBS annual event 2018

Theo Paphitis SBS 2018

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 Paphitis

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{3b96ccedb6380d96f8e66177cf66408304ba867d3fa3be683953eff9523069eb} are sole traders
  • 82{3b96ccedb6380d96f8e66177cf66408304ba867d3fa3be683953eff9523069eb} are feeling optimistic about the future
  • 42{3b96ccedb6380d96f8e66177cf66408304ba867d3fa3be683953eff9523069eb} 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.

Theo Paphitis Stephen Cheliotis

Next on stage was Stephen Cheliotis, the CEO of Superbrands. In a nutshell, Superbrands commissions independent research to identify the UK’s leading brands

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.

Theo Paphitis John Roberts AO.comIn the afternoon was a ‘fireside chat’ with’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

Theo Paphitis John Roberts

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)

Theo Paphitis #SBS Border in a Box

Theo Paphitis SBS Border in a Box award


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garden border with pink tulips, forget me nots and daisy

End of year review 2017 – the good, the bad, & the ugly!

starting & running a business


When I worked for a large company I always had an end of year appraisal to review the past year and see what was good, not so good, and create the plans and targets for the following year.  I always found them painful as they were so judgemental, but now I’m my own boss, I enjoy the process of looking back, reviewing what happened, the lessons learned and how to improve/grow for the coming year. It is so important to do this.

The idea for my business started several years ago when I moved into a new build property and had a garden that was turfed and surrounded by a wooden fence. It was soulless, boring, and uninspiring yet I had zero funds to do anything interesting with it. There must be thousands of people in the same boat so the seed was sown to create a business to solve the problem.  I retrained as a garden designer, left my corporate job, and started my business. So now I create planting plans for anyone who wants to create a pretty garden but doesn’t have the time, knowledge, or resources to do it themselves.

In 2017, I launched Border in a Box in March via Amazon Launchpad, with five ready-made garden designs, each in their own attractive tin box – perfect for any gift such as house warming, birthday, wedding, retirement etc.

Border in a Box gift tins

First steps

The process to get to this point was incredible and so rewarding.  I worked with a professional branding expert who designed the packaging. I spent many months creating the contents, working on planting plans, layouts, and choosing photos. I had no idea how long it would take to do each of these tasks. It was imperative to outsource those I wasn’t experienced in to create the space for those I was good at and to ensure the product was of a professional standard. It was overwhelming (and wonderful) when I saw my ideas turning into a physical product.

I was accepted by Amazon Launchpad (their program for start-ups like me). I thought it would be amazing and the orders would roll in. I had no concept of SEO at this point. Trying to understand how Amazon’s algorithms work and how to get the products and my business noticed are still baffling to me.  Needless to say, being lumped in with 116,000 products under the search term ‘gardening gifts’ it is tricky to stand out and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to pay Amazon to get my product onto the first page of search results.

At the time when I was launching, I got contacted by Dragons’ Den and asked to apply to the show – (see separate blog about this  This opportunity was out of the blue and added to the pressure of my product launch.

Building the brand

The next step was to get Border in a Box (BiaB) noticed in a crowded market place.  It was unique so people didn’t know how to search for it, or find the solution to their problem. This meant a whole lot of learning as I knew nothing about how to match search terms and questions to Border in a Box products and how best to market the business and use PR to get it noticed.

I quickly learned that traditional advertising is costly, especially when you have a minimal budget.  Trying to work out the Return on Investment (ROI) before parting with my cash was impossible.  These aren’t mistakes either; just part of the business journey.

So, I got started building my brand.

  • I write a monthly gardening article for a local newspaper, The Pershore Times,
  • I joined a PR group by Janet Murray – whose insights and training have been invaluable to me. I’ve been featured in glossy magazines such as Period Living, Healthy, Modern Gardens, Country Homes & Interiors, Good Housekeeping, and Red and also in local & regional newspapers such as Birmingham Post, Worcester News, and the Evesham Journal.
  • I’ve done countless interviews and contributed to articles for Enterprise Nation, Flymo, and ACID + many more.
  • I regularly post on social media – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn.
  • I write a monthly newsletter.
  • I’ve also had sales tables at networking events.

Again, this all takes time and effort creating regular content.

To increase my business profile I applied for ‘Garden Product of the Year’ by Country Homes & Interiors magazine and won! The prize included a feature in their magazine plus mentoring by the owner of Garden Trading, which has been fantastic.

Country Homes & Interiors magazine

I also was shortlisted for Entrepreneur of the Year by NatWest which was hard to believe so early in my product’s life.  I met some very inspiring people such as Leanne Bonner-Cook, who has just been awarded an MBE in the New Year’s Honours which is incredible and I’m over the moon for her.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing. I got chatting with one of the judges who initially was very helpful, but the conversation quickly started to get very uncomfortable with his ‘interrogation’ style of conversation. He asked me why I called my business BiaB and I told him the story. He hated all of it and couldn’t understand why or what I was doing. He became very animated and quite intimidating which was a shock as we were at a social gathering.  I replied that Alan Titchmarsh loves BiaB (which is true and is a story for another day!). This stopped him in his tracks for a millisecond. I had no idea who this person was and assumed he must have had an amazing business that he created from scratch and had sold it for millions. I read his biography the next day and there was no mention that he had ever started his own business, but interestingly it says, “And if you don’t know the answer don’t try and fluff him through something vague, he’ll tear you to pieces!”.  No kidding! It was the worst experience so far – I seriously considered giving up at that point. However, I knew I had a great product which many people love so onwards and upwards.

Great British Entrepreneur Awards

Extending the range

At the same time, I launched 2 more designs (making 7 in total), created a new website, became a Not On The High Street partner, and sold via the gift shop at St Peters Garden Centre and the Walled Garden at Croome.

I also had a garden design office at a local garden centre every weekend which gave me the opportunity to talk to people about their gardens and find out what they liked and disliked. I loved helping them create borders and containers with colour, texture, and plants they would never have considered before which they really valued, but didn’t pay for the help as they felt it was all ‘part of the service’ by the garden centre. It was a loss-leader but I learned so much.

Here’s my design studio that I created from an unused garden building at the garden centre – some elbow grease and paint makes a massive difference:-

Design centre at St Peters Garden Centre

interior garden design studio at St Peters Garden Centre


Lessons learned

It has been an incredible, amazing, awesome year so here are my top tips for anyone starting out.

  1. Time – I found that everything takes longer than I expected. My advice is to allow triple the amount of time to complete a task as something always happens mid-way through!
  2. Outsource – you can’t do everything yourself to a professional standard, so buy in expertise and outsource the tasks you’re not as good at as it will pay dividends in the long run.
  3. Training – you will realise there are things you don’t like doing or are rubbish at so enrol on training to learn how to do them and improve your skills. Never stop learning. I’ve signed up for a content marketing course to help develop my blogging skills.
  4. Money – you can never have enough! There are always items to spend your money on which you hadn’t anticipated at the outset and cashflow is critical so also think about when you need to spend.
  5. Criticism – you need to develop a skin as thick as a rhino. It happens, so learn how to pick yourself up and take whatever lessons you can and stay true to your vision. Also ensure you build a network of like-minded people you can talk to.
  6. Opportunities – say yes to everything! You never know what opportunities it will create further down the line
  7. Give back. I love helping people and I became a mentor for Viewvo to help others who want to leave corporate life and change careers.
  8. Balance – there is good and bad in every situation – it’s all about balance. Sometimes you need to look deeper to find the good in some situations. It will all pass eventually.
  9. Development – I visit trade shows and garden shows to develop ideas and network.
  10. Be prepared for your business taking over your life – you will think about your business 24/7. This means some friends will naturally fall by the wayside but you will also meet and make some new and extraordinary new friends and acquaintances.
  11. Take care of yourself – burnout is easy when you’re trying to keep all the plates spinning

What’s in store for 2018…

More of the same really but I’ve got plans to develop my product range further.  I’ll be off to meet Theo Paphitis in February as he hosts an annual event for all the winners of his program to help small businesses. Most importantly, I will carry on helping people create their own beautiful borders from Border in a Box. Why not join them –

Theo Paphitis small business Sunday

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Nikki HollierFounder of Border in a Box
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Nikki Hollier Border in a Box


Border in a Box awards


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