We found out that we had won Theo Paphitis’ #SBS whilst sitting on a train from Leicester to London, having spent a long (but rewarding day) running a workshop. Once work finished, the main priority was actually finding a cattery to make sure some well-earnt leave could be taken by the team. Only when that was sorted did Sophie check Twitter – to see an awful lot of messages. Truthfully, it took her a couple of minutes to figure out what had happened, and another couple of for it to start sinking in. As with all good travel stories, there was of course very little signal on the train as Sophie tried to contact Abbie, whose hard work had won the award. In the vein of good travel stories the week we won was the week that Abbie was finishing her Gold Duke of Edinburgh Award and as such had even less phone signal as she was camping in a field. A few broken messages later and Hannah from Pink-Spaghetti who has worked with Bays Consulting for a while now, stepped up to help over those first few hours (and the first #SBSWinnershour).

Since winning, we’ve certainly seen a huge increase in exposure and we’ve worked hard to build off the momentum that winning generated. This included looking forward to and preparing for our first SBS Winners Event. It’s hard to describe the excitement and nerves which are the pre-cursors to actually attending the event. Simply put, it’s a day like no other and we put pressure on ourselves to make sure we made the most of it.

With that in mind, the first thing to say about the event is: relax. Everyone, from the volunteers at sponsors stands DHL, Square, iLaw, Western Union, Ryman Stationery, Robert Dyas, Hewlett Packard, Webroot, Autumn Fair stands; through to all the other winning companies are welcoming and open. The buzz and the atmosphere in the hall is incredible. Once we’d had several cups of tea and soaked in the atmosphere, the day flew by.

Secondly, and most importantly, take a pen, an open mind and a desire to listen. Theo had put together a series of plenary sessions which offered the most practical advice, support and inspiration small businesses could ever hope to access. From developing a business website optimised to attract customers, to maintaining cybersecurity through to building a business from the ground up, we left with a long action list, which we’re now studiously working through

Our top tips for attending are:

• Check all your luggage and coats at the cloakroom, you’re going to be doing a lot of hand-shaking and holding of coffee cups
• Take a bigger rucksack/bag than you think you’re likely to need to carry all the information you gain at the event
• Make sure you have lots of business cards and small marketing information you can share with those you meet (we have follow up cards to remind people of the conversations we had and what we’re going to be in contact about which proved very helpful)
• Take a battery pack for your phone! There are an inordinate number of opportunities for photos, social media posting, connecting on LinkedIn and every other aspect of work that you use a phone for.
• Book as much as you can in advance – meet the experts provided advice and help small business can’t always access and the workshops were of incredibly high quality, offering insightful advice that we can immediately put into practice.
• Network before the event to make sure you can meet as many people as possible, we took part in the Surrey winner’s group photo and met some fantastic people
• Get there early to make the most of all that is on offer. Inevitably there were queues for the free headshots and one to one sessions with HR and marketing which couldn’t be booked in advance. As two people per company can go, it’s worth splitting up so you can get as much advice as you possibly can.
• Go in comfortable shoes. This can’t be stressed enough, you’ll be on your feet for a large portion of the day.
• Lastly, the queue for getting your photo with Theo is one of the most fun queue’s you’ll ever stand in! Talk to all the other winners around you, everyone is as excited as you are. You might even get a free coffee (we did from The Cariad Project).