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Theo Paphitis’ Top Business Tips

Theo Paphitis talks to Angela Sara West about his success secrets, his business tips and how you too can make your business dream come true Theo Paphitis’ Top Business Tips

Having left school at 16 without qualifications, Theo Paphitis has always had an entrepreneurial spirit.

“Being dyslexic, I constantly found different ways to create solutions and that has stood me in good stead ever since,” he say. “I always worked hard and had an eye for opportunity, such as running a school tuck shop when I was 14-years-old.”

Never looked back

As one of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs, his defining work moment was moving from his job as an office boy for a Lloyd’s of London broker to work for Watches of Switzerland on London’s Bond Street, where he discovered his passion for retail.

“I realised the power of a good salesperson and, crucially, what a rewarding and passionate sector retail is,” Theo says. “I’ve never looked back.”

At 23, the natural salesman started his own business in commercial finance and went on to revive the fortunes of notable high street names. In his former role as chairman of Millwall FC, he took the club out of administration into the FA Cup Final and Europe.

In 2015 the self confessed “shopkeeper” launched the Theo Paphitis Retail Group, comprising Ryman Stationery, ironmonger Robert Dyas and multi award winning global lingerie brand, Boux Avenue.

He recently sold Red Letter Days, which he co-owned with fellow Dragons’ Den judge Peter Jones, while his latest acquisition is the London Graphic Centre.

Keeping it simple

The Cypriot-born businessman’s phenomenally successful business ventures are all privately owned and “entrepreneurial in spirit”. His success is built on keeping it simple and working hard.

His worst career gaffe? “Buying a T-shirt design company called Splash early on in my career,” Theo says. “After I had acquired it by raising £5 million via a rights issue, the share price collapsed and I couldn’t raise any cash to pay back debts due to Black Monday.

“After struggling to save the company, it didn’t work and I was booted out. I took six months off to rethink what I was doing, but it made me realise that often your first mistake is your best one, because you can only learn from it.”

What’s at the heart of the retail king’s businesses? “Customer service, customer service, customer service - and passion,” Theo explains.

He says his companies thrive because they understand their customers: “Most importantly, if you look after your colleagues then they, in turn, will make sure your customers are looked after, so everyone is happy.”

Exit the dragon

As a straight talking stalwart on BBC’s Dragons’ Den, Theo invested in numerous small businesses in a wide variety of industries.

He says of his time on the show: “As soon as I realised that a good person with an average idea is a better bet than an average person with a great idea, I didn’t look back. Alarm bells ring when I see and hear a lack of detail in a pitch. If you haven’t prepared properly for a meeting that could make or break your business, you don’t deserve to be there.”

He says the decision to leave the show in 2012 to focus on his expanding retail empire was not an easy one, but the time was right to surrender his seat.

#SBS theo-logy

An admirer of people who have passion and energy, the small business champion has been running the weekly ‘Small Business Sunday’ Twitter competition, known as #SBS, since 2010.

Each week hundreds of businesses pitch their ideas to Theo and on a Monday evening he picks six to retweet to his half a million followers. The #SBS community now has over 2,300 businesses, who all support and network with each other. The highlight of the year is the free event, where hundreds of them get together for a day of advice, networking and a picture with Theo.

Theo stresses the importance of being social media savvy: “In this day and age it’s essential, as one wrong tweet can be a game changer now for careers and businesses, so you have to be clear what you are saying, to whom and, most importantly, why.”

Pursuing the dream

The tycoon says the best thing about being an entrepreneur is the freedom: “It’s about doing what you love - every day.

“I love retail and wake up every day with a sense of purpose from working in a vibrant industry with passionate, hardworking people. Life is too short to do something you don’t enjoy. You spend a huge amount of time at work, so do what lights that fire in your belly.”

He says without having dreams, you cannot be successful in business and it’s how you turn those dreams into reality that’s key: “Your dream will only work if you live and breathe it and are passionate about it.

“Making £100 million is easy; it’s making your first £1 million that is difficult. Most importantly, if you believe in your idea, then don’t let your dream be the one that got away.”

Business tips from a top dragon

Theo offers numerous tips for entrepreneurs:

“Business is no different from a sport or game, in that you need to learn the rules and how to play by them,” he says. “I believe business is 90 per cent common sense, but often common sense is not that common.

“Embracing change is more important now than ever, what with technology moving the goalposts faster than you can kick a ball at the goal.”

He says it’s crucial to do your homework: “The first thing anyone should do before launching their own business is their research. You wouldn’t sit an exam without revising, so why do that with your own business? It’s knowing more than your competitor that gives you the edge.

“Before starting out, I wish I’d known how important networking was and how technology would make such huge changes to our lives. AI is already affecting our world and this impact will only get stronger.”

What if your idea has been turned down by the banks? “Question and challenge your idea and make sure you’re being honest with yourself,” Theo says.

“If all are positive answers, find a different point of finance. If not, move on to the next idea, which might be the big one and the one you could miss trying to make the poor idea work.”

The three main characteristics of a successful businessperson? “Common sense, passion and someone who provides solutions, not problems,” Theo says.

Does an entrepreneur need to be daring to be successful? “There is a difference between being daring and reckless,” he advises. “I take risks, but calculated risks. I never bet the farm. So daring, yes. But reckless, no.”

Theo says it’s crucial to be “hands-on” with your business: “For me, the devil is always in the detail, but it needs to be hands-on where it is needed. You employ talented people to manage the day to day business and to work with you on the bigger picture.”

The best piece of advice he has been given? “Cash is king.” Read more like this

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