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Downing Street

How a shopkeeper’s daughter made it to Downing Street

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Small business has been part of my life from childhood. My family moved to the UK in 1972 from Uganda. At the age of 3, everything I knew changed, as we were told to leave our home within a matter of weeks. On arriving in the UK, my dad decided he wanted to live in Northern England and made the decision live away from his extended family – and my mum, sister and me. He worked hard and saved enough money for a house and finally my mum, sister and I moved to live with him. We were a family once again.

But it soon became apparent that my mum wouldn’t be able to work because the cost of child care was too prohibitive. Yes, even in those days! So, my parents decided to buy a business, meaning my parents had two full-time jobs; three if you count my mum looking after my sister and me.

From then onwards, my parents have had or worked in small shops. Some on a corner, some not!

What does this have to do with me going to Downing Street (yes, I am that daughter!) Fast forward nearly 44 years. Because this year, I decided to set up my own business. Yes, it was scary. Yes, it was exciting. And yes, it’s still both those things.

Small business is big news

Did you know that in 2015 608,100 businesses* were started in the UK? Or that there are more than 5 million small businesses in total? For me, that’s a staggering number and some of those are bound to be my competitors, so I knew I had to be serious about promoting myself from the very beginning.

When Small Business Saturday opened the applications for its Small Business 100, I got cracking. Now, owning your own business takes you waaaay out of your comfort zone. I had to make a video as part of my application. Me. A video. 13 takes later, I had something that I was pretty happy to submit (if I’m honest, I’d run out of steam by that point and the shut-off point for applications was looming.)

In August, I got the news that I’d made it onto the list of 100 businesses that Small Business Saturday promotes and champions in the 100 days leading up to Small Business Saturday. It was the most exciting day ever. Well, after my wedding day, that is! My husband and I were jumping up and down in my kitchen. From that moment, I knew had to squeeze every little bit out of this thing that I could. (Makes me sound like I’m horrible; I promise I’m not!) I threw away my marketing plan for the rest of the year – metaphorically, I still had it and it did see the light of day the following year. I then set about creating a campaign plan for Small Business Saturday.

Downing Street
More exciting than going to Downing Street

Here are some of the highlights of results:

  • 99 registrations to my webinar (my first one ever!)
  • An additional 98 email addresses added to my mailing list (and counting)
  • 36 entries in a competition to win 6 months of marketing mentoring from me
  • 36 new Likes on my Facebook Page on my Small Business 100 day (29 November)
  • A 412% increase in reach on my Facebook Page between 25 November and 1 December
  • A 157% increase in mentions on Twitter between 28 November and 1 December

Heading to Downing Street

So, what does all of this have to do with me getting to 10 Downing Street, you might ask. It’s simple, along with the great things I described above, applying for the Small Business 100 meant I was invited to a reception at 10 Downing Street. Something I could never have achieved on my own in the first year of business.

Downing Street
The second most exciting day of my life

Since people found out I went there, they’ve wanted to know what it’s like inside. It’s so immense, it could be the Tardis! I saw the bannister that Hugh Grant slides down in Love Actually, not to mention all the photos of former Prime Ministers. The room the reception was in had views of St James’ Park and it was genuinely jaw-dropping beautiful. There was so much art, I can’t even begin to tell you about the pieces I saw.

What did I do there? Well, I got to meet many of the other Small Business 100. Like Sugar Button Cakes, Etie’no Skincare, Askew Brook, Sam Loves Copy, Ben Towers (who’s only 18!) and many more. We heard from the Small Business Minister, Margot James and from Michelle Ovens, Director of Small Business Saturday. And we all had our photos outside that famous door. Did you know it only opens from the inside?

When I started my business (only at the end of March this year) I never dreamt I would be walking through number 10 Downing Street less than 9 months later. I’ve come a long way from being that shopkeeper’s daughter. But the hours, days, months and years of my parents’ hard work showed me that working hard for what you want is the ingredient you need most to succeed. So, now I’m off to do some more work! But while you digest all of this, think about what you’re going to do to support small businesses in your area. Do it on Small Business Saturday especially, but keep on doing it – that’s the important bit.

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*From Companies House