Growth & Customers

Secret Hamper: How networking, awards and ambition can help your business grow

Former Dragons; Den panellist Theo Paphitis and Secret Hamper founder Nigel Richardson

Nigel Richardson is the founder of Secret Hamper, a gifting company that sells hampers filled with treats. He was a finalist in the Sage Ambition competition and here he shares advice on challenges he’s overcome and how his ambition has kept him going.

Secret Hamper is a gift company with a difference. Our ethos is to have a positive impact on someone’s life by performing a random act of kindness. We try and do that with our customers and charities too.

Prior to starting Secret Hamper, I worked in finance for more than 25 years. I’d always had an entrepreneurial streak but had never truly explored it – until now.

We sell gift hampers for students, businesses, a locally sourced Essex hamper and our helping hampers – for a friend, new parents, a neighbour who deserves to be treated and so on. We also have a long list of preferred partners where people can send an e-gift voucher as a random act of kindness to a recipient at the touch of a button.

We intend to keep building our business in the UK but there’s no reason why we can’t take Secret Hamper global.

Nigel Richardson, dressed as a superhero, to promote Secret Hamper

Nigel used his superhero costume to great effect in a bid to raise awareness of his Secret Hamper mission

7 tips to overcome your business challenges

1. Believe in yourself

Identify your passion and believe in yourself. In the early days of launching Secret Hamper, I dressed as a superhero. Some people would laugh behind my back but I didn’t want Secret Hamper to disappear into the ether of online gift sites. We were different and we had to stand out. Being passionate about making a difference really got me through those early days.

2. Invest in yourself and network

It’s important to spend time and money on investing in yourself. Surround yourself with other like-minded people who you can bounce ideas off and get support from. I felt quite lonely at the start of my journey – going from many years in the corporate world in an office filled with hundreds of people to just me on my own was a shock to the system.

By attending networking events, I found I wasn’t on my own and I’ve built up a support system and relationships with other business owners.

3. Enter business awards

Entering business awards is great for self-belief, especially if you’re shortlisted as a finalist – or win. Awards are a great way for you to tell your story and raise brand awareness.

There are competitions run by some of the UK’s top entrepreneurs, such as Small Business Sunday (#SBS) on Twitter, the brainchild of former Dragons’ Den panellist Theo Paphitis. He thought it would be a great way to help others and over the past seven years, #SBS has built a community of more than 2,300 businesses that can network together.

From winning this competition, we’ve had local media coverage, an order from Theo and have done business with other #SBS winners too.

4. Collaborate with other brands

We collaborate with other brands that are much bigger than ours to help widen our audience. Just because you may be a smaller brand doesn’t mean you can’t be taken seriously. All the big businesses started somewhere. I think it’s Coca-Cola that only sold about a dozen bottles in its first year…

In our locally sourced Essex hamper, we have up to 30 different local brands, from international companies to one-man bands like ourselves. When someone purchases an Essex hamper, they support Secret Hamper and all the other brands too.

Even Luke Skywalker is a fan of Secret Hamper

5. Use different tactics to promote your business

We’ve embraced social media to raise our brand awareness and have picked up a few celebrity fans. Celebrity endorsements are powerful as they add credibility to your brand, while consumers look and think “if it’s good enough for them then it’s good enough for me”.

6. Let your business ambition drive you

My ambition for Secret Hamper is to become a household name within five years. We are two years in and have had our fair share of challenges – but it’s those challenges that test your mettle and prepare you for the road ahead. You need to learn from these – so take stock, evolve where necessary and move on.

A selection of delectable treats that make up a Secret Hamper

A selection of delectable treats that make up a Secret Hamper

7. Work out your business story

In today’s competitive world, I think more people want to know your business story and why it is you are doing what you’re doing.

When I left my job in finance, I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do – but I did want to make a difference.

While watching TV in the run up to Christmas in 2015, a Co-op TV advert came on and it hit me straight between the eyes. It saw a young guy leave a bag of groceries on his housebound elderly neighbour’s doorstep.

This resonated with me as I’d met an elderly resident in my village earlier that year – the advert made me think of him and inspired me to do the same.

On a cold, wet night in December, I left a bag of goodies on my neighbour’s doorstep, rang the bell and ran! I had such a warm fuzzy feeling that was still there the next morning – and Secret Hamper was born.

What would Nigel have asked Peter Jones?

As a finalist in the Sage Ambition competition, Nigel didn’t get the opportunity to have a business meeting with Peter Jones. However, if he did, here’s what he would have asked him:

“You often hear that investors buy into the person/individual and not necessarily the product. Have you ever done that? We’ve tweaked our offering and have identified a niche in our market – so how can we convince potential investors that we are a good bet?”

Help from our Sage Business Experts

We’ve asked our Sage Business Experts, who have business and entrepreneurial expertise across a wealth of areas, to answer this question. Want to find out their answers, which could be beneficial to you and your business too? Download the Ambition in Action e-book to get them – along with more details on Nigel’s business story and advice that will inspire you.

Ambition In Action

Want to grow your business but struggling to do so? Download this free e-book for advice from Peter Jones and the winner and finalists of the Sage Ambition competition who faced challenges and overcame them using their business ambition.

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