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She came to the UK from Canada in 2007 as a first stop on her European backpacking tour but decided to stick around and work as a sponsorship director at the Data & Marketing Association instead. In 2010, Jackie began building her business, Slingshot Sponsorship. She sold the firm in 2016 and is now running REBEL Pi, a Canadian ice wine company.
We’ll be talking about building a business from home and how to make sponsorship work for you.
Anna: Hello, Jackie.
Jackie: Hello, Anna.
Anna: How are you doing?
Jackie: I’m very good, thanks.
Great. Let’s start with your arrival in the UK. What made you decide to give up your backpacking adventure to work in London and build a business here instead?
Jackie: Honestly when I arrived – I’m from a small town in Canada – my experience was minimal. I’ve always been very ambitious and very determined. A lot of the people around me were not so much. So when I came to London it really was to explore Europe because obviously people talk about it and I’d never been to Paris.
When I landed in London I was just overwhelmed with the energy of the city – not necessarily the energy you’d get from a city like New York but the people and the views that the people had here and the types of work that they were doing. I met a lot of people in finance and I didn’t even know that was a job that you could have and I was just blown away.
It wasn’t an immediate thing. I was supposed to be here for two weeks and then travel the rest of Europe and then I was like: ‘Oh, I love London, I’ll stay a couple more weeks, that went on to a couple more months and then I was like: ‘I don’t want to leave’ and then over time I thought: ‘I just really want to stay here.’
When you launched Slingshot Sponsorship you only had a laptop and £2,000. How did you support yourself financially in the early days of the business? I’m sure a lot of our listeners will want to know.
Jackie: Not well! I’m pretty frugal, actually – generally. But basically, over those initial months I just cut back hardcore. I didn’t really leave the house for weeks on end. I wasn’t eating beans on toast, but I was certainly eating a lot of ready meals and stir fries and cereal. But for the first, I’d say, year and a half, I wouldn’t even go to Starbucks. I couldn’t even afford takeout coffee, quite frankly, because every single pound I saved was going towards hiring my first employee and it was really hard. Slingshot got successful early, but I didn’t really have personal money for at least two or three years, I’d say. And you know, I only literally just bought this house when I sold the business. Up until then, all my friends owned houses and I couldn’t afford to – I was renting. But I always had it in me that I’d make that sacrifice.
We’re recording in Jackie’s house, by the way, just for a bit of context. What about income?
Jackie: So, £2,000 could pay the rent for four months, basically, and I took a couple of commission-only things. I had a lot of small clients. It took me nine months to secure my first client. So, I’d take small jobs that’d pay £500, £600, £1,000 and I’d just live off those kinds of things and those kinds of projects.
I worked hard to try to get people to give me money, like all small businesses do, but I was really conscious about how much money I spent. And our website is a great example. When we launched Slingshot I went out to loads of agencies, everybody was quoting something like £7,000, £6,000 and I didn’t even have the money. I ended up going to a digital agency who I knew through the Data Marketing Association and asked to swap, to be kind of like a case study for them. It was kind of like a guinea pig thing and I ended up paying, like, nothing for it. I just bartered for everything.
Jackie: Yeah, I’ve always been like that. My husband jokes a lot because before I sold Slingshot and after I sold Slingshot – there’s no difference. We have a nice house and we’ve had some great travelling experiences for sure. But I don’t spend a lot of money – we don’t spend a lot of money. Almost all of the money I made from Slingshot has been reinvested in other businesses. I bought our house which is a huge accomplishment for me, but everything else has gone into making more money.
Anna: Usually we ask about our guest’s specialisms, which in this case is sponsorships.
Jackie: It’s everything, Anna. What do you mean, just sponsorship?!
Jackie: In a nutshell, sponsorship is a collaboration between two businesses. Most people look at sponsorship as a transaction of giving somebody logos or branding or badging in return for money, but in a lot of cases the big sponsorships are done in contra. In a way, the website agency I was just talking about – I swapped to be a case study for them and they gave me a website. In a sense that was a sponsorship and I think the future of all business is sponsorship. Most people will be familiar with stuff like FireFest and Beats by Dre. All of that is sponsorship.
Any kind of collaboration between two organisations is effectively sponsorship.
How do you handle that first approach, then? I imagine that those relationships and creating those first impressions are very important.
Jackie: Actually, one of the things you said was the right and the other thing you didn’t.
A lot of people think it’s who you know. Everybody thinks: ‘Well, I could sell sponsorship if I just knew the head of HSBC.’ I know the head of HSBC and I’ve never ever sold him anything because I everything I ever had wasn’t a good fit for what they did.
Knowing people isn’t the point but what you also said is having a first impression. Where people fall flat is they don’t really understand what they’re selling, they don’t package it very well and they don’t value it. It’d be like going into a shop without a price tag, with rubbish stuff in the window, you wouldn’t go in. Same deal with sponsorship. And I think there needs to be an increase in professionalism for making those approaches and I think that Slingshot was testament to that because effectively, that’s all we did. I didn’t create events, I didn’t make something better – I took what I had and made it valuable to brands.
When a small business is starting out, what kind of information and events can they seek out to help them?
Jackie: I think there are two things. If you’re a rights holder, say you are an event or an online publication or a podcast or a travel blogger or whatever, it really is about how you package your assets and then understanding which brands to approach. I’ve written a book called Pinpoint which is the only book dedicated to sponsorship sales.
If you are a brand looking for a sponsorship, that in a way is easier because everybody wants money but from a brand perspective, it really is
- Is the event you’re interested in going to speak to your target audience?
- Do you have a good reason for being there?
- Is it authentic?
- Are you going to approach it in an interesting way?
- How can you connect with people in a genuine and authentic way?
And that’s best done by market research?
Jackie: I think it’s dependent on the brand but yeah, market research, I think, understanding your audience.
Let’s just say you’re after mums. Let’s say you’re a new gym for mums, or… I don’t know, I’m not a mother, this is the worst thing to go! You can actually look for a platform out there to reach mums. Race for Life is a huge one and it’s in local communities.
But let’s say you want mums based in Leeds. You can find forums and groups within Leeds and the events they’re approaching or the physical venue space. There might be a digital community or a forum and then say: ‘This is my product and I’m interested in working with you as a sponsorship.’ Not advertising – I’d never recommend advertising. And most people will have a sponsorship package.
What kind of things should you be looking for in that package, then?
Jackie: I would always look for opportunities that go beyond a logo – I don’t think badging is valuable anymore. Brand recall used to be valuable in the 80s, but we’re hit with 60,000 messages a day now. Your brain just gets tuned off.
So, I’d be looking for what kind of assets engage with your audience. Speaking opportunities would be something because they give you an opportunity to talk. Guest blog spots, posts, can we run a joint promotion, a campaign? Can we distribute free product? Those are the kinds of things I think really push the needle on sponsorship.
As mentioned in the intro, these days you’re running Rebel Pi, an ice wine company, which is quite a niche. It’s also quite a risky business – you were explaining that it’s very dependent on temperature, weather conditions and people being able to pick grapes quickly in the middle of the night at short notice. How do you manage this risk, particularly in terms of cash flow?
Jackie: I’d probably say that I’m not managing it well. I went from selling ideas to selling a physical product which I wanted to do to test myself. It is very hard from a production standpoint because the only way to make ice wine is picking grapes at below -8C. If it doesn’t get below -8C, you don’t have a vintage, you don’t have a product. So, you have to be patient, you have to work with really smart people in the vineyard who know how to create ice wine each year and you have to be willing to ride it out.
In our first year, we’ve done really well, we’ve sold about 60pc of our bottles. It’s now listed in places like City Social, 67 Pall Mall, Pied a Terre, Dinner by Heston – all those kinds of top places. Now for me it’s asking: ‘Do we have enough production for next year?’ We’re holding back stock, so that if we didn’t get a vintage next year, we could then still distribute. I wouldn’t want you to be able to go into a restaurant, be able to order it and then next month you can’t – for 12 months.
I’m managing stock but from a financial perspective, I’m taking a hit, basically. I’m not talking about being profitable on this until year three, really. It will be – if all things go to plan – it’s not winter yet – if all things go to plan, it should be fine for next year. But in the event that we’re not, I’m looking long-term at this.
I created this product because I was on TV and I didn’t want to waste my 15 minutes of fame. I wanted to have something that people could buy. That was a stupid strategy because the majority of the people who watch The Apprentice are 14-year-old girls. They can’t even legally buy my wine! I launched the business with an expectation that was incorrect and I’ve had to fix it. I’ve changed the strategy and everything’s fine. It’s great – I’m super-excited to be working with a product that you can touch, you can taste – I’m excited about it.
It does seem like you have a very clear target market, especially the premium which I think people are moving away from more disposable, fast type things to buying less but better quality. It’s a better direction to go in.
Jackie: For sure – people are drinking less, people are buying less, but when they do it, they want to enjoy it. That’s certainly what I’ve found personally, and amongst my group of friends. And the greatest thing about ice wine in the UK market is that almost nobody’s had it. When do you get to give somebody a first? It’s so unheard of. I’m so excited about that.
Yeah, for sure. You mentioned The Apprentice and it giving you a kind of platform. But you were already a seasoned and successful entrepreneur when you went on The Apprentice, having sold Slingshot. Alan Sugar even fired for you for being too experienced to be the business partner that he wanted. What did you get out of the programme in the end?
Jackie: I’ll go back to the first part. The only reason I did The Apprentice was because I sold my business. I don’t know if I would’ve had the courage to do so before, but I’d built enough of a name for myself so if I came across looking awful, at least I had a fallback on my previous success. Well, I mean you don’t know. You have no idea what you’re going into, so I was lucky.
Anna: So much of it is in the edit as well, isn’t it? You never know what’s going to happen!
Jackie: It’s unrealistic to think that – first of all, it’s an entertainment programme and I am not stupid to not be aware of that. It would also be naïve to think that you are 100pc great 100pc of the time. There are very long days, you’re working with people you don’t know, you have no idea what to expect, you can’t prep at all.
All of those mistakes that I made that were absolutely hilarious, I totally made. That’s not an edit, that’s 100pc what I did because that’s what happens – that’s what happens in life. You just don’t have a camera following you around 24/7 waiting for you to mess up.
But in terms of what I took away from it, so when I got asked, I was like: ‘I don’t even know if I can do this’, but then I did. My husband was very kind and said if I was awful, we would fly to India and blow off steam for a year. Fortunately, we didn’t have to move.
Now, in hindsight, if you asked if I would do it again I would do it in a heartbeat. It was so different than what I expected. What I got out of it was experience doing totally different things which I love. If I could spend a year doing that every single day, I would.
Anna: Oh yeah, the variety’s so much fun.
Jackie: I got to make doughnuts, I sold stuff at a bodybuilding thing, I created an art gallery. You couldn’t do those things in a lifetime. I was really fortunate to do that. I still talk to Claude Littner (one of Lord Sugar’s advisors) a lot and he’s been great and met some great people on it as well.
What was your favourite part of the process?
Jackie: I think my favourite part – at the time it was pretty stressful – I can say that I didn’t love being in the house. I loved doing the tasks. My favourite task was possibly the art task. Wait no, actually, that’s a lie – the shoe task! I lost, but my favourite task though.
What made it your favourite?
Jackie: I got to design a shoe! I love shoes and I got to be the boss, which I like to be because it’s easier. It was a lot of fun. It also played to my wheelhouse like selling stuff to businesses – and B2B sales is what I do.
You said you got along well with Claude. There was one contestant you didn’t have a particularly good relationship with. What advice do you have for working with a personality that clashes with your own?
Jackie: I think The Apprentice isn’t a real-life situation. My recommendation to myself was having more patience which I did not have. In a real-life situation, honestly, and this is not what people would say – avoid the person, quite honestly.
You won’t always get on with everybody, and people won’t always get along with you. And that’s OK, there’s nothing wrong with that. Being able to work with somebody that you don’t like is an asset. I wouldn’t try to beat a dead horse. You shouldn’t really be there to make friends with people, you’re there to do your job. You should also try not to make their job harder. My honest advice would be to have minimal interaction with the person you don’t like.
Anna: Just trying to stay out of each other’s space, I guess.
Jackie: Which in The Apprentice was impossible because we were living together!
Anna: Smashing. Well, thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Jackie.
Jackie: Thanks for having me, Anna.
Anna: You can find out more about Jackie at jackiefast.com. You can also visit smallbusiness.co.uk for more guidance on bootstrapping your business and managing your cash flow. Remember to like us on Facebook @SmallBusinessExperts and follow us on Twitter @smallbusinessuk, all lower case. Until next time, thank you for listening.