Meet Twirling Umbrellas, Best Company Winner – 2020

January 12th, 2021 in Finalist Profiles

Twirling Umbrellas is a fast-growing digital marketing agency based in Kelowna, BC. Founded by Chris Stephens, they specialize in helping businesses of all shapes and sizes grow their online presence via creative web design, SEO (search engine optimization) and other innovative marketing strategies.

Twirling Umbrellas also possesses a storied history with the Small Business BC Awards. In 2018, they finished Top 5 in our Best Marketing category, losing out in one of the most competitive fields the SBBC Awards has ever seen.

Since then, Chris and his team have gone from strength to strength, growing organically by adding new service offerings and marketing experts. In 2020, they completed their Awards journey by clinching Best Company at a packed gala ceremony at Vancouver’s iconic Convention Centre.

We caught up with Chris to learn more about his company and their experience with the SBBC Awards.

What do you do at Twirling Umbrellas, and why do you do it?

First and foremost, we’re a digital marketing agency. We have our roots in a freelance business I set up six years ago that eventually grew into so much more. In the years since then, we’ve expanded and brought on team members that have enabled us to add depth to our services and expand our skillset.

We focus on everything digital, helping businesses to grow their online presence. That could mean partnering on web design, SEO, advertising and social media.

Why we do it is because it’s really fun to be creative. We see a need out there for websites and online marketing that are better than what’s traditionally been done. A lot of companies like ours still favour older school marketing techniques that just don’t work the same way they used to. They’ve been relied upon for years and people have always defaulted to them. For example, radio might have been a great option 25-30 years ago, but not so much nowadays. I think there’s a real need for companies to understand what’s possible online and make the most of it.

Our goal is to work alongside our partners and act as an integrated marketing department rather than just an outsourced company they hire for one specific project.

What has your journey with the SBBC Awards been like?

Back in 2018, we were nominated in the SBBC Awards for the first time. To be honest, I had been working hard to grow the business and wasn’t super aware of the competition. We had just five members on our team then and we were operating out of our very first office.

In the end, we made it all the way to the Top 5 of the Best Marketing category. We were really grateful for the experience and it was so valuable comparing ourselves to the other finalists. It helped us put our business into context. We saw what other businesses were doing and it highlighted where we needed to be to match them.

I actually think it was a big part of starting the culture we now have at Twirling Umbrellas. That recognition of our early efforts, as a small agency, meant so much to us and we got a lot out of it. In the time since then, we continued to grow and do our own thing, slowly adding team members. We were nominated again for the 2020 Awards and I felt like we were in such a stronger position to be considered a genuine candidate to win.

We were nominated in Best Company. After five years of positive growth, a much stronger team, and a great culture, I felt like we could make a pretty good argument why we should win. We made it to the Top 5 again, we brought our whole team to the gala event in Vancouver and luckily, we won.

In some ways, the best thing to come out of this was the recognition our team received. It meant a lot to me to see the great people we have get that recognition from outside. I wish we could have that night over and over again; it was a real highlight of the year for me.

In some ways, the best thing to come out of this was the recognition our team received. It meant a lot to me to see the great people we have get that recognition from outside. I wish we could have that night over and over again; it was a real highlight of the year for me.

What did you enjoy most about the Awards process?

The validation of our work, and the recognition of what we had achieved. In the creative agency world, there’s lots of dedicated award shows but they all tend to cater to the world’s biggest agencies and some even have massive fees to participate. For businesses like Twirling Umbrellas, there’s just not a lot of opportunity to be recognized.

I loved the fact it was judged on merit. This wasn’t just a case of whoever makes the biggest deal on social media would win. I don’t love presenting to people but it was nice to know there’s a panel of industry experts that are judging and you can make your case to them why you should win. The winner is decided on merit and everyone who enters has a shot. That was a big deal.

Are competitions like the SBBC Awards worthwhile to enter?

Oh absolutely. We had clients this year that reached out to us as a result of winning the award. It got us so much recognition around the Okanagan. We’ve never really done a lot of work to promote ourselves and the Awards has been huge for us.

We have people come to us, and we have no idea where they found us, and they eventually tell us that they read about our awards win in the newspaper, or they saw it online. It’s opened the door to so many opportunities for us. It was huge from a marketing standpoint, from a team standpoint and there’s a ton of value in it for sure.

If a business owner was considering entering the Awards, what advice would you give?

Even if you don’t win, there’s a lot of value that comes out of the process. For one, it was really interesting to hear all the stories of the different businesses, how they met the criteria and the amazing work they were doing. It’s inspirational.

It’s a big thing for a business owner not to be complacent and never feel like you’re doing everything perfectly. Seeing what your peers are achieving really helped with that goal.

When you’re putting your application together, it forces you to zoom out and look at your business objectively. That exercise alone is so powerful and can help you see your business in new light. We got a massive benefit from that in 2018 even though we didn’t win. I believe it helped us make our nomination so much more impactful in 2020.