Interview with SME Discounts – discount deals on B2B products and services
Cristian: Hi Andries and welcome. When everybody complains about the great depression you have started yet another business. What is it about?
Andries: SME Discounts is like “Groupon” for B2B Businesses. We promote discount deals on business products and services. On our site you can find as much as 90% off things like PR services, contact databases, email marketing, office supplies, website reviews, social media and much more.
Cristian: How did you come up with the idea?
Andries: I’ve been working with SMEs and starting my own businesses for well over 10 years. Every time I start a new venture I’m amazed by how hard it is to find good quality business partners who are willing to discount their services initially to help out new start-ups and growing businesses. Along came Groupon, which made offering discounts as a way to attract new clients “fashionable” again, and viola. I thought to myself: this can work in the B2B space just as well.
Cristian: How does it work exactly?
Andries: It’s actually very simple: We broadcast (through email, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter) to our fans, followers and users when we have negotiated a great new discount for them. Our audience can then buy the deal (with a 40-90% discount) and share it with their friends, contacts or colleagues. Our members, who sell B2B themselves, can feature their own products and services on the site. Most importantly, it’s free to sign up and feature your products. We just ask for a commission on the sales we generate for our business members.
Cristian: I always say you can take an existing idea and with a small tweak turn it into a completely new business. What is the tweak that makes SME Discount work?
Andries: Most definitely the B2B focus. Because we are experienced entrepreneurs ourselves, we understand the pains and frustrations business owners have and we’re trying to offer a service that solves them. We know SME Discounts is not perfect yet (very few businesses are so early in the game), but we are continuing to mak tweaks and adjustments to deliver something that really helps SMEs at ground level – operating more efficiently, safely and cheaply.
Cristian: By the way do you need technical background to start an online business?
Andries: Yes and no. I think an online business is a function of knowledge (trained technical skills or gained experience), network (on and offline) and money. You either need to have massive amounts of one of the three, or a balance of all three to make it work. Secondly, I just want to highlight that it’s easier than ever before to get started with an online business (via a big choice of “off-the-shelf” kits), but it’s also harder than ever to grow your online business because of the competition.
Cristian: Who can take advantage of your services, who exactly is in your target?
Andries: We focus our marketing initiatives on 25-54 year old business owners, professionals, home based businesses, consultants and startup entrepreneurs. But anyone who’s in business or thinking about going into business could benefit from our deals.
Cristian: Are small businesses heading more towards online purchases during hard times?
Andries: In a developed country such as the UK, yes definitely. SMEs are all really cost conscious, so we found that they “price shop” a lot more. The most effective avenue for this is online.
Cristian: What would be the main advantages proposed by your service opposed to a classic coupon site?
Andries: Our aim is to only feature “exceptional” deals, as I mentioned earlier. We want to distinguish ourselves from the competition by offering:
- Relevance – We only feature products and services that can truly benefit SMEs, we never spam our members and if we don’t have something good to promote to individual members then we don’t bother them.
- Quality – We do quality checks on all our suppliers.
- Value for money – We do not promote deals that are merely a “x% discount” on the suppliers inflated website price. We benchmark it against the industry to ensure that it really is a bargain compared to what’s available.
Cristian: And what type of products or services can businesses buy from the site?
Andries: Some of the deals we have already featured include professional PR writing at 50% discount, expert website reviews for only £25, web videos for £60, premium business cards for £12, business valuations for £97 and 1,000 business leads for £19. We’ll soon be featuring new deals on telesales services, virtual assistants, telecommunication services and many more.
Cristian: Are there any kind of guarantees regarding the price and the quality of the products?
Andries: In terms of price, the price you see is the price you pay. In terms of quality, as stated earlier we do quality control on all suppliers, products and services to ensure that our members only receive the best.
Cristian: What kind of companies can join the program and list special offerings?
Andries: Any company selling B2B, i.e. to other businesses.
Cristian: Is the UK market somehow specific when it comes to online sales, or the same principles can be applied anywhere?
Andries: Although much of what businesses need is the same cross-border, we believe each market is unique in culture, preferences and habits. So the trick is finding the right “packaging” in terms of message and feel.
Cristian: How does an online business like yours get exposure? Most entrepreneurs focus primarily on the product and do not realize until it’s too late that marketing and sales are hard.
Andries: I absolutely agree with you. This is the most common mistake. There is unfortunately not one golden technique or fail-safe method of marketing that can guarantee success. We believe in testing everything and maintaining what works. It’s as simple as that.
Cristian: Is there any way an entrepreneur could validate his idea before starting? Most are afraid they will fail so they never start.
Andries: No is the honest answer. You just don’t know until you’ve tried it. However, at SME Discounts we are at least trying to make it cheaper and faster to try, by pre-vetting suppliers for you AND doing the hard negotiations to discount those products and services. Most experienced entrepreneurs will tell you that the secret is not to fear failure and to ensure that if you fail, you fail as cheaply as possible.
Cristian: What would be your best advice for people willing to start an online business nowadays?
Andries: It’s a bit of a cliché, but just start! Start by setting up a WordPress blog, get on Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. Subscribe to many sites in the industry that you want to move in. Take 6 months and completely immerse yourself in 1) the technologies available and being used in your industry, and 2) the conversations taking place in your market. Once you’ve done that, decide what you want to do and create a plan to learn, buy or network the skills required to start your venture.
Cristian: Any plans for the future?
Andries: We have many plans, as I’m sure ALL entrepreneurs will tell you, but we’ve learned the hard way that it’s important to focus on one thing at a time. So currently the plan is simple: Grow SME Discounts to be a market force that really makes a positive and tangible impact on all SMEs in our target markets.