Former chartered accountant Andries Smit has always had an eye for a good business model. He started his first business age 14 and has since started 15 more, in sectors as broad as retail, consultancy, training, property, accountancy, investing and ecommerce.
He fell in love with online business about five years ago and has subsequently focused his full attention on those, enjoying the scalability, flexibility, low cost of entry and low fixed costs that the dotcom market allows.
It was while spending time helping SMEs improve their businesses by reducing costs and improving sales that the idea of SMEDiscounts.com initially came about.
Smit says: “One of the key challenges facing small businesses is the cost of trial and error. To reduce costs or increase sales, business owners basically need to change something such as suppliers, solutions or processes. With these changes comes big costs – and a big risk.”
Smit realised that small business needed a way to "try before they buy" at as little risk – and cost - as possible. For example, before spending thousands on new marketing campaigns, it would be hugely beneficial to be able to try it on for size before committing a significant amount of resources.
Smit had his ‘lightning bolt’ moment when he first became aware of the consumer group buying site, Groupon. “I realised that this is exactly what they do”, he said. “They give you a chance to experience a new spa, restaurant or service. If you like it, you will be happy to pay actual value price. If it's not for you, then you've lost very little.”
He then applied the same principal to business, by creating a site, SME Discounts, that would give members a chance to try and test specific marketing tools, service suppliers and or products to see if they are a good fit, at a hugely reduced cost and no long term contract.
SME Discounts launched in June 2011 and has doubled its subscriber base every month since then,
The main challenge for us was the typical entrepreneurial conundrum: get your first customers without any money...
with twitter followers and unique visitors also increasing rapidly. However, like any starting up business, there have been challenges along the way.
“The main challenge for us was the typical entrepreneurial conundrum: get your first customers without any money” comments Smit. “It was your typical chicken and egg scenario - you need many subscribers to convince suppliers to give you great deals, and at the same time you need great deals to get people to sign-up to the service. This was very hard. Fortunately we had very good business partners and contacts who were willing to go out on a limb for us because they knew us personally and trusted that we'll deliver a quality service.” In fact, as well as owing a lot to good contacts, Smit also is grateful to SME Discounts’ members, whose honest feedback, he admits, has been invaluable in developing the business.
In order to differentiate SME Discounts from the competition, Andries Smit lives up to a few core values: shoot straight, promote only quality, deliver real value and above all - keep it simple. He believes it’s important to recognise that entrepreneurs and business owners are time poor, and above all, don't like losing money. They want to try new campaigns, products and service to grow their businesses, but without the risk of signing up to expensive and ineffective solutions which cause pain, loss and frustration.
So, what will the future hold for SME Discounts? “We really want to keep on improving in every possible way - the deals we source, the way we engage with our members and the value we offer” says Smit. “For us, it's about being the trusted partner that every SME wants and needs.
The SME market in the UK is fragmented and we want to help consolidate that. We are constantly working on building our onsite community functions and tools which will allow our members and merchants to engage directly, creating a business community of SMEs.
“Ultimately, we would like to expand internationally, and bring big discounts to small businesses anywhere in the world.”