We Trade It was born about 18 months ago. I was already running a small lifestyle magazine publishing company, and whilst running it I had signed up for a lot of networking groups and support forums – I was hoping to find advice from like-minded entrepreneurs to help me grow the business. I got my fingers burnt spending money on various marketing schemes and other ‘services’ that didn’t deliver on what they promised. So we looked at the market, spoke to other SMEs and took on board their frustrations with the b2b communities out there, before deciding to launch our own, very simple, trading community as an alternative.
My working week starts on a Sunday. This week, we were in the office doing a six-hour test on the new version of the website to be deployed the next day, with either new front-end features or some upgrade in backend programming. On Monday, I meet with our developers and discuss what new features or improvements we should be working on that week – normally we can work out what needs doing by looking at the site feedback from our existing members. Our main office is in Tunbridge Wells, but we have a small office in London, and on Tuesday I was there for a meeting with a large energy company that is interested in partnering with the site.
On Wednesday, I had the joy of working with accountants on a budget for 2013. We are partly backed by an investor who put £1m and some of his own resources into the company, so making sure the money is well spent is an important task. That evening, I managed to get some time away to go to my son’s Christmas carol concert – I find it’s very important to make sure you steal yourself away for things like that. It’s very important to look after the family, too!
On Thursday and Friday we had have sales and business development meetings – discussing how to grow our membership, how to make them more engaged, how to get the site growing through word of mouth. We’ve got big plans for the next year or so. There are 4.5m SMEs in the UK, and we’re hoping to have 1% of them signed up as members for the £99 subscription within two years. Then we will have the groundwork done for rolling the site out internationally – allowing companies to trade goods and services with each other overseas and help them run their business globally.
The hardest thing about the job is getting people to believe in the concept. There is a lot of cynicism about online ‘self-help’ services and trading communities – too many of them do not deliver on their promise. We’re trying to be simple and open in our approach, and do exactly what we say we’ll do. But getting people to trust in the service and in the other businesses in the community can be tough.
The best thing about the job is seeing the website improving constantly and seeing the number of products and members growing. It’s incredibly rewarding to come in of a morning and see that a few people have signed up for a membership over night, outside of office hours.
If I had to give some advice to other entrepreneurs, it would be to know that there is a misconception that you are judged by your successes. But more often, it’s about how well you can bounce back from the knockbacks, and find a way to go in a new direction. As for the future of We Trade It, I do not have an exit plan from this business; I plan to hold on to it. But if Mark Zuckerberg comes to call, then who knows?