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The small business showing a supplier can be kept on its toes with bespoke contracts

Simon Douglass is an entrepreneur with a background at Google. He understands that for a small business to be successful, you’ve got to fight your corner and remain flexible.
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Simon Douglass is an entrepreneur with a background at Google. He understands that for a small business to be successful, you’ve got to fight your corner for bespoke contracts and remain flexible.

After working for a long stretch at Google, followed by a handful of smaller marketing agencies, Simon Douglass decided it was time to take the plunge and start up his own business.

His marketing agency, Curated Digital, uses a lot of reporting and tracking tools that are designed to save businesses time or add value to data. There can be a lot of crossover, with some tools offering the same or similar features to others, so when making his purchasing decisions Douglass focuses on flexibility and bespoke contracts.

“If we’re evaluating a new supplier, say for a PPC tool, then it would be somebody within that team who presents the business case to me, similarly if it was a social tool it would be the head of social.

“However, at the end of the day the purchasing decisions come down to me, I’m in charge of the budget,” said Douglass.

“In the early days, I went back and forth quite a lot with suppliers, negotiating things that worked for us. A lot of suppliers have set packages, and sometimes for a small agency that can be a barrier to entry.

“Eventually, you might decide that you need the tool but try to negotiate a monthly payment plan rather than a one-time payment. It’s that kind of flexibility I’m looking for.”

Finding a deal that works for you

The suppliers that have offered bespoke contracts to Curated have also been the ones to offer stand-out customer service.

Douglass has noted that these companies offering bespoke contracts tend to be in touch more often, to check-in and offer training. By comparison, the larger suppliers that refused to offer bespoke deals have also seemed less flexible and approachable when it comes to training and webinars.

Douglass puts his money where his mouth is – as much as the business seeks out flexibility in its own suppliers, it also strives to offer it to its own clients.

The main premise behind Curated was to create an agency that looks at the whole picture. He believed that too many agencies offered social, search, search engine optimisation (SEO) or pay-per-click (PPC) services without focusing on the client’s overall goals.

“Agencies I had previously worked for worked on all these different digital channels but they all worked in silos,” he explained.

“So, you’d have a PPC team and a social team etc., and it was difficult to get them to work together. What I wanted to do at Curated was to focus on the clients’ goals regardless of the channels.”

Load up on freebies

From his experience with both clients and suppliers, Douglass believes the key to a flexible working relationship is communication.

“My attitude is just to try and build relationships. See if you can somehow talk to a human being and try and get some kind of free trial or testing out of them,” recommends Douglass.

He acknowledged that it’s not always that simple – sometimes it can feel like you’re being cheeky asking for freebies – but if your business is short of cash and you need tools it doesn’t hurt to ask your suppliers what offers are available to take advantage of and thoroughly reviewing the service they offer before committing to buy.

Many tools you sign up for online even offer a free 30-day trial up front, but Douglass cautions against taking out these trials and forgetting about them, as he has done in the past.

“We just didn’t have time to evaluate them and the trial lapsed before I’d even had time to play around with it,” he explained.

Fundamentally, a lot of startups just don’t have the cash to agree deals with new suppliers on a whim, every penny must be spent carefully.

Douglass’ key advice for startups that are looking to retain flexibility with suppliers is to speak to a person, avoid getting locked in to long contracts, and negotiate any potential offers or freebies.

“Everything has to be worth it,” he said.

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About Author

Letitia Booty

Letitia Booty is a special projects journalist for Real Business. She has a BA in english literature from the University of East Anglia, and since graduating she has written for a variety of trade titles. Most recently, she was a reporter at SME magazine.

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