After ten years of developing a user-friendly product for acne-prone and blemished skin, it was time for Werner and co-owner Merel to market the product. But how do you do that when you have a limited marketing budget as a startup? They enlisted the help of consultant René. They are now already in the second sounding board process.

Why did you decide to join Entrepreneurs Soundboard René?

René: “When I retired, I took up various hobbies. That was great fun and I still do, but at some point I also wanted to apply my knowledge again. I wanted to actively engage with organisations and companies again. I came into contact with someone who was with Entrepreneurs Soundboard as a consultant. He recommended Entrepreneurs Soundboard. It is good for me to use my brain without having to do it 40 hours a week. What I personally really enjoy is working with the younger generation. They think in a different way. This way, I use my time in a fun and useful way. I also like the fact that Entrepreneurs  Soundboard is not a commercial company and actually helps small- to medium-sized entrepreneurs.”

What about you, Werner?

Werner: “In my work as a clinical mental health nurse, I saw that many young people suffer (sometimes severe) psychosocial consequences because of their blemished skin, for example because they are bullied or are very insecure. This is why Merel and I developed a unique product for acne-prone and blemished skin. We tested different methods and compositions of ingredients for a long time. Meanwhile, legislation also changed, which meant we had to adapt my product. Eventually, within 10 years, we developed a dermal textile spray for blemished skin in addition to our full-time jobs.

The next step, of course, was to market the product. This we found very difficult, as we are not marketers ourselves and did not have a big marketing budget due to our fixed expenses. We came across the Entrepreneurs’ Soundboard when Merel read something about it in a magazine we have here: DordtCentraal. Since we both have full-time jobs, had a limited marketing budget but still wanted to market our product, we decided to get in touch.”

Did you have a good click right away?

Werner: “Yes right away! The first meeting felt immediately right. René is clear in his communication and also has affinity with the market, having worked for cosmetics brands himself for years. That also ensured a click. During the first introductory meeting, it was immediately about content. We just got started, set clear goals and took action. What we particularly like about the contact with René is his proactive attitude. He often sends e-mails with interesting news about our field. He does this out of his interest, but that is very nice for us and it creates a personal bond.”

In which matters have you been able to help Werner the most, René?

René: “The brand development. At the bottom of the market you have shops like Action and Big Bazar, followed by drugstores, Rituals and Ici Paris, and up there the skin specialists. As an entrepreneur, it is incredibly important to decide which market you are going to market your product to. If you choose one segment, that choice determines that other segments are unlikely to include it in their range. When I came in, we ticked off all the segments and made a decision.

The next step was marketing. It had to match the whole positioning. At that point, the website was too anonymous. It was too focused on the product, but it was not a brand. The product was good, but the brand was not yet loaded strongly enough. In addition, the company and the brand were too confusingly intertwined. One time Phidermica was held up, another time Phitex®. We clarified that too. I recommended distinguishing between the company and the brand. The company is important, but what matters is the brand. In doing so, it was good to talk to brand specialists. For example, a packaging specialist. That way, you learn how to load your brand as an identity.

With the reformulated positioning, the website was then adapted. Here, among other things, storytelling was not yet applied. The product was explained in detail, but there was still nothing to read about Werner. This is, of course, very important. It is good to tell on your website where the product comes from and why you developed it.

Then we moved towards sales. I think it’s incredibly important for entrepreneurs to establish a rock-solid product positioning before you can sell it to others. Werner explained that at an earlier stage of acne product development, he spoke to a distributor. This is a distributor for beauticians, skin therapists and pharmacies. This is the upper end of the market, where the product belongs. He had incredibly good and nice contact with her. So the ball got rolling to meet up with her again. She was enthusiastic about the product and the story behind it. Prior to this meeting, I advised Werner to talk not only about the ‘P’ of product, but especially about product positioning and the story. We started working with this wholesaler and their network can now buy the product through them. They are marketing it widely for us, so to speak. Right now, skin experts are adding Phitex® to their product range every day. We are now directly with the customer we want to reach. Skin experts in the Netherlands can now buy Phitex® for their customers from this wholesaler.

I have also made Werner realise that you have to start seeing the cooperation as a partnership. They are not only your customer, but you can also keep each other informed about what works, what doesn’t, what the reactions are and so on. You have to see it as a partnership. Given that it clicks personally between them, this is going in the right direction. Merel is good at drafting contracts and recording agreements. She has used her legal knowledge to put the agreements in place. Nice to see how they complement each other in being entrepreneurs, while also working full-time.”

Are there also topics that are difficult to give advice on because things have changed over the years René?

René: “That’s usually when an entrepreneur applies to us too late and the problems are too big. Then there is little more we can do. We sometimes come into contact with entrepreneurs with whom everything is going wrong. Not only does the company almost go under, but there are also unpaid invoices and unopened envelopes. And then the entrepreneur turns out to be in the middle of a divorce. So, as a consultant, you can feel like a social worker. That is very difficult and then you have little leeway. This is also because there are no longer mandatory entrepreneurial courses. This used to be compulsory. As a result, there are many entrepreneurs who start a business from their hobby.”

Would you recommend any entrepreneur to start a sounding board process Werner?

Werner: “Yes, definitely right away. Especially in our specific situation. In all honesty, we don’t have the money for an advisor whom we have to pay hourly billings. We simply cannot afford that. René from the Entrepreneurs soundboard has made a difference for us and breathed life into our business. If it wasn’t for the Entrepreneurs Soundboard, we wouldn’t have had a consultant. We would not have been able to make that investment.”

And René, would you also recommend other (former) entrepreneurs to become mentors?

René: “Yes, but you really have to be willing and able to invest the time in it. It is voluntary work and takes about 2 days a week. In addition, you have to keep gathering knowledge. Think about reading about business associations, the market, trends and so on. Because I also teach at the ROC and sit in the strategic consultations of the Chamber of Commerce, I get a lot of developments from large organisations. I can apply this knowledge well in advising entrepreneurs.”