Look at what you’re spending on and determine what is a “want” and what is a “need”
Creator of ‘The Entertainer’, Donna Benton talks to cashy about making your ideas into successes
We are so excited to bring you this Frugal Friday ambassador. It’s always our mission to bring you the most relevant, clued in and active members of the community for our profiles. Most UAE residents will instantly recognize The Entertainer – a 2 for 1 coupon booklet that brought much-needed deals to the little indulgences of life in the Emirates. Since its launch in 2001, The Entertainer has grown to reach 23 different destinations across the Middle East, South East Asia, Europe and Africa. Its founder, Donna Benton, has seen her idea grow into an empire, so we couldn’t wait to sit down and talk business, budgeting and best buys with her!
1. Donna, we are so thrilled to feature you as part of UAE Saves Week. You are one of the most profound success stories of the UAE. Could you tell us a little bit about how 'The Entertainer' came about?
I came up with the idea of the Entertainer in 2001 having just moved from Australia for a job that ultimately did not work out for me. At that point in time there were many great restaurants opening up in Dubai, and one day I was driving along Sheikh Zayed Road thinking about how to incentivize residents to try the new restaurants. It struck me that the offer would have to be substantial to get people to drive 15-20 minutes out of their way and try something new, and that’s where the idea of the Entertainer came to life.
The key to its success has been that the offer is simple – we are always 2 for 1, regardless of the merchant, and our offers are available 7 days a week for lunch and dinner – so that people could immediately understand the value of their potential savings. At the same time I wanted to create a product that the merchants would be proud to be a part of – it couldn’t be a tacky voucher book, and it had to work as a brand platform for the merchants. From that idea 12 years ago, we now have 27 books in 23 destinations.
2. What were some of the big challenges you faced when starting out?
The biggest challenges I experienced in that first year were first getting merchants to sign up to participate, and secondly, getting people to buy it. It takes a leap of faith on the merchant’s side to sign up for a product before they can see it, and I am eternally grateful to those merchants who chose to participate in year 1 – 98 merchant partners in one Dubai book. As far as getting people to buy it, I realized that passive sales were not going to work - that they needed to see the product, feel it, and experience it. So I literally went door to door selling and my belief and my passion got me over the line.
3. How important was budgeting and saving to you when starting out your business?
Budgeting and saving are essential, and can make or break you as a company. In the first few years, I saved wherever I could, didn’t employ staff, and did virtually everything myself – researched all the legalities, got the approval for the product from the municipal departments, oversaw the printing, and did all the sales on the merchant and customer side. In doing that, I learned everything about the product and about running the business, which has been integral to our growth 12 years on.
4. What are your money regrets, if you have any?
Money was very much a concern when I set up the Entertainer. Setting up my own company really taught me a lot of lessons about saving money, earning money, and investing money – because in the beginning my funds were so limited I really had to be very careful and stringent about where I would spend. I did make a lot of mistakes my first year! But I don’t regret any of those mistakes because they taught me what I needed to know and to learn from them and not make the same mistake again. To get to the rainbow you have to go through the rain, and that’s how I’ve made the Entertainer successful. .
4. Do you still maintain a 'savings savvy' approach to your life in the UAE?
Yes – I like to save and invest in the future for my family. I’ve always operated under an ethos of making sure I save at least 70% of what I’m making, and I do also invest my savings, mainly in property. That being said, when you’re working hard you need to reward yourself, which I most certainly do – but I still am a big believer of saving for a rainy day.
5. The Entertainer was one of the first, but 'daily deal' websites and email offers are a dime a dozen now. How do you stay fresh and relevant? What keeps you ahead of your competition?
We have managed to stay fresh and relevant over the years by being true to our brand, our product, and our offer. Because our offers can be used within a one year validity period it allows people the flexibility to use the vouchers at their convenience; therefore our product has maintained a simplicity and integrity that is unique. With Daily Deal sites, they tend to offer more time sensitive offers, or ones with heavy restrictions – that’s the opposite to us. The Entertainer is truly a win-win for merchants and customers, and that is the key to our success and keeps us ahead of the competition.
6. The UAE sometimes receives criticism for an overtly opulent way of life. What would you say to people who argue that people can't save money living in this country?
I absolutely disagree with that sentiment; you can save money, it just takes dedication to be mindful of what you’re making and what you’re spending. I came here with only $3,000, worked hard and saved. When I started my company, there were no “wants” that I spent money on - no shoes, no handbags, no holidays. In adhering to my savings plan, I was able to get to the point where I could enjoy the rewards of my hard work, which came later. Everybody can save money even if it’s a little bit at a time.
7. What's the best piece of financial advice you've ever been given?
It’s simple - always save for a rainy day. My Nanna taught me that at an early age and it’s always stuck with me, as you never know what is going to come up.
8. What about UAE Saves Week is important to you?
I feel that what is important about UAE Saves Week is getting the message out that there is the potential to save, no matter what salary you’re on. There are always ways to save money and it’s great to spend time as a community thinking and celebrating the ways in which people can do just that.
For me personally, saving money is important because it means I can plan for my future, provide my family the best life, and it means that when I do spend money - which I do! – I can fully enjoy rewarding myself because I know that I’m taken care of, and my family is taken care of. I would want more people to understand that message – saving money allows you a level of freedom to enjoy your life.
9. A lot of our members want to save money but don't know where to start. Where have you found are the first places you make cut-backs when you're trying to budget?
My advice would be to take a look at what you’re spending on and determine what is a “want” and what is a “need”. You need to ask yourself and answer honestly – do I want this or do I need this?
Work out what your bills are – again, your essential bills like utilities, rent, food, etc. - what income you have coming in, and then look at what you have left over. The leftover amount should be what you save, as per my 70/30 rule. If you’re not that disciplined, my advice would be to go through that exercise, open up a bank account and put away a certain amount that you can’t touch each month. Additionally, you can set up an auto transfer to either a savings account or an account in your home country that will deduct your savings each month – that way you are sure not to spend it.
10. Why is saving and a healthy attitude towards money so important?
Saving and having a healthy relationship with money is important on many levels and is the foundation to your survival. First and foremost - you have to be able to survive and need it to do so. Additionally, once you have a family then that need to provide only increases. Not having money, or not saving money, causes a huge amount of personal stress because you’re constantly worried about your own survival and your family’s ability to thrive. This stress can be really detrimental to people’s emotional and even physical well-being.
Why not snap a picture of what you're doing this Frugal Friday and upload it to our gallery? Join us for our picnic in Safa Park – or take a picture of a free family day at the beach and upload it!