This morning I was on Instagram, taking part in a conversation on the Just A Card Instagram page (I'll tell you more about Just A Card shortly). The conversation was about the particular challenges that small creative businesses face. One of the biggest issues that people talked about was how difficult they find it to get sales even though they're working their tits off ALL THE TIME!
I was feeling a bit gloomy about things this morning but this conversation really lifted me. Not just because I was connecting to many other small creative businesses in the same boat as me, but also because it aroused a real passion and anger in me about this state of affairs. As PiL sang in their song Rise 'anger is an energy' – and I felt energised to write this blog post.
I often sell my work at craft fairs and art events. I have a lot of funny greeting cards for sale and people will stand and read them, showing their friends and laughing their heads off. On more than one occasion I've had people stand at my stall for as long as 10 minutes (blocking other people from looking too, by the way) having a right good old laugh, then saying 'oh thank you, that's really cheered me up!' - and walking away without buying A SINGLE FUCKING CARD!!!! How rude! (I've thought about having an equivalent of a swear box, where people put money in every time they laugh...)(and yes, I see the irony of using 'swear box' there!)
Of course I smile through gritted teeth and say 'thank you' and 'have a lovely day' but what I really want to say is this -
'I'm very pleased that my work makes you laugh. It gladdens my heart and warms my soul to know that I have cheered you up and brightened your day. However, I have paid to be here, my products cost money to produce, I have to eat, and pay the mortgage, and pay the bills, and my glad heart and warm soul simply do not cut the mustard! Your laughter is not valid currency! I am NOT merely here to entertain you! This is my job, my livelihood, the only means by which I make a living! I'll bet that you go off and have a nice cappuccino and a piece of cake somewhere after you've cheered yourself up on my blood sweat and tears which I can guarantee will cost you MORE THAN A BLOODY CARD!' And so on. You get my point.
Although it may sound like it, this isn't a whinge-fest. It's not about me stamping my feet and throwing a tantrum, shrieking 'waaaaahhhhh! Nobody's buying my stuff! Nobody loves me!' (I'll do that in private, if you don't mind). Neither am I saying that everyone behaves like this and that no-one buys my work, because they do and I appreciate it greatly.
It's about my frustration, and that of so many other small creative businesses, at the lack of awareness out there. You know, people say 'oh it must be so nice to work for yourself and just draw pictures all day, do what you like all the time'. Yes, it is great to have that freedom, but I don't know ANYONE who draws pictures all day and I'm convinced that you'd be surprised at how MUCH of our time is spent trying to get people interested in our work and to buy it, as opposed to actually doing the art.
It's about encouraging people to actually, in real terms, support those small creative businesses they purport to love. It's easy to lament when something has gone, when the pretty things are no longer available to admire because their creator has had to jack in their business as it just isn't paying.
I mentioned Just A Card earlier. Just A Card is a campaign created by extremely talented artist and print maker Sarah Hamilton. She runs the campaign with the help of a small team of volunteers alongside managing her own creative business which is pretty phenomenal. She was inspired to act in response to this statement by a gallery owner, whose gallery had closed down – 'If everyone who'd complimented our beautiful gallery had bought 'just a card' we'd still be open'. Just think about that for a minute. It's not a silly throwaway comment. It's actual FACT! Every little sale helps and this is what the Just A Card campaign endeavours to make people aware of.
You've probably seen yourself countless small galleries and independent shops crumble and fall by the wayside. You might think 'oh that's a shame, they had some nice things in there' and go on your merry way without stopping to consider that actually, it's people like you and me – ordinary everyday people – that need to join forces to keep these places going. These are people's livelihoods, dreams, places they've gambled everything on and put their hearts and souls into. They're not just there for decoration!
Of course it doesn't have to be a card that you buy. It could be any small item - a pocket mirror, a coaster, a badge, a fridge magnet. If you can't afford to spend anything and you follow creative businesses on social media, giver their posts a like! Interact with them, share their posts - believe me, it all helps with visibility and none of it is wasted. It all adds up.
Please follow and support the Just A Card campaign if you possibly can. The team work extremely hard at promoting and helping small creative businesses and they've done incredible work in just a short space of time to create a brilliantly supportive community for us all. But it's a huge job and they need all the help they can get! Follow them on Instagram and Twitter and do visit the website to find out more about the campaign and how you can support it.
I am perfectly happy to entertain you, but I can't do it for free!