September 18, 2021 9 min read

Shopping local and supporting small business has long been an important part of the Australian psyche. Maybe its our support-the-underdog mentality. Maybe it’s the pragmatism of wanting profits to stay in Australia and support the local economy. Maybe we just like knowing the person behind the counter and having a yarn.

We've embraced shopping locally with open arms

Whatever the reason, awareness around and enthusiasm for shopping local has grown exponentially in the last few years. Campaigns like Buy from the Bush, which aims to support regional businesses, have been enormously successful – generating $5 million in sales in the first four months alone!

The shopsmall movement is gaining momentum as Australians spend mindfully and strategically

 The #shoplocal movement has surged to the front of our national consciousness as the COVID pandemic has disrupted international supply chains, caused lengthy shipping delays, and made us all very aware of what we do and don’t produce in Australia. (Luckily we make a top notch wine!)

We know shopping local has significant impacts on our local community and national economy; from keeping our friends and family in jobs, to ensuring profits are reinvested in our communities, but we have huge scope to shop local beyond our local independent grocer or farmers market. 

Research by the Financial Planning Association of Australia in early 2019 found that Aussies spend almost $20 billion each year on gifts – and that was before lockdown gifts were even a thing!

Imagine if we directed some of that feel-good spending towards Australian made gifts from Australian small businesses! It could be an artistic renaissance, powered by our national love of gifting. 

Creativity has serious economic clout

As we've seen, there's a big demand-side market for shopping local and gifting - so what about the supply side?

Analysis by the APO (in October 2020, using 2016-17 data) shows that the creative industries employed 868,000 people (8.1% of the national workforce) and contributed over $111 billion to the national economy  - that’s a not-to-be-sniffed at 6.4% of GDP.

5 ways to support local artists that don't cost a thing

While the term ‘creative industries’ is a broad church, and can include anything from a film to an opera, to art exhibitions, video games, or your mate with a side hustle in pottery / resin earrings / song writing / graphic design, the APO report measures 12 key domains. The economic heavy-weights are design and fashion, followed by broadcasting and digital media. Tellingly, one of the key findings is that “cultural and creative employment fuels 21st century economic growth now, and will continue to do so into the future.”

Creative businesses are booming

So creativity is serious business – and increasingly it seems it’s a serious business more of us want to try our hand at. The ABS reported that in 2020-21 there was an increase of 3.8% in the number of actively trading businesses in Australia – that’s 87,806 new businesses being launched in the middle of a global pandemic (source: ABS).

Small business numbers are growing - even in the middle of a pandemic

Have we embraced having a creative side hustle as a balm against the isolation and anxiety of lockdowns and pandemic-led uncertainty? Have lockdowns enabled us to be newly inspired by long forgotten hobbies, or to take the plunge and launch that busienss idea that's been niggling away inside your brain for years?

If your social media feed is like mine, there seem to be new micro makers popping up in every corner of the country; from cross stitch kits to cake decorating courses, mending and botanical dying workshops to resin art and zoom paint-and-sip classes. It's an explosion of creative wares for sale - and we find this incredibly exciting.

While we don't yet have the data about what all these new businesses are doing, one thing we do know is that small business is hard work - and many don't last very long. An estimated one in three new small Aussie businesses fail in their first year of operation. Half of new small businesses will close in their second year, and 3/4 are out before their 5th business birthday  (Source: UTS)

So, if we value creativity and beauty, innovation and vibrant local economies – how can we support these small creative businesses to succeed and become sustainable in the long term – without going bankrupt in the process?

How to support small creative businesses every week

Now while obviously one of the best ways to help local artists and creative businesses is to buy their stuff, it's just not possible for many of us to be ordering beautiful new things every week (yes, I wish I had a trust fund too...) but don't worry, there are plenty of other ways you can provide support without going bankrupt, or even spending a cent.

1. Provide encouragement and moral support 

It might seem small, or even unimportant, but support, positive feedback and encouragement are hugely important for creatives – and all small business owners.

Many creative businesses are small or even micro-businesses. They might be a side hustle or a solo-operation. They might have a team of contractors, or a small staff – but rest assured running a business takes determination and hard work - and many would say late nights and buckets of coffee. When the going gets tough, you need friends and family to buoy you and bring you perspective and remind you of your achievements.

“My sister and I message each other every day about the ups and downs of business, when we have an issue or want to celebrate a win. It so valuable to have someone to talk to, relate to and bounce ideas off. I don’t know what I’d do without her support.”                      --  Shelley Barton, Silken Twine silkentwine.com.au

Often the creatives we work with at Stylish Australiana tell me that it’s the creating work they love, not so much the book keeping, digital marketing or copywriting. All these ‘groan-zone’ tasks need to happen of course, but under strain they empty the creative bucket – and its hard to run a creative business without creativity!

So, tell your creative friends that you like and appreciate what they’re doing, that their work is good, worthwhile, and important. Give them honest feedback. Tell them to keep going.  If they have a market stall – drop in and say hi (and buy them a coffee). If they have an online store, check it out and give them some constructive feedback. If they’re in their studio for days on end, pop around for a chat or book in a facetime call. If they’re buried in the detail help them remember their ‘why’ and remind them of their bigger goals.

Emotional support for small businesses owners is just as important as practical support

2. Spread the word. To everyone!

If you know an awesome local creative, don’t keep them to yourselves! Share – tell your friends, colleagues, neighbours. Tell random people at the playground or in the coffee queue. Follow their social accounts, like their posts and leave comments. Did you buy something and get a compliment about it? Tell that person where you got it! It's an amazing act of service and a fun conversation starter.

Social media is an easy way to provide a quick and easy ‘shout out’ that doesn’t cost you anything other than a few minutes, but can be transformational for a small creative business. Social media algorithms figure that your friends might like the same stuff that you do – so your likes and comments can expose your friends to the creatives you like and follow. Maybe they also have your great taste and are in the market for a thingamabob that your creative friend makes! #winning

“I am super grateful for the power of word-of-mouth. Most of the commission’s I’ve received have been through referrals, and it means a lot when friends and family share one of my art posts on social media.”  -- Lucy Fekete, Artist and Illustrator lucyfekete.com

The power of personal recommendations is huge. In fact it’s a marketing niche with its own acronym (WOMM – or Word of Mouth Marketing). According to Nielsen, 92% of consumers believe recommendations from friends and family over all forms of advertising – so your recommendation is powerful because its authentic and believable. You can’t buy this stuff (but even if you could - small businesses probably wouldn't have the budget for it!) – and its one of the most powerful ways to support artists, designers, creatives and small businesses in your community. Make sure your friends and family know about them!

3. Share an honest review or testimonial

This one takes a tiny bit more effort – but the payoff for the creative business concerned is worth its weight in gold. For any small business, reviews and testimonials are key to survival. For new customers to take a punt on a small business, rather than a chain store at the local shopping centre, they need to trust that the business is legit, the products are quality, and its worth the extra effort of trying something new.

If you’ve purchased something from your creative friend – or even if you've been gifted a product or tried a beta version of a service -  your opportunities to support don’t end there: as a customer now is your chance to leave a review!

Reviews help small businesses enormously

This could be on their social media accounts, google, a product review on their website or etsy profile, or a site like trust pilot (ask them where they're focusing on for reviews). For service based businesses you could offer a testimonial they can use on their website or in marketing copy, grant applications or proposals.

Telling your friends is one thing – but sharing your honest thoughts on the web as a genuine customer helps build their small business credentials with potential customers from all over the world. It also makes them feel really nice – we all love reading positive reviews.

“Asking a friend for a review was a lot less scary than asking a member of the public when I first started out and helped my website look professional and engaging.” -- Jules Lawson, Artist, julesnatureartist.com.au

4. Roll up your sleeves

Practical support is also very welcome for a small creative business owner with (too) many hats. If you’ve got some business, marketing or design know-how, or you’re handy with a 3x3 marquee, check in with your creative and small business friends and see if they need a sounding board or a brainstorming session, a roadie or a hand model. Even a coffee delivery can mean the world!

Practical support for small businesses is always welcome

Have they been swamped with orders and need someone to help pack? Do they need someone to encourage them to take a night off and go out for dinner? If you’re able to offer practical skills – such as proof reading website copy, taking a look at their chart of accounts, or modelling for product shoots your help and support will likely be received with open arms.

“I had a friend help me out on my Christmas market stalls which was great fun for us both and produced a great vibe around the stall, it also helped keep my costs down as they were happy to be paid in food and drinks throughout the day. Great to have such supportive friends.”   -- Jules Lawson, Artist, julesnatureartist.com.au

 5. Group and corporate gift advocacy

It's not just your own gifting dollar that you're able to leverage to support local artists and creatives, if you’re tasked with organising a group gift for friends or family, or your workplace is seeking suggestions for corporate gifts or awards – now is your time to suggest ordering something from a creative you know.

Its incredibly meaningful for your loved one to know that you went to the effort of organising a unique bespoke gift, and many workplaces now are keen to prioritise support of small businesses in their local area - from catering to staff wellbeing gifts to Christmas party prizes.

You can also use your network to financially support your creative friends and family in small but meaningful ways; such as crowd-funding, pledges or through membership platforms such as Patreon. It might just be a tenner, but your support and example can encourage others you know to do the same - and the results can be transformational – and incredibly validating for small creative businesses.

Make your gifting dollar work hard

Your gifting dollar is a powerful weapon in the economic struggles of small creative businesses, so careful consideration when purchasing your next birthday gift or ordering your Christmas shopping can make a huge difference to a small creative business and their family. However, don't overlook the smaller and more day to day acts of support you can extend to small creative businesses that cost next to nothing.

Practical and moral support, and leveraging your networks to share the small creative businesses that you love are an easy way to ensure the ongoing vibrancy of creative businesses in your community, and right across Australia.

In fact, you’re doing your bit just by being here on this website. Stylish Australiana works with over 50 creative small businesses, from micro to fairly sizeable (and mostly woman-led by the way) from every state and territory. If you’d like to make someone feel special, we don’t think there’s any better way than a heart felt message and a beautifully wrapped gift that’s been carefully selected and made with love (in Australia – of course!)

Are you a small creative business owner and have a tip or story to share on how you can  (or have been) supported? We’d love to hear.



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