Supporting indie sellers and creatives even when you’re skint

Anyone familiar with my writing will know that a recurring theme is a commitment to supporting local, small or indie businesses and creatives. It’s something I feel passionate about, and it feels like a real, tangible thing to do when the world feels increasingly like it is going to hell. But I also realise that it’s not always an easy thing to do when you have a million other priorities and you’re worried about paying the gas bill. So, here are some easy – and often free! – ways to support your local creatives and indie sellers: many of which won’t just make the world a bit nicer, but also hopefully brighten your own life a little.

Don’t buy into the guilt trips

Some of the most off-putting messaging around supporting indie businesses and creatives is that you are a bad person if you don’t. Shop at Amazon? Well, you are personally forcing a warehouse worker to pee in a bottle. Buy mainstream brand toiletries? Why not just go burn down a forest, you heartless fuck. And how dare you spend your one valuable night out seeing a big-name musical or a Marvel film instead of supporting some indie artist’s one-person show? Don’t you care about the arts?!

But the reality is, these days everyone’s life is dominated by big brands. Unless you are lucky and rich enough to live in an area well-appointed with artisanal bakers, small grocers and family-run cafes, you’ll spend the majority of your money on big brands from big companies. That’s just modern life, and feeling bad about it won’t help anyone. Instead, think of small ways you can tweak your spending and your habits to support small businesses and creatives – even if that’s just buying a pack of Christmas cards from your school fete.

Every little helps

To steal a phrase from one of the Big Guys, it really does. I know myself as an indie creative that every book sale helps (and, yes, you mostly do have to buy them from Amazon, sorry, but to paraphrase The Good Place, almost no purchase in the modern world is ethically untainted, because Rich People Own the World). Every donation to Ko-fi adds up. So, I try to pay that back where I can.

Sometimes, it really isn’t much – it’s buying the odd birthday card from Etsy or an indie store rather than Paperchase. It’s deciding to have lunch or coffee at an indie place rather than a chain. Sometimes it’s a little more concerted – I’ve got into the habit of going to craft fairs with a friend, and always buy something when I do – but if I’m honest that’s not cheap, and I know it’s not a thing everyone can do regularly. But while none of us can do everything, most of us can do something. Think about where you can make small, affordable changes to your habits, then put them into practice.

It’s not always about the money

Obviously, not everyone can afford to spend anything on non-essentials right now. But again, I know from my own business that sometimes the best thing people can do for you is increase your exposure: they might not be able to support your business financially, but they can put you in front of someone who can. Most indie businesses and creatives have miniscule marketing budgets and are slaves to the algorithms of social media, with their posts invisible to all but a few followers. Taking a few seconds to like, comment or even share can make a huge difference.

Almost every artist thrives on recognition: not only does it help spread the word to potential new audiences, it makes them feel less like they are throwing their hard work into a thankless void. (Trust me, if I had a quid for every time I thought ‘what’s the point of doing this? Nobody cares!’ I would be rich enough for it not to matter). So, if you read a book or see a show you like, review it (even a one-line review on Amazon or Goodreads can be really helpful), tweet about it, tell the author/creative, post a picture of it on Instagram or Facebook. Click on links to articles by writers from underrepresented groups. The only way people get to write those articles is if people read them. If you use Twitter, talk about TV shows that feature diverse casts, that aren’t just about maverick white guys.

I’m not saying turn yourself into a constant hawker for other people’s goods, but the occasional shout out can be more effective than you think. Tell people about the stuff you like, in whatever way that works for you: it’s not nothing. It all helps.

Go outside your comfort zone

When you have limited time and money, it’s easy to retreat to the familiar: buy the book by the author you know you like, buy tickets to a gig or a show you know – or at least can be almost certain – will be great. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But some of the best rewards will come from when you take a little risk. I rarely go to gigs – money, time, faff – but all of my current music obsessions come from shows where I thought, what the hell? A friend said let’s go, the tickets were cheap, the venues seemed cool: and suddenly I’ve discovered a band I love.

My job means I get to see a lot of high end, glossy theatre – but some of my favourite shows have been small-scale productions from companies I don’t know, at venues where the tickets are a tenner.

Going outside your comfort zone even a little can bring you huge rewards, and it doesn’t always have to cost much – or indeed any – money. Most indie art is cheaper, and though the trade off can sometimes be it’s less polished, the rewards can be originality and flair that hasn’t been smoothed out and homogenised by a system focused solely on selling. So why not buy a book by an indie author, download a podcast by someone you have never heard of, take a chance on a comedy show or a gig or a play or a film that you wouldn’t have otherwise done?

Most big cities have a wealth of cheap or free art that can be unearthed with a little research. Let yourself wander round a gallery on your lunchbreak (buy a postcard from the giftshop if you can!). You will enrich your own life and your very presence will make a difference to a venue that needs footfall to survive.  

Don’t be a dick

The eternally relevant Wheaton rule, but never more so than now. I don’t know why this needs saying but: don’t download books from pirate sites. Most authors are not rich. If you can’t afford books, go to the library (most offer e-lending and authors get paid for lending). Don’t buy eBooks then return them on Amazon – the author ends up paying. Don’t buy goods from sites that steal people’s art and stick it on t-shirts. I remember reading a message board on a comics site complaining that a comic with gay protagonists had been cancelled – yet every single person in the thread admitted to illegally downloading the comics for free. People don’t create work in a vacuum: if it’s not worth their while to do so, and not worth companies’ while to hire them, that work won’t get made.

Reap the rewards!

It’s easy to position all this as some kind of moral duty, but the fact is, it’s fun. And the rewards are real and concrete. I’ve built relationships with a number of indie sellers over the lockdown months of buying all my cross-stitch stuff from them, and the result has not just been I feel like I’m buying from an actual person rather than a faceless corporation but has made shopping more rewarding. I’ve often had little freebies in with my order – a fabric sample, some stickers, a few postcards. I’ve found indie sellers are flexible about orders and also fast to rectify mistakes in a way most big chains are not (I can’t tell you the amount of ‘I didn’t mean to order that I wanted something else!’ messages I have exchanged on Instagram…)

Signing up to a theatre or band mailing list might get you discounts on tickets or first look at a new gig. Buying from indie bookshops might get you some cool swag (I’ve started buying all my new John Connelly books – which I would normally get from Amazon – from an indie bookseller because they come with cool tote bags).

And if nothing else, there’s always a chance that actor / comedian / band goes stellar so you get the bragging rights of seeing them in a pub in an audience of ten people. That’s got to be worth something, right?

Like my writing? You can support me in a whole load of ways (some of them for FREE!)

If you’re skint: RTs and shares always welcome. Reviews of anything of mine you have read on Amazon or Goodreads or any book related/social media site, no matter how short, help boost profile. Tell your friends how lovely I am!

Wannathrow some cash my way?

Donate to my Ko-fi.

Hire me! I Will Write For Pay.

Buy my books: 
Newcastle-based rom-com with a dash of Northern charm: The Bridesmaid Blues
Paranormal adventure with snark and sexiness: Dark Dates: Cassandra Bick Chronicles: Volume 1
If you want to read something a bit darker, try Doll and my short stories No Love is This. 

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