Just a blog post*(*but it's about the hugely important #justacard campaign)

The thing I like best about ‘Just a Card’ is the fact that if you’re reading this thinking what on Earth is Just a Card?! I can explain it to you in one sentence: Its a group of volunteers whose sole objective is to encourage people to value and support independent shops, artists and makers (if everyone bought ‘just a card’ or something else small then it would keep the independent sector in business).

This week (Mon-Friday) was the first ever Just A Card Week and if you’re on social media and follow either Just a Card or an independent maker or business you’ll hopefully have seen some of the action surrounding it. It was a really inclusive and fun event to be involved in and I found it heart-warming to see how many fellow makers and creatives were joining in, as the campaign message needs to be shouted about by as many people as possible. As I’ve said in previous blog posts, I think social media can be a scary and lonely place for independent businesses; especially when you’re just starting out, so it really means a lot to us when we stumble across Just a Card and realise very quickly that they have got our back (and it goes without saying that we in return have theirs).

On Friday (the final day of Just a Card Week) the idea from the event organisers was to focus on the ‘happy dance’ that small businesses do each time they receive an order. Needless to say I wasn’t organised enough to have a dance clip to upload (which is for the best really - no one wants to see that!) Instead, feeling inspired by the amazing work Just a Card do, I asked if anyone would like to contribute if I wrote a blog post about the week and the campaign. I was over the moon when I had a flurry of participants.

I heard from Alex Jones who makes custom cards and prints: “this week was the first time I came across the ‘Just a card’ campaign and it’s been wonderful for a 3 reasons:  

1) Sometimes I really struggle to motivate myself to do anything creative if I’m not in the mood. But by being part of this campaign I‘ve become involved with other creative people trying to get their work out there just like me. This has encouraged me to put more effort into my work and think about where I want it to go. It’s inspiring being part of such a wonderful community! 

2) It’s made me think again about actually BUYING from those whose work I admire and ‘like’ on Instagram. As the campaign explains - buying ‘just a card’ can help keep such businesses open! So I’ve made a goal for when I next have to buy a thoughtful gift for a loved one I shall buy it from the lovely people in this community! 

3) The challenges I’ve been given during Just a Card week have reminded me to be more consistent in my Instagram posting and have already helped my following and interaction. Show some love to others and they’ll show it back. It’s such a great idea to set a week of challenges as not only does it get the word out there but it helps each artist involved to be seen and get some attention!”

I think this pretty much ticks all the boxes the campaign is hoping to achieve!

A very succinct bit of feedback I received from Adele Swingewood (a graphic designer) was “I first heard about #justacard when I saw one of their posts on Instagram, and then began to see others makers and independent businesses in my area become part of this collective moment.

I think maybe there’s a slight taboo about saying ‘please support me!’ as a small business, but Just a Card provides a forum for collective voice and conversation in a way that can shape the way consumers mindlessly, or mindfully, purchase products. I didn’t realise it really, but since I’ve become a small business owner, I consider where I can buy from independents before others, and I’ve made some great connections with people as part of the handmade community.”

I totally agree with this; it is much easier to shy away from shining a spotlight on who we are and what we do, but if we want to make our businesses a success, we simply have to do this. And actually the majority of the time we are helping potential customers out by reminding them about we we are, what we sell/make and what makes it unique.

I was curious to find out what others thought of the ‘makers movement’ in general, so I asked Jenny Evans (of Bramble & Wren Clothing) and she had this to say: “I took part in Just a Card week and was blown away by the support small businesses have for each other. It's clear from the growing number of small Instagram based creative businesses that there is support from customers too. The makers movement is growing. No longer are customers satisfied by mass produced products made cheaply by huge factories and underpaid labourers. Today's shoppers are perhaps more ethically minded and want to know that their hard earned money is going towards someone who puts their heart and soul into the products, rather than the CEO of a corporate company with questionable ethics. 

To get customers to buy into shopping at small businesses we need to continue to make our voices heard, through events such as Just a Card week, we need to keep advertising ourselves and shouting about what we do, both online and in our local communities. We need to encourage others and lead the way in shopping small ourselves. The tide is turning, and I'm excited to be along for the ride!”

It was brilliant to hear such positive reactions from the people who got in touch with me but I feel very aware that its not all ‘Happy Dances’ and slick flatlays; behind every rainbow emoticon there is an individual or small team who are working their socks off to make enough money to continue their business; we are pouring our creativity and passion out into the little squares of Instagram in the hope that someone will buy Just a Card…or a bag…a cushion… a print…a t-shirt… or whatever it might be that we have put so much time and energy into in order to give customers something different and special.

With this in mind, I am very grateful to the lovely lady who runs a small online children’s clothing boutique who was so honest and open in telling me about the hardest thing she has found in starting up and making a success of her business: “I really enjoyed sourcing the right clothes for my business and setting up the website. I never imagined that getting people to visit my wonderful website would be so hard. No matter how good my clothes are, the customers will never know if they don’t visit the website. The golden route to success I was told is social media. I tried Instagram with a bit of success, I thought as I have some 940 followers. With all those followers there was hardly any sales. I had a give away competition generating several thousand participants (through a blogger) but didn't generate a single sale. I am an Insta novice, I can post, like and comment. That's the extent of my knowledge. I’d like to know how to convert ‘followers’ into ‘customers’?”

I think there are probably thousands of people out there who feel the same way or have other questions they would just love to come out and ask; but maybe don’t want to rain on the dazzlingly colourful and buzzing parade of social media. We don’t always want to be the only one putting our hand up and saying ‘I don’t actually understand how to do this though..can you help me?’ I think the first thing to say here is check out justacard.org because they have loads of really helpful resources, advice and tips; especially for social media. And if we can't find what we're looking for then we could ask the awesome people behind Just a Card and I'm sure they would do their very best to give us advice; their objective is to help us to thrive and they have so much experience and knowledge to pass on.

After all, if I’ve learnt one thing from the Just a Card campaign it is that we are all in this together and we all want to support one another to create an independent movement that will change the way people shop and the way we think in terms of value versus cost. Separately we can be strong but together we can be unstoppable.

A very special thank you to the lovely contributors to this blog who gave me their honest and very valued opinions and thoughts in a very short space of time!

Thanks for reading! Emma x

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