Something that I wanted to focus on when I started out in my own business was to help support businesses in my local community, York and Yorkshire as a whole. For the most part, my clients have fallen into these areas, with a few odd jobs reaching out to further afield. On top of that I have endeavored to use local suppliers for things like print jobs or outsourcing, with little trouble finding what I have needed. However, one thing that I have noticed is that not everyone shares the same ethos as me.
There is a lot of talk about shopping local and encouraging consumers to support their high streets and nearby food producers. This movement has been given a boost in the last year with the onset of the coronavirus, lockdowns, and quarantines meaning that many people have not been able to, or have not felt comfortable, venturing much further than their local amenities. This has been great for the awareness of shops and services within a community and has allowed many of the more innovative and adaptable small businesses owners to fast track new initiatives such as online shopping and deliveries. While it has not been a great time for making money, it has certainly been good for those who have grasped the opportunity to strengthen their customer base and public perception.
However, it seems to me that the focus has always been on getting consumers to shop locally, and there has been less of a push to encourage small businesses to keep their money in the local economy. It is something that a lot of restaurants and food retailers will pride themselves on, local products, reduced food miles, and all that, but it has not necessarily translated to other industries.
It seems that local services like accountants, manufacturers, and yes, designers, can get overlooked for cheaper alternatives based further afield.
There are of course plenty of opportunities to keep things local. I have mentioned before that I live in the city of York. We have an approx. population of 200,000 people, so we are by no means a huge urban sprawl. It’s the type of place that if you go into the centre of town you are more likely than not to see someone that you know, at least to say hello to. There are a lot of small businesses despite the city’s size, and you could easily find most services within a few miles of the city centre. Anything that you couldn’t get within 20mile of the city could almost certainly be obtained in the greater Yorkshire area which covers several large cities like Leeds, Sheffield, and Doncaster. Unless you were looking for something very specific or very large, you would be able to find it in the county.
But, as I said, it tends to be services that suffer the most when locally sourcing. I am going to use my own industry as an example, but I think that same could be said for many others.
Design On Your Doorstep
These days it is very easy to find a designer on a site like Fiverr or Upwork for not a lot of money. I have written before about the pitfalls of using such a site here. You pay someone to do almost anything (legal) on sites like these, but they started out as a way to connect lower-priced designers and developers mostly based in Asia with startup companies in the west. The company gets the work they need for a fraction of the price and the freelancer gets paid more than they would be working for a local company.
It seems like a win-win situation, but the problem is, long term it’s not great for a company that wants to build a sustainable brand. It’s also not great for the economy of the county in which the company is based. Here are some of the issues:
1. The money is going outside of the local economy
Depending on what industry you are in, keeping money local can be the difference between making it or not. If there is no money in the local economy, who is going to buy from you?
2. You don’t build a relationship with the people you work with.
As your company grows it becomes more important to have people who support you, and specifically, in this example, a designer who knows your brand, knows what you like and what and knows how to solve your problems for you. If you use different freelancers and designers based on price from Fiverr that you have never met and who have no experience of your brand or industry, or your target audience, then how are you going to get the right result?
3. Local businesses will have a better handle on your issues, as they will share some of them.
Using a local business can help in other ways. They may have come across some of the same issues as you or already know someone else how has. The first-hand experience is priceless.
4. If you are touting the ‘shop local’ message, then it feels somewhat incongruous to not practice what you preach.
If you are a restaurant that expounds the virtues of steak sourced from a farm less than 10 miles away, wouldn’t it seem odd to use a an accountant based in India? Just saying.
The argument is exactly the same one that shops on the high street use when asking people to use them over amazon and the other online behemoths. It may take you some more time, and it may cost you a bit more, but the long term benefits will outweigh that. Think of how many times you have heard someone complain about a big company outsourcing their call centres to a different country. That same bugbear translates to an independent company too.
A great example of something backfiring on a company in this way was when the train company LNER started a new service from the town of Lincoln and in celebration advertised Lincolnshire sausages would now be used in their full English breakfast. The good folks of Lincoln were outraged to find that these Lincolnshire sausages were in fact made in Yorkshire! The cheek!
Now, being a company based in Yorkshire, LNER were in fact just using the supplier they had always used, who in turn were making the sausages to the proper recipe for traditional Lincolnshire sausages (which aren’t protected in the same way as Stilton Cheese and Champagne). But to the people of Lincolnshire this was rather a large boo-boo and a bit of a PR disaster for the company.
Walking the walk
It has surprised me how often I have come across businesses who say they support other local businesses and then find that they get their business card printed by VistaPrint, or some vital part of their product is shipped from China.
Honestly, I don’t really care where you do business, that’s your call. I just believe that if you talk the talk, you need to walk the walk. If you say you do something then do it.
Not too long ago I saw a post from a local organization whose entire purpose was to support and grow business in York. They were talking about a new initiative, the design work for which had been undertaken by a designer based in Leeds. Now granted, Leeds is only about 25miles from York, however, if your entire purpose is to promote York business, why not hire a York designer. I know (including myself, hint hint) at least half dozen designers and illustrators in York who could have completed this project. It just seemed utterly baffling to me at the time.
In another example, a big company I did contract work for, who claim to support local businesses ( and, to be fair, did a lot of the time), and whose main offices are in York, used to order in sandwiches for working lunches from Pret a Manger. Now, I happen to really like their sandwiches, but I know for a fact that there were dozens of independent cafes and restaurants closer to the office that could have catered those meetings.
Thinking Long Term
The long and the short of this is that it is up to you what you do with your business, buy from whoever you want, your choice. What I am mostly talking about here is long term investment in your community. But sourcing goods and services locally, you are supporting local businesses today, but also ensuring that there will be local businesses tomorrow.
That might not be a great concern to you, but it is to some people. And I bet it will be to someone that you know, a neighbour or relation who runs a local business for example. It really boils down to thinking about the consequences of our actions, something that people don’t do enough of in my opinion, both in business and in day to day life. If you source from further afield, local services suffer, and may go out of business and that could lead to few jobs and opportunities in your community. It’s just something that’s worth thinking about.
I’m Alex Dyett
I am a freelance Graphic Designer and Photographer, and Flickering Light Studio is my company. I live in York, UK, with my wife and daughter.
Hopefully, this blog post has given you some inspiration to go out and tell your businesses story with great design and eye-catching images. Take a look at the other blog posts to get some more ideas, and if there is anything that you feel I could help you with, please feel free to contact me, and I will be happy to work on a project with you.