Bushfires, drought, flooding and COVID-19 have taken a toll on small businesses in rural Australia. Bricks and mortar stores often haven’t had a way to sell their products online or the time, money or technical knowledge to establish an online presence. Many have lost thousands of dollars in stock and closed indefinitely.
The idea for Spend With Us began during the 2019/2020 bushfires. “The concept was to create a central online marketplace and directory of small businesses based in rural and regional Australian areas who were doing it tough and needed to get their businesses online and sell their products when tourists were no longer able to come into their towns,” says Sarah Britz, a web designer from Fountaindale, NSW.
Sarah wanted to do something to help the bushfire impacted communities. She knew she had the skills to quickly create something easy and user-friendly for people with no technical knowledge to use and set up.
Simultaneously, Lauren Hateley, a clinical psychologist from Avenel, Victoria, had created a Facebook page supporting bushfire affected Victorian businesses. The two women connected, and together they were able to reach out and provide support for hundreds of bushfire-affected small businesses, allowing them to create an online presence, keep trading and tell their stories of survival.
Consumers across Australia were keen to shop small and support regional businesses but didn’t know how to do so without physically going to these areas. The Spend With Us Marketplace provided a free, simple and user-friendly way for non-tech savvy business owners to take their businesses online, tell their inspiring stories and allow Australians to find and purchase their products on a single platform easily.
Nobody thought things could get worse for rural small businesses. They had been through drought, then devastated by bushfires, and in March 2020, they got hit for a third time by the effects of COVID-19. Australia went into lockdown and the need to get online and keep businesses trading became even more urgent.
So, Spend With Us opened its platform to support all rural and regional small businesses. The aim was to help make a difference to communities experiencing trauma, losing income, and finding it difficult to survive financially because they weren’t able to physically sell their products in stores or at markets.
In August 2020, Spend With Us joined forces with the rapidly growing Buy From a Bush Business Facebook group created by Jenn Donovan, a Riverina-based marketer and farmers wife who was supporting drought-affected rural businesses. They knew that by collaborating, they would raise more awareness for shopping locally with rural communities, make an even greater impact and support even more small businesses by delivering more sales and recognition.
There are currently over 900 small businesses on the Spend With Us website marketplace and directory for consumers to discover and support. The Buy From a Bush Business Facebook group has grown to over 318,000 members as of May 2020.
Connecting the city and the bush, the Spend With Us marketplace and directory provides a central platform where every rural or regional small business can create their free website store without all the costs and technical knowledge of creating their own websites. Then Australians across the country can find their products and support them without trawling numerous websites, scrolling through social media pages, or travelling hundreds of kilometres.
Sellers don’t need to have any technical knowledge or pay for services like web hosting, SEO, and advertising. The marketplace founders offer support through a dedicated seller’s Facebook group and provide training for sellers on how to adapt and maximise their online sales.
Through the combination of the online marketplace and our Buy From a Bush Business Facebook group, the platform has helped tens of thousands of small businesses keep trading and sell their products. For those wanting to buy Australian Made, a dedicated section on the website highlights some of the unique and beautiful products for sale.
Sarah, Jenn and Lauren say that every time a small rural or regional business receives a sale, they genuinely do a happy dance.
“By being mindful of where you spend your money, you can discover incredible products and know that your purchase is making a difference in someone’s life,” says Jenn.
Lauren adds: “We are a small but mighty team with enormous goals to ensure that Australia is talking about rural and regional areas, not just in drought, flood or bushfire times, but all the time.”
How to do a happy dance
Joining the Spend With Us – Buy From a Bush Business community is free, and becoming a member of the Buy From a Bush Business Facebook group is an easy way for consumers to discover products from small Australian businesses.
Australian rural or regional small businesses can set up a Spend With Us store or create a post and market their products through the Facebook group.
Businesses can create their store here.