Sarah Britz, founder of Spend With Us tells Kochie’s Business Builders in her own words, why she decided to launch a non-profit to help small business owners in need.
Spend With Us is a website marketplace supporting rural and regional Australian small businesses impacted by bushfire, drought and COVID-19. It’s a platform that connects the city and the bush, providing rural businesses with the opportunity to create a free website store to sell their products or services online to consumers. This is Sarah and the Spend With Us story.
I’m also a freelance web designer and developer and have worked in the technology industry for more than 20 years. During the recent bushfire crisis, I wanted to give back to the community and help small businesses using my web skills. Once I started speaking with business owners who were unsure how they would be able to pay their rent or staff due to the complete lack of tourism trade, which these towns rely on so heavily during the summer months, I knew I had to do something to help. I realised that many of them had no way to receive donations or continue to sell their products when their bricks and mortar stores were closed. There was a vital need for them to keep trading, selling their products and earn an income. Then along came COVID-19, which impacted even more small businesses. Spend With Us is helping to bring money back into these communities that have had no tourism come through for months now. It’s also provided numerous small businesses with a secondary form of income now that their retail stores are starting to open back up again. Previously, their only sales would be made by customers physically visiting their shops, now consumers across Australia can purchase and enjoy their products.
I’ve always been one to get involved in charity events and voluntary work and have a passion for helping and supporting people to achieve their goals and dreams. I saw an opportunity to make a real impact on people’s lives by using my technical skills and knowledge to create a platform that could bring them income when they most needed it. I knew that the broader Australian community was aching to support bushfire affected businesses, but most people didn’t know how to to find and directly support these businesses and communities. By building Spend With Us, I was able to provide them with a one-stop e-commerce platform to discover and purchase products, services and pay-it-forward virtual goods that when purchased would play a part in helping small businesses in need to keep afloat.
Being a web designer & developer, I was able to build a platform quickly at a low cost that enabled businesses to start accepting online payments instantly. The hardest part was (and still is) getting the word out to all these businesses and consumers to let them know about the website. Seeking like-minded people to bounce ideas off of, joining social media groups and trying to grow my support network has been essential to helping me build the platform.
Early on, fate brought me together with Lauren Hateley, a Clinical Psychologist with a deep passion for rural health. Lauren independently created the Vic Spend With Us Facebook page in January 2020 to provide a platform to directly support Victorian families and their children who were suffering adversity and trauma following the bushfires and in turn positively impact their well-being and livelihoods. Lauren and I joined forces to collaborate. We have aimed to show Australian’s who have been affected by bushfires, drought and COVID-19 that we are here to support them.
We’ve been fortunate to have connected with various organisations who have played a massive part in helping Spend With Us grow and succeed. Ruby Agency has provided us with incredible pro-bono PR campaigns to raise our profile. Business Australia is a fantastic organisation offering free resources and advice to small businesses, and our partnership with them has enabled both parties to support more small Australian businesses through these difficult times. Our collaboration with Social Media and Marketing expert, Jenn Donovan has also been essential to the success of our platform. Jenn created a Facebook Group “Buy From a Bush Business” for bush businesses and consumers to connect through which now has over 250,000 members. Together we have all been able to develop and grow the Spend With Us marketplace which currently has over 390 small businesses registered from across rural & regional Australia and over 1000 products available to discover and purchase.
Six months ago, I had never thought about running a website marketplace. I took inspiration from all the fantastic social media initiatives that arose to support small businesses and bushfire affected communities such as empty esky and spend with them. I noticed two important things; One, that many of the impacted businesses had no way to accept online donations or payments and were significantly non-tech savvy to be able to set things up themselves. There was an urgent need for a solution that offered them the opportunity to accept online payments & donations quickly and easily. Two, I have many friends & family members who are not on social media, and they had no way of discovering these businesses or supporting them through the initiatives already in place. Spend With Us provided a solution to these two problems.
The best business ideas come when you are doing something that you are passionate about. If there is a clear problem, what can you do or create to solve it? Being able to create and run a business that is making a difference in people’s lives is a beautiful experience. It’s been a lot of hard work and long hours so far, but the rewards and satisfaction from helping and supporting people whose lives have been significantly impacted by recent traumatic events make it well worth it.