The Big Issue – My Experience

Published on: Tue 7 October 2014 by Admin

The Big Issue & The Big Issue Foundation

A hand up not a hand out – this is the mission statement that’s used to describe what The Big Issue and The Big Issue Foundation offers.

They cultivate strong working relationships with Big Issue vendors, giving them opportunities to earn legitimate incomes; ‘helping them to help themselves’.

Simply, they’re working, not begging.

Since the economic down turn people from all walks of life have struggled to find employment, earn enough money, feed their families or even keep their jobs.

The recession and other global factors has put strain on a lot of people. Some who’ve previously had their lives together, are now finding themselves alone, redundant, or even homeless.

Bespoke In-house training

RightTrack have now designed a bespoke In-house training programme for The Big Issue employees and volunteers to use as part of the vendor induction. The goal is to find an effective style of selling that suits the individual characters of the new vendors, in order that they build confidence during both their probation period and beyond.

For years I knew of The Big Issue but perhaps like many people, I’ve always made assumptions that it was for homeless people or others just looking for charity!

In general, we have our own opinions, and are sometimes too quick to judge without actually getting behind the reasons why vendors ended up needing The Big Issue.

I had the opportunity to join RightTrack Training Specialist Steve McManus and Big Issue Team Leader Nadia Manganello, during the training programme in order to conduct some research and shoot a video diary of events.

The Big Issue Headquarters

My time in London at The Big Issue Headquarters was very insightful. Meeting the vendors, distributors, volunteers and staff helped me understand how The Big Issue works, what they do, and what they stand for. The general public have many misconceptions and don’t fully understand the basic facts about The Big Issue.

I managed to gain a better awareness of the day-to-day life of big issue vendors – I met some really amazing and interesting people.

The vendors individual stories were both touching and varied…so were their selling styles.

Some vendors were welcoming, whilst others were a bit hesitant; which doesn’t surprise me. I’m a stranger after all, pointing a big video camera directly at them.

It surprised me to learn that the vendors were not given the magazines or the tabard for free. They’re supplied 5-10 magazines free during the initial phase, just as a taster, to monitor the vendors selling style and confidence. After that, they purchase every magazine they sell.

The day of the training day was of much anticipation as I had previously learnt so much about the vendors. There were a few challenging factors that needed consideration – like language, illegibility and vendors personalities.

The staff ‘got’ the training and where very enthusiastic about our  ‘Pull It In or Put It Out’ theory and pictorial material. They liked a questionnaire which helped them discover the best characteristics of individual vendors. The results of this questionnaire then enabled vendors to pick out a pitch, to utilise the best of their skills.

It’s a challenging job selling to busy passers-by on the crowded streets of capital cities. Competition is far fiercer nowadays as potential audiences have much greater access to information offered by technology. Business people, shoppers, students and tourists can consume up to the minute news content on their iPhone’s or android mobile’s. They can leisurely thumb through the pages of free printed publications, (like the METRO) that are given out in London.

Stand out from the rest of the crowd

Vendors almost have to perform or brand themselves. They need to offer a USP to stand out from the rest of the crowd. There are other vendors, mobile businesses and street artists, competing for the spot-light.

Watching how passionate and focused the vendors are about their sales figures and pitches was an inspiration. They demonstrated in depth knowledge about the best times of day to sell, their customer demographics and geographical areas they’re working in!

One vendor told me that the secret to being successful was getting to know sales targets, customers and most importantly, to be friendly! It’s amazing how far simple interpersonal skills can get you. It makes me question why people who are sitting at home saying they can’t get a job?

My Big Issue experience

The experience has taught me to show a lot of respect to the vendors because their job certainly isn’t easy. I couldn’t do it! They’re very vulnerable people who’ve hit on very hard times, trying to make a living.

How much they earn is dependent on the volume that they sell, the more they sell the more they get!

I’m excited to pay visit again to The Big Issue Headquarters further down the line to meet-up again with the vendors, distributors, volunteers and staff; listen to feedback, record more video footage and learn what impact our sales training has made.