Guest Blogger

by Stephen Robertson, CEO, The Big Issue Foundation

Buying and selling the Big Issue magazine offers vendor the opportunity to earn a legitimate income but it is their customers who help to change their lives.

Imagine, for a moment, the things you might lose in your journey to the street. The very things that helped you ‘hold it together’, that are precious & now but distant memories. These may be your home, your family, your very sense of yourself.  Imagine then that you decide to start your own business, to trade your way back into the world, reclaim what you can of your past & start to build for a new future.

You approach us not because of your wider personal difficulties, you approach us because you want to earn a legitimate income, money from business not from begging or crime; the all too frequent available alternatives. Your personal timeline looking forward may be just a few short hours, “What am I going to eat?”, “How do I get out of the rain?”, “Where am I going to sleep tonight?”.


You begin by buying & selling the Big Issue. You receive a few free copies of your magazines’ and you are instantly up and running your own business. You return the next day with some money that you have saved. 24 hours have been added on to your personal timeline. You are thinking about tomorrow and your journey has begun. You have the personal and actual capital to move forward.

But your journey will not be easy. You buy your magazines for £1.25 and sell them on for £2.50, they are not ‘sale-or-return’, you have to budget, you have to plan, and you have to work hard. Selling the Big Issue is the hardest face-to-face job in the land.

When you put on the famous red tabard & hold up your copies of the current week’s magazine, some people do not see you for what you are; a newsagent without a shop. Some just see a ‘homeless’ person with a piece of A4 paper; a representative of the idle, the feckless, the worthless; worthy of contempt & general disdain. It is not uncommon for Big Issue vendors to be ignored or told to ‘get a job’, when they have one and it is their own business. 


Big Issue vendors have to persuade people to overcome their prejudices and put their money into their homeless hands; to cross a social divide and trade. Vendors have to develop social skills to ensure that their business work and it is these very social skills that reinforce the business model, creating the confidence and resilience to move forward.

For all the challenges in running your start-up enterprise, it is the interaction between a vendor and their customers that really get things going.  When some says something as simple as ‘no thank you’ it is an acknowledgement that you are there, that you exist. The receipt of £2.50 for a copy of your product can seem as though someone has given you £2500’s worth of validation. Stopping for a chat is not something everyone does in their busy daily schedules, but it can count for even more. Engagement is everything!

So, when you see a Big Issue vendor remember that they are hard at work changing their lives. You can be an everyday activist, say ‘not today thank you’, make eye contact, have a conversation and show others that this is normal and good. And, if you can, put your money where your heart is and invest £2.50 into some goodness. You will be helping someone to change their life, that’s a big return for a few coins; it’s a great read and a great deed.

You can catch Stephen in the plenary session at this year’s Customer Engagement Summit to find out more information on the Big Issue Foundation and their work with customer engagement. Book your place here:

Stephen Robertson is CEO of The Big Issue Foundation. For more information please visit


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