With the Coronavirus outbreak and response escalating in the UK, it’s an incredibly worrying time for all independent businesses and the people behind them. We’ve spoken to Folksy shop owners who aren’t sure if they should stay open and whether they need to add a notification to their shop, what to do if they can’t get out to the Post Office to send parcels (and if it’s still ok to go), how to cancel and refund orders, what to do if their craft fair or event is cancelled, if there’s any financial support available for self-employed people, and if they should even be promoting their products right now.
As the situation and government recommendations are constantly evolving, we won’t necessarily know more than you, but in this article we’ll try to give advice where we can, share useful links to further information where we have them, and talk about things we can do as a community to support each other.
UPDATE: 1 April
To help ease the pressure, we have added 30 days to all pay-as-you-go listings on Folksy. We are also working on a Bulk Editing feature that will allow you to change the shipping period on all or some of your items at once, rather than doing them individually. Until this feature is ready, please email our support team at email@example.com if you would like to extend the shipping times on all your items, and we can do that for you manually. We are also looking at whether we can add a Royal Mail integration to your shops, which would allow you to buy and print postage labels for your orders on Folksy.
We have had a few questions about digital downloads. If you can’t get to the Post Office, selling digital products like patterns or artwork that customers can print at home is a great way to keep your business going. To keep your items exempt from VAT Moss, we don’t currently offer an instant digital download option on Folksy – instead when you sell a digital product, you email it directly to your customer. It’s this manual interaction that keeps items free from the complications of VAT Moss. Read more here https://folksy.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/articles/484127-vat-moss. If you’re thinking about dipping your toe into the digital products or services market, Leona from Indie Roller will be running a Digital Bootcamp on Wednesday mornings – sign up here to hear more.
UPDATE: 24 March
The UK Government has now tightened restrictions, allowing people to only go outside for food, health reasons or essential work, and closing all retailers that sell non-essential goods. Online businesses are allowed (and encouraged) to keep trading, as this helps keep the economy going, but all online sellers should act responsibly to reduce risk to themselves and to others, and minimise interactions with others (for example, at the Post Office). For Folksy sellers, the main risks are around handling goods.
Steps you can take to minimise risks include:
– collating orders so that you only need to visit the Post Office, or drop-off point once a week
– combining a trip to the Post Box with your daily exercise
– buying postage online by using the Royal Mail’s Click & Drop service and Parcel Postboxes
– or using a courier service that can collect from your house
– in all cases, stay 2 metres away from other people and wash your hands as soon as you get home
If you have your own business, you are permitted to leave the house to post goods (even if these are non-essential).
Whether or not you decide to continue trading is a personal decision – we know many of you rely on your businesses for both wellbeing and income – but everyone needs to follow the government guidelines which you can find here https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus. Please also check for up-to-date advice from the Royal Mail here and Post Office here. The latest statement from the Royal Mail is that: “The postal service is a key part of the UK’s infrastructure. The delivery of parcels and letters is a key way of keeping the country together and helping many people who may not have the option to leave their home.”
If you are in a vulnerable group, please don’t put yourself at any risk. Stay at home and put your Folksy shop in holiday mode or only offer gift vouchers (to be redeemable after the restrictions are lifted) and hide your other listings. Find out how to create gift vouchers on Folksy here.
Use your Shop Announcements features to tell people if you are only sending out once or twice a week, only offering certain products (for example, gift vouchers or letters / small parcels that do not require you to visit the Post Office), or still taking orders but not sending them out until after restrictions are lifted. Consider also messaging your customers to confirm any changes to your usual delivery times to make sure they are happy with this, offering a refund if not.
Keep up to date with the latest Government advice here https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
Full guidance on staying at home and away from others here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/full-guidance-on-staying-at-home-and-away-from-others
For information about the support available for businesses, visit the Government’s Business Support page –https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/coronavirus-business-support/
Get information on Income Tax deferral for the self-employed here https://www.businesssupport.gov.uk/income-tax-deferral-for-the-self-employed/
Get service updates from Royal Mail here – https://personal.help.royalmail.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/12556/~/service-update
Shop announcements / notifications
Adding an announcement or notification to your Folksy shop is a good way to let customers know if there are any changes to your normal service due to the Coronavirus – eg if you are extending shipping times – as well as ways you can help them, such as offering to gift wrap presents and send them directly to the recipient. Having a clear notification at the top of your shop helps reassure customers that your shop is still active and that they can be confident you’ll do everything you can to get their order to them as soon as possible. Keep it short, friendly and concise.
An example of a useful shop announcement might be:
“Coronavirus update: My Folksy shop is still open and I hope you find something you love! Please note that although I always aim to send orders as quickly as possibly, I’m trying to reduce my trips to the Post Office, so it may take a little longer than usual for your parcel to arrive. To make things easier for you, I can also gift wrap any presents, add a hand-written note and send them directly to the recipient – just leave me a note when you checkout.”
To add an announcement, log into Folksy and then select ‘Your Shop’ > ‘Dashboard’ from the menu at the top of the page. You’ll see a list of links on the left hand side. Use the ‘Shop Announcement’ link underneath the “Shop Settings” heading on the left hand side of your Dashboard to add an announcement. Read more about Shop Notifications here – https://blog.folksy.com/2016/10/12/new-shop-announcement-feature
If you need to close your shop, you can always put it in holiday mode – see how to do that here.
Cancelling and refunding orders
If a customer has paid for an order that you find yourself unable to fulfil, you first need to refund them from the Paypal or Stripe transaction. To do this, log into your Paypal or Stripe account and select ‘issue refund’ from the dropdown menu alongside the transaction. If you need advice on what or when you need to issue a refund, there is a quick guide in our Returns Policy.
Once you’ve issued the refund, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following details and we’ll cancel the order for you:
- the Folksy order number (copy the url from your browser’s address bar when you are on the order detail page), eg. http://folksy.com/users/yourusername/orders/123456; or
- your Folksy username
- the buyer’s username or email address
- date of the order
- item title(s)
Cancelling the order will increase the stock level of the item by 1, so let us know if you’ve already re-listed the item or if the item is no longer available. Find more information here: https://folksy.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/articles/58083-how-do-i-cancel-or-refund-a-customer-s-order
Things to know:
- Deliveries may take longer than usual to arrive
- There are some changes to how signed-for deliveries work
- Parcels too large for letterboxes will now be placed at customers’ door rather than handed over
- There are delays to international deliveries
- Postal service to certain countries and locations may be affected and in some cases is suspended
As more people avoid the high street and shopping centres, home deliveries are forecast to double, increasing the pressure on the postal service and couriers who may already have reduced staff levels due to self-isolation. It seems likely, therefore, that delivery times will be affected, so it’s worth pointing out to your customers that their order may take slightly longer to arrive than usual but you will keep them informed wherever possible. Do remember to mark your order as shipped (you can do that on your Folksy dashboard), once it has been posted and consider sending your customer a message to let them know it’s posted.
It’s useful to note that the Post Office has announced that, for the time being, they won’t be giving over hand-held devices to customers to capture signatures and that their staff will instead log the name of the person accepting the item. Additionally, for parcels that won’t fit through a letterbox, they will place your item at the door, knock and then step aside while the customer picks up their item. So if you use a delivery service that requires a signature, or your parcels are too large to go through letterboxes, consider messaging your customer to let them know what to expect.
Royal Mail is warning customers to expect delays to international postal services. It has also issued a list of countries and locations where postal delivery is either affected or temporarily suspended, so please do check their bulletin before sending an order overseas. If you worried about shipping your products abroad at the moment, you can edit postage zones to temporarily remove international shipping options – find out how to do that here.
The government and Public Health England (PHE) have advised there are no additional precautions needed for handling post or packages.
Find the latest advice from Royal Mail about the Coronavirus here – https://www.royalmail.com/coronavirus
For information about international parcels follow this link –https://personal.help.royalmail.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/5317/~/international-incident-bulletin
Sign up for to receive email alerts from Royal Mail about postal service issues – https://personal.help.royalmail.com/app/webforms/serviceupdates
Cancelled craft fairs and events
Following the government’s announcement on 16 March to avoid all non-essential social contact and mass gatherings, and to stop all unnecessary travel, most upcoming craft fairs, markets, events, exhibitions and festivals have been cancelled.
The advice we have from craft insurance specialist CraftCover regarding this is to seek a refund from the organisers of any events where you have either paid a deposit or paid for a space or stand. Generally speaking, in cases where an event has been cancelled, it’s the organisers who should be out of pocket not the attendees, and traders should expect a full refund from the event organisers. But please do be considerate when talking to organisers and seeking a refund, as this is an incredibly difficult time for them too and, just like you, many of them rely on the income from their events for their livelihood.
Lost income and financial support for self-employed people
Many sellers on Folksy are self-employed, and rely on the income from their creative business. Others run their shops alongside other freelance work.
On 26 March, the Chancellor announced a new scheme to help the self-employed. The Self-employment Income Support Scheme allows you to claim a taxable grant worth 80% of your trading profits up to a maximum of £2,500 per month for the next 3 months. There are restrictions on who can apply so check if you qualify, as well as how and when to apply here: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme
Although self-employed people are not currently eligible for statutory sick pay, the government announced on Friday 20th March that the “self-employed can now access, in full, universal credit at a rate equivalent to statutory sick pay for employees”. The current statutory sick pay rate for employees is £94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks.
This is taken from the government’s Coronavirus guidance for businesses page: “Those who follow advice to stay at home and who cannot work as a result will be eligible for statutory sick pay (SSP), even if they are not themselves sick. Anyone not eligible to receive sick pay, including those earning less than an average of £118 per week, some of those working in the gig economy, or self-employed people, is able to claim Universal Credit and or contributory Employment and Support Allowance.”
For the duration of the outbreak, people will be able to claim Universal Credit over the phone and online, and access advance payments upfront, without the current requirement to attend a Jobcentre if they are advised to self-isolate. The requirements of the Universal Credit Minimum Income Floor will also be temporarily relaxed for those who have COVID-19 or are self-isolating according to government advice, ensuring self-employed claimants will receive support.
In terms of insurance claims for loss of income due to the Coronavirus, we have been advised that most insurance policies held by artists, designers and makers only cover Public/Product and Employers Liability Insurance, although some may also have standard Business Interruption cover. However Business Interruption cover does not usually include forced closure by authorities, as it’s intended to respond to physical damage at the property that results in the business being unable to continue to trade. Although there are some policies that cover loss of income, including notifiable disease extensions, these are generally only held by very large businesses, and even then most insurers specify what those diseases are, for example legionella and SARS, and will not specifically note Covid 19 as they didn’t know it existed. Therefore if it’s not noted, there is no cover. So, to summarise, it is unlikely you will be able to claim for lost earnings through your insurance policy.
Links to further information about financial support here:
Find more information for businesses about statutory sick pay, universal credit and how to claim here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/guidance-to-employers-and-businesses-about-covid-19/covid-19-guidance-for-employees
Find more information about the support available for those affected by the Coronavirus outbreak here – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19/support-for-those-affected-by-covid-19
Full details about the Self-employment Income Support Scheme – https://www.gov.uk/guidance/claim-a-grant-through-the-coronavirus-covid-19-self-employment-income-support-scheme
Keep up to date with the UK Government’s response to the Coronavirus here – https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/coronavirus-covid-19-uk-government-response
You may also be able to seek support with your tax bill. Call HMRC’s Coronavirus helpline on 0300 0159 559 for support.
The Arts Council has said (on Monday 16 March) that it will refocus some grant programmes to help compensate individual artists and freelancers for lost earnings. It has yet to announce details but expects this will take 10 days. You can keep up to date here – https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/covid19
Marketing and promoting your business
It’s not easy to know how to market your business when something like this happens. Promoting your products in times of crisis can feel insensitive, and we know some of you are worried about coming across as exploitative. The best advice we can give here is to be considerate and try to get the tone right, but also to reassure yourself that you could actually be offering people what they most want and need right now: something joyful to relieve the stress, and something practical like a gift to cheer up an isolated relative or a birthday present when they can’t leave the house to go shopping.
Also, by keeping your creative business going, you’ll be in a better position to buy from other businesses, large and small, and therefore continue to contribute to the local economy. So don’t feel you need to stop marketing or promoting your shop; the world is a better place when small, handmade businesses like yours thrive – just consider how to do it so it feels right.
Support each other
This leads us on to how we can all help support each other – as people as well as businesses. Support can come in many forms – even just liking and sharing another Folksy seller’s post on social media can make a difference. We’re lucky at Folksy to have such an amazing community, and this is a time when having people online to turn to and talk to really helps, especially if you’re feeling isolated or cut off from your normal sources of support. So please do use our resources like the Talk Folksy Forum and Folksy Clubhouse Facebook Group to keep in touch, check in on each other, and share news and information.
Share each other’s work on social media – join in with #folksyfriday (find out how here), take part in the Just A Card campaign and use the remaining days of Joanne Hawker’s March Meet the Maker Challenge to connect with other designers and makers.
Looking after your mental health
As well as the risks to your physical health, one of the major but less talked about concerns connected to the Coronavirus outbreak is mental health issues that can result from isolation or anxiety. Exercise is important here, even if you are self-isolating, but we also know that craft can relieve stress and help people to cope with pain, so if you can’t get outside, get crafting!
Maybe you could use the time to learn to a new craft skill? Read why everyone should learn to sew here and learn more about the therapeutic benefits of craft here https://blog.folksy.com/2019/09/18/craft-as-therapy.
And again, keep in contact with other makers through our online crafting community. Talk to each other – and to us. We’re here to help!