The Bigger Issues

The Big Issue is a fabulous way for homeless and marginalised people to improve their health, well-being, social connection and self-worth.

This sterling initiative also offers valuable sales lessons to business people.

Two Cities

I live in a schizophrenic area.

Hip Street teems with bright, well-heeled young things in groovy restaurants.

Just a few blocks away, Mean Street is haunted by a broad spectrum of lost souls.

Vendors of The Big Issue operate in both these zones, and the contrast is striking.

Plan A

As a former young thing, I spent many evenings in groovy restaurants.

In those days, The Big Issue vendor for Hip Street was a hearty man with a big voice and a killer smile.

Rather than stand silent on some corner, he marched into every eatery, greeted each diner and asked if they’d buy a copy.

His timing was exquisite.

He appeared in the early evening, after work, late in the week.

His numerous prospective clients were at ease, on their second chardonnay, in the warm company of loved ones.

Every time this beguiling vendor accosted me, I seemed to have a garlic prawn in my mouth.

Was I really going to deny him a few bucks?

Plan B

On the other side of the tram tracks, a very different story.

A mid-winter Monday on Mean Street.

A vendor hovers outside a pharmacy, passed by a trickle of pained prescription seekers.

Tenacious and resolute, this man pitches to every prospect.

But they’re sick, hung-over, late for work, or all three.

At each refusal, the vendor’s tone becomes more strident and desperate.

This merely increases the speed and firmness of subsequent knockbacks.

And so the spiral descends.


I don’t know how much control vendors have over the style, timing and location of their pitch.

That’s why I’ve invited The Big Issue to comment on this post.

I do know that in sales, timing and setting can be everything.

We learned in Ten Tee Tips that it’s fatal to bother retailers during their busy lunch trade.

I’ve since seen plenty of signs in local businesses warning sales reps to show their wares only during non-peak times.

We’ve also noted that a 30-minute chat at a relaxed barbeque can beat months of cold calling.

If I’ve learned these lessons the hard way, perhaps you have others to share.


With reference to your field, what are the best ways, times and places you’ve pitched or sold over the years?

What have been your most dismal failures?

If we share our learnings, we should all prosper together.

Paul Hassing, Founder & Senior Writer, The Feisty Empire