Welcome to Gratis!

Three years ago my world fell apart.  I lost everything that mattered – my marriage, my children, my business, and my home.  The reasons behind such catastrophe are immaterial and not unique at all.  It was just my turn.

My only objective was to survive.  I had nothing, absolutely nothing.  And no one.

My ‘home’ for the next two years was a well-worn 1970’s GRP Broads cruiser affectionately known as ‘The Banana Boat’. Moored on an island on the outskirts of Norwich, I became an integral part of the ‘liveaboard’ community.  Our lives were a daily struggle; something they were used to.  As the days and weeks and months passed, I began to adjust and embrace a much simpler way of life.

One morning a neighbour popped over for coffee.

“Could you help me fill in a job application?” he asked.

“Of course,” I answered.

And so we sat in my galley drinking coffee going through it together.

The next day he dropped by with a bottle of wine to say thank you.

“Don’t be silly” I said “it was gratis”.

And for the first time in a long time I felt a sense of worth.  By helping someone else my purpose was re-discovered and Gratis was born.

There seemed to be an obvious need for job vacancies to be more accessible.  Everyone was on social media but the jobs were elsewhere.  I began by setting up Norwich Job Vacancies on the Facebook platform and updated it daily. 

After about two months the Membership had grown to around 2,000 and inevitably attracted the attention of local employers looking to advertise.  Of course, it is generally free to post on social media and I was more than happy to have these companies on board.

Norwich Job Vacancies was taking up more and more of my time.  What had started as part-time goodwill was rapidly becoming a full-time (unpaid) occupation.  At 5,000 Members I received my first offer of payment from a local firm.  They wanted their post pinned to the top of the Group and were prepared to pay me £20 for the privilege. 

This presented a moral dichotomy – on the one hand, £20 was a lot of money to me at that time (I was still using the local Food Bank); on the other hand, it seemed to go against the whole principle of the Group. My son’s birthday was approaching and I had nothing for him.  I took the money and spent it on his present.

It wasn’t long before other offers came in and I knew a decision about the future direction of Gratis and the Norwich Job Vacancies Group was required.

The emotional trauma of the past two years had left me.  My wife had decided to move on and I had to do the same.  I wanted to run my own business again.  I had no capital but what I did have was Gratis and a vision of managing a professionally run social media jobs board.  To be successful it had to be simple and accessible, it had to be true to its original objectives, and it had to be the first place people go to look for work.

I remember when Norwich Job Vacancies hit 10,000 Members.  It was a pivotal moment; the moment when Gratis became a viable business.  Advertising revenues were becoming significant and the list of clients included some familiar names. 

Today, after almost three years of trading, our service is much enhanced and the management across platforms more complex but Gratis is still what it set out to be in the beginning – a place where those looking for work and those looking to advertise can find each other.  Real jobs for real people.

Gary Barnes 5th July 2017

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