The Inspired Business Toolkit
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I was a long arm quilter, doing my quilting at home as a hobby. I was so passionate about quilting. It was my passion that got me the business. I am a stitcher who bought her dream business! My business is Australia's first online patchwork shop! So we take orders from all over the world. We also have tours that come to the shop and we do morning teas.
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I love making people feel welcome, and making their visit a really happy and fun experience. I also really want to blend the historical side of stitching with Aboriginal culture. I am going to work with Aboriginal artists who are currently making sketches for new quilting ideas. What inspired Suzanne Thompson, director of three cultural product and service companies, to go into business? Since a very young age I have always aspired to have my own business.
I remember being taught in grade 6 how to cook and prepare meals for our customers. At the age of 15 I started my hairdressing apprenticeship in Barcaldine. At that time it was not a supported thing for the Australian Hairdressing Society to accept Aboriginal hairdressers, so my mum had to go in to bat for me as well as my boss. From that experience I was determined to show them that I could do anything life had in store for me. I'm my own boss and I can decide how to manage my time and when to complete projects.
I also get to talk to people and share our beautiful culture and to give them a better understanding of how deadly we really are. What inspired Sharon Williams, owner and managing director, Thulli Dreaming, to go into business? My inspiration to start the business came from my family and my passion for my culture. I was hungry for more involvement in culture and to share culture with my children and everyone else.
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At the time I was working full time in management positions and I had a desire to have my own business and work for myself — to do something that I was passionate about. At the time I could see that there weren't a lot of Aboriginal products or services available in the city. I always knew that there was interest in Aboriginal culture from the tourist markets, but I also thought that schools would be a continuing basis of work opportunities as there are always children in schools who need to learn about Aboriginal culture. The business started with two services and over the years, as I learnt more along the way, I expanded and added more products and services.
I meet lots of people through my business and they really appreciate the services and Aboriginal culture. I work around my children as well, and a lot of times my children come to work with me on weekends or evenings as they often perform as well. They love performing and it's a really important way for them to be proud of their culture.
I would say there is a lot of hard work that comes with starting and running a business, and it takes up a lot of time, but if you are committed, "Go for it.
It is rewarding and a powerful tool for yourself and your family! And don't be afraid to ask questions or ask for help! As for all business people, issues such as the market, the economy, skill base and the capital finances required for business are essential questions for Indigenous women considering business. While individual Indigenous women all have different circumstances, there are some particular issues that can impact specifically on Indigenous women as a group. In the cities and larger towns today, all the necessary communication, finance and transport connections for business are easily available.
But many Indigenous women live in rural and remote areas and often these areas have less access to the essential business services such as postal, phone and banking services. Often, women may have to travel long distances to access these services, or they may only be available weekly or fortnightly. Time schedules and deadlines can become upset by bad weather which can temporarily close down systems such as telecommunications and air and road transport.
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Costs can be higher in rural and remote areas. Delivering or picking up goods can cost much more in a rural or remote area because of the cost of transportation. Attending meetings, trade fairs and conferences can have the added expense of getting from rural and remote areas to major airports or train stations, as well as ordinary fares and accommodation.
These conditions do not need to stop Indigenous women from getting started or continuing in business, but they can require additional planning and support so that business women located in rural and remote areas can deliver their goods and services on time. Kim's business is located in rural New South Wales, and while she has had enormous benefits from the expert advice and mentoring she's received, she says, "Being in the bush has some problems. It can be hard to get access to people with skills, who are willing to travel, and being able to pay those people can be difficult. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have a diverse range of cultural and family obligations throughout the year.
For instance, ceremonies, sorry business, volunteer work in community organisations and commitments to support family and community are priorities for Indigenous women that all take time, energy and money. Most businesses also have particular events and obligations at specific times of the year.
For instance, many businesses are busy just before the end of each financial year in June. Other businesses might be associated with seasonal issues like harvest or shearing. Still others may require attendance at trade fairs, conferences and networking events. These demands of business, culture and family do not always coincide and mean that Indigenous women are often managing demands on a number of different fronts. Cultural obligations are foremost for Aboriginal and Torres Strait women and need to be factored into considerations about the pros and cons of business and incorporated into planning for the business year.
Self-employment can mean a more flexible workplace for women. Also, business and particularly companies have their own goals, protocols, rules and structures, which may not always be compatible with those of your family or community members. However, Indigenous business women have come up with many ways to combine family, culture and business. Many Indigenous women do not have easy access to money to start or grow their business.
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This can be for a number of reasons. The current and historical disadvantages suffered by Indigenous people means that there has been a lack of well paid employment to create a base of savings. The economic disadvantage also often means that families have not had the opportunity to build up wealth. This can mean less access to inherited property or money. The business may not generate enough cash flow to provide a stable income especially when starting out, it may take some time to start making a profit.
Family and cultural obligations may mean that income has to stretch further. However, large extended families can also mean more helping hands, more encouragement to succeed and sometimes financial assistance from family members. Indigenous women especially in rural and remote areas may need to make plans about how they will operate their business successfully, manage their family and community obligations and overcome some of the difficulties of distance. These obstacles should not stop Indigenous women who are passionate about their business idea, but need to be factored into planning.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women have some great skills for business.
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Many are enormously creative, enthusiastic, resourceful, innovative and determined in their business lives. They come from a long tradition of traders and entrepreneurs, have substantial support available and, with a bit of forward planning, can combine family and cultural obligations with happy fulfilling lives in business.
If you are interested in starting a business or looking for new ideas for your business, these Fact Sheets give useful information and guidance. We also hope that you will be inspired by the experiences of the Indigenous business women in this Toolkit. There are lots of reasons and ways to get started in business.
Our group of Indigenous women have come to their business in many different ways.
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They share some of them here. Some, like Terri, had already been developing their expertise and client base before going into business, for Anita, being on the Board of an organisation helped her get started, Rayleen worked with a mentor and kept her "day job" while she took the plunge, for Kim, her business grew out of her passion for stitching as a hobby, Suzanne is committed to business and works on a number of different businesses, and Sharon started her business working from home while still employed by someone else.
All of these women continue to grow and develop their businesses. I had been practicing as a solicitor for a few years, in a few different areas. I was working in arts, media and entertainment law, and also specialising in the Indigenous arts. People kept asking me to give them advice and I was able to establish a niche area of law that others were really interested in knowing about.
The early stages of the business took a lot of planning - There was professional compliance, potential costs, business location and how the business would fit in with my life. When I first started out in my own legal practice, it was just me and a desk in a tiny office. I had one client and a computer and that was it! Fortunately I had the strong support of my family. I also quickly realised that getting good advice was crucial.
Through that Board, I met someone working for a major social research firm who offered me some consultant research work. I left my fulltime job in and set up my own business acting as a regular consultant for that social research firm. The networking potential through board and committee work is immeasurable.