Baking, learning a language and yoga have become popular pastimes during the COVID-19 pandemic. But would you dare start a new business? DESIREE SAVAGE found five entrepreneurs who did.
Australia is in the middle of a pandemic and the worst recession in three generations, according to experts.
But the forced downtime and reflection has been a guiding light for some to enact the visions they previously only dreamed of.
Four Illawarra business - a cafe based around a supernatural force, a bohemian luxe ceramics venture, a marketing duo and interior designer - are using this time to thrive and are optimistic for their futures.
Their enthusiasm is in line with findings from a recent report by global small business platform Xero, Rebuilding Australia: the role of small business, revealing one in 10 small businesses surveyed were prospering through the lockdown.
The research found 48 per cent of small business owners were optimistic about their prospects in the second half of this year, while 23 per cent expect revenue to jump up by more than 10 per cent by December.
The report also showed the Illawarra - along with Geelong in Victoria and Toowoomba in QLD - were "hot spots" for small business.
Businesses fail and it's part of life. However, I thought 'if I don't give it a go i'll never know'.Jo Robertson
Barefoot Five Tribe
Jo Robertson of Gerringong had been working in accounts for a local real estate agency when COVID-19 forced the nation into lockdown. She was asked to take mandatory leave until further notice.
With a family to help support, Mrs Robertson pondered her future. She questioned what path she should follow if her fate was to be let go by her employer.
Through the anxiety and uncertainty, her idea for Barefoot Five Tribe was born: DIY clay kits (with tools and instructions) and "clay experiences" where couples or groups are taught the basics in making luxe ceramics by hand.
Mrs Robertson had found her own serenity through working with the medium at a studio in nearby Gerroa.
"I enjoyed working with clay so much for my mental health and wellness and I started to think of ways I could bring it to people dealing with the same isolation as I was," she said.
"It's all about the experience, it's about taking our minds off any anxieties that we suffer ... and enjoy in the comfort of your own space and the comfort of your tribe."
Currently Mrs Robertson works from her dining room table, with her kitchen barely visible through the piles of tools, ceramics and packaging. Her garage is currently being converted into a studio space, set to be her happy place.
"I haven't made a cent yet but it's about the experience and bringing health and wellness with creativity into peoples lives," she said.
"I [don't] have that security I once had but I have decided to take each week as it comes and see where we can take it from here."
After five weeks away from real estate, Mrs Robertson was reinstated to her previous role. However, she quickly realised her heart was with art.
The mum-of-three is still trying to make her venture profitable, but business is thriving and was recently featured on the Studio10 television program on the WIN Network.
If the world wasn't hit with a pandemic, Mrs Robertson said she would still be sitting behind a desk and computer in discontent.
"Businesses fail and it's part of life. However, I thought 'if I don't give it a go i'll never know'," she said.
We're two women trying to make our mark on the industry and support other women.Hollie Peters
Hollie Peters and Emma Graham first concocted their marketing business HER Social for an assignment whilst at university studying a Bachelor of Commerce.
Now graduated, the 22-year-olds both found themselves out of work at the beginning of March. The pair couldn't sit still so felt the downtown was perfect to enact their vision.
"I was seeing a lot of businesses starting up during [lockdown] and I was thinking 'how crazy, this is so not the time'," Graham said.
"Originally we started because we wanted to help some family and friends ... but we had a lot of actual interest in people wanting to pay us for our services.
"I was thinking people were crazy for doing this, and now we've gone and done the same thing."
Peters added it was the right time to make their "dream a reality".
"We're two women trying to make our mark on the industry and support other women," she said.
HER Social is aimed at small businesses who may not have the budget to spend with a large marketing firm.
The duo specialise in social media management, influencer engagement, content creation, analytical reporting and strategic targeting.
Initially Peters and Graham thought the venture would fill their time by helping friends. However, their client base has grown so rapidly their "free clients" are on a wait list.
My retail is my soft introduction to my design process and from there amazing things will grow for the future.Lisa Johnson
Lisa Johnson Design Studio
Lisa Johnson and her four children arrived in Thirroul in January, to take up coastal living and a fresh start.
The interior designer wanted to move away from her background of owning and renovating historic hotels and focus more on what made her happy.
She decided to open her own homewares and design studio along in the suburb and put a deposit on a lease in March. Then the world changed and we were told to stay indoors.
"COVID-19 hit and I thought 'how am i going to do this without customers', I need conversations to start," the creative said.
"My retail is my soft introduction to my design process and from there amazing things will grow for the future."
Instead of walking away from her dream, Ms Johnson "readjusted" her vision and chose to hold off opening until the beginning of July and used her time to develop her concept.
"The retail space is everything that I would have in my home ... it's everything I use in my world," she said.
"When you walk in the door and if you connect with this space then our conversation leads indirectly to everything.
"It's the artists I love, it's the timber I adore, it's the knobs on cupboard that I would choose for you."
The community has been welcoming of the new store, with a steady flow of foot traffic and "lovely" sales by lovely people, just exactly how she'd hoped.
"Even though everyone's just a little bit cautious about how they spend money, they still want to spend it on quality," Ms Johnson said.
As everyone is spending more time at home, she said, they're noticing things look a bit "blerghhh" and need updating.
If there is [a second wave], we're ready. The eyes will protect us.Steve Gunes
Evil Eye Cafe
Cafe owner Steve Gunes said lockdown was "blessing" for him. Having never worked in hospitality it allowed him to "find his feet" and build a customer base.
The businessman spent several months getting his mediterranean-inspired eatery ready for opening in Vereker Street in Fairy Meadow, finally launching in March.
The Evil Eye Cafe (themed around the superstitious belief) had literally been open days before the announcement the country was in lockdown.
Being a new business, Gunes was not eligible for JobKeeper or other assistance, so remained open and picked up customers from other cafes that were closed.
"We didn't know what we were doing to be honest but it really helped us to find our feet," he said.
The cafe serves everything from evil eye doughnuts to coffees and sells necklaces, wall hangings and posters emblazoned with the eery image.
"For now we've got to take each day as it comes and work through this [pandemic]," Gunes said.
"If there is [a second wave], we're ready. The eyes will protect us."
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