When Kate Gilbert decided to take the plunge and quit her day job to focus full time on her Wollongong-based glamping and picnic set-up business, she wasn't expecting a global pandemic to arrive and keep everyone in their homes.
But having left her job as an admin worker in a pharmaceutical company to run the business, there was no turning back.
To find a way through, Ms Gilbert turned to YouTube as well as free online courses from TAFE.
"That was amazing to have during that time when it felt hopeless," she said.
"I didn't know if things would ever be the same again, or if people would gather again, because that was the whole point of my business."
While her inventory of low tables, wicker baskets and picnic blankets stored at her parents' house waited for restrictions to lift, Ms Gilbert put her new-found knowledge into practice, connecting with other small businesses and suppliers to be ready for when people were allowed to get together again.
Then, when groups of 10 were allowed to gather outdoors in May 2020, Ms Gilbert was in the box seat to provide a setting for people to reconnect in person after months of Zoom calls and virtual trivia nights.
With The Jetty by Coal Coast Brewing company providing the space and bar staff, Ms Gilbert's set-ups graced the lawns of the old Bulli Bowling Club.
"Just when I thought everything was going to end, it started again," Ms Gilbert said.
As restrictions morphed and changed, Ms Gilbert was able to access government grants through skills she learned in the online courses, which also kept the cost of getting the business up and running low.
TAFE NSW executive director education and skills - digital, Lyn Rickard said the programs Ms Gilbert made use of attempt to overcome issues of access to finance, particularly for women-led businesses.
"By arming female business owners with essential financial skills and knowledge, we are helping them make their business a success, while fostering a more diverse and equitable business landscape for all," she said.
Ms Gilbert has experimented with selling products directly to consumers alongside the more labour intensive picnic and glamping set ups, and has now grown the business to a sustainable size.
Now with two 18-month-old twins on her hands, Ms Gilbert is glad she made the leap when she did, and the early trial by fire through COVID lockdowns and restrictions has reinforced her belief in the business concept.
"When you are pushed out of your comfort zone, you've got to dare to dream and take a risk," she said.
"It's worse to not try at all. I'd rather try and fail than not try at all."
As part of Small Business Month, TAFE NSW is hosting a free online event for women who want to start or grow their business, with representatives from Women NSW and Service NSW, on October 25 from 12pm to 1pm.
For more information click here: https://tafenswevents.eventsair.com/wib-october-2023/registration/Site/Register.
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