Given her natural creative streak, it's no surprise to learn that as a child Ballarat's Shelby Sherritt spent most of her spare time trying her hand at various crafts, revelling in the joy of bringing ideas to life. When a cancer diagnosis put the then 20-year-old's life on pause, she used the time stuck at home during treatment to try her hand at even more hobbies. Ultimately it was the tactile process of creating from clay that really stuck and she became addicted to the medium.
Fast forward to the present day and Shelby, who's now in her mid-20s, works full-time on her ceramics, after the demand for her whimsical, Australian flora and fauna-inspired creations proved to have commercial viability and the hobby became a fully fledged business venture.
Shelby is not alone in finding opportunity in adversity, be it illness or a pandemic, and says the transition to running a business from her Brown Hill studio a year ago was incredibly nerve racking. "I had full confidence in myself and my work ... however we had just gone into a strict lockdown with coronavirus," she says. "The media was fuelled with questions about how the economy was going to handle the lockdown and I was worried I had made a bad decision to move to full-time. I worried that I may be out of work, that people wouldn't spend money on my work anymore as they were counting coins to make ends meet."
Turns out the economic impact of lockdown didn't have a negative impact on Shelby's business - quite the opposite in fact. "I think more people working at home meant more people were online shopping and had money to spend that they would have usually spent on their commute to work," she reasons. "There was also an influx of people who were G at home and wanting to add little pockets of joy to their spaces. So in the end, my worry was justified but the transition went very smoothly and I haven't looked back."
Ellen Hutchison has enjoyed a similar experience with her baby giftware business, Annie Bella's Gifts, which she runs with the help of her mother, Pat. Offering an alternative to run-ofthe-mill baby hampers, the mother-daughter partnership combines Pat's crafty knack for making cardigans, dresses, beanies, booties, sun hats and amigurumi soft toys, with Ellen's keen eye for sourcing Australian-made, beautiful yet practical items that new mums find invaluable.
Pat hand crochets and knits the gifts at home in Skipton, with Ellen then paying her for the items and overseeing the business. She says what began as a means for Pat to have a sense of purpose after retirement has since become a love job that remained buoyant during 2020. "During the first wave of COVID-19 our sales went through the roof because everyone was stuck at home, but people were still having babies," she says. "We were so grateful that our business was quite pandemic proof."
When the second wave of COVID-19 hit Victoria however, Ellen was made redundant from her permanent part-time role. "This hit me hard and I was devastated," she says. "I decided to make the most of the downtime and focus on building Annie Bella's Gifts."
The making part is easy. Creating your product or service is such a small part of actually running a business.Shelby Sherritt
Both Shelby and Ellen know full well that turning a creative venture into a business is not just about choosing paint colours or yarn sizes and being paid for the privilege. "The making part is easy," says Shelby. "Creating your product or service is such a small part of actually running a business."
With agility the name of the game for small businesses last year, when markets and events ground to a halt Shelby focused on social media to share the stories behind her products and in doing so, continue the momentum. "Social media adds an element of connection with your customer," she says. "You are able to share the process, the highs, the lows, the finished products, customers using your product and stories behind designs. It helps build belief in you and your brand."
After creating a TikTok account midway through last year, Shelby now has more than 620,000 followers, which helped generate greater business exposure via local press and national titles, such as The Guardian. Shelby says these social media posts go hand-in-hand with her brand strategy - crucial to any business development.
"For me, branding was brainstorming who I am, why my product was different to others on the market, why would people want my work in their homes, what the brand is, what you represent, who your audience is, and what kind of people you want in your corner," she says. "Branding is really crucial and it develops over time. It really helped guide what I posted on social media and developed my identity as an artist."
Given Shelby's ceramics and Annie Bella's Gifts are both relatively new businesses born out of creative pursuits, the operations side of each remains incredibly hands-on. "I am a one woman show at the moment," says Shelby. "I do sometimes get some help with a few bits and pieces that I can't physically do by myself, like filming myself for my YouTube channel where I share the process of making some of my art. I am hoping to expand, because at the moment it's a lot for one person to take on."
Similarly, Ellen says their hampers aren't packed by "some random person in a big warehouse". "I assemble and decorate all the gift boxes myself and pack every box myself with love from my home office," she explains. "I personally answer all phone calls, emails and text messages myself, and I build relationships with our repeat customers by helping them build their own special and unique custom gift box."
This story is from the new edition of Ballarat Business magazine. Click here to read the entire magazine online.
As with any business venture, there are good and bad components, and creating an income stream out of what was once a recreational pursuit is no exception. "I have a massive passion for what I do, so it drives me every day," says Shelby. "I think the hard part is with a greater demand for work, you do lose a little bit of joy out of the hobby aspect. When it's a hobby, you can make it when you want to and you don't have to feel any pressure to make a certain number of works to make ends meet.
"Transitioning to a full-time business means a little more pressure was placed on making works and keeping those pieces consistent. Despite the pressure, I wouldn't want to be doing anything else with my life right now. There is so much love, care and passion that goes into every piece."
Ellen wholeheartedly agrees, especially given the business has allowed her to work alongside Pat. "I absolutely love being able to work with her and share something special together," she says. "Every time we get an order, we are both so delighted and excited. Every sale makes our day. It isn't something that we'll make our fortunes doing, but we do it because we love being creative and being part of such a special moment in people's lives."