Finance Work These Australians turned their passion projects into full-time work during the pandemic
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These Australians turned their passion projects into full-time work during the pandemic

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Some workers laid off in the recession turned their passions into full-time careers to replace their previous income. Photo: TND
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The pandemic-induced recession has caused untold hardship for workers across the country.

More than 800,000 people lost their jobs in the three months between March and May. And many others had their hours or pay cut.

Taken together, this has given rise to a group of workers who, whether out of passion or sheer necessity, have parlayed their hobbies into fully-fledged careers.

Australia’s army of sole traders, known in some circles as freelancers, has swelled amid the harshness of the COVID-19 climate.

According to data analysed by the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, there were already 1.4 million sole traders in the workforce before the pandemic.

And with an additional 628,000 micro-businesses (firms employing one to five people) in the economy, it’s expected tens of thousands made the leap in the recession to launch into a fledgling company.

Brisbane’s Vanessa Bertagnole is one of these new business owners.

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Brisbane photographer Vanessa Bertagnole said losing her job pushed her to pursue her passion full-time. Photo: Vanessa Bertagnole

She was made redundant from her role as a graphic designer at Surf Life Saving Queensland in May, just two years after completing night classes while juggling her duties as a mother.

With her husband in medical school, her income was their lifeblood.

After a brief “sulking period” to “lick the wounds”, Ms Bertagnole dived head-first into photography.

Having already completed small jobs for friends and shown work in national art prizes, her redundancy was the “clear path” to pursue her hobby full-time, she said.

“I think losing the job was a real blessing because it spurred me on,” Ms Bertagnole told The New Daily. 

Since launching her business six months ago, she’s earned an equivalent income to what she made in her previous job.

“I’ve gotten really lucky because a friend of mine found herself in a similar situation and became a project manager in her own marketing agency, so that’s given me steady work,” Ms Bertagnole said.

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Ms Bertagnole already had her work featured in national art prizes before going full-time. Photo: Vanessa Bertagnole

“There’s been lots of word of mouth and with lots of companies wanting digital content as they rebrand online, it’s becoming quite lucrative.”

Ms Bertagnole said having an enriching career and the flexibility to work as her own boss had given her a newfound sense of freedom.

“It’s more fulfilling, and if the business keeps building next year, I’ll actually have to start outsourcing things like bookkeeping and someone to manage my marketing,” she said.

Ashleigh Baker, who operates her own digital agency Elki Media in Melbourne, is considering taking on more staff members after setting up shop in May.

At the height of the pandemic, Ms Baker was making beeswax wraps in a small warehouse, and creating social media content and copywriting for small businesses in her free time.

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Ashleigh Baker (R) is now working with small businesses and creative professionals as they move online. Photo: Supplied

But after Melbourne entered its first lockdown, she lost all income from both lines of work.

Following some soul searching, she said she realised “I’ve got to survive”, and decided to dedicate herself full-time to her business.

“I almost threw in the towel, but I soon realised my part-time boss was going to stop my work,” Ms Baker told The New Daily. 

“Then everything started falling into place. Everyone realised they couldn’t cut back on their websites and social media, and by August, I was starting to hire freelancers to support the work I was doing.”

She estimates she’s making double what she earned pre-COVID.

“It was scary, because that was our only secure income, as my husband works casually and he was out of work for three weeks without pay because of a COVID case at his workplace,” Ms Baker said.

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Ashleigh Baker says she is now earning more than in her previous job. Photo: Supplied

Fleur Madden, CEO of freelance work platform Freelancing Gems, said more Australians were pursuing their passions full-time in the pandemic, due to how the economic shock had affected traditional employers.

While some freelanced for essential income, introspective workers were also inspired to become greater risk-takers and pursue careers they were truly passionate about.

“COVID has fundamentally changed the way we work and people are seeking more flexibility – that traditional nine-to-five way of thinking is a way of the past,” Ms Madden told The New Daily. 

Things to consider when setting up a new business

  • Organise all your systems (including bookkeeping and budgeting tools, contracts, and setting up initial infrastructure)
  • Make sure you are charging appropriately (research what competitors are charging for their work)
  • Be prepared to knock down doors to acquire new business
  • Have a flexible work schedule
  • Assess businesses to see what skills are in high demand, and up-skill to meet those needs.

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