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Celebrating 10 years: how I started my side hustle

My side hustle

Today marks the beginning of “Small Business Month” in NSW. I’m Sheree Chambers the Director of Brugel Creative, and I thought I’d kick-off the celebrations by sharing a little bit of my business journey so far. Brugel Creative has been my full-time gig for 2 1/2 years now; however, it all began as a side hustle ten years ago, back in 2008. Wow, just writing that makes me wonder where that time has gone.

As I tell you my side hustle story, you should probably know that I’m only just classed as a Millennial (my proof is that I love my coffee shops and yesterday I even enjoyed smashed avo on toast). I hope my story encourages some of you thinking of starting your own side hustle. Full disclaimer, my journey isn’t for everyone, there have been plenty of tears, but I’m determined (okay… stubborn). So here it is…

When my side hustle started

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When I was 3 in my parent’s office.

I was a designer baby – not in the traditional sense – but my parents were both Graphic Designers (or desktop publishers as they were once known). Any opportunity I had I was hijacking their computers and playing with programs like Adobe Photoshop or InDesign (which was Aldus PageMaker back then). As a result of my upbringing, Graphic Design has always been something I love. I’d grown up designing the weekly bulletin for my church. I’d volunteer to make brochures for whatever fundraising event I could find. In my late teens, I briefly worked for a real estate creating the window display ads.

I’d left school in the year 2000 (when I was in year 11) and I’d been working full-time ever since. In 2008 I had been working for several years as a marketing coordinator for a medical device company (fun fact – back then, my Business Development Manager, Kathy Elliot was my boss). People quickly realised I had design skills (although, at that time I had no formal training or qualifications). I began helping out with the occasional brochure design. People would ask for my help with personal things, like party invitations, and photo retouching. I’d jump at any opportunity that came my way to exercise my design skills.

Accidental Portfolio

One day I realised that through all these one-off jobs I’d been doing, I’d built myself up a nice little portfolio of work. Someone approached me and asked if I could design a logo for her friend’s company, and offered to pay me for it! The only catch, I needed to be able to provide an invoice. “Money?” I thought, “But I do this for love…” So off to my accountant I went, and a day or so later I was loaded with an ABN and ready to go. I think my total invoicing for that financial year was less than $500 and my accountant encouraged me to close my ABN. I defied him.

How my side hustle grew

As more and more people started asking me to help, I realised I needed a bit more knowledge, so I enrolled myself into a few short courses (my favourite is still a 3-day workshop I did at Billy Blue College of Design). Eventually, I enrolled myself as a mature-age student into university via Open University (Kathy is the one who talked me into this, actually – thanks Kathy!). I continued to do some side-projects, worked full-time, and studied my butt off. I completed University entirely online in about 4.5 years, working full-time the entire time (I don’t recommend this).

My $500 annual turn-over eventually became $2,000, and I was pretty chuffed with that result. I was content to continue over-working myself while doing something I was passionate about in my spare *cough* time. Eventually, I moved from the corporate world to a Theological College in Sydney. My new role was as the Marketing Manager and I had a small team of staff who I adored.

Somewhere along the line, I’d also registered the business name “Brugel Images and Design” – because my last name was Brugel, and my main side hustles involved editing images and doing basic design work. (Watch out for an upcoming blog about why the name Brugel is so important to me, and why I kept it as my business name even after getting married).

Developing my side hustle

Have you ever had an epiphany because you say something out loud you didn’t even know you were thinking? Not long after I’d begun working for the college, I was playing table tennis with some of the students and someone asked me what I wanted to do in the future. I remember saying, “this is the last time I ever want to be employed by someone, I hope to work for myself one day”.

What? That’s the first I knew of this. What self-employment was I talking about? Regardless of where the thought had come from, once I’d articulated those words, I’d set the wheels in motion. I started to work harder than ever before. I’d finished studying, so the time I’d used to spend doing assignments, I instead spent gaining more business and also building my skills – I’d realised coding was something I was quite gifted at, so I started designing websites, mostly for myself and my family, and also my church.

While I was working, I also saved. I saved like crazy, I had high expenses, and I was on a relatively low income. Every dollar I could save, I did. Eventually, I had saved enough to survive for 6-months without an income, so I decided it was time to take the risk. If it didn’t work out, 6-months wasn’t a large gap to have in my CV. I handed in a ridiculous amount of notice, something like 3-months (I think my boss thought I was joking at first). I should also add, I was still single at the time, so I didn’t have a spouse’s income to fall back on if it didn’t work out (although I’m confident my parents would have taken me back home as a 30-something failure).

When my side hustle became my only hustle

At my home office where I now work. Photo by Clearlight Photography.

In April 2016, my notice period ended, and that was it, Sheree against the world. I had a few small projects lined up. Giving 3-months notice helped me be able to actively look for work without feeling like I was sneaking around. I joined a few Facebook groups connecting with others who were on a business journey. With their support, and those in my real-face community, I sought out whatever work I could find. Websites I quickly discovered were the most in-demand skill I could offer. But my true love was, is and always will be, Graphic Design (sorry, husband – I do love you more, I promise). Whenever someone would ask for a logo, brochure, or book, I would also jump on that opportunity.

Eventually, I changed my business name to Brugel Creative, ‘Images and Design’ didn’t seem to fit anymore. I began to put into motion those Marketing Strategies I’d spent years helping other companies to do. It turns out, Marketing yourself is WAY more difficult than for something external.

My most significant break came when an IT Company found me through one of my Facebook groups and asked if I could help out by building some websites under a white-label agreement. This opportunity helped me focus on web design and truly think about what I wanted to do.

This year, in particular, has been one of MASSIVE growth for both myself and Brugel. As I write this, I’m also finishing the fifth website we’ll launch in just over a week. That’s right, I said ‘we’ because if you look at my team page, you’ll see that it’s not just me now. I have a group of amazing contractors who help me keep Brugel growing and moving forward, servicing our clients. Perhaps one day I’ll share the story about how each of these team members came along. Together, we bring a wealth of experience and knowledge, and most importantly, we all love what we do.

What’s next for Brugel Creative?

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Working on my laptop by Lake Macquarie where I (Sheree) live. Photo by Clearlight Photography.

It’s been 2 1/2 years since Brugel Creative has been my main hustle, and the road has been unexpected (and mostly unplanned). With the help of some kick-ass team members, Brugel is quickly becoming a Digital Design and Marketing Agency. I’ve met so many incredible people, and I’ve learnt about more industries and business than I ever thought I would. I love getting alongside my customers and helping them achieve business success.

Right now, our primary focus has shifted to assisting established small businesses with their websites. This includes refining their branding and marketing, as well as offering business solutions. It is exciting, and nothing like what I imagined back in 2008 when I was making party invitations.

If you’re on a similar journey, I want to encourage you to not care about the road most travelled. I’ve made my own path (with the help of friends and family along the way), and it’s been incredible. If you’d like any help along the way in your business journey, I’d love to help (seriously). Contact us today and let us know about whatever side hustle you’re thinking of starting or expanding.

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