SPOTLIGHT ON NATALIE NESS
Chosen as the face of The Rocks Markets (which welcomes 2.6 million visitors each year), Natalie shares her three key skills for a successful business owner and how fate stepped in during her Gap year and led her to a career in jewellery design.
If we look back at your time at school, when did you attend PLC Sydney and what did you plan to do/what did you study after Year 12?
I attended PLC Sydney from 1989-2001 (K-12), boarding in the final two years. Initially I had planned to teach English in Japan after finishing school. I completed an exchange program in year 10 in Japan and was keen to move over there. Fate intervened in my gap year whilst nannying for a jewellery designer. I fell in love with accessories and enrolled in theatrical costuming at Tafe, where I studied part time for the next five years.
What was the "spark" or idea that started your business?
After a decade of working in theatre, I really wanted to be my own boss. I applied for the NEIS in my late twenties (New enterprise incentive scheme). I needed to connect with others and gain the skills to turn a creative passion into a solid business. I gained this and so much more. You finish with a certificate in small business management, a mentor, industry contacts but most of all the confidence to go out and make it happen. I started by supplying historical jewellery to museum stores in every state in Australia, in conjunction with their exhibitions. I launched my pop up shop at The Rocks Markets after the program ended and have been trading there three days per week for the last nine years.
What does a typical 'work' day look like for you?
I am a devoted mum to five year old Henry, so my days always start with him. After school drop off I’ll do a postal run, walk to a local factory to check in on the latest batch of charms being made. After that I check emails during lunchtime then walk to another local factory, which plates my charms in brass. In the afternoon I’ll work on my website and social media posts, plan what we need to manufacture for the weekend with my staff then pick Henry up from school.
What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful business owner?
You need to be genuine. Customers appreciate this and it builds trust. Basically just be yourself.
Resourcefulness. I started with very little financial support. Use what you have, don’t fall into a trap that you “need” to spend to get started.
Resilience. You’ll make mistakes, face rejection and hardships. Being able to get back up and keep going is how you reach success.
Could you tell us about a mistake you have made and what did you learn from that mistake?
One of my biggest mistakes was to try to cater for every customer. I created a massive range at one point so I could offer the right product in every situation. The reality is you need to understand who your customers are and to simplify your product or service. Everything became a lot easier and less stressful after I learned that.
What's the most significant piece of advice you've received and that you would share with someone looking at starting their own business?
Find your passion, take your time, don’t compare yourself to others and be prepared to work hard.
What has been your proudest moment for your business?
Becoming the face of The Rocks Markets was definitely a highlight, a place visited by over 2.6 million visitors each year. Seeing myself in publications and billboards around Sydney was humbling and rewarding for all the years of hard work I’d put in.
What tools (apps, books, podcasts, etc.) would you recommend to anyone trying to start her own business or that you go to for inspiration/ideas/productivity?
The Barefoot Investor (publication) really helped me organise my finances in a straightforward way. Forums on Facebook for makers and women in business are a wonderful resource and the City of Sydney talks and meetups for connecting with other business owners.
How has your education at PLC Sydney shaped the person you are today?
Studying at PLC gave me wonderful memories, particularly those friendships formed in the boarding school and with a few friends I’m still in touch with today. The opportunity I had to do an exchange program also opened my eyes to a world outside and prepared me for those early years after school finished.
Please share some of your most vivid, favourite or amusing memories from school.
My earliest vivid memory of school was the white elephant stall! I used to love buying toys with my pocket money and little cakes in junior school. Also the athletics carnivals were such a thrill. Winning the French prize in year five and accepting the award at speech day in The Opera House. School camps were always fun too. So many to name.