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Daring to dream: Young women turn ‘side hustles’ into fulltime businesses

Saturday 18 February 2023 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Business, Features, In Depth, Local, National, Weekend

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Daring to dream: Young women turn ‘side hustles’ into fulltime businesses
Entrepreneur Charlize Tuara merges her love for art in Charlize Tuara Photography. SUPPLIED/23021728

Businesswoman Ana File-Heather who is the founder of the Taki Tahi ‘start-up’ project facilitated a free online business incubator ‘Dreambuilder’ course for Cook Islands women last week.

The course was sponsored through the Academy of Women Entrepreneurs and the US Embassy. The 13-module course ran through the various stages of business, from starting out, exploring concepts or ideas through to the registration of a business and the financial side.

“This course is to help women in business by providing opportunities so that they’re able to understand all the different concepts that go into having a business,” says File- Heather, “(It is) to give the girls a good grasp and idea of what they can do in terms of growth…” Sixteen women from the islands of Aitutaki, Manihiki, Mauke and Rarotonga completed the weeklong course.

The participants were: Luana Abraham, Ria Arthur, Peniana Crocombe, Toka Charlie, Nitika Karaponga, Kali Maclean-Mcmahon, Jane Makira, April
Mana, Maria Maoate, Vaea Maoate, Grace Raea, Jemina Samson Tangi, Charlize Tuara, Tasha Van Mierlo, Akaauariki William and Mireille Winchester. Some of these women have shared their “side hustle” which have turned into their full-time jobs and their steps into
starting up their own business.

Charlize Tuara – Charlize Tuara Photography 

Feeling the joy from people when they receive their family gallery portraits and seeing how “really happy” they are, makes photographer Charlize Tuara feel good.

“Especially mums, and young women in general, I like making them feel special inside themselves,” says Tuara.

“Some young women beat themselves up so it’s nice to give them their photo and boost their confidence, I enjoy that part of it.”

Tuara is an artist who didn’t have much time to focus on her paintings so instead turned to photography, merging the two to create her own art.

“It’s an extension of my art which why I’ve really come to love it.”

Entrepreneur Charlize Tuara is the founder of Charlize Tuara Photography. 23021603

The 22-two-year-old started photography as a hobby, “but it was getting expensive and I was investing too much of my savings into it, so now I do it full time”.

Self-taught, she worked with established local photographers, Ine Wichman and Jaiah Arai from Creators Hype, who taught her how to use her camera and how to deal with people at events.

Tuara started her business “Charlize Tuara Photography” 18 months ago. 

“I started it from a hobby, I don’t how to run a business really,” Tuara says, but she has grit and determination.

She was keen to do the Dreambuilder course, “because I felt I didn’t really know how to structure the whole business thing and I wanted more knowledge”.

The course included site visits to service providers and businesses, which Tuara appreciated. 

“It was so cool meeting everyone in the course and it was nice meeting all the different women doing their own businesses.”

Tuara particularly liked learning about positioning where you are in the market.

“It got me thinking, if we’re all doing the same thing, we just need one unique thing to set us apart from others. I’ve also applied that to my photography, to think what makes me different.

“I feel like for my work it’s the artistic side I have that makes me different from everyone else, but I’m still just trying to figure out how I’m going to make that work into my business.”

The financial part of the business course was “so helpful”, she adds.

“A lot of us we love what we do but we don’t focus on the other nitty gritty things that involves a business.”

Tuara was “blown away” by their visit to the Business Trade and Investment Board (BTIB).

“They (BTIB) really support local businesses and one thing highlighted was that the photography industry is only reserved for Cook Islanders, for locals, and that is quite nice, and they service local businesses.”

Tuara says she is encouraged by her parents who own a business.

“They have always taught all of us that you can be your own boss. My mum would tell me that the first to four years of business are the hardest so if you can survive that then you’ve got it, and I do take it from her because she has been in business for 20 years and she’s still going.”

One of her personal challenges is becoming too passionate about her work, then undercutting herself.

Her other trials are having to purchase camera gear from New Zealand, having a motorbike as her means of transport and the unpredictable weather to cope with.

But doing photoshoots with young girls her age and lifting their confidence is what she really loves about her work.

“I’ve seen the impact photographs have on people’s confidence. I see these girls and when you capture their beauty and you tell them they’re beautiful they don’t really believe it, but when they see their photos and think ‘oh I am beautiful’, it’s nice for them.

“There’s this thing about beauty, everyone looks at the beauty outside but I find most people I have been shooting for my own personal creative work is, it’s more about the soul.”

Tuara encourages other young women who want to get into their own business to go ahead and take the step.

“Don’t be afraid, your biggest setback is your own mindset so always have a positive mindset because that actually helps,” she says.

“First of all, you’re young so don’t even panic you’ve got heaps of time to perfect things. You won’t always get things on point in the first go, I didn’t… when you love something you are doing, this will drive you through the challenges. And because you’re going to have them anyway, so make sure you love what business you’re getting into and don’t give up at the first road block.”

She also recommends young entrepreneurs to always look for sources of knowledge and keep learning.

Tuara didn’t finish high school and says she wouldn’t pressure young people to go to university if it’s not going to make them happy. She would rather see that they do what they love.

“A lot of us are pressured to go to university, study for years to get this doctorate or that. Sometimes those with higher education, they just make their lives busier and work so hard, just to have more time later.

“Is that really necessary, then you have no time for your kids, family?

“I was in that predicament… I’m happy, I’d rather be free.

“Strive for lifestyle instead of money, especially here.”

AVA Excavations Ltd owners Maria Maoate and Teava Iro Jnr and their toddler. 23021604

AVA Excavations Ltd does anything to do with earthworks. 23021727

Maria Maoate – AVA Excavations Ltd

AVA Excavations Ltd owners Maria Maoate and Teava Iro Jnr and their toddler. 23021604
AVA Excavations Ltd owners Maria Maoate and Teava Iro Jnr and their toddler. 23021604

Maria Maoate and her partner Teava Iro Junior operate a small excavation business offering services such as land clearing and disposal of cleared vegetation, clearing access ways, digging and laying drainage.

“Basically, we do anything to do with earthworks,” says Maoate.

The couple made the move to start their own company in November 2021 – to make it a real thing and register it as a company.

“We were fortunate,” she says, Iro was already skilled in the trade and with her background in finance and marketing she would deal with the paperwork.

Since she started posting about their business on Facebook, their business became busier. 

The Taki Tahi Women Entrepreneurs course came along at the perfect time, when she wanted to learn more about the structure and business planning.

“Ana’s post came out at the right time, even though I have some experience in business and we were doing okay with our marketing and finance, I just wanted to make sure that we were on the right track,” says Maoate.

“There’s just this feeling that you want to be around other business women because you’re feeling motivated and you want to be with women that feel the same and you want to feed off the inspiration, and it’s just nice to be around people who feel the same as you, that you can relate and share stories.”

Usually every day after work at Cook Islands Tourism, Maoate who is a mum to a young child would feel tired when arriving home and keep putting off things she had to do.

AVA Excavations Ltd does anything to do with earthworks. 23021727
AVA Excavations Ltd does anything to do with earthworks. 23021727

Participating in the week long course forced her to sit down and think, and she was surprised how smooth and fast the week went.

“It was really good because it wasn’t all that business jargon, it was easy to understand, it was simple… so it helped you think and put it all down.

“The course was really engaging and I was surprised at myself that by Friday I was still attending and on time.”

Maoate says having the presenters talk to the participants was “really great”.

An interesting thing she discovered during the course was “you go into business for two reasons, you’re either passionate about it or you have the skill.

“It’s cool because he (Iro) has the passion and skill in doing the work, and I have the skill in the finance and marketing side.

“During the course I also found that I’m passionate about business in general, I like it so we’ll see how I go…”

Having had conversations with other young women who want to start their business venture but are afraid to look like they’re struggling, her advice is: “Start small and don’t expect to get there straight away.”

“Put yourself out there, I’m not someone who is comfortable doing that but I’ve realised I have to, its business so put yourself out there and get uncomfortable.

“And even though you think you might be confident in something, don’t stop learning, keep checking on if there’s anything new coming out with the nature of your business.”

Her biggest challenge is finding the time to do everything and trying to balance family life. 

“Our mindsets are okay, we know everything is a risk,” she says.

“Take the risk, there really is nothing to lose when you’re in the Cook Islands, there’s so much support and there’s family.

“Some say there’s nothing here, but I say there is, with business.”

Maoate says she has attained so much clarity and confidence from the course.

“I don’t know if its scary or amazing, but what women can do with confidence - we will just be unstoppable.”

Vaea Maoate welcomes a guest to Tai Marino Beach Bungalows in Aitutaki. 23021726

Vaea Maoate does her “side hustle” selling sashimi meals in Aitutaki. 23021725

Vaea Maoate - Tai Marino Beach Bungalows and Marokii & Vaea’s Food Stall.

Vaea Maoate welcomes a guest to Tai Marino Beach Bungalows in Aitutaki. 23021726
Vaea Maoate welcomes a guest to Tai Marino Beach Bungalows in Aitutaki. 23021726

Property managers Vaea Maoate and husband Marokii moved to Aitutaki in 2018 from Rarotonga, to start a family accommodation business – the Tai Marino Beach Bungalows.

They had intended to open in 2020, then Covid hit.

During that period, she had started selling her popular sashimi meals again and her husband really got into fishing which had been more of a hobby.

In October 2020, the couple decided to open up their accommodation to domestic tourism.

“My goodness, the response from local people was amazing because everyone was being encouraged to take annual leave … so it was great for everybody and we made great specials for them,” says Vaea.

That helped kick things off and gave them some experience before the international tourists would arrive.

And when the overseas tourists did come it was full on.

“It was very busy and we had to learn a few things on the go as well but it was great, we just kept pushing and doing the best we could and being the best hosts.

“We want to look after our guests and what we really had in mind that we really wanted to emulate was that wonderful Cook Islands hospitality.’

Last year, the business did well and kept getting busier, Maoate felt she needed some structure.

“The business is starting to evolve now into a stage I don’t know too much about, I’ve never employed people so I felt I really needed some direction with that.

Vaea Maoate does her “side hustle” selling sashimi meals in Aitutaki. 23021725
Vaea Maoate does her “side hustle” selling sashimi meals in Aitutaki. 23021725

“So this course popped up and I thought this will be great and help give me some structure and confidence to make certain business decisions, gain more knowledge on employing people, what’s fair for the workers etc.”

Vaea says the course material was great, “rather than teaching the American style of things it was teaching skills and qualities that could be applied to any business”.

“So, it was applicable to everyone that was in the room no matter if they were selling products or services.

“On top of that Ana went out of her way to set up meetings with different organisations and business, local businesswomen and we were able to visit these places, ask them questions see what they do, what their experiences and advice are. 

“For me that made a big difference.”

She says they had always been aware of BTIB and the Chamber of Commerce but hadn’t actually entered their premises or done a tour.

“Knowing there is support out there, if we didn’t know how to do something, now we know who to ask rather than to try and rely on yourself which is the natural tendency as a business woman – you rely on yourself.

“This was really encouraging you to see that there are other people out there who really want to help, so that was great.”

This is the first course Vaea has participated in that was pretty specific, teaching the women how to make a business plan, action plan and setting goals for themselves to make their business grow. 

“It was applicable to women who didn’t know yet what they wanted to do for business, ones who already had a business, and ones who were already employing people, it didn’t matter.

“I actually think it’s a natural thing for Cook Islands women, there’s so many women who sell dresses or food products and have always been doing that apart from their own full time jobs. I think its natural so this (course) just helps you structure it.

“It was so empowering walking into a room where there were so many other young women your age all trying to make a business as well, it was a great opportunity for us to network.

“I wish every business women had a chance to do this.”

Learning what their values are and which values they hope to put into their businesses were also discussed.

“For me, once you have your personal values established it’s a lot easier for you to run your business – you know where you’re going and you know what you do.

“It can be anything from your faith to your family and friends or you want to be kind or hospitable or you want to be ambitious.”

The Maoate’s also have a very big spiritual interest – her husband is an Elder and they both dedicate and volunteer a lot of time to help out.

“That’s why it’s great being your own boss, you have your own hours, its hard work but its achievable and you can still balance faith and family if you have your priorities,” says Vaea.

She continues to make her sashimi and fish meals from their pop up Marokii & Vaea’s Food Stall in the village of Ureia which really helps with their day to day living expenses.

Sometimes by the time she gets to their stall there are 20 people lined up. One time they sold 150 plates within four minutes. “It was crazy, but it was wonderful to see the support from the people.”