How to become a business owner instead

The need for higher education to establish a rewarding career is a datable topic among young Australians, especially those who have enrolled in it. There are certainly strong points on both sides of the argument, however, what most people agree on is that the concept of “workplace” is changing, and that change greatly accelerated during the pandemic.

I grew up in a family that instilled in me the belief that my future would be shaped solely by my degree, a common mistake that many of us have learned from. This conviction followed me when I started studying to become a lawyer, then a chemist and finally a geophysicist. My HEC debt increased and my mental health deteriorated. Like some kind of academic goldilocks, I told myself that if I didn’t find the right degree, I would never make it.

With all the fragmented education I was getting, I never imagined using it on a personal basis and always considered working for someone else. As I sat in class doodling in my notebook, waiting for my friends to confirm our U-Bar meeting, I never thought these drawings would be anything more than a hobby. It wasn’t until 8 years later that I put my idea of ​​a traditional career path aside and started thinking about building my own business and personal brand.

Step away from the traditional career path

Freelance graphic design is often considered a “side hustle,” something you can do for a little extra cash if you have the time. Alternatively, you imagine someone who would sleep through the day accepting or refusing projects whenever they felt like it. These are both far from the truth. For many people, freelancing is a full-time or part-time job. If a freelancer isn’t getting a high volume of projects, they usually have to go back to their other job and try to balance the two schedules.


My platform of choice was Instagram and Upwork. I tried to balance this while studying and working as a casual in my corporate job. Needless to say, I didn’t have much time to think about how I could optimize my skills. It would take me a good week to create a good quality logo for a client. During this time, I had meetings with my other job, homework that was due, and a general feeling of uncertainty about how I should invest my time.

One morning I woke up with a “Fail” score for my last mission. This assignment weighed 55% and I had accidentally missed the deadline. The unit had a zero tolerance policy for late submissions, and I received an automatic “failure” for the entire class. This meant that I had to retry the course the following semester and therefore had to pay for it twice. It was then that I decided that my future would not be dictated by an impersonal grading system that did not reflect my value.

Invest in my own personal brand

I was now alone. More casual work and more studies. I spent my time trying to generate new leads and working hard to engage with my community. As I enjoyed my newfound freedom, I soon discovered that, as “free” as it sounded, I was still limited by my own skills and time.

I had to turn down a lot of jobs because I could only accept so many clients and only had 24 hours a day. If a client requested social media management or website development in addition to their brand design project, I had to refer them to someone else. Sometimes clients wouldn’t follow through on our consultation phase because I didn’t have the skills or the time to set up their business from start to finish. They were kindly dropping me and telling me that they had decided to go with an agency that could meet all of their needs.

The next logical step was to start building a team and working on my own personal brand.

In the age of TikTok videos and selfies, we’ve exposed ourselves more than ever. So why was I so nervous about putting my face and my name on a company? It was because I was feeling an overwhelming sense of “impostor syndrome”. The old belief that you needed a degree or qualification to be successful clouded my judgment even further. Despite this, nothing I learned during my high school or college years prepared me for the daunting task of starting my own business.

I established a budget, a calendar and I compartmentalized everything into monthly goals. For example, I knew the most important skill I needed on my team was a developer. Many of my clients wanted their website development after their website design and they wanted it done within the same team so that nothing was missed when implementing their brand implementation . At the same time, I worked on my own website, moving away from freelance platforms, and explored other digital marketing techniques.

Slowly, after 8 years of searching for success, I ended up becoming a ‘studio director’ for my own branding agency. It was never the “traditional” career path that I or my parents imagined. I have no “official” qualifications or university degree. Instead, and most importantly, I have 8 years of trial and error.

I always get nervous before posting promotional content online for my agency. I’m also always nervous about investing in advertising with the fear that it won’t work, but I can sleep easy at night knowing that my success is entirely in my control.

Kate Manks and Callum Humphreys

Kate Manks, Owner, BrandVillage.

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