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Fairina Cheng’s sole trader growth story

Fairina Cheng's jewellery-making passion has become a full-time career. She loves being a sole trader because she can choose what projects and clients to take on – but says she couldn't have grown without expert help.

At a glance

  • Fairina Cheng decided in 2009 she needed a creative escape from her corporate job. Jewellery making is now her full-time career.
  • She loves the flexibility of being a sole trader, which also allows her to maintain absolute control over the direction of her business.
  • While she enjoys working alone, she says it's essential for sole traders to lean into expertise when and where they need it.
  • Fairina has deliberately chosen to keep her business small and work with a limited number of high-value customers.

Fairina Cheng was feeling bogged down in a marketing career in 2009 when a short course in jewellery making provided a creative escape.

“It seemed so fascinating, that ability to manipulate metal into all sorts of different shapes,” she says. “I wanted to understand it, and then I fell in love with it.”

The then-24-year-old Sydneysider spent five years gaining qualifications as a jewellery designer and manufacturer, and started to become inspired by more out-of-the-box designs.

“We used a lot of alternative materials and the jewellery were like art pieces – nothing like traditional jewellery that you’d see in shops,” says Fairina.

In 2012, while still studying, she set up a website, started an Etsy shop and began making her own jewellery, at first as a part-time side hustle alongside her corporate career then, after making the leap, as a full-time business.

Fairina now creates custom pieces for clients around Australia and worldwide.

Be true to what you love

At the outset, Fairina focused on creating small sterling silver pieces for her shop, but quickly realised that what she loved most was collaborating with individuals and couples on special projects, which were also of higher value.

“I make jewellery for rulebreakers and storymakers – people who don’t want the kind of engagement ring you’d see in a shopping mall, but rather something unique and different.” says Fairina. “Something that tells their story.

“Over time I’ve decided to work with fewer people but spend more time nurturing those relationships and offering a truly personalised customer service experience.”

One of Fairina’s first projects, and the one that prompted her passion for storytelling jewellery, was when a customer asked for an engagement ring shaped like a fish.

“We created a design that looked like a regular ring from the top. But if you turned it on its side, the ring band turned into the body of the fish, the gemstone turned into the tail and there was a little diamond eye at the bottom. It was a cute, subtle and cheeky way for me to incorporate their story into a ring.

“When someone wants a piece of jewellery that reflects their journey, it becomes more than just a beautiful accessory. It’s also a treasured keepsake. These are the kinds of collaborations that really light me up.”

Tip: Lean into bespoke projects of a higher value

“Over time I’ve decided to work with fewer people but spend more time nurturing those relationships.”

The pros and cons of sole trading

Fairina says she feels perfectly suited to being a sole trader because she enjoys retaining her flexibility while also maintaining control.

“I prefer working by myself rather than having lots of staff members to manage,” she explains. “I like being able to go with the flow and determine which projects I take on. And I like the freedom of working from home, so it’s a lifestyle choice as well.

“I also like working individually with clients. Staying small is important to me, but so is making a big impact.”

Fairina adds there are certainly downsides to being a sole trader, namely a tendency to overwork and being alone for long chunks of time.

“I definitely work more than I would if I were employed, because my business is my passion as well as my job.

“And sometimes it’s hard not having people around to bounce ideas off. You also need to be very self-driven because there’s no one looking over your shoulder.”

Tip: Consider if being a sole trader is for you

“It’s hard not having people around to bounce ideas off. You also need to be very self-driven.”

Outsourcing when you need help

While Fairina works largely by herself, she has learnt to outsource to experts where needed.

She uses a local trade jeweller, a bookkeeper, a marketing manager who provides a monthly social media package, a virtual assistant and a strategic business coach.

She says her marketing manager and business coach have helped her to grow her business in new directions.

“They offer ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. They push me forward, which is really important as a sole trader.”

Looking back, she wishes she’d outsourced earlier.

“As a sole trader you can enjoy the control of your business a little too much, and I was also scared to invest.

“But I’ve learnt to trust in other people and see the great things that they can bring to the business. Don’t be afraid to hire people who are better than you. In fact, that’s exactly what you should do.”

Tip: Lean into outside expertise

“They offer ideas that I wouldn’t have thought of myself. They push me forward, which is really important as a sole trader.”

Harnessing the power of you

Despite seeking help where she needs to, Fairina says her business is very much a reflection of herself. As a sole trader, she believes it’s the core values of her business that enable her to stand out and continue to grow.

She ensures her Instagram and Facebook pages are a true reflection of herself and her business, her website is populated with language and stories that resonate with potential clients, and her blog is geared towards SEO.

Being at the centre of her own business also makes decisions less complicated, because she simply has to ensure they align with her own values.

“I think that authenticity shows through everything you do as a sole trader,” she says.

“You need to have a personality in your business that’s so distinctly you that people don’t just want your product, they actually want to work with you.”

With Prospa by your side, there’s no more compromising or missed opportunities – apply for a Prospa Sole Trader Business Loan.

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