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Connection Matters Radio (CMR): As we’ve heard many times on Connection Matters Radio, Aboriginal businesses have in many cases been quite adept at modifying their operations to continue, and even grow during coronavirus. Joining me today on the program to add even further support to this is Taungurung man Matthew Everitt from Dreamtime Art, located in Point Cook. Matthew, thanks for coming onto the program today.
Matthew Everitt: Thank you for having us
CMR: Matthew, tell me a little bit about Dreamtime Art as it was pre coronavirus.
Matthew: Okay, so Dreamtime Art [is] an Aboriginal Torres Strait Island arts management company. So we deal with a lot of corporate clients, and introduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists into that working relationship – when clients are looking at commissioning artworks, or doing murals, or doing some licensing agreement for imagery.
We work with clients to provide best practice and due diligence as a process for them. And then also help the artists to actually start sort of establishing some of the requirements of what it might look like for them to get into a business for themselves, or some of the business relationships. So pre COVID, we were … as a mum and dad operating team – myself and my wife, Fatima, working from a home office, and doing our consultancy there. So pre COVID, we were attracting a lot more work, and looking at employing people, which was fantastic.
CMR: What happened though, when coronavirus hit? All of a sudden, I assume the expansion plans and growth suddenly had to be reexamined.
Matthew: It did, yes. A lot of things were put on ice, so to speak. For our own internal business operations, because we run a very efficient business model, being that we work from home. We have low overheads, and we’re already set up to work from home as a consultancy anyway. So that hasn’t changed for us.
What has actually changed is mirroring the clients. Having a lot of the clients put their staff members, their employees at home. Moving empty offices is probably really what’s affected us. So yeah, it was a noticeable slow down in that, because there was a lot of uncertainty within the market, a lot of uncertainty around employment and what people’s jobs held for the future. How long we’re going to be all at home. So some of the projects from the clients that were live projects at the time, and working towards becoming live all got shelved. They’re all the ones that were put on ice. So that slowed a lot of our own planning down
CMR: What percentage of the business would that have represented?
Matthew: It’d still be that good, 30%, I suppose. So Fatima and myself, we were still able to continue to work. We have still been working, but I’ll just go probably more into a planning mode, to try and work out what some of the successions might look like in the business.
CMR: So what were some of the first thoughts that you had in continuing the business, and even potentially growing the business when these restrictions came into place, and the orders started to slow down?
Matthew: That’s a tough question. I mean, I suppose innately we would probably start from leaving some of that fear that gets put out by media. You sort of buy into it a little bit of that, but you start getting a bit tired of listening to that rhetoric, some of that language.
One of the things that I did do pretty quickly for myself was actually create a fair bit of enthusiasm, because I’ve actually already been examining this for many, many years, and I figured it’s not foreign to anyone if we look closely at it. But what actually happens within the digital world – we’ve already got the tools to be able to pivot, and do all this sort of stuff now.
So it was just around looking at some of the behavioral changes from clients, and seeing if they were actually able to adapt to it. That being said, I think clients are still working through it. They’re still trying to understand what the future looks like for employment. So it’s exciting.
CMR: You haven’t really slowed down. You’ve “pivoted”, as is often used, and started exploring other avenues. And this is what I’d like to hear about.
Matthew: Well, pivoting is probably one of those interesting words that seems to get thrown around a fair bit today.
CMR: We’ll have to blame Karen Milward for that, I’m afraid (laughing).
Matthew: Yeah. I’m hearing a lot of that language with many of the clients that I speak to. It’s always fun to listen in on how they speak. So yeah, probably more around accelerating. So quietly in the background, we’ve been doing a lot of work over the last couple of years … but to look at establishing a different business, that steps well away from the artworks, and it would run on the side of that; and that’s around office furniture.
We took it as an opportunity, rather than again, buying into some of that language around what was happening with COVID, and seeing an economic slowdown. We took it as an opportunity to say, “You know what. Now’s the time to launch.” On the outbreak of COVID in Victoria, which was around April, when everything started slowing down. So it was a good time to launch that, I suppose.
As a bit of a coincidence we also launched our businesses during GFC [Global Financial Crisis]. So that was another economic slow down.
CMR: It definitely is a bit of a strange time to launch a new business, but I suppose with the background of launching your existing business in the GFC, well, the pandemic is simply something to be taken in stride. Why though, wouldn’t you simply do what most other businesses have done? And that is just hunker down and wait out the storm.
Matthew: I suppose my first question would be: “Why wait?” You know, there’s probably two things I see there. One is about our people themselves, and our ability to be able to adapt to social and environmental changes. We’ve been doing it for time immemorial. That’s why we’re still here. So we’re very good … in our genealogy, in our living genetic memory it’s our ability to be able to survive those changes. So having a look at some of these economic changes, we’ve got the grit to be able to get through that sort of stuff. And then the other part to that also is that for us, we took the position [of]: if we’re going to start something, let’s start it in a very low point in the economy, because it can only go up from there. So rather than enjoy the successes of when it’s all great and then find the challenges really hard when things turn down, we’d still be “ups away”.
CMR: So how has it been for you since the launch?
Matthew: Yeah, it’s been good. I suppose there’s a lot of work around building visibility for the business. So it’s different to starting up a brand new business. There’s probably a couple of key things that you need to really get through, and that’s around building trust with your clients.
It’s about developing the relationships. It’s about creating visibility in what you’re offering – about demonstrating what you’re capable of. Having a look at your own deliverables, and making sure that you can meet client expectations. So some of that stuff only unpacks as you do smaller contracts; and then you can win a bit more trust, so you get a larger contracts and people will trust you to get a bigger contract.
CMR: So where can people find out more about the new business?
Matthew: Just reach out to me direct, or jump on the website, which is www.dreamtimeoffice.com.au; And just shoot us off an inquiry and then we can just follow up.
CMR: Matt, I’m afraid we’ve run out of time. We will catch up post COVID and just see how both businesses; Dreamtime Art and Dreamtime Office are going in better times.
Matthew: Absolutely. Thank you so much, and thank you for all the listeners, and stay safe, and stay healthy.
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