Meet the ex FIFO Worker behind Baked by Erica

2012 – The year wherein many doomsday movies are set. For me, it was the year I finally finished my Masters in Human Resources Management. A degree which took years to complete while I juggled it with full time work as part of the master plan to navigate the path towards the swanky corner office with a great view of the river as the best GM HR ever on the way to a kick arse MD gig for a top tier player.

Never would I have guessed that a week after accepting that piece of paper at graduation, I would be heading into a mine site in the middle of the Midwest region of Western Australia to become a process operator.

Heck, I couldn’t even tell you what a process operator or a process plant was at the beginning of the year, but by the end of it, I was knee deep (literally) in the messy world of being a blue collar worker.

I went from recruiter to process operator within a week. The move from the air conditioned cubicle on St Georges Terrace to the lovely embrace and mercy of Mother Nature (yes, being an operator is an all weather kinda gig) was not an easy one.

Majority of the people on the ground didn’t trust anyone from the human resources department (the only ones they disliked more were the safety people); I was viewed as the management mole for a good while there. Even worse, most of them assumed it was just a secondment. An experiment of sorts and it was a waste of their time to invest in training this girl who was stupid enough to walk away from an air conditioned office gig.

Thankfully, I managed to prove my worth to some of the wonderful people on my crew. Who saw that I really did want to learn and this wasn’t just an experiment. I wanted to be an operator; I wanted to be a damn good one at that! First though, I had to learn all the technical terms – sadly, some just wouldn’t stick and certain equipment was still referred to as the blue thingy for a long time! Secondly, a very minor detail which had to be addressed – my fear of heights. When you work around a lot of conveyors and pretty tall infrastructure, it’s a wee bit inconvenient to be scared and have your knees lock up when you get about 6 metres off the ground. Especially since majority the conveyors and buildings went well beyond 6 metres!

Site life had a lot of ups and downs. I shared my experiences in my blog if you would like to read about all the fun I had on site.

Unfortunately, the beginning of the end of my FIFO career started on one fateful night at the end of a night shift swing. I hurt my wrist in a split second slip while trying to hook up a hose. This injury put an abrupt end to my illustrious hosing, shovelling, manual labour career and lingers to this day.

The 18 months post injury and pre having to finally make the decision to walk away from the process operator role was hard. Some might call it bullying, I call it Mean Girls – Mine Site Edition. My Regina George was a bearded male in his late 20’s, and the rest of the Plastics ranged in age from early 20’s to about 50, all male, some bearded but not all. They didn’t wear pink on Wednesdays but rather fluoro yellow and silver. Yes, my experience on site dispelled the commonly held notion that girls are bitchier than guys. I truly beg to differ and can provide several case studies for those interested.

There is no denying that there were scars, psychological and emotional, from this period of my life. The Mean Girls scars made worse by my struggle with the whole being unemployed situation for a few months there. I didn’t realise until then how much value I put in my employment. The feeling of being so worthless because I wasn’t working was overwhelming; incapacitating on some days. When we are working we are deemed useful cogs of society, well, that was my thought process anyway. So when I wasn’t working, my headspace was in a very dark “I’m useless” place.

Thankfully, with the encouragement of my incredible partner, friends and former colleagues, I decided to give the whole self employed thing a go and set up Baked by Erica with cookies which I had been testing on my colleagues on site for about a year before I had to unceremoniously leave. The feedback from my high vis guinea pigs was overwhelmingly positive. Most of them actually had never had something like it!

With their encouragement and support, Baked by Erica launched online on the 1st of November 2016. I remember going to bed that night wondering who in the world would order from my online store (that I did put together myself). Thankfully, in the first week I had five orders – four came from people I worked with during my FIFO adventure (just in case you were wondering, nope, none of the Plastics ordered).

Sadly though, there was still this lingering shame in not being in the corporate world or the “real” working world. It wasn’t a real job. I was not employed. I was JUST a baker. I was JUST a home based business owner. It didn’t come with the same credibility that being in a corporate role or a “proper” job had. Yes, I walked around feeling like this for a few months.

Thankfully, some part of me still had the tenacity to explore and I dragged myself out of that dark place every now and again. I started exploring the small business world in Perth and met some wonderful people. I forced myself to attend events even if I did not know anyone and usually spent the first few minutes kicking myself. Are you familiar with the “What the heck are you doing? Why didn’t you just stay home? That would have been more comfortable” internal dialogue? That was what was going through my head for the first few minutes of every workshop and event I attended for the first few months of being a business owner.

Mind you, if I thought the transition from recruiter to process operator was challenging. Starting a business from scratch was a lot more challenging. Especially from someone who struggles with the sales side of things and was told a few months into this venture that I had no chance in succeeding if I did not embrace the hard sell. Uh oh! I do not like the hard sell. I can’t do it. I am absolutely going to fail.

The transition from corporate to manual labour to business owner doesn’t make sense to some. On the surface it looks random but the journey has been so serendipitous that looking back I don’t think I could have done it any other way or would have done it any other way. The years of hosing, shovelling, lifting, and working at the mercy of Mother Nature, was the best training for market days!

Through sheer will and shamelessness, I have managed to forge friendships with some wonderful people who understand the joys and challenges of being a start up small business owner. Strong networks have been made through some late night Facebook and Eventbrite event stalking. Hard yakka really does pay off.

When you are on the right path, certain things happen and the Universe just seems to align. You get little signals at certain points that indicate you will be okay and to just carry on. The people I have met since starting my journey in small business have been propelling me forward and been instrumental in changing my mindset. I am not longer JUST a baker or JUST a home based business owner.

Speaking of serendipitous; let me share with you a tiny glimpse of how part of my journey unfolded. This is just a bit of an overview and doesn’t even being to completely describe the full journey.

At around the same time I had to resign from my FIFO job (around early to mid 2016), I received a scholarship from the Department of Local Government and Communities (DLGC) to take part in the Women in Mining WA mentoring program. So, during the inception stages of Baked by Erica, I was actually taking part in this program and surrounded by very accomplished people in the mining industry who were and still are very supportive of the cookie enterprise and have played an integral role in my story and growth to date.

In July 2017, I had my heart set on taking part in the Curtin Ignition Entrepreneurship program. I heard about Ignition through DLGC as they also have scholarships for this program. Wanting to scale the cookie empire and set it up properly for long term success, I really wanted to get into the program and applied for a scholarship spot. Fellow small business owners will understand that during the first few months and years of business, funding for such a big expense is usually hard to come by so a scholarship spot was my way in. Unfortunately, I missed out. Thankfully, I was gifted with a very strong stubborn gene and it was around this time the Shameless by Erica tour began.

Once I recovered from the initial upset of missing out on a scholarship placement, I set up a crowd funding page to see if I could get help from family and friends to obtain my fee for Ignition. I smashed my goal amount in less than two weeks. But the greatest gift that came out of the crowd funding wasn’t just being able to attend Ignition, it was the fact that over 65% of people who donated were people I met in the last year – through the cookie business! How amazing is that? So many believed in my little business that they were putting their hard earned cash into helping me build it further.

With that amazing support behind me, all the experiences and skills gained from my previous careers, my amazing journey continues…

I have learnt so much through the various transitions that have taken place, I could write a thousand more words here to share with you the insights and the lessons but let’s save that for another day.

My world now is so completely different to how I imagined it would be a decade ago. Where will I be in another decade? Well, who knows! Right now, I am a proud business owner with big dreams and big goals and will most likely have cookies in my handbag when I attend events and workshops. So be prepared when you see me coming, know that you may be forced to have a cookie.

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