Ash owner of Little Black Duck leans against a shelf wearing a black polo

Lady startup Q&A:
Little Black Duck

Meet Ashleigh Pengelly from Little Black Duck

What’s your elevator pitch for your lady startup?

Little Black Duck is a 100% Aboriginal owned small business creating unique giftware options, including signature hand-painted Aboriginal teapots and serving boards that are sure to become a steadfast addition at your family gatherings.

Yellow hand-painted teapot by Little Black Duck

What was the inspiration behind it?

Well, I’ve always been creative and crafty, so I feel like Little Black Duck was really just an extension of that. I’ve been in business for over five years now, but I guess the overall inspiration has always stayed the same, which was to showcase this fusion between Aboriginal art and unique household items but also my Country, Wiradjuri Country.

What was your background?

Primarily community development, creating youth programs, community events, mentoring etc. Outside of being creative, it’s my other true passion! Ultimately my goal with Little Black Duck is to be able to bring the two together and support my community through my business long term.

Did you dive right in or was it a side hustle?

It was a side hustle and still is actually! I work part-time in my business and work for a national early education organisation the remaining days. I find, for me, it’s the perfect balance of my two passions, but the goal is to be in my business full-time where I can then do community projects as an addition to my business.

Hand-painted dip platter by Little Black Duck

How do you find juggling a small business and being a mum?

Oh, it’s a doozy! It’s like a constant juggling act, but I think knowing what you can handle at any one time is a good start! Day care is my saviour! I do not take my child to my ‘other’ work so I had to learn that I also couldn’t expect myself to be able to have him with me at home or in the studio on my business days too. And that was a big relief! In saying that though, it’s honestly so rewarding when my five-year-old helps in the studio on the weekends with little tasks like labelling or adding cards into bags etc. And knowing that he is going to grow up with this amazing insight into alternate career pathways makes all the craziness worthwhile for me.

How do you reset and recharge after feeling burnt-out or overwhelmed?

Breathing! I find when I’m completely overwhelmed and my ‘to do’ list is pages long, I become frantic and jump from task to task which in the end I don’t get anything done or I procrastinate like nobody’s business, so taking a moment to breathe and prioritising my tasks really helps with that.

On a bigger scale with burnout and needing to reset/recharge, I find taking some time for myself, having a weekend away, a girl’s night etc helps to bring it all back into focus. I have to remind myself that I’m my own boss and if I had seen a staff member burning out that is something I would suggest to them, so why not for myself?

And make sure you celebrate your wins! Schedule a holiday or plan a purchase – something that you know you are working towards – it really helps when doing all those late nights and weekend hours, knowing that something is around the corner!

Proudest achievements so far?

I think it’s the continual smashing of goals that I set and every time I think I cannot top that and then I do. It’s such a positive reinforcement and knowing that I have these people around me who will celebrate it with me is amazing.

Then in 2021 I brought in some casual staff, all Aboriginal women, and that was probably my all-time proudest moment in the business.

What kind of challenges have you overcome?

The fact that I was doing it by myself was a challenge. I didn’t have any family or friends that had done this before so I couldn’t pick their brains about even just things like tax and GST or navigating Australia Post shipping haha! I taught myself everything I know through a whole lot of Googling, watching videos, listening to podcasts and joining Facebook groups.

Thankfully over time I got some mentors who really helped me gain insight into certain things, and I love having chats with them and they really are my biggest supporters!

Best piece of customer feedback?

That I handle customer service like a boss! I had a customer who wasn’t happy with her product when it arrived and I had opened her email on a Saturday (rookie error I know!). Anyway, I replied and worked out a solution with her while also educating her about the complexities of hand-painted products. In the end, her own family told her she was overexaggerating and she ended up taking back her complaint and being completely satisfied and wrote to tell me that I handled HER very well, and that I should be proud of my customer service!

What advice would you give others thinking of becoming ‘mumpreneurs’?

To be gentle on yourself! Especially for new or first-time mums. Business is hard work and long hours, and it does encroach on our family time. I don’t think we need to feel like we can ‘do it all’ all of the time.

The most surprising thing you’ve discovered?

That I love being in business! It’s very rewarding! It doesn’t feel like work to me. I love spending time in my studio. I can be there all day and I’m not counting down the hours or looking forward to knocking off because I know that I’m creating something for me and my family, and not someone else.

Hand-painted serving board by Little Black DuckFuture goals for your lady startup?

Short-term I’m looking forward to the next couple of months to move into my purpose-built home studio, which will make the whole home/work balance so much easier for me!

Long-term my goal is to have a whole crew of staff and I would say an expansion move into a warehouse space, which is very exciting!
Insta: @littleblackduckaus
FB: @littleblackduckaus

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