Koori Curriculum was launched in 2015, when Wiradjuri woman and early childhood teacher Jessica Staines developed a program for educators to help them include Aboriginal culture and perspectives in their curriculum. Working with her mum, who is also a teacher, they reached out to their networks to gauge the interest and discovered there was a huge need: many educators were keen to include Indigenous perspectives in their program and practice, but were unsure of where to start and afraid of ‘getting it wrong’. 

As well as professional development for educators, including mentoring, webinars, in-house training and an online community, Jessica also brings Aboriginal culture directly to children and families, with a YouTube Storytime and Show and Tell series, and an online store filled with Indigenous books, toys and games.

Here, she tells us about getting started in her business.

The Beginning of Koori Curriculum

Jessica started her business with a passion for bringing Indigenous culture to early childhood education.

It was pretty confusing, to be honest. There was no guidebook on all the steps we needed to take. Trying to work out everything we needed – insurance, equipment, purchasing laptops and projectors for presentations, setting up a website, getting business cards – and funding all those things [was hard]. Literally every pay cheque, I would go out and buy that next little piece of the puzzle.

We also had to make sure we had enough of a client base for me to be able to eventually let go of my teaching role in early learning. We went to some business mentoring classes, where they talked to us about different types of insurance and working out your money – what money is actually yours, and what money belongs to tax. As an employee, I had never had to worry about that before; that was eye opening. We also had to get proper systems and programs in place. Those things happened gradually, over time. For me, it wasn't like, ‘Oh, we're in business now.’

The Importance of Good Business Advice

Everyone starting out is looking for someone to tell you exactly what you need and explain why you need it. Sometimes you don’t realise how much you need advice until you have that support. 

I remember in my first year I literally handed a sandwich bag full of receipts to my bookkeepers and they were almost cross with me. They said I needed to be doing it another way. And I thought, ‘All right, sure.’ But at the time I had to ask, ‘Is there enough income coming in to fund paying a monthly subscription for something like Xero?’ But once you have those systems and processes in place, you never look back because it just streamlines everything you do.

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Getting the Business Tech Right

Koori Curriculum also produces Indigenous books, toys and games for children.

When we first started, we would go to conferences or workshops and there'd be a line of educators a mile long waiting for their turn, because we would manually write out their receipts. Then we had a payment terminal from a bank, which was costing us an absolute bomb. So we moved to Square technology and it streamlined that whole purchase process for us. And sales went up because of that efficiency. People were happier, they didn't have to stand in line, and they got their receipts quickly. 

Before COVID, we were still travelling a fair bit. When we were travelling we had tiny projectors you can put in your travel bag. They’re about the size of the palm of your hand and they enabled me to do presentations remotely and use a classroom wall if it wasn’t feasible to bring a portable screen. Now, of course, it’s all virtual.

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From Face-to-Face to Online

When COVID happened, we had to look at a different way of promoting ourselves. We had to build trust that we could still deliver really good content online. So we bought a microphone and started our own podcast and that gave us new online reach. 

Obviously, we use Zoom. And because we have an upstairs/downstairs [office] setup we need reliable internet, so we also have a WiFi range extender. We’re also doing our presentations for early childhood educators from home, so we recently upgraded our laptops

These are all things that we rely upon on a daily basis to make sure we have good internet, good technology, good sound, so that our clients still feel like it’s a professional experience. There are still a few things that we do the old-school way, like postage and handling, so our next step is looking at label printers for our parcels. Nothing happens for us instantly. It's all pretty gradual.

When You Know Your Idea Is Working

Since COVID, Koori Curriculum has become more reliant on technology in the office as Jessica moved the business online.

I was pretty shocked at the impact my messages were having: our social media influence grew quite rapidly and there was a huge amount of email from educators wanting support. It took off for us and we're very fortunate that it did from a business point of view. Professionally, I've been able to work with people I never thought would have offered me a seat at the table. 

I never had a vision in terms of business success, but I did have a vision for what I wanted to achieve in terms of our profession and improving the outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families. Educators are becoming more socially aware and informed, more interested and more determined to reflect and review their practices. But I still don't know where we're going to end up. Nothing has gone to plan, but it's worked out great.

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Knowing When to Outsource

For me, it would have been hugely beneficial to invest in outside support from the beginning. I have support in place now for the website, plus graphic designers and people who understand the back end of all our systems. What takes them 15 minutes, used to take me three hours. Letting go of some of those things is also about letting go of control. If I had prioritised taking time to work with some experts and getting that help earlier on it would have really helped my business. 

Finding the Work-life Balance

With a new baby to look after, Jessica Staines of Koori Curriculum is more focused on work-life balance.

I’ve always believed you work to live, you don't live to work. But for a long time I was a workaholic. I didn't have weekends off; I was working evenings and working days. I've had time to step back and think about the family I'm about to have [Jessica was pregnant at the time of writing], and wanting to spend more time with my nieces and nephews. It’s really important to maintain a work-life balance, because if your cup is empty, you don't really have anything of substance to give. 

My main goal now is to make sure the business is sustainable, and things don't always hinge on me and my voice. Being able to bring other First Nations voices and educators on board to be able to continue sharing that message is important.

What To Try

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