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My tipping point: Igniting a passion for wood-fired cooking

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Angus Capel

Apr 15, 2021

Being a sole trader isn’t without its challenges, especially after the year that’s been. But for many, bravely going it alone is a chance to live their passion, be their own boss, and work towards financial independence. In this series, the Xero team uncover the inspiration behind what tipped sole traders to turn their dream into reality. 

People have been cooking with wood-fired ovens for thousands of years, and since then, not much has changed in how they’re constructed. In Australia, there are only a handful of people equipped with the skills to build, restore and redesign them – one of whom is small business owner Samuel Fraraccio.

From a young age, Samuel trained under his father as a stonemason building wood-fire ovens, architectural stone walls and open fireplaces. After high school, he continued this work as a sole trader, eventually joining a company that designed and built wood-fired ovens.

During this time, he also started moonlighting as a waiter at a fine dining restaurant in Melbourne’s south-east, O.MY. “This experience gave me a deeper understanding of how restaurants operated, and I made some great friendships,” he says. 

After three years of working various roles at the oven manufacturer, his employer decided to close the construction arm of the business and as a result, Samuel was made redundant. There was, however, a silver lining. While the company no longer offered a construction service, customers that sought design and installations were referred to Samuel. As he started to gain independence, he realised his skills were highly sought-after by chefs, restaurateurs and home cooks alike, so he took a leap of faith by starting his own business, Brick Chef

 “I didn’t want to go out on my own again without being prepared, but being made redundant forced me to go into the deep end. My previous employer gave me the structure and discipline to refine my skills and abilities in design. This was pivotal in being able to return to self-employment, and what made it more effective than my previous experience as a sole trader,” he explains. 

Transitioning online 

Between design work, construction and consulting with restaurants all over the country, Samuel spends a lot of time on the road. And as a busy sole trader, he rarely has the downtime to build up other aspects of his business, such as creating an online presence. 

According to Xero’s Tipping point research  a report uncovering what makes sole traders decide to start something of their own – like Samuel, nearly two-thirds (63 percent) don’t have a website. But the benefits of developing one is well worth the effort, as Samuel has discovered over the years.

“In the early days of starting my business, I used social media to communicate with clients. As a result, I had inquiries coming in via text, email and Instagram, which were hard to manage. I’ve now engaged a friend to help me with my branding and create a new website, which will bring some continuity to all of my platforms.” 

Creating a support network 

Throughout his career, Samuel has made some lasting connections. He explains, “I’ve had the privilege to work with some amazing members of the hospitality industry who’ve also been a great support. One of these people is Hannah Green, the owner of Etta dining in Melbourne’s Brunswick East. She’s been an incredible friend and champion of my work.”

According to Tipping point, 27 percent of sole traders look to a business associate or friend for moral support. And for Samuel, it’s his network that makes the hard work all worth it. “There’s no way I would’ve been able to work for myself without those people being just a phone call away,” he adds. 

Leaning on expert advisory

As a sole trader, the administrative side of Samuel’s business has proved challenging. So after two years of struggling to manage his books, he turned to an advisor for support. 

Samuel describes his accountant, Derek Ma of Cotsford and Ma, as a guardian angel. He says, “Until I met Derek, I felt like the admin side of my business was never going to reflect my success. He organised my finances and gave me a bird’s eye view of my business. This helped me see how my business was really doing for the first time,” he says. 

Throughout COVID-19 and the events of 2020, Samuel says cloud accounting software became his business’ safety net. Tipping point reveals that the same can be said for 87 percent of sole traders. He explains, “Xero allowed direct communication between Derek and I, which enabled us to work together,” he says. 

In the years ahead, Samuel wants to continue Brick Chef’s evolution. He explains, “I have always had a focus on sustainability, but will hone in on the issue of waste in wood-fired cooking. I want every job I complete to have a longer lifespan, through careful design, construction and maintenance.”

After four years of working around the clock, Samuel’s honed in on what he loves most about his business – creating quality designs that stand the test of time. 

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