Meet Bianca Barling-Seden, the Queensland #FemaleFounder of Saltwater People.
Saltwater People is an Indigenous-owned social enterprise delivering strategic design, communications and cross-cultural engagement.
Bianca runs her business with her partner Richard on Kuku Yalanji country in Far North Queensland. Both founders have strong values as to what kinds of social change they want to deliver from their values-led creative agency.
In their own words, they ‘bootstrapped’ their business, but it gave them the right amount of hunger to succeed. Fast-forward to now and they’ve worked with leading government and non-government agencies across the country to provide expertise in remote project delivery, Indigenous storytelling and visual communication that works towards sustainable, intergenerational change with a long-term view of healing our country.
We chatted to Bianca to find out more about Saltwater People and her experience and journey as a Queensland #FemaleFounder.
What inspired you to start your business?
I am a non-Indigenous Australian, but my partner and son are both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and I wanted to build a culturally safe business model where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are central to our nation's identity and storytelling.
We wanted to see these stories influence non-Indigenous people’s understanding of Country and how it has been cared for by traditional custodians, for more than 65,000 years.
I was really determined to create a remote and flexible business model capable of delivering innovative projects while being sustainable, profitable, and scalable.
What milestones have you reached?
We set and reach milestones for our clients every day, but we’ve run the business very intuitively (probably because we’re creatives and community practitioners who don’t have business backgrounds!). But we’ve had informal financial milestones that we’ve exceeded, such as doubling our revenue for the last three years.
What business achievements are you most proud of to date?
Creating a flexible, inclusive, and sustainable business is the big one. We started the business in a small shed on our Uncle and Auntie’s block in Far North Queensland. We now have a large studio under our old Queenslander on Kuku Yalanji country. Our next goal is to make this space carbon neutral.
We’ve also received certification as both an Indigenous-led business (Supply Nation) and a genuine social enterprise (Social Traders), which were significant achievements. It validated that we are working ethically, which has always been our key driver.
Have you participated in any Advance Queensland programs, or received any support from Advance Queensland to date?
The most rewarding and pivotal experience was with an all-women mentor panel, including women of colour, through the Mentoring for Growth program. It was some of the best business advice I’ve ever received because they understood our values. The panel were well aligned, generous in sharing their knowledge, critical thinkers and unafraid to give constructive criticism and, most importantly, genuinely wanted to see us succeed.
What’s your advice for other female entrepreneurs and businesses starting out on their entrepreneurship journey?
Unlearn the perfectionism and self-criticism that we learn as girls and young women (I’m still unlearning this). The most significant learning, for me personally, has been to get comfortable about being uncomfortable and understanding the value your services bring.
Choose a partner who supports your ambition and values, and who contributes equally to the home and family. If this isn’t an option, outsource your domestic chores and life admin tasks that take precious time away from your ambitions.
When you can, stop working with people or projects where women aren’t valued or respected as equals. Don’t try and please everyone. Be courageous and leave things better than how you found them. This includes people, their communities and our planet.