Turning a hobby into a side hustle business can be a labour of love, but one business owner warns others to be careful of the ‘fine print’ of regulations if you are working from home.

Empire Copper is owned and operated by husband and wife team Cam and Beth Hayes as a side hustle, while they still work full time in the sheet-metal industry and human resources field, respectively.

Cam’s skills as a sheet-metal worker have been put to great use creating stunning household wares from copper, bronze and brass.

However, their business nearly ended before it took off because they were unaware of the approvals required to run a business from home.

Check your lease and licensing requirements

Cam and Beth warn others about having the appropriate local government authority approvals in place and being aware of restrictions in residential rental leases, as in the early years of their business they were in danger of being evicted.

After a regular rental property inspection, the property manager questioned them about being registered to conduct a business from the premises.

“They claimed they hadn’t known we were operating a business from the house as they thought it was just a hobby,” Beth said.

“We tried to negotiate with them, and the owner, even offering to pay insurances as we already had our own.

“Unfortunately, they were not interested in a compromise and quite literally said ‘cease all business operations immediately or you are welcome to move out’".

“We were devastated as we had worked so hard for two and half years to get where we were and just didn’t know what to do.”

“We couldn’t afford a workshop or studio space at that stage and thought we would just have to shut Empire Copper down.”

An 11th hour solution was found when a colleague came forward with an offer of a manufacturing and office space in their commercial unit only 15 minutes from Beth and Cam’s house.

“It happened just in time as I had been looking for a solution like hiring workshops, investigating business loans and visiting co-working spaces while Cam ran back and forth to his mum’s every afternoon to finish up outstanding orders.


Use our free Business Licence Finder to find out which licences and permits you'll need to run a home based business.

Your initial market can grow from friends and family

Cam and Beth never originally planned on going into business selling their artwork from home, but Empire Copper evolved organically from sharing ideas online.

“We kind of fell into our business through Cam sharing his patination experiments and copper making hobby online,” Beth said.

Patination is the green or brown film that forms on the surface of bronze or similar metals through oxidisation.

“His experiments must have caught everyone’s attention as soon after, friends and family began requesting custom metalwork.”

“We started the business with just $500 and have invested every single dollar back into it and ourselves."

Beth says that they would never have imagined that they would soon be manufacturing luxurious and sophisticated homewares and shipping them all over the world.

Meet demand by listening to your customers

Responding to what their customers want continues to be a key element to Cam and Beth’s business.

Beth said that these days they conduct online polls and surveys via social media and Google Forms to ask our customers and clients what they are loving and what they would like them to create next.

“There is no point just creating things we like if no one else likes it as it won’t sell!” says Beth.

“That is why we like to produce bespoke items.”

Photo of a copper clock made by Empire Copper.
Cam's skills as a sheet-metal worker are being used to creating stunning household wares from copper, bronze and brass.

The SBDC can help you get your business structure correct

Beth said that attending an in-person Starting a Business workshop in July 2019 helped ensure they structured the business correctly from the beginning.

“The workshop was insightful, educational and engaging and we walked out feeling confident and with a plan.”

“We have since undertaken workshops about marketing and social media marketing and are planning to enrol in some finance workshops soon.”

Business never stops, but you need to

Beth and Cam have some sound advice for others that try to balance a side hustle with regular employment.

“There will always be something on your ‘to do’ list and you need to be at peace with that, otherwise you will burn out” Beth said.

“No one expects you to know everything and you won’t love all the parts of your business.”

“We recommend making an effort to really learn the things you loathe so that you can build confidence in many areas rather than shying away.”

Beth’s top tip for other creative business owners is to have professional product and business photography taken.

“It is one of the best things we ever did for our business and is 100 per cent worth the investment.”

The future shape of Empire Copper

The success of Empire Copper is such that it is now paying Beth and Cam a small wage.

“This is first time in the four years of the business we have been able to do this,” Beth said.

“We plan to build the wages up over the next six to twelve months so that Cam can reduce to working a part-time day job or not work at all, other than for ourselves.”

“Our future plans are to continuously add to and improve our produce range and maybe start another business.”

More information

If you have a side hustle that you think you can turn into a business, see the links for more information:

Read more of our small business stories from owners who have turned their hobby or side gig into their main enterprise:

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Small business stories
12 January 2024