Meet Sarah, the small business owner of Lolo the Gypsy Caravan Stage, a portable stage with a unique, vintage atmosphere!
Sarah also has a band, Lolo Lovina, which plays culturally-based Romani, gypsy music, infused with styles such as jazz, tango, pop and heavy metal. Like the vintage caravans, which have pop-out walls that turn into stages, Sarah’s band pays tribute to her Romani ancestors. She performs on her caravan stages, collaborates with other programs and musicians, and rents the caravans out for another artist to use. Sarah has also started getting requests to decorate rooms for other events in her standout vintage, Romani style. The highlight of her business journey so far was having Lolo the Gypsy Caravan Stage at the Sydney Opera House’s 40th Anniversary and attending the City of Sydney Vivid Festival for the past four years.
“The support I receive from Many Rivers is personal, encouraging, honest, kind, down to earth, grounded, and constant.”
Read more about Sarah’s small business journey to date.
I have two businesses that are linked. Lolo Lovina is a band that has been running since 2007. Lolo The Gypsy Caravan Stage, is a caravan that converts into a stage and has been running since 2009.
I have always really loved music and dabbled in that industry, but I did a lot of office work. I worked for Greenpeace doing reception and HR. Social justice is important to me, so I must have that element in what I am doing. I had a baby in 2006, and I took that year off. It made me realise that I must do music. I put an ad in a little street music press and the most amazing musicians replied to it.
Lolo Lovina and Lolo the Gypsy Caravan Stage
We do Romani gypsy music, which is my heritage. It is culturally based music infused with styles that we like such as jazz, tango, pop and a bit of heavy metal, all with roots based in Romani music.
We have two vintage Australian caravan stages, and we are getting another one soon. One of the walls is modified to pop out and become a stage space. This is connected to my Romani gypsy ancestors. It is very vintage and is a beautiful stage space which is not what many people do. Stages are usually just a blank canvas, but we have made ours with a lot of atmospheres.
Sometimes we apply for a grant and put on our own event, or we collaborate with other people and program other musicians on the stage. Another thing we do is just hire our stage out. This weekend we hired our stage to the City of Wollongong, and then we had another event in Fairfield. We were also working for Vivid for the City of Sydney this weekend. It was very busy!
Because of the aesthetic style of our caravan, we have people asking us to come out and style different events for them. I am styling an event for a police museum in The Rocks at the moment.
I am a sole trader, but I have a lot of contractors that I work with. I spoke with my accountant, and at the moment, we decided it is best if I stay a sole trader, but we will consider expanding that to a company structure at some point.
Deciding to be a Small Business Owner
I wanted to be independent and believe in my own vision for what I wanted to create. I am very value-focused, and I find it hard to work for money. I want to contribute more. I have always been a singer, performer, and dancer since I was a young child, and so were my ancestors. I have it in my blood. I am not engaged when I am in a situation that I am not passionate about and connected with the values. Financial independence is up there too. I don’t want to rely on anyone, I want to create my own funds and support myself. My son was going through a hard time, and I realised the best way for me to support him was to inspire him to be authentically himself by being authentically myself.
Working with Many Rivers
I did NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme) to help me get a plan for my small business, and I made some great contacts through that program. Someone came in to talk about Many Rivers while I was there. At that point, my business was secondary and part-time, but I really wanted to do more with it. I think that was in about 2011.
My previous business coach would come to the majority of my gigs and give me tips afterwards which was amazing. My current business coach, Garry is someone I can trust. I am very creative and left of field, and he will keep me on track. He is a voice of reason. He helped me get loans for vehicles and caravans.
Garry supports me with business planning, budgeting, and all things like that. It is good to have that knowledge that Garry and others from Many Rivers have shared with me. During the last grant application that I went for, it was great and validating to hear Garry tell me how much he has observed me grow as a small business owner.
He has an outside view of what I am doing, and that has been valuable. It’s good to get the feedback that I am doing okay financially and that my business ideas are viable and sustainable. He would share my story with other Many Rivers business coaches and then tell me what they thought about my business. He shares that they are very proud of me.
Compared to going to a bank and getting impersonal support, this has been the complete opposite! The support is personal, encouraging, honest, kind, down to earth, grounded, and constant. A huge thank you to Garry and Many Rivers!
I know that if I am having a difficult week that there is compassion, understanding and personal support. It’s okay to find your feet, and we can have a coffee and a chat about how it’s going. It’s personally tailored support for businesses. I also know that Many Rivers supports Indigenous Australians and marginalised people. I love knowing that it is individual and tailored support that is delivered to people with kindness.
I have had Many Rivers loans and I used them for a vehicle to drive the caravan and more recently some new caravans.
COVID-19 was a big challenge. Music and artists were the first out and the last back in with social restrictions. Emotionally, it was hard wondering whether my dreams were valid anymore. Many Rivers has really helped me with just sticking with it. I think the more you stick with your ideas, the more you get recognised and get opportunities to expand. At times I have wanted to stop because juggling stress, family, and day-to-day tasks are hard. Climate change really has a lot of impact on my business too because a lot of our events are outside, so we really get impacted by extreme weather.
Having my caravan in the forecourt of the Sydney Opera house for its 40th Anniversary was a big success! We have worked with Vivid for 4 years, and that has also been a highlight. We are expanding now too, to Melbourne. The year before COVID-19, my band and caravan went down in Melbourne 12 times, it was crazy! More people are finding out about us, and we can maintain those relationships.
Biggest Change Since Becoming a Small Business Owner
The biggest change is knowing that a regular income will be there and having that security. I earn a lot more than when I was an employee. Now I earn in an hour what I used to earn in a day. It’s a nice feeling.
More of what we are already doing! I would love to just keep expanding into bigger and more mainstream festivals. I would love to have a caravan in Germany and Japan. I got a grant to expand and market our business overseas, and I am looking at doing that soon. A bit of a franchising style business and making them all Australian. Then we can get to bigger, better and more amazing festivals!
Thanks Sarah for sharing your business journey. Your story will inspire people who are looking to take their next step toward creating their own business. If you would like to stay updated with Sarah and her journey as a small business owner, follow Lolo Lovina on Facebook or Instagram or Lolo the Gypsy Caravan Stage on Facebook or Instagram.
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