Town Changers

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Like many rural towns, Quambatook in the Southern Mallee of Victoria is enjoying a reinvigoration of its community thanks to new comers bringing new ideas and extra hands to reinforce businesses and volunteer groups.

Long time Quambatook volunteers, Norma Bennett and Merrill Kelly, have been volunteering in Quambatook for more years than they can remember. Norma is a key driver of the Caravan Park and Merrill is on multiple committees. The Quambatook Tractor Pull has been a big draw card for their agricultural community for over forty years. This is what you do when you live in a rural town.

Despite their best efforts, along with many other long time residents, over the decades the number of businesses and volunteers has dwindled significantly leaving a handful to keep these important services going. Fortunately, there has been an influx of new people moving into town injecting new ideas and energy into the rural town they affectionately call Quamby. Recently I caught up some of these ‘newcomers’ for a chat.

Laura O’Dwyer and her husband, Paul, moved to Quambatook twelve years ago. A small agricultural town with a mere population of 249, ‘Quamby’ couldn’t be more different to their previous abode in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray but Laura says the move was a great decision. They’re still here so it must have been!

‘We were sick of paying Melbourne rent,’ Laura confides when asked what prompted the tree change. ‘We were able to buy a house in Quamby for $70,000 and turn it into our dream home.’

But why Quambatook? It turns out it was quite a strategic decision for Laura who is a cartographer by trade, a skill eagerly sought by shire councils. For Paul, a truck driver who is away a week at a time, the location was equally convenient.

‘We had a friend in the Mallee and had driven through Quamby a few times,’ she explains. ‘When we made the decision to move, this was the place that was central to three shire councils with the bigger towns of Wycheproof, Swan Hill and Kerang.’

All in all, the move has been a huge success. In addition to creating Laura’s dream home for a fraction of city prices, commuting to work is also a pleasure. ‘I used to drive one hour in Melbourne traffic to get to my workplace 12 kilometres away. Now I can get to work in half the time even though it’s a longer distance.’

Through her work in local government, Laura has also become heavily involved in her local community. As President of Quambatook Development Committee, she is helping to spear head initiatives to reinvigorate the town.

In one of the most recent success stories, Laura helps manage the Silo Cinema events that attract hundreds of visitors from the surrounding region to view classic films such as The Castle, Priscilla, and The Dressmaker in a classic rural setting.

Laura’s co-pilot for this project is Chelle Espagne, previously in the Australian Armed Forces and now owner of The Quambatook Stores and Post Office, who provides valuable support to the Silo Cinema.

But, without argument, the most crucial role falls to Laura. ‘I’ve tried but no-one else wants to operate the technology for the screening of the movies. It can be a bit stressful but once everything is up and running, I can relax and it is great to see everyone dressing up in theme and enjoying themselves. For Priscilla I organised for a couple of friends to come up from Melbourne and provide the pre-entertainment in drag. It was a great night that continued on in the Quamby pub afterwards.’

A screening of The Merger on 9 February 2019 resulted in their biggest ever turn up. 447 people effectively doubled Quamby’s population and raised revenue for the community groups that catered, as well as the caravan park, shops, and the pub.

Speaking of The Quamby Hotel, Laura is quick to point out that it has new owners and is currently being refurbished. I dutifully trot across the road to check it out.

Mick Doolan, one of the new publicans, moved to Quamby only eighteen months ago but is already looking very much at home behind the bar.

‘I found it was a perfect fit for me and my son, it’s a great place to raise kids,’ says Mick. ‘We love it. There’s good people, the football, and its affordable for a single parent.’

Ten-year old, Aiden is quick to agree. ‘I love the footy!’

In a joint venture with his parents, Wayne and Sandra, The Quamby Hotel was purchased at the start of December 2018. ‘I did my homework and checked it out by working for the previous owner first,’ Mick explains. The prior experience helped the Doolan’s get through the busy Christmas and New Year period. ‘Mum was determined to have a Christmas lunch to thank everyone for welcoming us into the community.’

Indicating just how much time Mick’s Sunbury based parents are spending in Quamby as publicans, his father Wayne has focussed on the refurbishments and proudly points out the new ceiling and rendered wall. More plans are underway to revamp the seven rooms that provide accommodation. And Mick is particularly excited about plans to bring some big bands to Quamby. ‘I’m using my old night club contacts,’ he confides.

Mick encourages anyone who is looking for a new start to consider a rural town but hastens to add that you have to be prepared to contribute to the community. ‘I joined the footy club and got to know people first. Now they’re my strongest supporters. They really like to give you a go.’

Just around the corner from the pub a delightful old church turned into a residence catches my eye. So does it colourful owner, Kathryn Robson; a district nurse by day and a Quamby volunteer on the weekends.

I bump into Kathryn chatting with visitors at the recently opened Quambatook District Share Shop Inc. It turns out that Kathryn is Secretary of the Share Shop and she asks me to wait a moment before I take a photograph of the organisers. Moments later with a beaming smile she emerges wearing one of the vintage outfits for sale. Later, when I’m distracted chatting, I turn around to find her in yet another outfit, a pink suit, posing elegantly with fine bone china under a circa 1960’s home hair dryer.

‘Kathryn has been such an injection of support and enthusiasm for this project,’ confides one of the Share Shop’s Fundraising Coordinators, Fiona Williams. ‘She enjoys being with people and we’ve become her family. She is such good fun and everybody loves her.’

Six months ago, when her rented home in Boort became unavailable, Kathryn heard about the old church for sale in Quamby and snapped it up. ‘I’d been wandering Australia for thirty years and this is the first time I’ve settled down and owned a property,’ she admits. ‘It’s a good base for my work around the region.’

Share Shop President, Jodie Russ, also moved to Quambatook ten years ago because of its affordability. ‘I was sick of Melbourne rent and purchased my house in Quambatook as a sole parent,’ Jodie says. ‘It had great proximity to nearby towns for employment opportunities if you’re flexible and more so if you’re able to work online from home.’

With a desire to grow her Retro-Vintage online retail business that she started running from home, it was Jodie who spotted the potential of a vacant store in Quamby’s main street.  ‘Quamby needed something open on weekends for visitors and I knew that there would be others like me with home businesses that would welcome access to a physical shop front.’ The Quambatook District Share Shop Inc. opened a month ago in January 2019 with ten share holders and I observed a small but regular stream of visitors over the weekend I was in town. ‘It’s so much less stressful and a much more relaxed lifestyle,’ Jodie tells me.

Everywhere I go I am hearing the positives of new people moving into Quamby, but I have to ask: What are the downsides of living in a small town?

‘The conservative politics can be a bit frustrating,’ Laura confides. Jodie quips ‘You might have to reinvent yourself’ as she did by setting up an online business. Mick comes up with a classic though. ‘Even when the pub is closed people ring me up and ask if I can open up for them to get some takeaway,’ he laughs. ‘They always seem to know when I’m close by or checking up on something, so it isn’t really a problem.’

Like many rural towns Australia wide, the good people of Quambatook work and volunteer tirelessly to make their community strong. While many refer to those who move from the city to the country as Tree Changers, I like to think of them as Town Changers. With a willingness to participate and contribute, there are many benefits to be found from living in a rural town.

READ MORE:

Quambatook Silo Cinemas

Quambatook District Share Shop Inc. (stay tuned)

Quambatook General Stores (stay tuned)

FACEBOOK LINKS:

Quambatook Silo Cinema

The Quamby Hotel

Quambatook District Share Shop Inc.

Quambatook Tractor Pull

Quambatook Historic Centre

Quambatook Caravan Park


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change. READ MORE

Quamby Silo Cinema

What a privilege it was to experience Quamby’s Silo Cinema on Saturday 9 February 2019. With 447 guests viewing the iconic Australian film The Merger, they can claim that their town doubled in size overnight. A win-win for their caravan park, pub and stores. Well done to all the volunteers involved. And special thanks to Laura O’Dwyer who allowed me to interview her at a very busy time.

Pick Pack Post

Usually it is the children that are encouraged to take on the family business, but in the case of Sunshine Iris Nursery near Lockhart in New South Wales, it was the opposite. What started as a logical step into the business world for agronomist trained Elissa Strong became problematic when she went back to study in 2017 leaving her mother Mandy to pick pack and post.

Much to my son’s delight I’ve been invited to lunch at the home of daredevil X-Games and freestyle motorcycle rider Jackson Strong, but the international superstar is not the purpose of my visit. I am here to catch up with Mandy Strong, Jackson’s quietly spoken mother and co-owner of Sunshine Iris Nursery.

Driving on to the Strong’s 20,000 acre cereal cropping farm near Lockhart in the Riverina district of New South Wales, I immediately spot two distinct differences to every other farming property I’ve visited. First and foremost, there is Jackson’s elaborate training track, adjacent to which there is a fenced paddock of flowering irises of all colours and descriptions. Quite by accident I’ve timed my visit in October, right in the middle of flowering season!

While she has always been a part of the family farming enterprise – and the ‘number two header driver’ until their eldest son Toby was old enough to take over – Mandy’s main profession was teaching. It was in 2013, around the time of her retirement, that her daughter Elissa spotted a nearby iris business for sale. With Elissa’s agronomist training and Mandy’s love of gardening it seemed like a good opportunity. ‘Let’s do this,’ Elissa told her mother. So they did.

‘My husband thought it was a ridiculous idea,’ Mandy admits, ‘but we’ve proven to him that it is a very profitable business.’

It is at this point that I am embarrassed to admit my lack of gardening knowledge so Mandy sets me straight. It turns out that there are over 600 varieties of irises which are drought resistant, disease free and multiply each year. Perfect for Australian gardens which is why Sunshine Irises has sales to every state and territory. Walking through the allotment I see firsthand how many different colours and sizes there are which makes it a collector’s paradise and brings them many repeat customers.

Mandy pulls out her smart phone and opens up the Shopify App that they use in their online business. Even though they advertise that they cannot process orders between September and November during the flowering season, there are already 108 orders logged and awaiting delivery. Each order is clearly identified by a photo of the iris being purchased and each iris in the allotment is carefully labelled making the selections easy.

‘Basically we pick, pack and post,’ Mandy explains. ‘Shopify is perfect for this type of business and prints all the reports we need.’ Prepaid bags are purchased and posted through their local post office in Lockhart.

Extra care needs to be taken with orders to Western Australia and Tasmania that have quarantine laws. ‘We treat them with a special spray and have to do some paperwork. It’s not hard to do once you’re in the system and being an agronomist Elissa did the initial setting up.’

Two years into the business and the daughter-mother duo purchased another iris collection, this time from Yarrawonga, adding significantly to their stock. They also introduced eighty varieties of Daylilies. The business was significantly growing.

While the actual bulb of the irises and lilies are the main product, the blooms are also sold during flowering season at a market in Wagga Wagga.

In 2017, when Elissa returned to study and found it impossible to actively contribute, Mandy took on the business but not without support. She approached her twin sister Margie, who resides in Canberra, and invited her to become the new partner.

‘I do all the physical stuff and Margie does the books, blogs for our website, social media, and behind the scenes stuff,’ says Mandy. They also have an employee – conveniently Mandy’s next-door neighbour – who comes and helps pack every Monday. University students assist with weeding on a seasonal basis.

And sometimes things just go in your favour when you are surrounded by equally motivated business people albeit for very different purposes. Mandy reports that water for the irises is plentiful, as Jackson’s new training track required extra dirt to be excavated from the dam providing it with a far greater storage capacity. An aerial video of the iris allotment for the Facebook page also came courtesy of her son’s drone.

Apart from when the business has the occasional Open Day during the flowering season it is a very solitary business but, well used to rural life, Mandy appears to relish it. The internet has opened up sales well beyond her patch of rural bliss and she remains active in her local community of Lockhart.

Showing a hint of why her son Jackson has become known as an innovator in the sporting world, Mandy believes that anyone can do well in business if they think outside the square and develop something that suits their interests and skills set.

‘I’ve always been a gardener and love growing things,’ she says.

Best of all the business also allows her to make an income independent of the farm, which apparently surprised a few people along the way.

Mandy’s top business tips:

  • Take the time to talk to your customers even those not tech savvy.

  • Take a chance - and work hard when you do!

  • Enjoy what you are doing and it doesn't become a chore.

 https://www.sunshineiris.com.au/

https://www.facebook.com/SunshineIrisNursery/


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change. READ MORE

Sheep Psychology

Charlie and Tana Webb after Back Up Charlie won the Machine of the Year Award at the 2016 Henty Field Days.

Charlie and Tana Webb after Back Up Charlie won the Machine of the Year Award at the 2016 Henty Field Days.

Whether it is fair or not, sheep are often referred to in derogatory terms when it comes to their intelligence; usually when they break away from the mob and make the lives of their handlers a misery. Charlie Webb, decided to delve into the psychology of sheep so that his life as a farmer, and his woolly charges, is made much easier. The result is Back Up Charlie.

When Back Up Charlie – a flexible lead up race for sheep handlers - was awarded Machine of the Year at the Henty Field Days in 2016, Charlie Webb felt very satisfied. He already knew that it was a winner because he’d invented it for his own use on the farm, but the public recognition made his task of marketing this new innovation to other farmers all the more easier. A subsequent award at Orange in 2017 confirmed that Back Up Charlie was on the road to success but naturally there was a lot of hard work that led up to this point.

To hear more about this award winning innovation, I caught up with Charlie Webb at his Lakeside property just outside Lockhart in New South Wales, on the day of his eldest daughter Philippa’s wedding. What was usually a working shearing shed had been transformed into a reception venue for the guests shortly due to arrive. A quick tour confirmed that I was talking to a man who likes to make things with his own hands and do them well.  A bar had been constructed by Charlie especially for the wedding and a tour of the shearing quarters revealed five-star luxury in terms of this traditionally rough and ready industry. Contrary to previous experiences of shearing sheds, I had no qualms about accepting a cup of coffee – complete with milk! – from the spotless kitchenette as we settled down for a chat.

In a classic story of problem solving, Charlie wanted to be able to handle his sheep more effectively when it came to the difficult task of moving sheep forward from the holding yard into automated sheep handlers, crutching plants and other sheep handling applications. No other systems he had tried seemed to work, no matter how much was invested.

‘I designed Back Up Charlie for myself,’ he admits up front, ‘it was about making our job easier. It’s faster, cuts down on labour and is kinder on the sheep. I knew it worked the day I was able to knock off early and go home to help Tana (his wife) in the garden.’

It was 2015 when Charlie disappeared into his shed over a period of four months to develop a prototype. ‘She asked what in the hell I’d been doing,’ he recalls with a grin.

Materials were challenging to source, and it was a matter of trial and error. A welding course at college and over forty years experience of sheep farming were put to good use. There was also a lot of thinking. ‘It was very much about animal psychology and how sheep react in stressful situations,’ he explains.

Charlie got to try it out the prototype for the first time with their eldest daughter Philippa. ‘We used to be exhausted pushing sheep in the yards from 7.00am until 6.00pm but even with Philippa, who is the least experienced on the farm, we made it home by 4.30pm. That’s when I knew it worked.’

Having discussed the inadequacy of previous systems with a livestock contractor friend, Charlie was quick to get on the phone to share the news. ‘He came down with a group to watch me demonstrate it and they didn’t say anything for a whole ten minutes,’ Charlie recalls. ‘We all knew I had a winner and didn’t want to let a great idea go to waste.’

With the help of his daughter Josephine, who has a Bachelor of Business in Agriculture and is actively working on the farm, Charlie started the process of setting a business to market and sell the new system which was subsequently branded Back Up Charlie. He already had a good accountant and sourced some marketing expertise which proved a little more challenging when it came to agreeing on the right wording and images.

As one himself, Charlie had no illusions that he was dealing in a tough market. ‘Selling product to farmers is a tough task!’

His other priority was to manufacture the units locally in Lockhart. ‘You have to share your success with the locals,’ he says. ‘You can’t beat people down on price in a small towns.’ Mark Schirmer, a local engineer, readily agreed and they were off and manufacturing. ‘We set our pricing based on the materials and the 70+ man-hours it takes to make a unit,’ Charlie explains.

Three years in the making has seen Back Up Charlie become established. ‘It’s been a process to get it out to the market. It helped that I’m a farmer. There is no point spending big dollars on something that doesn’t do the job which has been the case with so many other systems I’ve looked at over the years.’

The Henty and Orange Field Day Awards provided much needed publicity. ‘It was free advertising and helped to get the Back Up Charlie branding into people’s heads,’ Charlie says. ‘Over two years we’ve sold 30 units in New South Wales and across the borders into Victoria and South Australia.’ Facebook and Instagram Pages are maintained by Josephine helping to extend the brand.

When I ask Charlie about what he recommends to others who have invented a new product, he quickly responds ‘make sure you have a unique product and protect your idea.’ This includes applying patents if required. When it comes to finding experienced support, Charlie adds that you should always ask other experienced business people for recommendations and keep going until you find the right people to work with and that understand you and your business.

With the arrival of the crucial bridegroom and his family, heralded by plumes of dust advancing along the long driveway into Lakeside, I realise that my time is up with this talented backyard inventor and sheep psychologist. Sadly, it is time to go but I am extremely grateful to have heard another great rural business story.

Charlie’s top business tips:

  • Make sure your idea and product is unique

  • Get recommendations from other experienced business people

  • Ensure there is a market for your idea or product

  • Protect your idea and product

  • Follow your dreams

https://backupcharlie.com.au/


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Change-Makers. READ MORE

Retro Respection

Not many businesses can claim to have been instigated by a triple cake stacking canister, but this happens to be the case when it comes to Retro Respection, a quirky homeware, giftware and vintage lovers’ shop in Collie, Western Australia. Its two equally quirky business partners are an inspiration to all those young mums who may feel trapped at home.

With the newly opened Retro Respection store creating a buzz in Collie, I popped in to catch up with its two enterprising business partners, Storm Todhunter and Joleen Brown. As young mums, it was rare for them to both be present in the store at the same time. Straight away it became evident that both are passionate about their products, in the way they dress and what they stock in the store, sometimes purely for conversational purposes.

It also proved to be my most challenging and fun interview of 2018. Challenging because they tend to bounce off each other like rubber balls when it comes to conversation, and fun because they just are so determined to enjoy life to its fullest.

Yes, it is true that a triple cake stacking cannister caught Storm’s attention at playgroup way back in 2012. ‘A mother asked if anyone wanted one and I said “I’ll have that!”,’ recalls Storm. At the very start of her business journey she started selling vintage items on eBay as a hobby.

Joleen, another local young mother also interested in vintage goods and writing a blog – they laugh as they recall a particularly hideous tea set she had collected - soon caught Storm’s attention.

‘We had kids the same age and just hit it off,’ says Joleen, ‘and I had the blog,’ she adds knowingly.

‘Joleen kept buying stuff at garage sales putting us in direct competition, so it made perfect sense for us to team up,’ explains Storm pointedly ignoring the blog reference. ‘I love the history and do the research.’

‘Whereas I just jump in with random ideas,’ smiles Joleen.

‘Yes, Joleen likes to try new things,’ confirms Storm, ‘whereas I think things through. She relies on me to pull her back in. We make a great team.’

‘We never expected it to be an overnight success,’ admits Joleen.

‘We’re brought up to think that we can do anything but once you have kids the reality is that you don’t leave the house,’ adds Storm. ‘This business has been built all around family. We have set it up so we are always available for our kids.’

In 2012 Storm started selling online from her family home in Collie and took up lots of space for stock. When she joined forces with Joleen in 2014 they came up with the quirky name of Retro Respection. ‘It’s a wicked name,’ Joleen grins.

‘An important learning starting off the business was to leverage our circumstances,’ recalls Storm. ‘As a mum without a paid job, I couldn’t even get a credit card!’ Fortunately, a supportive aunt lent her money to get started and has been one of her biggest fans.

In a conscious choice, Storm and Joleen have worked without wages and poured their earnings directly back into the business which originally focussed on sales through eBay and ultimately their own website.

In September 2018 they took the unusual step of expanding their online business to a physical shop front in their home town of Collie. With a tight budget they asked around and got a six-month trial of a vacant shop at a reduced rent. In a brave step they also decided to open 7 days a week, one of very few businesses to do so in this working town but perhaps a forerunner to positive change.

Their calculated gamble paid off. With increased visibility and their range of stock expanded, sales immediately increased. ‘It’s been good for the locals,’ confirms Storm. ‘Sometimes people just come in for a chat and now there is something for visitors passing through town to browse on weekends.’

‘Our reputation is everything and we’ve been professional right from the beginning,’ says Storm, or maybe it was Joleen? (my head is spinning with these two dynamos!) ‘No shortcuts,’ it was agreed unanimously.

Without a budget for marketing they have relied on organic growth through Facebook and Instagram and paid careful attention to the statistics. ‘Every time we post “SALE” it goes crazy,’ Joleen happily shares.

Getting a point of sale system was a priority with the opening of their shop front. After much trial and error, they settled on neto which provides a basic do-it-yourself website template and, most importantly, synchronises their inventory and sales in the shop, and across the website and eBay platforms. ‘Once you learn a new system you get better each time and more adaptable,’ says Storm.

On the few occasions they are physically together in the same space, this dynamic duo spend time thinking strategically about what new lines to introduce. With a strong following of online collectors, brooches were quite successful when introduced. ‘Consumables such as lollies and dog treats also invite repeat buyers,’ says Storm. ‘And we’d love to get more sustainable products in.’

‘While we haven’t made any serious money yet, at least we enjoy what we’re doing,’ admits Storm. ‘Joleen and I are best buddies and each other’s biggest supporter.’

‘We’re taking it day by day and enjoying ourselves’ Joleen confirms.

At the end of a whirl wind interview, Storm announces that this is only the start of their grand plan. ‘We’re going to bed down this shop and make it a destination; refine the website, expand the shop space, expand the product lines, and maybe open a whole bunch of shops.’

Somehow, I think they just might!

Storm and Joleen have expanded their online business to include a shop front in Collie W.A.

Storm and Joleen have expanded their online business to include a shop front in Collie W.A.

Storm and Joleen’s top tips:

  • Be passionate about your products.

  • Be stubborn.

  • Don’t be afraid to take that leap.

  • Be a nimble bull.

www.retrorespection.com.au


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Change-Makers. READ MORE

Forging Ahead

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There is something about a corrugated iron shed that attracts the eye. Iconic markers on our rural landscape, they serve so many purposes, everything from shearing to hay storage and mechanical works. Regardless of searing heat and bitter cold they are places of shelter and productivity. But what takes place within those spaces is changing as indicated by The Old Workshop Café at Anakie between Geelong and Ballan. When my eyes were drawn to an old shed with a vibrant new look about it, I couldn’t help but stop off to find out more.

Good coffee and a social gathering place are an essential ingredient of any rural town and Anakie (population 690) is no exception. Local businesswoman Debbie Walker has put her accounting skills, chef daughter, and an old engineering shed to good use creating a quality café featuring organic produce for locals and travellers along the Geelong Ballan Road.

That’s the short version. In reality, it has been a much longer journey and, like every small business, fraught with its challenges. But at the end of the day Debbie is justifiably proud of her achievement and the opportunities it has brought to her small community.

For 25 years Debbie and husband Bob operated their engineering works on this site. As more equipment was acquired and they reached full capacity for electricity, it was time for a move. Adjacent land was purchased, new larger premises were purpose built for the engineering works, and suddenly, the old workshop was vacant.

Two years previously Debbie had already established a small café on the opposite side of the road. ‘I’ve always been passionate about producing my own food and cooking,’ explains Debbie. ‘When Krystal, our chef daughter and mother of four, started looking for some part time work it was perfect timing.’

The vacant old workshop promised more floor space, off-road parking and an opportunity to showcase organic vegetable beds and fruit trees as part of the café landscaping. With their existing café experience, Debbie’s planning skills, and Bob’s engineering expertise to fit it out, it should have been a simple transition. Like many small business owners caught in that time warp of investing large amounts of money and keen to get trading as soon as possible, Debbie discovered otherwise.

‘Dealing with council without a doubt,’ Debbie says when asked what their biggest challenge has been. ‘We expected help because we were encouraging employment and attracting tourists,’ says Debbie, ‘but couldn’t get a straight answer when setting up the disabled toilet. It took 12 weeks to find out where a handrail should go.’ She soon discovered that it was quicker to get information from other sources. ‘After two years of fighting and having spent too much time, effort, and money, I just couldn’t back down.’

Debbie’s analytical mind found the Health Department much easier to deal with. Proudly she shows me behind the scenes in their spotless kitchen and cool room. ‘The department has stringent health and safety guidelines which we gladly adhere to. We have one of the cleanest commercial kitchens, a fully trained chef, and all of our staff undertake a food handling course. When things go quiet with customers everyone knows without asking to scrub under the benches and check behind the doors.’

Ten casual staff are employed by the café which opens Friday to Sunday. ‘They (staff members) come from near and far,’ Debbie says. She translates that to ‘some live just up the road while others travel up to 15 kilometres away.’

Working in hospitality is not for everyone she cautions. ‘I have to be careful to maintain relationships in a small town and encourage potential employees to come and talk first.’ For those who do have people skills it is a great training opportunity.

It goes without saying that customer service is paramount in hospitality and Debbie is constantly thinking of ways to make to make customers feel more comfortable in an open shed environment. ‘We get the fire going when it’s cold, and on hot days use lots of ice, cool the glasses in the fridge, and bring out the big fans. People realise that we’re trying to make them as comfortable as possible.’

‘It’s a tough industry,’ she admits. It can go from no customers to ten cars pulling up simultaneously. ‘One day it was so hot and we were absolutely dead business wise but still had to have full staff. We cleaned out the storeroom, tried out some new recipes and made a big batch of beetroot relish. Even though we had few customers we got so much done.’

Being a part of a small community brings many benefits. While the café provides an important space for locals to gather and socialise, it also provides an outlet for local producers of flowers, honey, olive oil, and even handmade glass necklaces. ‘It enhances our business, so we don’t charge them anything to display and sell their goods. My only stipulation is that they have to make it themselves,’ explains Debbie.

With an accounting background and 30 years of experience in the family engineering business, Debbie has no illusions when it comes to investment. ‘You have to spend money to make money,’ she advises, ‘and you can’t expect to retrieve your investment in the first year.’ As is often the case, the best of budgets and time schedules can blow out, but the Walkers keep forging ahead regardless. In one extreme example a sewerage plant was budgeted at $5,000 but cost $28,000. ‘It means that our decking has to wait a bit longer,’ she shrugs philosophically.

As The Old Workshop Cafe enters its second year of trading, Debbie is feeling very satisfied with their achievements. Their customer base has grown requiring an overflow car park to be introduced. ‘Not a bad problem to have,’ she smiles. Likewise, the garden has grown significantly. ‘It’s a great pleasure to give the menu a twist on a regular basis to incorporate the seasonal produce from the garden.’ Recently they have applied for a liquor license and are patiently waiting on council to respond.

‘We always have plans for more to be done but the staff, service and food are exactly where I’m happy with,’ says Debbie. ‘We’re not big business, we are very much part of the community.’

Debbie’s top business tips:

  • Don’t borrow.

  • Be brave. Don’t be scared to make a decision.

  • Enjoy what you do. If you love it, it’s not work.

  • Be a part of your community.

GOOGLE MAPS The Old Workshop, Ballan Road, Anakie (open Friday to Sunday)

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/dashfoodstore/


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Change-Makers. READ MORE

A Learning Christmas

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When do young people start learning?  From the day they are born. So why do we buy them so much useless *crap* at Christmas time? Learning can be life changing and as simple as a book, a tool, or an experience that will help set them up with life-long skills.

With three little ones in my extended family I am constantly being confronted by mermaids and princesses in never ending items of merchandise they desperately NEED to possess. Surprise, surprise, a National Geographic bug catcher can also be fun! As part of the deal, a drive into the bush for a picnic was an absolute highlight. We tracked animals and identified different types of poo. They keep asking: When we are going again?

For all ages an experience is definitely a great way to go. At the age of 22 my son was lucky enough to get a berth on the Young Endeavour and came back a much more mature young man. What he thought was going to be a sailing adventure was; and so much more in terms of team building and leadership.

Currently Wil Massara, an enterprising young man in Western Australia who is part of my Operation Next Gen team in Collie and CEO of Youth Leadership Academy Australia, is promoting a one-day learning experience in March 2019 in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and the Gold Coast. Now wouldn’t that be an awesome gift for a young person aged 13-18 years?

As a parent there are two challenges. We don’t want to hand everything to them on a plate and we also need to challenge gender bias with our gifts.

Children should learn about patience, the process of working towards a goal, and valuing what it costs to purchase something of significance. A technique we used when our children were young was to give them exactly half the money they needed to purchase that much wanted bike or pony. It was up to them to earn the other half and it was incredible how resourceful they became in the process, now that was excellent life skills learning!

Why should a male toddler get a toy toolbox and a female toddler a barbie doll? Which one would be more useful building life skills?

At the risk of being labelled the Grinch, I wish everyone a NO *crap* Christmas!


And something else I am very passionate about … Shop RURAL this Christmas!

AMPLIFTS

BY KERRY ANDERSON

2018 is a big year for Brendan Murphy. Just 18 years of age and living in the tiny town of Allanson in southwest Western Australia, Brendan is midway through Year 12 at nearby Collie Senior High School … and he’s launched his first business!

When the school bell rings Brendan is the first one out the door to catch the bus home. But instead of sitting and watching television or playing the video games that he used to be addicted to, he is rushing home to work on his online fitness program and coaching business at AMPLIFTS.com

In collaboration with Adam Peeler, another young fitness fanatic in the United States, Brendan has capitalised on modern technology to create a passive income before he has even left school. I’m impressed when I check out the website. The technology is good, the copyright snappy, and both Brendan and Adam present themselves extremely professionally.

‘It has been hard to find the time to work on the business,’ Brendan admits ‘but I made a lot of progress during the school holidays.’

But how did he learn how to do all this I wonder?

‘The content is based on maximising my own results,’ explains Brendan. ‘I got involved in fitness, bodybuilding and powerlifting and really studied the science behind it.’ Adam, who has a major in exercise science, became one of Brendan’s trusted sources as he scoured the internet for articles and tutorials.

After messaging Adam via a Facebook community, the two hit it off immediately and a business partnership was formed. ‘Adam was already a big name in the industry over in the United States so it was good to have his endorsement and for him to be part of the business. A lot of people claim to know everything but can’t back up what they say with facts,’ says Brendan. ‘What we follow is the science behind training and nutrition and strive to apply that when we create programs for natural lifters that aren’t on steroids.’

With the business still in its infancy they are only just starting to make money and have an agreed 40/60 split of the profits with the majority going to Brendan who looks after the website. With the benefits of digital technology, they converse daily via Facebook messenger having worked out the time differences between Collie, Western Australia and Utah in the United States.

In essence, Brendan and Adam provide their own testimonials that obviously would most appeal to their primary audience, young men. Both talk about how they transitioned from insecure young men into confident ones through their fitness regimes and they aren’t afraid of sharing positive stories about self-esteem and mental health via social media and You Tube. They’ve also showcased the incredible results their clients have achieved through the use of their programs on the website.

When it came to establishing a website Brendan did what every good business person should do. He invested in Squarespace, a well-known software platform and customised it so it had a totally fresh look. He also checked out competitor websites. ‘I took what they do and did it better. It was important for my website to be user friendly because some are just too confusing.’ Having an interest in web development and coding – self taught of course – he found it an easy task to undertake.

As an online business AMPLIFTS’s customers can be located anywhere in the world. Capitalising on their social media presence, marketing so far has been via Facebook and Instagram plus some Google advertisements. ‘We’ve been getting three to five percent click through on our ads but the challenge is to convert them into sales,’ Brendan says.

Recently AMPLIFTS received a welcome boost when Adam stayed with a popular You Tuber in the United States who has over 100,000 followers. ‘We received a few sales out of that,’ Brendan notes gratefully.

When time permits Brendan is looking forward to developing an app so that their customers can access their programs offline and track their progress.

In the meantime, there is school, I remind him cheerfully. ‘Yeah’ Brendan acknowledges dolefully. When asked why he is doing Year 12 he admits that it is to get an ATAR score, and, I assume, to meet university admission requirements. However, Brendan is quick to assure me that university is not his intended future.

‘I will be working AMPLIFTS full time and hopefully collaborating with Adam in person over in the United States,’ he says with much more enthusiasm.

Now that’s an exciting plan for a young man and one full of possibilities!

https://www.amplifts.com/

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When you can't wait to get home

to work on your business!

Get your free tickets to hear what Brendan thinks about the future hot spots for career and business in rural communities on Thursday 16 August in Collie WA. Will he agree with the other panel members twice his age? MORE INFO


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Bundarra Berkshires

Looking back at how Bundarra Berkshires evolved Lauren Mathers defines it as ‘madness’ given that she has given birth to three children in the midst of becoming a free-range farmer and exemplifying the paddock to plate dream. Displaying the attributes of a true entrepreneur, it all started when she saw a problem that could be turned into an opportunity. And history keeps repeating itself.

Arriving at the Mathers property near Barham in New South Wales early one brisk Saturday morning mid-winter, it comes as no surprise that bacon and eggs are on the menu. The kids are sleeping in and Lachlan and Lauren are planning their weekend ahead. No football. No socialising. Weekends are the best time for the couple to do the hands-on work required to care for their 400 plus Berkshire pigs.

‘It’s madness when I look back. I used to do it all, but Lachlan stepped in and shared the responsibilities as the children came along,’ explains Lauren. A transport driver for his parents’ company during the week, Lachlan has been pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable it has been to get involved in the business that has now built up to become their main source of income. ‘I’m trucks by day and pigs by day, night and weekends,’ he smiles. ‘Dad and husband is in there somewhere as well.’ All jokes aside he adds that he is enjoying his new role.

‘Lachlan is a great salesman and loves chatting with the customers and fellow stallholders,’ Lauren chips in. ‘Until he started coming to the markets with me he’d never seen that side of the business.’

With our plates empty I chat with Lauren over coffee as Lachlan deals with the waking kids. It quickly becomes apparent how her brain operates. Constantly. Very fast. And, there is no doubt, she is a problem solver. ‘If I think of a good idea I just run with it,’ she admits.

OPPORTUNITY #1 Sourcing local quality pork

As a partner in the successful The Long Paddock restaurant established in 2008 at nearby Koondrook on the Victorian side of the Murray River, Lauren had her first experience of small business. The restaurant’s reputation was built on an ethos of sourcing local quality foods but she was having trouble finding tasty pork. This is how Doris first came on the scene.

‘A bloke down the road had a Berkshire pig that he didn’t want any more,’ Lauren explains, ‘so I reckoned I would have a go at breeding my own pork.’ Being raised on a beef cattle farm, however, was of no use whatsoever when it came to collecting the founding member of her breeding stock. With the owner absent Lauren tried to herd the pig – later named Doris - on to the trailer. ‘She was like a wild dog,’ Lauren recalls. ‘My first lesson was in how to bribe pigs with food and make it a positive experience.’

While Doris failed to have any produce for some time, ironically Lauren fell pregnant with her first child. Undeterred, the seed of an idea just grew and grew, fuelled by a bursary as a Rural Ambassador to visit France and see how farmers there sold their produce at markets and the relationship between consumer and farmer.

Eight years since establishing the herd, Lauren now has over 100 sows and 300 piglets at any given time to care for. And, for those of you who are wondering, Doris lived on despite her shortcomings, eventually passing away from natural causes.

OPPORTUNITY #2 Finding customers

‘It was clear when I came back from my trip to France that we needed a local market so I helped to set up Red Gum Group and Farmers’ Market,’ Lauren explains. ‘Now there are lots of Farmers Markets which everyone loves. Until recently we regularly attended the Melbourne markets and will continue to attend the Castlemaine market each month and possibly get back into Melbourne once a month now that Mum and Dad are here to help out.’

In 2011 Lauren started selling the pork and by late 2011 was selling gourmet pork products to retail outlets and at farmers markets. ‘Winning a Delicious Product Award in 2013 was a great kick start,’ she acknowledges.

Bundarra Berkshires has its own website and Farm Shop page outlining products that can either be purchased at one of the listed stockists or delivered through their courier service. Hogfest, held each September, promotes the ‘paddock to plate’ concept and connect customers with their products. Social media has clearly been a winner with a healthy following on Facebook and Instagram. Quality photography assists Lauren to clearly articulate their love of animals and a rural family lifestyle.

‘There are now a lot more micro businesses operating in this field,’ Lauren admits, ‘so now we have to work hard to stay ahead of the game. Over the past two years we have been constantly tweaking our targets. Our space is clean eating so nitrate free and preservative free is where we concentrate our energy on. You have to pick an area and own it,’ she advises.

OPPORTUNITY #3 Controlling supply

While many businesses are transitioning to a lean balance sheet through outsourcing, Lauren believes that agriculture is moving in the opposite direction especially when it comes to clean, green, and ethically produced food. ‘There is too much uncertainty if we don’t,’ she explains.

Keen to know her business every step of the way, she started by helping her preferred butcher at Gunbower to pack her pork products. ‘Tom showed me all the different parts and how to bone out a shoulder. Lucy, our eldest child, was in a pram at the time,’ she recalls. Soon the logistics of taking Lucy to the butchers and struggling to find other butchers to do smoking and sausages for her became stressful and time consuming. Just as their second child, Frida, was born in 2013, Lauren recognised what many would perceive to be a problem as an opportunity. ‘I decided to take control of our own supply.’ Subsequently the shed was cleaned out and a cutting room and smokehouse installed. A year after that a commercial kitchen and air-drying room was added.

Before you start thinking this is all too easy, finance did prove problematic for this second phase of the business so Lauren tried out a Crowd Funding campaign by offering produce in return for advance payments to help fit out the new facilities. ‘The campaign raised more than we aimed for, but I probably wouldn’t do it again,’ she admits.

To help get her started, a friend spent a day instructing Lauren on the different cuts for meat. “For the first three years I butchered on my own with a handsaw which kept costs really low.’ As the demand for product grew a butcher was employed in late 2015, perfect timing to assist with the Christmas rush and, by my calculations, to aid Lauren who was pregnant with George, child number three!

‘To begin with we used what buildings we had but we are outgrowing ourselves now.’ Another problem and/or opportunity for her to think about.

Humane slaughter of the pigs is something that Lauren also feels passionate about especially in the current climate where many abattoirs are closing or denying micro producers access.  After a series of abattoir closures and an increase in road miles impacting on their transport costs of ten pigs each week, Lauren is once again taking a lead in providing a solution. ‘Ideally we’d like to slaughter 15 pigs a week but the logistics are against us because of the truck size.’

In her latest quest, Lauren is part of a group of like-minded farmers in the process of establishing a local cooperative to set up their own micro abattoir. Her vision is shared with the group for it to be staffed with highly skilled personnel operating under an ethos of humane treatment of animals. ‘Offal is another big opportunity to create new products from waste and, as a cooperative, we will also be able to put back into the community,’ Lauren says with a sparkle in her eye.

Much to Lauren’s frustration, problem #4 is still in the process of being turned into an opportunity as the effects of an impending drought start to make their mark. ‘Usually we are knee deep in pasture this time of the year but we’ve had no rain and we’re at the mercy of a feed company. The price of feed has just gone up $100 per tonne.’ Sourcing feed with no animal base has been quite a difficult process so there is no quick fix to this one but I have no doubt that Lauren will keep thinking on it. Expanding their 65-acre farm is one strategy and she has already sub-contracted her parents on a nearby property to grow out pigs for her.

‘I am a thinker,’ Lauren acknowledges. ‘The challenges are what I love. I strive to get it better and stay ahead. As a society we are still so disconnected from our food, but Bundarra Berkshires is pure paddock to plate. It’s pretty amazing.’

Lauren’s top business tips:

  • Have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and stick to it.
  • At the same time, be aware of new opportunities to improve your business and be prepared to change and adapt.
  • Don’t do it if you don’t love it.

http://bundarraberkshires.com.au/


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of Operation Next Gen and author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Vets All Natural

Twenty-five years ago, Dr Bruce Syme, a young veterinarian fresh out of university, developed a new raw food-based diet in response to the epidemic proportions of skin diseases and allergies presenting in cats and dogs. Determined to take a holistic approach he relocated his pet food business and set up his own practice in central Victoria. Today Vets All Natural products can be found on pet supply shelves in multiple countries.

Catching up with Bruce for a coffee at Guildford on his day off, we reminisced about how much has changed since 1999 when I drove out into the bush to interview him the first time. Having just moved from Melbourne to start his own practice in a more receptive community, he had rented rooms behind a dog kennel business at Muckleford, a rural community between Castlemaine and Maldon. It was quite a challenging mud map I had to draw for the photographer to find him later that week with a creek crossing being the major landmark.

I remember writing that Bruce was ‘a new breed of vet with a passion.’ His focus was on keeping pets healthy instead of treating the disease. That hasn’t changed but much else has. For a start we are both older and wiser, the single vet practice has grown significantly, and there are now many more competitor brands on the shelves of retail outlets emulating the Vets All Natural products.

‘I started on a wing and a prayer, just flying by the seat of my pants,’ Bruce admits reflecting on both his practice and pet food manufacturing business. ‘Things just grew and grew.’

Two years after his move to central Victoria, he was able to buy out an existing practice in nearby Castlemaine and farewell his remote location. As his pet-food business gained traction he also built a shed and rented a second one. ‘It was quite rapid growth. I took on another vet and the head nurse as partners and we employed another full-time vet and support staff. I had to focus on the practice and relied on employees to look after the food manufacturing.’

When it came to finances, in the early days Bruce admits that he was a novice. ‘I wasn’t financially motivated. If there was money in the bank I thought that things were going good.’ His sounding board was a best friend who had studied commerce. As a young vet still with a student debt, the banks weren’t interested when he first approached them to set up his own business. His father provided a loan which Bruce is quick to clarify has been repaid including interest.

Bruce surmises that there were three trigger points that forced him to study his business finances more closely.

Starting a family at the same time he bought the Castlemaine practice in 2000 was the first trigger point, both bringing with them more financial responsibilities. Second was the realisation that his pet-food manufacturing business was creating 80 percent of his income from a 20 percent output. ‘I started paying more interest then,’ he says. And, lastly taking out a $1 million loan to build a new home for the growing practice with a fully equipped veterinary hospital in 2014.

Bruce admits that the veterinary industry is not as profitable as many would like to think. ‘It’s a rewarding but a tough industry. In comparison to a doctor’s surgery, the overheads are massive. As a clinic we provide everything including two surgical theatres, and all modern equipment including in house blood testing, ultrasound, endoscopy and radiology.’

‘I knew I couldn’t muck around anymore,’ says Bruce who took on a business mentor and coach and signed up for a business management course. While it was important to understand his businesses Bruce also found it frustrating that ‘best practice’ as prescribed by the expert trainers was focussed on getting maximum profit. ‘My ethics are not very profitable,’ he admits. ‘There is this horrible thing called integrity and emotional health.’ While many vets are now refusing to visit properties for large animals because it is not profitable, Bruce believes it is part of their community service and he gets to enjoy the beautiful countryside in the process.

On the bright side, as a result of all the training, he now knows exactly how much it costs to run the practice on an hourly basis and how much he has to earn to cover his debts.  And, while it was important for him to remain hands-on in the rebranded as the Healthy Pets Veterinary Clinic, it was equally important for him to nurture the more lucrative Vets All Natural business and reassess his role in it.

‘It’s all about effort and return. I started analysing the retail pet market around the time of the big corporate mergers and realised that it was important to get involved with the franchises. We started by getting our products into 15 stores through one franchise and now it is 120 stores.’

When it came to marketing Bruce sponsored many cat and dog shows and, in the early days, spent a good deal of time on the lecture circuit, talking to fellow vets, animal breeders and owners. ‘We targeted the key influencers and developed some core believers,’ he explains, and it worked beautifully. He recalls that once a dog owner drove all the way to the Castlemaine practice from Melbourne after a passer-by noticed her dog scratching and recommended that they google Vets All Natural and go see Dr Bruce Syme!

The irony of being successful is that your competitors quickly follow. ‘For the first 15 years of my business I spent more time convincing people that raw food is an option; now it is about which brand is best,’ says Bruce. All along he has paid attention to what customers need. Handling raw meat on its own was problematic so a line of dry grain mix products was introduced. New styles of packaging including a peel and serve option also helped keep Vets All Natural ahead of its competitors.

The dilemma of any business owner and parent is getting the right work-life balance, and on reflection Bruce suspects that he could have done better. Developing new product lines also required big investment.

As a result, Vets All Natural has changed significantly as a business. It is now a company with shareholders and operates from a head office in St Kilda Road Melbourne under the guidance of a General Manager. Manufacturing is outsourced to three other businesses leaving the company to manage warehousing and distribution. ‘Brand and intellectual property are our biggest assets,’ Bruce says. ‘We distribute nationwide and overseas to Japan and Singapore. Currently we are going into China with a massive deal; clean and green products are very big there.’

Surrounding himself with smart people has paid dividends for Bruce who continues to hold the position of Executive Director. ‘I handed over a business with a $1 million annual turnover and they’ve increased it four times over.’

‘One of the hardest things was letting go and trusting other people,’ he admits; however there have been many advantages. ‘I was able to pull back from the marketing which I wasn’t very good at and focus on the science.’ He also drives a lot less miles and can spend three quality days a week in his veterinary practice where it is important that he has a presence.

Finally, Bruce has hit his perfect work-life balance.

Dr Bruce Syme outside his veterinary clinic in Castlemaine, central Victoria.

Dr Bruce Syme outside his veterinary clinic in Castlemaine, central Victoria.

Bruce’s top business tips:

  • Choose something that you enjoy.
  • Do your homework and understand that the environment rapidly changes.
  • Don’t become blind to something you are passionate about. If you have a great idea, challenge it and get other people to challenge it as well.
  • Get advice from people who know what they are doing.
  • Take care of your physical and mental health.

http://healthypetsvc.com.au/

https://vetsallnatural.com.au/


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of Operation Next Gen and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE http://www.kerryanderson.com.au/about/

15 Acres

We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, however the Cohuna-Leitchville district in northern Victoria has taken it a step further. They are nurturing and encouraging young entrepreneurs!

January 14, 2018 was a special day for the Taylor family at Leitchville. Not only was it their pop’s birthday, it was the launch of Cooper (12) and Bailey (15) Taylor’s business, 15 Acres.

Their mother Kellie recalls the day that Cooper came home and announced that he had bought a business. ‘You haven’t,’ was her reply. He had. And, after spending some time with Cooper, it is easy to understand how. This gregarious pre-teen doesn’t lack in confidence and I have no doubt that he could sell ice to the Eskimos if required.

For some time prior Cooper had been earning his own pocket money by selling eggs from the twenty chooks he kept at his family home but it was proving to be problematic. ‘People wanted heaps of eggs and I didn’t have enough.’

Having received lots of advice from a ‘mate’ on a nearby property who also produced eggs but on a much larger scale, Cooper was wildly excited when the mate said that he was selling up. When Cooper was offered 160 chooks, two Maremma guard dogs, and two caravans he had no hesitation in saying yes which brings us back to a sudden announcement to his parents that he’d bought a business. ‘Well I haven’t actually paid him yet,’ admits Cooper. ‘But I will one day. He just wanted someone to love the chooks as much as he did. I don’t like factory farms, that is my pet hate.’

At the same time his older brother, Bailey, had been seeking a part time job, not always easy when you live some distance out of town and don’t have a license. This new business presented an opportunity for both brothers. It was then up to the boys to come to an agreement on what their responsibilities would be in the business.

‘Bailey isn’t a morning person,’ Cooper is quick to share. ‘I do the morning chores and most of the infrastructure stuff.’

The much more quietly spoken sibling, Bailey, explains that his role is to collect the eggs at night and look after the larger chooks and dogs. Cooper has been responsible for growing 200 chickens that are about to graduate to free range in the paddock. A bit of disagreement breaks into the conversation at this point. Cooper wants to dispute who is responsible for what. You know; that normal sibling rivalry stuff.

Quickly moving on, I ask: Why call their business 15 Acres? ‘Well the previous business was called 400 Acres,’ Cooper clarifies successfully distracted. So, no need to ask how big their property is then!

Kept safe by the two Maremma dogs, Falcor and Jane, the chooks free range in the paddock while roosting and laying in the caravans that have been converted for their exclusive use by the boys’ Pa. It seems that a number of additional caravans have been donated by various people around the district. A heat lamp was also provided free of charge and another local businessman has offered to build them a website. ‘People are really nice and willing to help,’ Cooper acknowledges.

Everything he has learnt about caring for chooks and preparing eggs for market has been from his mate and from watching videos on You Tube. ‘I haven’t read any books,’ Cooper admits.

Just coming out of the moulting season with reduced eggs to sell, he says that this is a challenge when supplying their customers that includes six local eateries and the Farmers & Made in Cohuna Market on the fourth Sunday of every month. ‘We’ve been offered another caravan that we hope to use for the markets; we just need time to convert it,’ Cooper says. Pa must be busy is what I'm hearing.

Time is definitely a challenge even for teenagers. ‘I’ve got eight hours at school each day including bus travel, and then I’ve got sport as well.’ Cooper glances at the clock as he is due to leave for a football match playing for Leitchville Gunbower Under 12’s very shortly. Sport is extremely important in a rural community.

Let’s talk money I suggest and ask Bailey if it has been worthwhile. ‘I’m glad that I did get involved,’ he says. ‘It’s going well at the moment and we should do well in the future as the layers pick up.’ Usually on a Sunday the boys convene at the kitchen table to assess their cash flow. The profits are split up while leaving a set amount in kitty to cover change and feed costs.

At this point Cooper cuts in to accuse his mother of helping herself to a bit of petty cash on a few occasions. ‘She treats it as an ATM,’ he claims. This argument suddenly falls flat when I ask how much they pay her to cover the transport expenses of delivering the eggs, going to the markets, and collecting the chook feed supplies. 66 cents per kilometre is the going rate I helpfully point as Kellie chuckles in the background. Cooper is momentarily silent.

With another successful diversion in place I wonder how they established their retail price?  ‘We started at $5 per dozen but put it up to $6 for the market,’ Cooper bounces back. He is clear on what their expenses are. ‘It costs $450 to fill the big container,’ he explains. ‘If we bought 20kg bags it would cost a lot more so we buy in bulk which reduces the cost per kilo.’

Kellie has helped the boys to establish a business page on Facebook and a business card; however, it seems that word of mouth is pretty much doing the job for them.

It would appear that everyone in the district is keen to nurture more young people to experience and develop business skills, and these two enterprising brothers are only too happy to take up the challenge.


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of Operation Next Gen and author ofEntrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

OPERATION NEXT GEN COHUNA:  Read on if you'd like to know more about how you can establish your own collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem.  READ MORE

Small Towns

BY KERRY ANDERSON

Grit, determination, and innovation to problem solve issues common to small towns came through loud and strong at the inaugural Small Town Show and Tell mini conference held in Cohuna on Friday 13 July, 2018.

So what did I hear in the room?

Small towns are important

1.8 million people live in small towns (under 5,000 population) across Australia which is the equivalent of the city of Perth. ‘Small towns are important,’ Jack Archer, CEO of the Regional Australia Institute stressed. He encouraged us to use the INsight data and research generated by RAI to assist with evidence in our submissions.

Encourage the entrepreneurs

It comes as no surprise that this was the thrust of my presentation and it was backed up by Jack Archer. For this reason we need to fight for improved technology so that more people can live and work in small towns. With a growing ‘gig’ economy where more people are self employed and contracted to perform services for the big corporations, there is a great opportunity for small towns to attract people away from the cities. I also shared some recent research from the Kauffman Foundation in the U.S.A. that has discovered that for every one percent increase in new business, there is a two percent decrease in poverty.  Business is important!

Be inclusive and form partnerships

Small towns don’t have to do it alone. Jan Smith spoke about how the small community of Girgarre has achieved so much because they have shared both the work and the benefits with all their local groups. They’ve also welcomed visitors into their town inspiring them to help out with various events and activities. I shared a project currently unfolding in Warracknabeal at the court house which is managed by the Working Heritage board on which I serve. A partnership with the local community and Monash University has eventuated in grand plans to establish an artistic hub. Bakery on Broadway revealed that they had received assistance from the Rotary Club of Keilor in sourcing equipment for their bakery. City people love to help a rural community to succeed.

Young people like growing up in a small town 

Secondary college student Taitum Mason took some time out of her school holidays to come and share her thoughts on being a young person growing up in a small town. She listed a whole range of events that young people love to attend including The Big Cohuna Festival, an initiative of Operation Next Gen. ‘I don’t feel like I miss out event though Cohuna is a small town,’ she said. ‘I’m proud to be a part of this community.’ This supports the findings of research undertaken by Operation Next Gen through a survey of over 2,000 students.

Migrants are a life line

This message came through repeatedly through Tom Smith from Kia-Ora Piggery near Pyramid Hill, Ann Durie from Bakery on Broadway in Wycheproof, and Jack Archer, CEO of the Regional Australia Institute.  The benefits are undeniable and Tom is lobbying hard for better conditions to assist migrants to gain stability when moving to rural areas. This includes extended visas as a pathway to citizenship including for extended family members; recognition of prior qualifications and fast tracking assessment and skills upgrades; and understanding that we need hands on people to migrate, not just academics.

An abundant resource

Gen Barlow from Newstead talked about opportunities for small towns to take advantage of the sun and create renewable energy. During Newstead's community consultations they discovered that not everyone was interested in renewable energy but they were interested in reducing their energy costs.  Discussions have been ongoing and persistent to get across the various regulation and service provider barriers that have presented along the way. ‘The big corporates find it hard to understand that small communities can do this,’ said Gen.

Housing is important

Cohuna’s Emily Wood presented the findings of a research project that highlighted some important points. Professionals attracted to a small town like to rent before buying to ensure that they are a good fit for that community, however, there is a lack of suitable accommodation available for rent to meet their needs. Investment opportunities to be explored for Cohuna in particular included building two four bedroom homes to be rented to professionals for 3-6 month periods, and two to four small units suitable for retirees coming in from the farms. Financial incentives for young people to purchase and renovate old homes was another recommendation.

Learn to ask

Jan Smith shared the story of how Girgarre turned a negative into a positive. When the Heinz Factory was being closed they refused a cash offer and asked instead for land which came with water rights. In effect this turned out to be far higher value that the initial $50,000 offered and is enabling them to build a $12 million botanical gardens. ‘Learn to ask,’ Jan advised.

Build a ‘war chest’

Jan’s other piece of valuable advice was to ‘build a war chest.’ She acknowledged a canny treasurer who kept putting money aside from each of their markets for when it was needed. It helped the community to save its kindergarten.  As someone who has served on both philanthropic and government bodies administering grants, I reiterated that it is important to demonstrate what your community is prepared to contribute, or already has. If you are not prepared to invest in yourself, why should anyone else?

Measure your local spend

Kathryn Lanyon explained how Boort’s Shop Local campaign has had a positive outcome for their business community over the past five years.  Coupons enable the committee to measure what is spent locally over an 8 week period - $350,000 - $400,000 through 25 businesses alone. ‘Each year the participating business owners are inspired by the results and it is good for the community to understand how much money can be spent in our town,’ Kathryn said. ‘We need to embed a culture of shopping local in every business, club and organisation all year round.’

Arts and Culture connect people

Tanya Black from Cohuna Neighbourhood House spoke about the newly formed Gannawarra Arts Culture and Entertainment Club (the ACE Club) where members come together to attend various arts and cultural events being rotated around the small towns helping to connect people. 'Many Melbourne based performances are being presented and supported by small rural communities, bringing life back into their community halls,' Tanya explained. 'It's a great way to meet new people, and you can be assured of a lovely country spread for supper.'


Congratulations to the Cohuna Neighbourhood House for this great initiative, funded by Regional Development Victoria as part of a larger project, 'This is Cohuna - Celebrating Our Heritage & Unique Neighbourhood Assets.'

Will it be a one off? Given how well it was received I think that another town may well take up the challenge to host this event in the future. Which town will it be I wonder?

WATCH RECORDINGS OF ALL THE PRESENTATIONS (coming soon)

And some more reading that may interest you:

Bakery on Broadway: Wycheproof

Rural Towns Fighting Back: COHUNA

Rural Towns Fighting Back: GIRGARRE

 

RAI How to end regional population decline

Tom Smith - Kia-Ora Piggery


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

An artful business

Sobrane in her Broome WA studio

Sobrane in her Broome WA studio

Rural Australia is increasingly becoming home to artists that are bringing a vibrancy to rural towns. They are bravely forging a lifestyle that encompasses their passion, but how do they successfully make a living Kerry Anderson ponders?

All too often we hear that artists are struggling and having to supplement their incomes elsewhere. Regardless of what genre, how can they make a reasonable living from what is often perceived as a hobby? Most creative minded people are not renowned for their business acumen and yet there are many examples of successful artists operating at a high level.  If artists want to be seriously considered and earn a reasonable income, they do need to apply some business rigour. There are some difficult questions that should be asked and conscious decisions made if they want to financially survive and thrive. How do they value an item? How do they value their time? How do they value their brand?

Apart from the serious collectors who go by a whole different set of criteria; when it comes to valuing an item that old saying ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ rings true. To whomever this piece speaks, it is considered the most valuable. I have never bought a piece of art without considering two things first. Do I like it? And secondly, do I have a suitable space for it to be displayed? If the answer to those two questions is yes, then I finally ask myself: Can I afford it?

So, you first have to consider who your art will appeal to and know their price range. Central Victorian sculptor Trevor Prest’s work mostly comprises of large heavy pieces most suited to big spaces. It goes without saying that an art gallery, or a company or university wanting to make an impact in their entry foyer, will pay considerably more than the average home collector. Having said that, I loved his work so much that I did buy a piece and managed to squeeze it in to my house.

But how on earth can an artist value their time when they are doing something that they love? Like farmers who choose a lifestyle, this may be just too hard a question to answer. Perhaps a better question is to ask: What total income do you need to live comfortably? Then, it is a simple matter of working backwards and thinking about cash flow, what types of items bring in the best results, and how many you have to sell at what price to meet your target income. Your best-selling and most profitable items must come first. Afterwards you can indulge in your passion. As a starting base you should think about how much it costs to produce (materials etc), not forgetting all those small hidden costs like studio rental or services, advertising, packaging, and transport that quickly add up.

And, when it comes to your personal time in marketing your work, make sure you are spending it where it counts. An artist at a Farmer’s Market recently mentioned to me that he was about to stop attending the markets as his items were becoming too highly priced for this type of audience. Good decision as he will not only save on his personal time but also the cost of travel. Lucky, I made my purchase beforehand.

Before you start thinking that I buy everything I see, I recently visited Sobrane’s studio in Broome, Western Australia, and left with only a greeting card; mainly because my suitcase wasn’t big enough. It was interesting to see how she has positioned herself as an artist and diversified her products to create a steady flow of income. In addition to the big priced pieces of artwork for serious collectors, there were lots of smaller items that browsing tourists could happily purchase; for instance, cushion covers, cards and smaller unframed art works. Sobrane has also embraced the latest trend where street artists are employed through community grants to paint silos and other large buildings in rural communities creating tourist attractions.

Branding is king no matter what industry you work in. If you portray yourself as a struggling artist selling whatever you can, then buyers will expect low prices. Valuing yourself and knowing the worth of your artwork is just so crucial in sending out the right message. It all comes down to perception and how it is presented, from the sales venue right down to the artistic quality of the price tag. In the digital era with capacity for online marketing and sales, there is a much wider reach and audience for artists who can create a strong brand.

No business person has every skill required to be successful. The key is to ask the hard questions, recognise your strengths and weaknesses, seek professional advice when required, and surround yourself with a team when taking your business to the next level.

A final word of advice from someone who unfortunately doesn’t have a creative bone in her body. It also helps if you’re good at what you do!


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Quilt Station

As a small rural business, Quilt Station has given Margaret Mew amazing opportunities.

As a small rural business, Quilt Station has given Margaret Mew amazing opportunities.

Margaret Mew can’t remember a time when she hasn’t made ‘fine little things.’ As a teenager she made her own clothes, then she sewed and knitted for her children … as mothers often used to do. Then, in 1992, she went to a patchwork class and her world dramatically changed. Today, thanks to her incredible work captured in her stunning book, Quilts from the Colonies, Margaret and her Elphinstone based business, Quilt Station, are recognised across the world by quilters.

Why patchwork I ask? Margaret barely pauses to answer. ‘I loved that it had unlimited possibilities of pattern, of colour and prints of fabric,’ she explains. And over twenty years later it appears that she is still mesmerised. ‘Fabric to me is the motivation every day. It still excites me sewing two pieces of fabric together and see how they look.’

Like all artisans Margaret has dedicated years to learning her craft and the journey has been an interesting one. With her newfound passion fuelled by continuing patchwork classes and as a founding member of Goldfields Quilters; she started working part-time at a patchwork shop in Castlemaine. ‘Some days I just got paid in fabric,’ she admits with a wry smile. She then started taking inhouse classes at the shop which helped attract more buyers of fabric much to the owner’s delight.

After a ten-year ‘apprenticeship’ in quilting Margaret also started producing her own patterns, with an emphasis on traditional antique American styles that she particularly loves, selling them inhouse and through the shop’s website. In what can be quite a long process, she begins by making the quilt, then works out all the technical instructions and produces it as a physical pattern for other quilters to purchase. ‘In the early days I literally drew the diagrams with handwritten instructions and photocopied them,’ she explains. ‘The early ones looked pretty basic but slowly and surely I’ve gained more computer skills and now I’m using a graphic designer and producing them with a bit more of an edge.’ Her most recent pattern was printed in full colour and retails for $32.

According to Margaret things first got really exciting around 2010 when a quilting shop in the Netherlands started buying her patterns wholesale. Suddenly Margaret’s name started appearing in European quilting circles and, in 2011, she was contacted by France based magazine and book publisher Quiltmania who were visiting Australia for a Sydney event. Carol the publisher, and Guy their photographer, travelled to Elphinstone, artfully ‘threw’ quilts around Margaret’s house, and took beautiful photographs. Over the next few years Quiltmania featured Margaret in articles and published some of her patterns.

It was clearly time for Margaret to capitalise on this world-wide recognition, only enjoyed by a handful of Australian quilters. She left her part time job and purchased a long arm quilt machine business that she could operate from home. Not only did this unique piece of machinery assist her to finish her own quilts, it enabled her to take on work from hobby quilters in the region, providing a small but steady income. Her first task was to write to the previous owner’s customers introducing herself. Quilt Station in the tiny central Victorian township of Elphinstone was born!

2017 was another significant milestone when Quilt Mania published Quilts from the Colonies by Margaret Mew with text in both English and French. Margaret enjoyed an all-expenses paid trip to France to attend the launch. ‘I sat and signed books for four days followed by a lovely holiday,’ she smiles. She also travelled to the United States, promoting the book and teaching even more obsessed quilters in what is reputedly a $3.7 billion annual industry according to figures published by the International Quilt Market.

Despite this incredible publicity on the world arena, it has still been up to Margaret to generate her own local marketing and publicity to keep a steady flow of income.  With a creative eye she maintains her own website. ‘I am very particular about how everything looks and am constantly changing my website,’ she admits. She is also an avid blogger and has recently embraced Instagram already enjoying a huge following. An online course has encouraged her to update her profile and better connect with potential customers. ‘I don’t think I could have built my business without social media,’ she admits. ‘All quilters are on Instagram which is so good for creatives because they are so visual.’

With experience Margaret is becoming more strategic in converting followers to customers. ‘You need to let people in, connect with them and build a relationship by offering something for free,’ Margaret explains. ‘By guiding them to my blog where I talk more in-depth, they are then on my website with access to my shopping page.

While the long arm quilting machine was a big part of her initial business, it has recently been surpassed by her more favoured activities; speaking and teaching, both of which help promote sales of her book, patterns and templates. A glance at her online calendar reveals that she is a regular guest speaker at guild events across Victoria and interstate, in addition to her own fortnightly inhouse classes. It is something that Margaret clearly enjoys and helps fund another of her passions, overseas travel!  In October 2018 she is off on another quilting adventure spanning the Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom.

What surprises me most is that Margaret rarely sells a quilt, instead keeping them for teaching purposes. Quilts are only sold when her cupboards get too full and then, usually to friends and for only a fraction of the cost that it takes to produce them. As an accredited appraiser who volunteers at guild events to enable quilt owners to apply for insurance cover, she clearly understands their value. ‘It’s not unusual for a handmade quilt to be valued at $5,000 or even $8,000,’ she says, ‘but that doesn’t mean that someone will pay that.’

Likewise, Margaret has a large collection of old fabrics that are exceeding storage space and is next year looking at selling them through a booth in the United Kingdom. This is a strategic decision that will help gain new customers for her patterns and teaching classes, not to mention help fund another overseas trip!

One of the biggest challenges of being a home-based business, especially one that grew from a hobby, is friends not understanding that she has work to do. ‘Every day is a work day when you work for yourself,’ acknowledges Margaret who is busy producing new works for patterns and hopefully a second book.

Choosing not to analyse her personal worth and business too in-depth, Margaret is following guild and council standards when she speaks and charges fees that she is comfortable with. She also maintains the books for her husband’s business, Art Station, based in the outbuildings at their home. Although the two businesses are kept separate in an online accounting system, Margaret is grateful that they come under the one partnership requiring only one BAS to be completed for taxation purposes. She is also under no illusion.

‘As a business Quilt Station is not our main source of income,’ Margaret admits, ‘but the bottom line is that I will always make quilts because it’s what I love to do. It also gives me amazing opportunities.’

http://www.quiltstation.com.au/


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Why wait for adversity?

Photograph by Shayne Mostyn Photography, Cohuna

Photograph by Shayne Mostyn Photography, Cohuna

Adversity is a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs. We see it all the time. Someone suddenly loses their job and starts their own business. A major employer closes down and even more people launch a small business or buy into one. There is no doubt that, when pushed, we can step out of our comfort zone and do something that we’ve previously only dreamed of. A regular income holds us back but once it is taken away we suddenly have nothing to lose and are willing to have a crack.

Two questions come to mind. Why are we waiting for adversity before we take positive action? And why aren’t we doing this as a community rather than just as individuals?

I want to pay homage to the communities with vision who understand that we should be nurturing our entrepreneurs and preparing the groundwork long before any hardship hits. Experience has demonstrated to me that those who have already laid the foundations of a collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystem are much better equipped to weather a storm.

Many Victorians will recall the shock waves of the Morwell community audibly vibrating through the media all the way to the Victorian State Government’s treasury when the closure of Hazelwood Power Station was announced in late 2016. Even though the storm clouds had been gathering on the horizon for some years, the community still appeared to be visibly shocked when it finally descended.

Despite the digital age and vast information at our finger tips, storms can still arrive unannounced and create much damage. And they come in many forms, not just of the weather variety that rural communities are familiar with.

In April 2016, some months before the Hazelwood announcement, the ‘dairy crisis’ hit a number of rural communities when Murray Goulburn and Fonterra delivered the gut wrenching news to farmers that they were dropping their milk price payments. No, this was not just reducing the farmers’ profits, it created a situation where the cost of caring for and milking their cows was greater than the return farmers would receive.

No doubt many dairy farmers were despairing at the time because their pain was just as great as the Hazelwood workers. And it wasn’t only power station employees and dairy farmers feeling the pain. With lost incomes comes a general downturn in business and a spiral effect across the whole town. Their communities were hurting along with them.

No rural community can avoid these upturns and downturns but some are better equipped than others.

Cohuna in north-central Victoria actively started developing their entrepreneurial ecosystem well in advance. Despite being surrounded by dairy farms and hit hard by the ‘dairy crisis’, Cohuna appears to have rallied more quickly and with less outside assistance than Morwell, primarily because of an embedded collaborative culture.

Enhancing an existing supportive community, Operation Next Gen Cohuna was formed in 2013 to empower emerging community leaders to explore new business opportunities and strengthen their community into the future. The group established a ‘Cohuna Farmers & Makers’ Market that has helped create and promote many micro businesses within the community. An annual event, The Big Cohuna (held over the Melbourne Cup weekend) has provided a creative platform for locals and attracted visitors to their rural town. Multiple events have been held to engage their youth and form strong ties with their home town. Encouraged by a #GetYourBacksideCreekside campaign, new seasonal businesses now operate during the summer period. Another quirky campaign attracted national media and multiple business proposal for a vacant building.

‘Cohuna has experienced some of its best tourism in five years,’ Jennah Martin, a local accommodation provider told the media early this year. It was hardly coincidental that five years is exactly the time frame that Operation Next Gen has been active in Cohuna.

By the time the dairy crisis hit in 2016 it was a natural reaction for the Cohuna community to ask: What can we do to help ourselves? Because of Operation Next Gen and the community’s collaborative culture, much was already in place and individuals were empowered to take positive action.

Dairy farmer, Di Bowles, co-founded a social media platform #DairyLove to support farmers with positivity and the non-farming community was equally active. Local photographer, Shayne Mostyn, convinced his Melbourne based partner to bring their new night photography workshops to Cohuna. ‘It’s only eight people each month but it is eight people that weren’t coming before,’ Shayne says. ‘They come and use the local accommodation and spend their money in town.’

Another huge asset has been the establishment of a RV camping site in a prime location in town. ‘Caravaners stop, walk over to the shopping centre and SPEND money,’ community member Denise Morrison advises joyfully. ‘We have also had at least three new families buy a house in Cohuna to live after they have stayed at the RV because they liked the feel of the town!’

More recently Operation Next Gen Cohuna has launched Cohuna Unlocked, a new autumn event to showcase and stimulate local businesses. And, defying the closure of other milk processing plants in the region, two local business people have also launched a bid to build a new $130 million milk processing plant aptly named NO BULL. ‘Rather than have their milk sent 120 kilometres away, they can have it processed here and that will generate local jobs and help ensure that farmers in this area remain profitable,’ said John Mawson, owner of the local quarry, supported by Cohuna’s veterinarian, Jason Wright.

The list goes on …

Let’s be clear. Nothing happens overnight as it takes time to gather momentum and show positive results. Communities that understand the value of local leadership and building collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystems are much stronger and able to take advantage of new opportunities as well as weather any storm that presents.

Which brings me back to that all-important question. Why are we waiting for things to go wrong when we could be actively looking for opportunities now?

For those communities not waiting for adversity, here is some more information on Operation Next Gen


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of Operation Next Gen and author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Digital Impact on Ag

Digital technology has been quietly transforming Australian agriculture for the past few decades and is now extending to the outback and making impact in ways previously not anticipated. Education, collaboration, security, monitoring, and improved efficiencies are making a big difference in a highly competitive and risk filled environment, which is why our primary producers are jumping on board.

Back in 2015 I organised a professional development day for secondary school teachers alerting them to new career and business opportunities in rural Australia. Gareth Evans spoke to us via skype from O’Connors in Birchip. Far from moving away from the action when he left his city job to return to rural Victoria, Gareth spoke about how he has witnessed an explosion of new technology related systems supporting Australia’s agriculture industry. ‘O’Connors maintains a series of surveyed base stations strategically located throughout SA, VIC and NSW supplying a RTK signal capable of delivering 2cm accuracy,’ he explained. ‘Precision Ag means that farmers can now monitor their entire fleet on a screen and communicate with machines via live telemetrics.’

Chatting more recently on the phone with an older generation Riverina based rice grower, he told me how he was transferring data from his tractor to his agronomist’s office by email. In short, all modern farm machinery requires a level of digital literacy on the part of farmers. And this needs to be backed up by technicians trained to service these increasingly complex machines and analyse the big data they can produce.

What was initially viewed as a novelty or purely educational is now becoming serious business as the potentials are realised.

My colleague, Tim Gentle from the Think Digital Coach has been touring cattle industry events the past few months with a virtual reality experience aimed at inspiring more young people to take up farming. Initially it’s a far reach for cattle farmers but it starts to make sense when Tim spells out the possibilities and they are quickly being taken up. Virtual Reality videos can be used to help promote and sell animals, machinery and properties to buyers who are located hundreds if not thousands of kilometres away. They can also be used to induct staff in a real life, yet safe, environment.

Cost efficiencies and shared risk is seeing a resurgence in agriculture cooperatives and collaborations seeking to drive innovation and improve farm gate returns.

Funded by the Australian Government, the Farming Together Program has supported almost 500 groups with collaborative projects over the past two years. One of the projects has enabled the Birchip Cropping Group to evaluate a digital agricultural cooperative. Unless you are extremely tech savvy it is hard to know what the best choices are. Ultimately the aim is to give farmers access to trusted sources to provide increasingly complex digital technology.

As our climate continues to change and water becomes more expensive, sustainable farming practices and monitoring are becoming more important.

And, as wages increase and staff numbers fall, real time data enables farmers to better manage their crops, livestock and pastures. Progressive young cattle producers like David and Rebecca Comiskey at Melton in central Queensland have already adopted the basics and are keen to do more. With minimal staff and 8,500 hectares to monitor, apps on their smart phones currently help them to monitor their solar powered stock fences and water storage as part of their introduced rotational grazing system. They can even monitor rainfall while away from the property which helps with their planning and enables them to enjoy important recreation time.

Security on remote properties is another increasing concern.

Viewers of the acclaimed Mystery Road may have noticed camera footage from water trough locations around the Western Australian property that featured in the series and provided key clues to the disappearance of two young stockmen. Far from fiction, this is an actual tool that assists farmers Australia wide, not only with monitoring but security. Fixed cameras provide sheep breeder, Jock MaCrae in central Victoria with live feed of his assets via his smart phone. Gate monitors alert him to unusual activity and there is potential for tags to also be placed on key stock to alert him to mob movement that could indicate a dog attack or theft. All this can be verified before leaving a warm bed and driving out into the paddocks.

Improved efficiencies is essential when growing animals or crops and manufacturing related products in large quantities.

At Pentagon Feeds in northern Victoria, an infra-red machine, the size of a little computer, gives them the ability to scan incoming samples of grain, and translate the imagery into data that is then emailed to their nutritionist for analysis. Another piece of technology then accurately sprays up to an additional 4 percent of fat coating around the food pellets. A nutritionist uses the information from this equipment to formulate appropriate rations for each class of pig.

And of course digital technology is an absolute blessing for smaller producers entering niche markets.

They are able to market and sell their produce world-wide. Simply Rose Petals in northern Victoria was an early adopter of technology to transform a cut flower business into packaged rose petals for weddings and events. Sales via a website and intensive use of social media has taken their product into 15 countries. In another great example, Lauren Mathers from southern New South Wales had a vision of a herd of free roaming black heritage pigs rooting about improving the soil.  Bundarra Berkshires was subsequently born and now she sells quality pork products online and through farmers markets.

Slowly the National Broadband Network is being rolled out to the regions with wireless tower options providing access for more rural properties, however, connectivity remains a big issue in many areas.

Thankfully, there are many instances of those willing to work with innovators, finding their way around these issues.

William Creek in South Australia took the option of lobbying in Canberra and getting Optus to allocate satellite access to their tiny town.  In another partnership with Richmond Shire Council, a broadband internet service, Wi-Sky, was generated for Queensland cattle producers and now services 50 customers across a 20,000 square kilometre radius. Not only is this connecting farmers but also their children to School of the Air which has long struggled to deliver online services to many of their remote customers unable to download videos and big files.

Slade Beard from Eco Thought is approaching this same problem for remote stations through the development of smart farm sensor and control systems powered by a radio-based network with low bandwidth Wi-Fi over long distances. He plans to utilise old windmills to hosting radio masts and is now rigorously testing the hardware to ensure it can stand up to Australia’s harsh weather conditions.

Even in the more highly populated and smaller state of Victoria, issues still arise with connectivity. ‘Neighbours separated by a single hill are finding that one is eligible for high speed internet services while the other is relegated to either congested Next-G or slow and expensive satellite services,” explains Grant Sutton from Ag Cloud. His company has developed a solar-powered broadband repeating system that allows a daisy-chain radio network to be realised. In plain English, this means that farmers can extend their high speed internet reach to parts of their properties previously not able to take advantage of digital technology.

Even to a casual observer like myself, each year the agricultural industry is venturing more and more into what was previously viewed as science fiction. Digital technology is big business from one end of this big country to the other.


Just discovered this blog from the CSRIO with a more expert opinion! https://blog.csiro.au/digital-agriculture-whats-all-the-fuss-about/


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE http://www.kerryanderson.com.au/about/

Value yourself

BY KERRY ANDERSON

BY KERRY ANDERSON

When I recently wrote this article for Inside Small Business it went viral, obviously resonating with many small business owners. What it highlighted to me is that you can learn a lot by listening to others and avoiding their mistakes. Start by realizing your true value.

Like most small business owners in a rural community, you try to please your customers by offering a reasonable price for your goods and services. Often, we drop that reasonable price even lower for a ‘nice’ local who says he or she is doing it tough. They work for a set salary while struggling to raise a family. You know them well because your kids go to school with theirs.

Over the years this ‘nice’ local becomes a loyal customer as they work hard to improve their situation and, true to form, each time they cite tough times as they send their children to university, renovate their family home, and then move to a new location and build a new home. In return for their loyalty and in sympathy, you continue to cut a bit off your invoice.

Fast forward 25 years and that ‘nice’ local has retired with their healthy superannuation, to enjoy that new holiday home and top model four-wheel drive they have just purchased with ‘their’ hard earned savings.

You look at your books and wonder how you’re ever going to retire let alone trade in that old work vehicle that should have been replaced five years ago.

Two questions came to mind when I recently heard this sadly true and all too common story. How highly do your customers respect your business? More importantly, how highly do you value yourself?

While you provide a high-quality service or product to maintain your integrity and reputation in a small community, dropping your price doesn’t necessarily increase customer satisfaction. They will still complain just as heartily; probably more because their respect for you is already low. And they will continue to expect low prices EVERY time.

And, let’s be clear; YOU gave them permission to think and behave this way.

So what can we do differently as a small business owner?

Understand your worth and respect your right to earn a decent living.

Be clear on your product or service’s true value. If compared with a cheaper alternate make sure that customers understand the differences in quality, transport costs, and access to follow up service.

Only discount when it is strategic and it doesn’t impact on your bottom line.

Offer alternatives such as lay-by and part payments when a customer cites difficulty.

Walk away when you need to.

Look after yourself first so you can then look after others.

I’d love to hear any other tips you may also have.


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Fast tracked rural careers

OConnors Gareth Webb.jpg

CAREERS can be fast tracked in rural areas. Just ask Gareth Webb of Birchip. When I first spoke to him back in 2015 he was preparing to accompany a group of cropping farmers on a study tour of North America. “I’m working” he reassured me in the most serious voice he could muster.

Raised on a farm near Natimuk, Gareth attended the local primary school then secondary college in Horsham. Following university in Melbourne he then pursued a career in commerce getting a taste of the city life and gathering funds to source his passion for travel. Travelling through Turkey aged 23 years he came to the conclusion that he didn’t want to sit in an office for the rest of his life and started planning for the alternative upon his return.

'Coming from a farm I am attracted to the open spaces,' he admits. 'I started researching farm machinery companies and in 2004 joined O’Connor’s Birchip branch working in sales.' The added advantage was moving back to a rural area. 'You get community in a small town,' says Gareth.

Over a ten year period the award winning O’Connors has fast tracked Gareth’s career promoting him to branch manager and, most recently, to Group After-Sales Executive overseeing six branches across Victoria and South Australia.

Far from moving away from the action of big city enterprises Gareth has witnessed an explosion of new technology related systems supporting Australia’s agriculture industry to innovate and retain its status as a serious competitor in a global market.

O’Connors maintains a series of surveyed base stations strategically located throughout SA, VIC and NSW supplying a RTK signal capable of delivering 2cm accuracy. Precision Ag means that farmers can now monitor their entire fleet on a screen and communicate with machines via live telemetrics.

With skills shortages in many rural areas Gareth is living proof of how a career can be fast tracked. 'There is so much more potential in rural areas,” he says. “Do something you love and you will go a lot further in life.'

And what about city versus rural living? Gareth’s advice to young people from rural areas is to move to the city and travel before making long term plans. 'You don’t appreciate home until you’ve been somewhere else.'


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Just one step

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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The day that 22-year-old Brendan Earl decided that he wanted to take control of his own decision making was the day he decided to go into business for himself.  Fast forward seven years and this savvy young man from Collie in Western Australia is already specialising, expanding his business and has exciting plans for the future. This is just one step in his journey Brendan says.

Like many young men Brendan Earl prefers hands on learning and didn’t particularly like school. Fortunately, being raised in a small business family, he was better prepared for business than others. ‘As soon as I could push a wheelbarrow I was working weekends and school holidays for my father’s construction business,’ he recalls.

After finishing year 10 he took on an apprenticeship with a local firm, All Tech Plumbing. ‘I chose plumbing for the money,’ he admits. ‘At that time in my life I wanted to do a trade and people said that plumbers get paid the best out of all the trades, I really didn’t know any better.’

A talent for football (AFL) saw him playing in Perth for a few years which took him back to the family business. ‘Working with dad gave me the freedom to travel back and forwards from Perth several times a week,’ he explains.  A run of injuries put an end to his football career, so he became more focused and, in many ways, this setback helped to launch his business.

‘The day that I wanted to start taking control of my own decision making was the day that I decided to work for myself “become my own boss”,’ says Brendan. ‘To be honest, at that time in my life I had no real idea about business, so I pretty much winged it at the start and worked hard.’ He also found himself an accountant and a book keeper to set up everything for him. ‘We started with a MYOB accounting system, but I now have great admin support and we use Xero which is more efficient and easier.’

Brendan thought that being a local and having a good reputation would give him a head start in his business journey. He was wrong! He quickly discovered that a personal reputation and a business reputation are two complete different things and had to work hard to prove the value of his new business.  ‘It was always hard to get on to tradespeople in a mining boom, so I was on call 24/7 in the beginning trying to break into the market and not wanting to lose a job. It was a bit tough not knowing when your next job is going to be,’ he admits.

A lot has changed from those early years of being in business. With a drive to improve himself and work smarter in his business, Brendan continually learns from his mentors and attends numerous business and networking events.

‘I understand business a lot better now. I learned by my mistakes and the mistakes of others. It’s a great way to learn as I don’t have to make the same ones.’

Through his observations, and wanting to have a business model that works for him, Brendan noted that clean treated water was becoming more of a commodity. With people becoming a lot more health conscious the need for water filtration was becoming more apparent.  It was at this moment that Calybre Plumbing & Gas was transformed to Keip Filtration.

‘The goal with Keip Filtration was to build an asset and provide a service. For example, on a residential scale anyone can walk into Bunnings or a hardware store and buy a filter then get any plumber or handy man to install it. They don’t necessarily know the quality of the product or installer and end up paying top $ for it then it’s forgotten about,’ he explains, ‘but Keip filtration provides the full service.  We supply only top-quality products at great prices which are then installed and maintained by a specially trained and licensed plumber.’

By specialising Brendan has transformed his business in a number of positive ways. For a start he has expanded his business base across a wider region - providing water treatment for mines, vineyards and hospitals, wheatbelt farmers and a variety of domestic customers. In fact, this service is now going Australia wide.

Work has now dramatically changed for Brendan. He now has a lot more time to work on his business rather than in his business.  ‘When you are plumbing you are on call 24/7 but when you go into filtration you can schedule the work in, it’s not as urgent. This allows me more freedom to build the business exploring different business ideas and opportunities.'

This has also helped his cash flow as he has found that customers pay better. ‘If it’s a breakdown then it’s usually not budgeted for,’ he explains, ‘whereas generally if they decide they want their water treated they plan for it in their budget.’

Scheduling regular filter replacements provides additional customer service. ‘When a filter is installed the customer can forget about it. They automatically go on to an automated maintenance program which is ongoing, and I can schedule to suit both the business and the customer.’ This adds significant value to Brendan’s business. A database has more resale value than goodwill he astutely observes.

With a business partner Brendan is exploring a new water filtration project on a much grander scale, collaborating to bring new technology to Australia in 2019.  After reading an article about high levels of nitrate, uranium and arsenic in water, he is also starting a fund to raise money to treat water for remote aboriginal communities.

As a young indigenous man Brendan has never tapped into financial assistance. ‘I wasn’t aware of any financial assistance for indigenous businesses at the time I started,’ he admits, ‘but like everything else government funded, it’s not just handed to you, you have to jump through lots of hoops. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it.’

In fact, Brendan has been lucky enough – albeit through hard work and sacrifice - to self-fund his business right from the beginning not having to take out a loan of any kind. With new business plans he hopes to stick with this trend having business savings and a good revenue stream. Having seven years of a successful business makes all the difference.

Reflecting on his achievements to date Brendan says he is proud to be a young man in business. ‘In the beginning it was tough. My friends were making good money while I was just getting by day to day, but seven years down the track I’m in a good position.’

‘This is just one step in my journey,’ Brendan cautions. ‘Collie is where I love to live but the world is a small place. I’m always looking for the new ideas and big opportunities. I like change and I love a challenge.’

Brendan’s top business tips

  • Do your research.
  • Start
  • Set Goals
  • Give it a go.
  • Work hard
  • Stick at it.
  • Ride the roller coaster.
  • Surround yourself with like-minded people.
  • Never stop learning.
  • Fail Fast

www.keipfiltration.com

FOOTNOTE:  We are delighted that Brendan is involved in the Operation Next Gen Collie discussions exploring ways to strengthen his home town into the future. Congratulations Brendan on also being named a finalist in the South West Small Business Awards!


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Share your story

Sharing your authentic story as a rural business owner helps you to stand out in a competitive global market and gives customers the confidence to buy from you.

As a wordsmith I am constantly sharing stories. Stories that educate, inform, inspire and challenge deserve to be shared.  In my youth we relied on oral and print mediums. Today in a digital world the opportunities are much greater.

But why should a business allocate time and resources to articulating its story?

It all comes back to why should I purchase a good or service from your business?  Is it because it is so good?  But what if that same product or service is available from multiple businesses?  Why should I buy it from you?

Customers are becoming increasingly savvy to marketing ploys and, sadly, there is a growing perception with younger generations that business people are profit hungry and unethical.

Sharing your story can help explain who you are and what you stand for.  In a competitive and global market, effectively articulating your story can help customers decide who they want to do business with. 

As I wrote in my last blog, when Elise Brown of Fair Dinkum Dog Coats changed her wholesale business to an online one, she was faced with a huge challenge.  How could she help customers find her new website?  And then how could she convince them to buy her product instead of all the other choices on the market? 

Telling her personal story has been an important strategy. 

Through her website and social media Elise has been able to articulate how her business allows her to work and live in a rural community that she loves. Her followers have watched her two daughters grow up in the workshop and carrying their orders to the post office.  Through her posts they know her personal values on family, rural living, and caring for animals.  She also explains how her product is made and the benefits of using oil skin.

Notice how the product came second?

Sharing your authentic story and presenting a human face can also help change negative perceptions about the business sector in general.

Not only are we members of a community, we are parents and volunteers. As business owners we provide a valuable service, create employment and contribute taxes to support the essential government services depended on by many.

As we have recently evidenced, the public can be fickle and perceptions can rapidly change.  One minute they are applauding our sporting heroes and the next minute they are tearing them down.  Then, after hearing their personal remorse, they are once again defending them.

We need more people defending the business sector when it is wrongly portrayed in a negative light. The public needs more information to be able to carefully consider and weigh the evidence instead of making snap decisions.

Simple and genuine stories are extremely powerful.  They should be embedded on your website, in your marketing materials, and when speaking in public. 

Not everyone is a skilled communicator so, if required, seek professional assistance to help articulate your story in the most effective way.  A skilled communicator will not put words in your mouth or try and spin something into bigger than it should be.  They will understand that less is best and authenticity is your main advantage.  They will also remind you to think from a customer's perspective.

Then, just be yourself and let it shine through.


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE