How future proof is your business and community?

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If we don’t even bother to ask that question, there is potential for looming disaster.

Sitting in a predominantly young audience at a Pivot Summit held recently in Geelong, it suddenly occurred to me that this generation has no conception of a world pre-computers and the internet.

We were listening to Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak’s reminiscences of building a computer from scratch because it was the equivalent to the cost of a house to buy in the 1970’s.  Who would have thought that today we would have access to a mini computer courtesy of our smart phone! In fact, who would have thought we’d be carrying our own personal phone not connected by wire to a wall?

Times are changing so rapidly in this digital and technological age.  Every decade sees major innovation.  Not only new products being invented but the way we work and do everyday tasks is changing.

With the acceleration of driverless cars on to the market, there is a strong chance that the toddlers in our families will never need a driver’s license.  Instead there will be a market for recreational driving tracks, similar to riding schools for horses.  And cars will be fitted out with beds and luxury screens as customers book an overnight ride from Melbourne to Sydney.  Concert tickets may include a pick-up service.  The list is endless for discerning business people.

Which brings me to the question. How future proof is your business and community?

If we don’t even bother to ask that question, there is potential for looming disaster.  I see it time and time again. A disgruntled business owner closing their doors because they have kept doing the same old thing and wondering why their customers were disappearing. 

In my experience there are three good reasons for innovating your business: Growing profits, increasing safety and efficiency, and staying relevant.  If you don’t offer that new experience, product or service to your customers, someone else will.

It makes good sense to keep an eye on new trends and to give yourself the space to think creatively.  For some this comes naturally, for others it is a foreign language.  How can we get ourselves into this head space?

The gurus tell us that we should be reading a new book each week.  Hmmm. Well at least follow some interesting blogs on social media that you can skip through over a coffee.

As painful as it may be to take time out of the business, it is important to sign up for at least one interesting business-related event each year.  Choose something different. Even an online webinar with an obscure title!

For some a personal business coach may be the answer but it will depend on the quality of that coach as to what results you will get.

Some of the greatest insights come from everyday conversations and observations.  The idea for a McDonald’s drive through came from a bank installing a drive through night safe for its business customers.

My advice is to tear yourself away from your usual peer group.  Always be curious and make new conversations. 

And, from a community perspective the same applies. There are three reasons why rural communities need to pay attention.

#1  Traditional industries are struggling to be competitive in a global market

#2 The way we work is changing with technologies

#3 An ageing population is placing stress on our services

The trick is to anticipate change and explore alternatives well before that major industry your community relies on closes its doors and young people move away to places where new and exciting ideas are the norm.

It's your choice!

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

Rejuvenating this Christmas

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If anyone deserves to put their feet up on Christmas Day it is our small business people.  Naturally our customers would agree. Or would they?

As Christmas approaches, our business people are starting to look decidedly tired.  If they’re in agriculture, chances are they are busy with harvest.  If they’re in retail then it is potentially their biggest earning period of the year.  And, if they’re in the service sector then it is a rush to complete those big urgent jobs before Christmas and the dreaded ‘shut down’!

If anyone deserves to put their feet up on Christmas Day it is our small business people.  Naturally our customers would agree.  Or would they?

One downside of being in business today is that there is a huge assumption by customers that businesses will be open 24 hours and seven days a week.  If I run out of milk, surely a shop is open?  If my toilet is blocked, it has to be fixed now!

While we love to encourage our city cousins to spend their dollars out in the region, their expectations are sometimes hard to meet.  They are genuinely puzzled as they drive into a rural town to find most of the businesses closed after midday on a normal Saturday let alone on Christmas and Boxing Day.

What they fail to understand is that predominantly small businesses in rural towns are family owned and run.  In order to spend quality time together as a family they need to shut their business from time to time.  This is important for their personal health and relationships.  Anyone who has hired staff will understand that penalty rates are prohibitive for many small businesses that simply provide a living for the owners and little profit to spare.

My advice to small business owners is not to feel guilty.  Simply plan well ahead and communicate with regular customers your intention to close for the holiday period. Place a sign on your door and website explaining that you appreciate their understanding.

And, if you are a customer, please plan ahead for your needs as much as possible. And, when faced with a closed sign on a business door, be happy that this small business family is taking care of itself.

When we are rested, we will be back to serve you with a smile on our face.

Wishing you all a wonderful Christmas. Relax. Business can wait!

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

Blinded by the Stars

WORDS by Kerry Anderson, PHOTOGRAPHS by Shayne Mostyn

In what many would term an unusual career pathway, Shayne Mostyn has been preparing to be self-employed for most of his adulthood. From the army to technology; from the Gold Coast to the dairy town of Cohuna, every step and new skill has prepared Shayne to create his own destiny in a rural town where he was blinded by the stars.

Like most teenagers, school was just something you do every day according to Shayne. ‘Nothing inspired me at school,’ he admits without apology. ‘I just wanted to go into the army.’

Six years in the army taught him one of his greatest skills.  ‘Tolerance,’ Shayne says. ‘I cope with day to day stresses much better than most people. When I am out at 2.00am doing a night photography course with a storm raging around me,’ he explains, ‘I weather the storm a lot better.

Exiting the army, he then became a technician for Xerox in Sydney followed by a stint working at the Olympic Games.  Technology is another expertise he has accumulated.

‘I worked my way up through Xerox becoming a team leader and then operations manager.  You get a name for yourself and then get head hunted to put out fires.’

Working for Xerox and IBM taught Shayne about processes, another important element that has prepared him for business.  ‘Flying by the seat of your pants is definitely not the way to manage a business,’ Shayne says.

As is often the case with tree changers, Shayne first discovered Cohuna in northern Victoria when he and wife Sarah were visiting her sister over the Easter holiday five years ago.  Arriving in the small agricultural town of just over 2,000 population they discovered that there was no reception for their mobile phones via Vodaphone.

‘Without my usual 140 emails per day, eighty percent of which would require action, I suddenly had bliss,’ Shayne recalls.  ‘We loved Cohuna and driving back to Melbourne I said to Sarah that I could live there.’

As fate would have it, by the time they arrived back in Melbourne he had received a job offer of driving an excavator.  ‘I’d driven tanks in the army,’ Shayne explains. ‘Other than a gun there is not much difference.’

Two weeks later Sarah was offered a job with an accounting firm in nearby Echuca getting offered more money than she was receiving on the Gold Coast.  Their fate was sealed!

Owning a farm was a dream of Shayne and Sarah but it soon became evident that a traditional dairy was beyond their means. ‘With a $2.5 million buy-in required we decided to go with a different business model,’ Shayne explains.

An episode of Master Chef featuring goats cheese gave them the idea to convert an old dairy farm to breed and milk goats, a much more affordable solution.

‘I enjoy the farming side of things and did relief milking to gain experience,’ says Shayne. ‘We’re doing something different and I would challenge anyone in the district to say they are bringing in more money per acre.’ 

Hmm in light of the recent dairy crisis, he is probably right!

With Sarah driving the product development and marketing their boutique soaps made from goat’s milk at Windella Farm, Shayne has been free to pursue other interests.  It soon becomes clear that he is not one to sit around and lounge at home.

That very first weekend in Cohuna he saw the stars and took his first astro shot.  Actually, that was the big selling point when it came to relocating there.

‘You can’t see stars like that on the Gold Coast,’ he says. ‘I started studying online watching You Tube clips.  I took a night photo of an old Massey Ferguson tractor in a paddock and put it up on Facebook where it got a lot of attention.’

That was the catalyst to establishing Shayne Mostyn photography which is now one of his favourite past times and an increasing source of revenue as he studies what is the best business model in this field.

‘Everyone has a camera these days and, even if they want professional photos, many aren’t prepared to pay for it,’ he says. As far as photography is concerned, Shayne believes there are three sources of revenue. 1. Selling artwork through a website; 2. Paid photography for special family events and commercial work; and 3. Teaching photography through workshops.

The latter is what Shayne is finding most successful.

Collaborating with Matt Krumins, a Melbourne based photographer, Shayne is offering city photographers something they can’t find in Melbourne – the stars.  Weekend workshops are bringing city folk to the country.  They start with the theory, photograph at night, and then edit and reflect by day.

‘We were thinking of doing it closer to Melbourne but because of the dairy crisis and fear in the local community I decided to bring the 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.’

Becoming part of a rural community has had a huge impact on Shayne and Sarah.

‘On the Gold Coast we lived closed to people but didn’t know anyone. Here we have got to know people. What should take 30 minutes to do often takes over an hour in Cohuna because we are always stopping to talk to people.’

And local connections leads to more work as Shayne has discovered. Drawing on his technical skills and love of a challenge, he has his finger in many pies.  25 local businesses now entrust their websites to Shayne for regular updates and he is also trained to do specialist hoof trimming through a local vet for local dairy farmers which involved training in the United States.

When I ask what Shayne thinks about living in a rural town he pauses for a moment.

‘There is an element of satisfaction and achievement that I’ve never had before,’ he admits. ‘I’m more creative.  I look at an opportunity and see what I can do with it.’

On the downside there is limited customer reach in a rural town requiring travel. ‘You’re also competing with the locals who are already well known.’ On a positive note, he adds, ‘the strength of a small town is word of mouth testimonials. Do a good job and they become your biggest advocate.’

Five years living in a rural town and Shayne’s goal is not to be working for anyone else. That means doing something different in Cohuna hence the Astra workshops and a new idea to combine them with a tour of the Murray River.

‘There are plenty of people doing this type of thing but I can do it differently. I’m looking for the wow factor,’ Shayne says.  Some would say he has stars in his eyes!

Check out Shayne Mostyn Photography

Shayne’s Top Business Tips

  • Diversify. Don’t do what everyone else does.
  • Follow up with everything you do. ‘Must have’ photo list for a wedding essential.
  • Be honest about what you can 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

Entrepreneurial Ecosystems

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Is your rural community ready to establish an entrepreneurial ecosystem?  How can we create a collaborative culture where entrepreneurs are valued, nurtured and supported? Sonia Wright from Operation Next Gen Cohuna joins the conversation.

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

Collaboration & Cooperatives

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.


Collaboration and Cooperatives: Why is collaboration essential in a rural town?  How can a group of people collaborate to make a business a reality?  Join a partner of the award winning Bakery on Broadway to discuss how they did it.

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


Capitalising on the Digital Era

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Can your rural business afford not to be on the internet?  Elise Brown from Fair Dinkum Dog Coats will explain how she transformed her wholesale business into an online retail platform.


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

Buying a Business

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Buying a Business:  Start Ups are a great way to get into business but they aren’t the only way according to Michael Kerr from Kerr Capital. Why not buy a small to medium sized business?  And your dream business may not be listed for sale but very available. Find out why as Michael takes us through five steps to consider when buying a business.

Michael Kerr

Founder of Kerr Capital which started in 2002, Michael champions small business ownership and works with both sellers and buyers at all of the different stages of the small business ownership life cycle.  He provides advice and services covering business sales, business valuation, business exit planning, business improvement, and buying businesses.

Michael has a B.Comm, University of Melbourne (1985) and a MBA, Melbourne Business School (1999). He is a member of the Australian Institute of Business Brokers and a Registered Business Valuer.

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

Shop Rural this Christmas


Cohuna's popular Factory & Field has introduced a Christmas section.

Cohuna's popular Factory & Field has introduced a Christmas section.

Every dollar we spend has a multiplier effect in a rural community.

Dare I say it?  Yes, it’s almost that time of the year again and the start of the annual Christmas shopping frenzy.

Well-meaning people are circulating messages about how we all should ‘Shop Local’ and avoid the internet.  Of course, shopping local is great but it’s not quite that simple as everyone who lives in a small rural community knows.  The reality is that our options are quite limited.

But there is still much we can do as rural residents with buying power.  Here are three tips.

#1 Support our local businesses

First and foremost we can support those few local businesses that we do have in town. Make sure you give plenty of notice of what you’re seeking and they might just be able to order it in.  And a gift doesn’t have to be a product; it can also be a voucher for a service, anything from gardening to computer maintenance which my parents always appreciate.

Christmas Shopping nights are a great way to raise funds for a local charity with participating businesses opening after hours and offering discounts on a designated night in late November or early December.

#2 Support other rural towns

Secondly, we can support other rural towns. My work takes me all over rural Australia so I’ve already started my Christmas shopping by purchasing the odd gift or two as I browse the shops.  You would be amazed at what I found in the most unexpected places.  Rural businesses tend to diversify so you can find unusual gifts in newsagents, post offices, and cafes.  Recently I discovered that the Pyrenees Butcher in Avoca also stocks local beer and wines.  Instead of heading to the city why not plan a pleasant day cruising around the wider district and visit other rural towns.

#3  Research online suppliers

And thirdly, in the midst of a digital technological revolution, it is ridiculous to demonise on-line shopping especially when some of those online businesses are rural based and gaining benefit from a wider geographic audience.  Check out the ‘about’ or ‘contact’ section to see where they are located.  You may well find that you are supporting a young person in a rural community such as my own daughter whose business, Fair Dinkum Dog Coats, is totally online.

Every dollar we spend in a rural town has a multiplier effect in a rural community.  It helps keep small businesses alive and retains jobs for local people.

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

Start Up Barriers

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Overcoming start up barriers:  Got a great business idea but the challenges seem overwhelming?  Maybe its not as hard as you think?

As we discussed it is really hard to get a business loan from a bank without having assets to put as security against that loan.  But there are alternate sources and this blog by Fleur Anderson (no relative!) provides some good examples.  READ

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

Valuing our entrepreneurs

Welcome to Global Entrepreneurship Week 2017. To celebrate we are offering 7 free webinars over 7 days tailored especially for rural Australia.

Valuing our entrepreneurs: What are the attributes of an entrepreneur?  Am I one or is someone I know? It could even be a student in my class? Why are they so important?

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

Are rural people more entrepreneurial?


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During an entrepreneurship workshop I was recently facilitating for a dairy community in north-central Victoria, I was asked this interesting question.  Are rural people more entrepreneurial than in the city?

It was a great question and one that I have pondered many times over the past six years I’ve been exploring rural entrepreneurship here and overseas.  Instead of being compelled to argue with my city counterparts that rural entrepreneurs are also worthy of celebrating, I was being asked to judge whether they are, in fact, more entrepreneurial.

Here is what I think and I welcome your thoughts as well.

In a rural town there are fewer employment options hence I think that it is natural there is a higher interest in small business ownership and creation.

It is also no secret that adversity is a great breeding ground for entrepreneurs.  On top of all the economic downturns experienced by our city counterparts, rural Australian communities are routinely impacted by fire, flood and drought.

No matter where you live, as businesses close or staff levels are reduced due to automation, it is often a trigger for people with creative minds to ponder what opportunities they can create for themselves, often creating employment for others in the process.

Rural communities include some of the most innovative people I know.  Problem solving is a common attribute. Hours away from a spare parts depot, rural people are adept at banging up their own solution in the workshop. Some wonderful inventions have come out of rural industries and they continue to innovate all the time to remain competitive in a global market.

Through density of population there are clearly more job choices in cities and arguably customers.  However; for three reasons, I would argue that small business creation is more popular in the bush. 

1.       The cost of purchasing real estate and living in a rural town is far cheaper not to mention the benefit of enjoying a clean, green lifestyle.

2.       In what is being referred to as the digital age, there is an increasing mix of opportunities not to mention a global market, for online and remote businesses. 

3.       Rural communities value small business and are incredibly supportive as customers, mentors and investors.

While genuine entrepreneurs are few and far between, and they can be found in any city or rural town; my feeling is that through adversity entrepreneurs are compelled to act on their ideas more in rural areas.

What are your thoughts?

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

No Business is an Island


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When I was judging a regional business awards some years ago, a business owner said something during an interview that has stuck with me.  He said: ‘No business is an island; we all have to work together.’

In a highly competitive world it was refreshing to hear this perspective and I totally agree.

In this instance the owner of the restaurant recognised that it was to their benefit for the whole street of this rural town to prosper as it draws in more customers.  You could be the best restaurant in Australia but if the surrounding shops are closed or shabby it reflects badly and customers are likely to keep driving on to the next best destination.

But what about if another restaurant opens up right next door?  Bring it on I say!

For a start, competition is healthy. It keeps you on your toes thinking about how to do things better.  It also gives you the opportunity to create points of differences so you can cater for a wide range of tastes.  And, when you’re booked out, you can refer on!

In another rural Victorian town the proprietor of an antique and collectibles store was absolutely delighted when two more identical businesses opened up right next door.

‘It gives customers more of a reason to visit,’ she explained. ‘Knowing that there are a number of antique and collective shops to browse, we become a drive to destination.’

This is equally true of my home town that has built up an impressive specialist automotive industry over a thirty year period.  What started as a hobby for a group of street rodding enthusiasts is now a cluster of complementary businesses that each cater for a different need. 

From restoration to auto electrics and panel beating, you will find everything you need; our rural town has effectively become a one-stop shop.  As a result, hundreds of people visit each week, as customers and tourists.  When an event is held this rises into the thousands benefitting just about every business in town.

Every community needs a mix of businesses to ensure that customers are catered for locally and don’t go elsewhere. It can be tough to get started and to stay in business which is where we, as business owners, can help each other.  An encouraging word, some friendly advice, and participation in collaborative marketing opportunities can help our businesses grow together.

As the award winning business owner said: ‘No business is an island.’

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

Rural Towns Fighting Back: Lamoni, Iowa


WHEN the statistics paint a glum picture it’s hard to be a glass half full type of community. How can you turn around a declining rural county that is the poorest per capita and has the lowest land value in Iowa? Sometimes it takes fresh eyes and enthusiasm to help find the answers.  Chatting with Dr William (Bill) Morain, Secretary and Past-President of the Decatur County Development Corporation, it becomes evident that retirees can be a great resource when they return to their roots.

Lamoni in Iowa may have missed out on the rich soils nourished by the prehistoric Wisconsin Glacier but it does have some pleasant hill country suited to raising cattle and hunting and fishing.  It also has a university!

Established in 1895, the privately owned Graceland University is a key player in Lamoni’s success story.   Of Lamoni’s current 2,354 population, 950 are students.  The college owns substantial land and assets; and the alumni have a strong connection with this otherwise agricultural town.

In fact, this is how Bill and his partner Sherry came to retire in Lamoni. ‘We were sweethearts at Graceland in the 1960’s but went our separate ways,’ says Bill explaining the connection. ‘I went on to become a plastic surgeon and Sherry a social worker. We found each other again in the 1990s and returned to Lamoni in 1995 as remarried retirees.’

What they saw on their return was a very different perspective from when they were young students focussed on their future careers.

‘Inertia was a real problem’ says Bill. ‘It wears everyone down when you are a declining rural county that is the poorest per capita and has the lowest land values in Iowa.’

A psychological turning point.

As a retiree helping to reinvigorate an existing volunteer base, the first project Bill worked on proved to be a psychological turning point.

‘With volunteer crews of up to 30 people some days, we built six miles of bike trail along an old railway line,’ explains Bill. ‘I wrote the grant applications and sourced funds. We did our own paving in three sections four years apart. I think we must have had the highest number of PhD’s on a cement crew,’ he quips. ‘The time delay between the projects helped us to forget how hard the work was!’

But turning a community around needs more than ad-hoc community projects and requires regional support.

Take a regional approach.

Renowned for its agricultural industries, Iowa notably consists of many small rural communities.  ‘You can’t get along as a single town, you need to approach it as a regional economy and be prepared to share your resources,’ says Bill who became President of the reformed Decatur County Development Corporation that provides support to towns across the county.

‘We’ve developed some good friends through a regional network,’ says Bill. ‘The Iowa Area Development Group brought us a manufacturing business and, with it, around eight jobs.’

"It gave us a road map."

A master plan gave Lamoni the mechanism to approach the city council and Decatur County Development Corporation for grants and support to major projects. ‘It gave us a road map and cemented our networks with outside sources that came to our aid,’ Bill reflects.

‘$50,000 to fund a master plan was a major undertaking but we approached a number of civic partners and private contributors to get what we needed.’

A big fan of Richard Longworth’s published research, ‘Caught in the Middle,’ Bill says that there are three elements that can positively influence a rural community’s future: an interstate highway, a college, or a lake.

Lamoni was fortunate to tick two of those boxes with Graceland University and nearby Interstate 35.  Not content with two out of three they also investigated building a lake but Bill sadly reports that it wouldn’t have been big enough to be profitable.

Despite a previous lack of venture capital, a $50,000 investment in the master plan and regional partnerships fostered are already showing impressive results for Lamoni.

‘So much is happening all at once,’ exclaims Bill.

The master plan identified that a quality up-scale hotel would greatly benefit the town.  Following a successful feasibility study and agreement of the Graceland President’s family to provide a suitable piece of land, the community set about raising $900,000 with the support of a sympathetic agricultural bank.  Graceland alumni from across the country provided one third of this amount demonstrating strong emotional ties from their student college days spent in Lamoni no matter how far away they now live.  Building commenced in 2016, and on 15 September 2017, a ribbon cutting ceremony celebrated the opening of the brand new Lamoni Cobblestone Inn and Suites comprising 33 guest rooms.

As a member of the local investment group, Bill had the honour of opening the ceremony and is quoted as saying: ‘We have a special thanks to some very creative people from the middle of Wisconsin, who got the crazy idea a few a years ago that you could put an upscale hotel in a small town and have it do well. It represents the best kind of risk-taking and creativity to make this happen.’

Simultaneously another working group, led by a local crop dusting contractor, put a plan into motion to extend the airport runway from 2,900 to 3,400 feet opening up access for twin engine planes.  In September 2017 Lamoni celebrated their second grand opening within a month including six bays rented out in the new hangar.

Maximising traffic from Interstate 35 has taken a little more thought.  To attract visitors into town simple strategies to beautify the highway and change the signage from ‘two miles’ to ‘just off the highway’ were recommended.  The signage proved simple however the beautification hit a few snags along the way.

‘Essentially we wanted to build a commercial bridge by cleaning up those two miles between the interstate and town,’ says Bill. ‘Repainting a company owned rusty tank was relatively easy but then we had a number of businesses and private properties littered with junk cars that were an eye sore.’ 

Introducing a regulation requiring property owners to erect six foot fencing along the highway met with severe resistance.  An alternative was found and now everyone is smiling. 

Bill is looking forward to next spring as $100,000 of funding has been approved by the Department of Transportation to plant 300 trees, shrubs and wild flowers between the town and interstate.  ‘Where needed we will intensify the plantings and create a green barrier instead of a fence to beautify our town entry,’ Bill smiles.

It has been almost twenty years since the reformation of the County Development Corporation and Bill is philosophic.  In addition to these significant projects, a number of local businesses have also received financial support to expand.  Another good indicator is that the local population has risen by 30 since the 2010 Census.

"You have to have people who are willing to take a risk."

‘You have to have people who are willing to take a risk. Yes, some ideas have gone south but many others have been successful.’

Freedom Racing, a Lamoni e-tail niche business that employs 16 people, is a great example of what has been a success.  While the business originated ten years ago in the owner's house, it has progressively grown to become the largest business in its particular niche in the world, shipping specialised auto parts and tools internationally.  In 2016, recognising the importance of this business to the region, the Lamoni Development Corporation built new premises for Freedom Racing on a lease-to-buy basis with the owner.

Typical of most rural towns, there are still many challenges ahead for Lamoni including keeping their local high school and expanding their tax base to support more development but the community now has a far more positive outlook having put some credible scores on the board.

And Bill’s final word of advice to other rural towns wanting to fight back?

‘I’m a volunteer but every committee needs a full time paid person. When all communities pitched in to form a county-wide development group, we had sufficient funds to hire that person.  No town could have done this alone. It’s absolutely essential to have someone to drive projects and give assistance to entrepreneurs.’ 

This article is the second in a series looking at how rural towns are fighting back here in Australia and overseas.

ALSO READ Rural Towns Fighting Back: Manning, Iowa

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

Rural Towns Fighting Back: Manning, Iowa

By Kerry Anderson

WHEN the tiny agricultural town of Manning in Iowa, United States, maintained its population of 1,500 in the 2010 Census – it actually rose by three people -  there was a collective sigh of relief.  Avoiding the path of many other rural towns with declining populations Manning’s community is determined to fight back.

Chatting with Ron Reischl, Chair of Main Street Manning Business Improvement Committee, I gain some insight into how Manning is approaching its epic battle.  There is much to commend in the way of initiatives but Ron pays tribute to two key factors; a high rate of volunteerism and no ‘turf wars.’

‘There is a sense of volunteerism and willingness in Manning that is generations long,’ says Ron who returned to his home town as a retiree and now volunteers his own expertise and time to local boards.

By way of example he explains how Manning obtained a much-needed hotel for the community two years ago. 

‘In typical Manning style five individuals put together their own informal committee to work out how to go about it. They invested $5,000 in a market analysis report, presented it to three hotel companies and got one to agree to build a new hotel at a cost of $2.2 million. Not only that, they helped to raise the $790,000 local investment required,’ says Ron. ‘They made it happen.’

When it comes to demonstrating the collaborative nature of the community Ron points to Manning being awarded the inaugural Small Business Community of the Year award in 2015.

'There are no turf boundaries.'

‘The City is very involved in economic development, as are the Main Street Manning Board, Chamber of Commerce, and Manning Betterment Foundation. There are no turf boundaries,’ he stresses.

A prime example given of this was when Jaime England, a physical therapist, was looking to return to her home town of Manning. She wanted to open up a new business and identified a vacant building owned by the Foundation which was subsequently offered to her at a purchase price too good to refuse.  The Main Street Board secured a grant and the City’s Economic Development Agency provided a loan with very low interest to help renovate the building to working order.

‘We all work well together,’ Ron says with pride.

Like many rural communities, Manning is very aware of the pattern for young people to leave town for college and careers. It is when they marry that they think about returning home so that their children can also enjoy a clean, green rural life.

When asked what would be the community’s greatest achievements to date, without hesitation Ron lists the main street revitalisation, enlargement of the childcare centre, and the building of a new hospital and hotel.

‘As part of a main street revitalisation in 2015 we renovated 17 store fronts and changed the look of our entire central business district which is three blocks long.’ $800,000 was attracted for this purpose via federal and Manning City grants and private investment. Ron observed that this then spurred additional investment by the owners to fix up the interior of their stores.

With child and health care hot topics in rural Australia I am impressed that such a small community as Manning has both.

‘With 75 to 100 job openings in the district we knew that child care was a major roadblock to growth,’ says Ron.  Not only did the Betterment Foundation build the original childcare centre in 2002, it was expanded in 2016 to provide a total of 84 places.

Built three years ago, their new $22 million hospital, is one of the three major employers in town whose employees use those child care facilities.

Agriculture related industry is the top source of jobs followed by the hospital and school.  The community is working hard to attract more people to return or relocate to Manning to fill these vacancies.

Being a Certified Connected Community by the State of Iowa is a major step forward in this regard. Manning was the first town under 5,000 population to be awarded this status in 2015.  Several Wi-Fi hotspots have been placed throughout the town and high-speed internet connected to major industry, the school and hospital, all of which are considered essential for young people to stay, or return to Manning.

‘It helps that the City owns all the utilities,’ Ron admits, ‘but we still have to do more.’

One gets the sense that resourcefulness is alive and well in this community. They not only partner locally but with larger regional organisations.

'Students bring in new ideas.'

Manning regularly attracts College of Design students from Iowa State University for specific projects. Students helped design new signage as part of the main street revitalisation project.

‘Students bring in new ideas and, if it meets the curriculum, it gives them something meaningful to work on,’ Ron explains.

During another college related project a student photographing the old railroad trestle commented that it was a great place for a park.  A community meeting confirmed this observation and, in typical Manning fashion, it is happening.

‘We decided on an adult orientated park because we already have one for children but of course whole families will still use it.  Instead of swings where children need supervision there will be rocks and logs to climb over within view of their parents who will be making use of the barbeque, sand volleyball and bag games facilities.’

Encouraging young leadership is another key factor in their community moving forward.

‘We aggressively recruit the younger generation to participate in leadership positions,’ Ron admits. On the Main Street Manning Board, there are five men and five women. Seven of the board members are under the age of 40.

Currently another ad-hoc volunteer committee is shaping a social media campaign targeted at the three closest cities. ‘We will be inviting young people to experience the town for a weekend which will help increase revenue and hopefully get them to consider the advantages of our laid-back lifestyle,’ says Ron. ‘Our branding is Manning It’s Refreshing’ and our social media tags will be #ExperienceManning for a day, a week or a lifetime. #ManningItsRefreshing’

Funding of these initiatives is supported by multiple sources.  In this instance the $5,000 marketing campaign, comprising a coordinator and paid advertising, is being funded by the taxes on overnight stays generated by the hotel.  The Main Street Manning Board is certified as part of a Federal program that allows it to access grants, and local taxes are raised through the city specifically for economic development.  A Revolving Loans Fund is also administered by the City providing low cost funds to individual businesses, and the Manning Betterment Foundation is well placed to respond to local needs including economic initiatives.

Volunteers are driving Manning's initiatives.

Despite all this access to funding support, the fact remains that resourcefulness is just as important as resources.  Volunteers are clearly driving Manning’s initiatives. 

The question remains, do they feel as if they are making a difference?

‘It’s hard to quantify but we know that our alumni are moving back,’ says Ron. ‘Housing is another issue with our last new home built in 2014, but currently we have seven new houses being built,’ he adds with a hint of optimism.

Ron and fellow residents are also very aware of the importance of supporting and encouraging entrepreneurs.

‘Even just one successful entrepreneur, supported by a collaborative culture, can reverse population decline and enable a small town to not only survive but thrive,’ says Ron. ‘Puck Custom Enterprises grew from one farmer to a service and manufacturing company that now employs more than sixty people in Manning.  Many young people work here because of this one business.’

Business and community clearly go hand in hand. The efforts of the volunteers contribute to the liveability of the town for business owners and their employees.

As the next United States Census fast approaches in 2020, signs are that there may be a healthy population growth to support all of Manning’s collective volunteerism.

You can follow Manning's progress via Main Street Manning Facebook page and

This is the first in a series of articles on rural towns fighting back.

ALSO READ Rural Towns Fighting Back: Lamoni, Iowa

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

Lucky Escape

SH Toyota Sebastian.JPG


Sebastian Parsegian has had two lucky escapes in his lifetime. The first was 40 years ago as an 11 year old Armenian refugee fleeing war torn Ethiopia. The second was when he and wife Rebecca left their jobs in Melbourne and moved to Swan Hill in country Victoria to become award winning business owners.

If leaving his job selling used cars in Melbourne was a concern at the time, it certainly isn’t now. With multiple trophies lining his office, including the prestigious 2016 Toyota Australian Dealer of the Year, Seb looks very comfortable as both a business owner and resident of a country town.

‘We’re out of the rat race,’ explains Seb. ‘In Melbourne you don’t even know who your neighbour is. We have a sense of belonging here and I have an extra 70 hours a month up my sleeve. No travel and friendlier work hours.’

Having wisely invested their hard-earned wages into property Seb and Rebecca were in the fortunate position of being able to buy into an existing business in Swan Hill in 2007. It was a great time to move to the country with their son aged ten at the time.

‘We turned up at the football one Sunday at Lake Boga, where we had bought a house, and were welcomed with open arms.  Through children and sport you automatically get to connect with people.’

Business wise, Swan Hill Toyota had already enjoyed some success and they were able to invest just as it relocated to new purpose-built premises on the Murray Valley Highway leading into Swan Hill. 

That success has now doubled.  Since taking over, the business has increased its number of employees from 14 up to 34.  The sales figures reflect why. When Seb and Rebecca took over 27 vehicles were sold a month which quickly went to 50 and now 70.

A new location will have helped contribute to this success but more so the culture.  So what makes this rural based business so competitive at a national level?

Quietly spoken Seb believes that sharing his 25 years experience of selling cars with staff helped to increase sales straight way.  Rebecca also brought with her the experience of working in the car industry and has since become the principal dealer of Swan Hill KIA located conveniently across the road.

They continue to invest in staff through the Toyota franchise’s extensive training program.

‘We support each other to exceed targets,’ says Seb.  Everyone gets a KPI bonus regardless of which department they work in, encouraging team work and innovation.  ‘Customers are our guests. The relationship is definitely more important than the sale. It’s all about the experience.’

When announced as the 2016 Toyota Australian Dealer of the Year over all the metropolitan based franchises, Seb and Rebecca were delighted.  Previously on four occasions they had won Rural Dealer of the Year and now they had received acknowledgement at the highest level.

‘We were so pleased for our staff and customers,’ recalls Seb reliving the announcement made at a gala dinner in Melbourne. ‘It was a massive achievement for Swan Hill.’

‘Swan Hill punches well above its weight,’ adds Rebecca. ‘A number of businesses are operating at a national level.’   

Yes, Seb and Rebecca wholeheartedly agree. It was a lucky escape when they came to Swan Hill.


Seb’s Top Business Tips:

  • Don’t take things personally
  • Say thank you - to staff and guests
  • Don’t major in minors
  • Stand guard at the door of your mind
  • Focus on who and what you can become from being in business rather than what can the business do for you.
  • Have dreams and goals – set your goals in concrete and your plans in sand
  • A big shot is a little shot that kept on shooting


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

Turning a hobby into a business



‘Sometimes doors open; as it’s meant to be,’ observes Erik Mellegers, from the doorway of his business, Crank’n Cycles ‘n Toys in the country town of Collie, Western Australia.  Approaching his eleventh year in business, he is reflecting on the pathway that has got him to where he is today.  As is often the case, it began with a personal hobby.

Born in Holland, Erik grew up as a young child surrounded by bicycles, but it wasn’t till his family emigrated to Australia that cycling actually became a real passion.  It was a charismatic teacher at Erik’s high school in Collie that set the wheels in motion and introduced cycling as a sport.  Even then, it wasn’t until some years later after the family moved from Collie to Australind, that he took the next step. 

While in Year 10 Erik had, like many his age, a part time job at a local supermarket.  He rode his racing bike to and from work, a 32km round trip, and was encouraged by a co-worker to enter some local cycling events in Bunbury.  Erik had always enjoyed his riding, but had never raced.  He thought he’d never be good enough to compete.  He was eventually persuaded, and turned up at a local road time trial with the Bunbury Cycling Club.  His childhood hero – the high school teacher and record holder of the event - was there.  Erik raced, and to his surprise defeated his former teacher by four seconds to win the event.  There was suddenly a realisation that he was actually pretty good at racing, and concreted his life long love for the cycling.

Following a short stint at university and deciding that engineering wasn’t for him, owning a bike shop became a goal for Erik; even if was for the sake of just hanging out with like-minded people and supplying his own sporting needs.  “But I couldn’t get the money together,” recalls Erik when a Bunbury cycle shop came up for sale. “I was a struggling and broke twenty-year-old.”

Instead Erik embarked on a retail career with Retravision and Harvey Norman working his way into management positions and learning valuable customer service, stock inventory, and financial skills along the way.

‘The retail training was awesome and I found myself getting sucked into the corporate franchise world, meeting targets, and working towards owning my own franchise store. Then I saw the bad side of franchising and decided it wasn’t for me.’

That decision pushed Erik back towards his love of cycling, applying to work as a salesman at a Bunbury based cycle shop. ‘It was a huge pay cut but I put it to the owners that potentially I could buy into the business in the future.’

Erik’s plan faltered when the business came up for sale within 18 months as he still wasn’t in a good enough financial position to buy in.  In a gut wrenching experience, the business was sold to another buyer.

Fortunately, fate decided to smile on him in another way.  Within six months Western Australia’s housing boom increased his home equity giving him some buying power.  He decided to take a road trip back to his childhood home town of Collie.

‘I remember driving up Roelands Hill and thinking I can’t believe I’m driving to Collie,’ Erik smiles in recollection.  Bikes R Us, the local cycle and toy shop, had been on the market for a couple of years.  ‘I walked into the shop, saw the potential and bit the bullet,’ says Erik.  A business loan was quickly secured with his home as collateral.

His career in retail had prepared him for this moment. ‘I opened up accounts and bought a heap of stock even before I was handed the keys to the shop,’ says Erik ‘Through Harvey Norman I’d learnt how to retail, I had the supplier contacts from my work with the cycling shop, and I knew consumers,’ surmises Erik.

Of course it wasn’t all smooth sailing (silent chuckle from me).  Erik still recalls the painful aftermath of his first Christmas in business.

‘I sold heaps of stuff up until Christmas and kept ordering in new stock.’ However, by the end of January which is traditionally quiet for many retailers, he found himself looking at a huge pile of outstanding bills.

Rather than curl up into the fetal position, Erik decided to just ‘roll with it.’ He explained the situation to his suppliers and negotiated paying off the bills over an extended period of time. 

In business circles I have often heard this referred to as the Third Bank, and good reason why everyone should have a good relationship and open communication with their suppliers.  To his credit, Erik has always attended supplier events and shown a genuine interest in their products.

Despite their understanding, there was an important lesson learnt. ‘I had to learn to manage what level of stock I could get away with,’ he admits although he still manages to stock the ‘cool’ stuff ranging from top of the line road racing bicycles to the fat tyred mountain bikes and everything in between.

During the telling of this story it becomes obvious that Erik is a man who notes his milestones.  Winning the cycle race and deciding he wanted to own a cycle shop was one.  Ask him how long he has been in business and his immediate answer is ‘since 18 February 2007.’  The third milestone is a significant one for a young man who has created an income to support a simple lifestyle.

‘Getting married and having a child forced me to go from living in the back of the shop and running it as a hobby to running it as a business and making money.’

Today, as a small business owner with part time support staff, Erik has deliberately kept the processes simple with no elaborate stock tracking systems. ‘I don’t spend money unnecessarily,’ he admits, ‘but this would have to change if I ever put a manager in.’

While he continues to generously stock the shop with a diverse range of cycles to create a welcoming and stimulating destination for cyclists of all genres, he is very aware of which lines turn over more quickly and offer the biggest profit margins.  A children’s toy section offers some sales diversity.  The original shop was expanded into next door when it came up for lease.

Most of all Erik is excited about the future of the Collie region. He is currently helping to lead community conversations as part of the Operation Next Gen program.

‘Collie is on the verge of huge potential,’ he says. ‘We have these incredible forestry tracks around Collie and mountain biking is a huge growth area.’ He is very excited about developing a new business focussed on cycling events and experiences which may or may not see him to continue to own the retail business. 

I think I can sense another milestone approaching.

Erik’s top tips for aspiring business owners:

  1. Know what you are getting yourself into.  Do your research and get experience by working for others first.
  2. Ensure you have a strong support group. Sit down with your family and make sure they are on board.
  3. Build a good community network if starting a business in a new area. Ie. Rotary Club, Sporting Groups.
  4. Don’t get into business if you’re a worrier.  It can be rocky but you have to look at the long term benefits.
  5. Take time out for yourself.


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

Reinventing the circus

Ringmaster, Simon Tait, is excited that Silvers Circus has significantly evolved through international acts and technology.

Ringmaster, Simon Tait, is excited that Silvers Circus has significantly evolved through international acts and technology.

When you think about how businesses must evolve and adapt to survive, no better example comes to mind than the circus. Dating back to the time of the Roman Colosseum, circuses have undergone huge changes, particularly in the last twenty years, to meet public demand and take on the challenge of new entertainment mediums. 

So, when Silvers Circus rolled into my home town of Castlemaine I just had to pop in and have a chat with its owner, the quietly spoken Anton Gasser, and two of his key staff members. 

Silvers Circus owner, Anton Gasser, believes that a circus is very much like farming.

Silvers Circus owner, Anton Gasser, believes that a circus is very much like farming.

Instead of running away to the circus Swiss born Anton was quite literally born into the circus with a family history of circus performers going right back to the 1600’s.  With circus blood in his veins and celebrating 40 years since establishing Silvers Circus with his wife Anna here in Australia, there is no doubt that it is as much lifestyle as it is a business to this hard working couple and their grown up children.

“If you want to make money, then don’t buy a circus,” says Anton with a wry smile. “But if you want lots of work and to put a smile on people’s faces, then do buy a circus.”

Anton likens a circus to farming which is also dependent on weather and the economy.  “We have our good years and we have our bad years.  Sometimes we have to go without,” he shrugs philosophically, “but we make sure our bills are always paid.”

The fact remains, where many circuses have come and gone, Silvers is a survivor and I was keen to find out how.

When I asked long time employee, Simon Tait, what the secret is to a successful circus, his answer was clear. “Location, location, location!”  The big top is by far their best advertising as no-one can miss it as they drive and walk by.

This is a particularly interesting point given that, for the first time in my memory, a circus has been relegated from the town centre to a reserve on the town outskirts with very little drive by traffic.

One of the negative changes he admits, has been the way circuses are received into towns. 

“In the old days the town would roll out the red carpet and offer us the very best spaces at no charge; they were just so glad to have us come and provide entertainment.”

But times have changed.  Not only are municipal councils now looking to recoup the cost of power and water used, they insist on substantial bonds amounting to thousands of dollars, to cover any damage that may be incurred to the grounds.  Sometimes this is unavoidable due to wet weather and heavy trucks but other times it is a disreputable circus before them that tarnishes the industry image.

Another long term employee is Margaret Petersen. Melbourne born, she actually did run away to the circus and has been with Silvers for 35 years.  Firmly ensconced at the helm of the ticket box, she is in charge of the nerve centre of the circus, efficiently handling the logistics for each town they travel to Australia wide.

“Essentially Margaret has to set up a new business for us in every location,” Simon explains. “She has to jump through the same hoops again and again.”

“We start with the Victorian Building Authority, then have to get the ground lease sorted, contact neighbours as part of the Good Neighbourhood Code of Practice, and then there is council,” Margaret says stopping for a breath.  “Not just one department but engineering, OH&S, building and by-laws.”

“Everything goes by the book,” Simon chips in. “We have to be one hundred percent professional or we go under.”

Well maybe not the time that the monkeys escaped from their enclosure during a sea voyage to Tasmania which I’d dearly love to hear more about but I digress!

With all these additional barriers Silvers has had to work extra hard in marketing their shows.

Well in advance, like a well-oiled machine, the posters pop up in shop windows and advertisements on television and radio herald their arrival in the region.  In addition there are blow up clowns on street corners and vehicles with signage strategically placed around the town.

And then there is the show itself that was voted one of the top ten circuses in the world in 1992.

Driving up to the big top, Silvers gives the external appearance of a traditional circus. The obligatory side show alley clowns, fairy floss and jumping castle can be found outside but the program is vastly different.

Thankfully Margaret doesn’t have to worry about escaping monkeys anymore because the circus has transgressed from exotic animal acts to highly skilled human acts. 

Yes, you will still find the clowns, illusionists, jugglers and acrobats appealing to all ages, but new acts include ones like The Globe of Death featuring motorbike riders who defy gravity and thrill their audiences.  I confess I found this very hard to watch but then again, I didn’t like my son riding a peewee at age five either!

Simon gets visibly excited at this point of the conversation.  He believes that circuses are continuing to evolve and there are two main factors contributing to this; the calibre of the international acts and technology.

“The thrill acts are very appealing to the teenage market,” he explains. “They come on their own and don’t have to be dragged along by mum and dad.  We are competing with so many forms of entertainment these days that everything we provide has to be a quality act.”

I wonder about safety and how the increasing Occupational, Health & Safety regulations affect circuses?

“We have incredibly dangerous acts so safety is paramount,” says Simon. “In many ways circuses have been way ahead of other industries in this respect. These are our family and friends so we have always worked hard to keep them safe.”

Technology is also a big part of how circuses now function.

Far from the old cumbersome canvas tents, the new tent design features only four king poles that can be much more easily erected and yet withstand gale force winds.  Technology enhances the drama of acts through sophisticated music and lighting.

With lifestyle a major factor drawing people to work in the circus industry Simon reflects on how digital technology has also made life on the road easier for him since starting in his early 20’s.

“I remember lining up at a phone box to ring my parents on a Sunday evening to get the cheap STD rates,” he recalls. “Now I can ring family and friends on my mobile, email or skype.”

Performing as Ring Master and an illusionist in the show, Simon can also be found helping out with the publicity and driving trucks. “We all multi task,” he admits. “You should see me on my day off!”

In fact, the more I hear about Silvers Circus, the more it reflects the qualities of any other successful family business.  Anton and Anna are clearly loved and respected by their employees that can number as high as 35 with support staff during peak times.

Silver’s circus performers enjoy a month off just before Christmas but another dream of Anton’s to provide quality children’s entertainment has seen a new show evolve especially for the Christmas market.  Each year in November and December the big top is now set up at Caulfield Racecourse for Santa’s Magical Kingdom.

When I ask Anton what the success of his business is, he puts it down to team work and attention to detail. “We all work together and, if it’s important like making sure your customers have clean toilets, sometimes you have to do it yourself.”  While some of the vehicles may be twenty years old they are meticulously clean, as is the big tent and all Silver’s facilities. This is clearly a source of pride for Anton.

“Silvers Circus is all about quality,” Simon reiterates. “People are totally entertained and remember the show.”

With a clearly happy audience vacating the big top at the conclusion of its last performance in Castlemaine, the team is anxious to start packing up before setting off in convoy to Ballarat. Performers are shedding their costumes and rolling up their sleeves to lend a hand.  From Margaret’s perspective, it is all about jumping through all the logistical hoops again, but for Anton it is about seeing the smile on people’s faces.

Silvers Circus is coming to town!

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

Rural Co-operatives

Cooperatives are a common solution for rural producers to pool their resources to take on big industry. And the benefits for rural communities are immense as I've written about previously READ MORE

However, a couple of more recent conversations are worthy of bringing to your attention hence this new blog.

The first is a field trip I undertook in Ford County a couple of weeks ago with Joann Knight, Executive Director of Dodge City & Ford County Development Corporation.  The scale is truly immense in this major cattle processing region along with the new emerging wind energy industry.

The second is the recent Farming Together Conference I attended in Adelaide during May 2017 where a new (and free) tool was launched to assist groups to develop a cooperative.  ACCESS TOOL

There is no doubt that rural industries and communities working together with a good business plan can be very lucrative.

KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. She is also an expert adviser for the Farming Together Pilot Program. READ MORE

A Collaborative Culture

Increased connectivity and technology is heralding a new economic era with new opportunities and it is up to us (the people) to take advantage of it. Any community, no matter how big or small, has the capacity to develop an entrepreneur ecosystem if it can embrace a collaborative culture.  And, no, this is not just my opinion.  430 entrepreneurship advocates worldwide agree!

Given that I’ve long advocated that the key to strengthening our rural towns is a ‘whole of community conversation’ focussed on encouraging entrepreneurs, imagine my excitement when I was one of only two Australians invited to attend the inaugural E*SHIPSummit held in Kansas City on 21-23 June, 2017. 

Put 430 diverse entrepreneurship advocates in the room and you will get very different perspectives on what is most important in an entrepreneur ecosystem.  Like myself, a few were involved in broadly based programs, but most work in specialist roles that support start-ups or economic development.

Regardless, we could all agree on one thing.  Actively encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs in every city and town is important and there is not just one way to do it; it has to be a multi-faceted and collaborative approach.

We all had a mission at the summit. To help the Kauffman Foundation articulate why entrepreneur ecosystems are important and provide practical examples of how they can be fostered.

The framework that has resulted from research and discussions to date is delightfully simple and I can’t wait for the extended version to share because this is already a fantastic tool for us all to use.  I particularly fell in love with the graphic above because it aptly describes how an effective framework works and the value that every Pitchfest, start-up conference, and networking event contributes to developing a stronger ecosystem. 

People are undoubtedly the centre of an entrepreneurial ecosystem and where they are able to connect they naturally contribute to an ecosystem. But how do we get them to connect?  Sometimes it is through a program, an incubator, or networking events.  And they naturally gravitate towards each other because of common interests.  In a modern world of technology we can connect in the virtual world as well and I know many successful business people who develop ideas and partnerships through twitter hashtags, Facebook discussion groups and other mediums.

It is important to note that when we are talking about people we are including both the entrepreneurs and the people who support them – the very important champions and convenors. They are the enablers who help entrepreneurs in a variety of ways whether it be as advocates, mentors, investors, or customers. They are the people who influence policy that paves the way for ecosystems to develop.

Talent is another important factor. Nurturing the skills and talent required to drive the entrepreneurial business activities forward is essential. This is why business and educators need to work together so that talent supply and demand are efficiently matched.  In a fast paced world where many future careers haven’t been invented yet agile and adaptable skill sets such as critical thinking and data analysis are far more valuable than a defined career qualification.

In developing the framework we also talked about the need for onramps, an open door providing opportunities to grow networks and encourage new diverse talent to join the conversation.

Intersections was another important part of the framework; places where people can meet to develop ideas and fill gaps or talents.  Onramps and intersections are mostly aided by events bringing people together whether they be in person or in a virtual community.

As people gather together and collectively tell their story and articulate their dreams it makes it possible to articulate the community’s story and help shape your community’s future. Of course this will only be successful if we focus on the positive stories and leave the negatives ones behind.

There was no doubt that increased connectivity and technology is heralding a new economic era with new opportunities and new ways of operating.  It is up to us to take advantage of it.  In fact, with my novel Australian accent, I had the honour of informing the mostly USA delegates that America's old economic development model is officially dead! 

The reality in this modern world of technology is that any community, no matter how big or small, has the capacity to develop an entrepreneur ecosystem if it can embrace a collaborative culture.  Collaboration, cooperation, and trust will inspire people to advance their ideas more quickly, help each other, and be open to new and wonderful ideas never dreamed of before.

Yes, the framework is incredibly important, and if you get that in place along with these seven design principles, then everything else will flow more easily. 

#1Put entrepreneurs front and centre
#2 Foster conversations
#3 Enlist collaborators (everyone is invited!)
#4 Live the values
#5 Connect people (in every direction)
#6 Tell your community's authentic story
#7 Start and be patient

I am pleased to confirm that the Operation Next Gen program and its ‘whole of community conversation’ approachis on the right track when critiqued against these principles.

And now is probably a good point at which I should confess my bias. Perhaps not everyone agrees that small rural communities have the capacity to develop a successful ecosystem of note but I am determined to change that thinking. What the rest of the world and my city colleagues have to understand is that even just one successful entrepreneur, supported by a collaborative culture, can reverse population decline and enable a small town to not only survive but thrive.  While we may not have the physical density of population, we have a vested interest - it is our future at stake.  Rural towns more than make up for lack of density with passion and can access an extended virtual support community.

My sincere thanks goes to the Kauffman Foundation for honouring me with an invitation to the summit and accessing their incredible resources to further this conversation. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with my expanded network of ecosystem builders here in Australia and the USA.

Investing in your home town

For those fortunate to have been successful in life, there is the great privilege of being able to financially support their local community or a cause close to their heart. 

I was reminded of this while visiting Spearville in Kansas recently.  Despite only having a population of 900, this small agricultural town located seventeen miles from Dodge City, is benefiting from a $20 million legacy generating around $200,000 in annual revenue for distribution.

Yes, I have to admit that it took me a moment to process when I first heard that staggering amount of $20 million.  But then I started focusing on the intent which everyone is capable of.

A lifelong resident of Spearville, Tom Feist founded Feist Publications in 1978 which grew into a highly successful business and a major employer for this small community and across the State of Kansas. Prior to his death in 2011 he set in motion something that he knew would continue to give back to his home town well into the future.  A Board of Directors was hand-picked by Tom and his wishes clearly stipulated on what type of projects the Foundation should support.

Operating since 2014, only time will tell how Tom’s legacy will play out as proposals from local community groups are processed and implemented.  Given his business background, knowledge of the community and careful consideration, I suspect it will be far more effective than any government grant program. Already there are signs that the declining population is reversing (the 2010 census noted the population as only 773 while the 2017 figures are estimated by county officials at around 900).

Tom also gave generously during his lifetime.  We see it all the time in Australia as well.  Individuals and businesses investing in community projects and assisting start-ups in their home town.

And the potential doesn’t end there.

When it comes to financing community initiatives and start-up businesses to strengthen a rural town it is natural to look to those who live locally but don’t discount those who may have moved away.

No matter how long ago you lived in a rural town, there is always a strong bond and memories that can never be erased particularly if you were raised or started your business career there.  This is why we have seen founder of the Allied Medical Group, Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, chatting with locals at the Birchip races. His first posting as a country general practitioner was in Birchip!

It never ceases to amaze me when I am approached at city events by former country residents keen to chat about their home towns.  They have fond memories and are genuinely interested in what is happening.  Potentially they could be your biggest investor …. but only if you stay in touch and let them know what your plans are.

This is the beauty of social media which allows ex residents to follow local news from afar.  It is also why we should widely consult on community initiatives and let people know what they can support. You never know who is talking to who and what they would like to support.

When we have the capacity to give, there is a great deal of satisfaction in being able to support something bigger than yourself, whether it be giving a helping hand to someone starting out in business or upgrading a community facility.

And, if you don’t have the capacity for your own foundation or trust, and a tax-deductible receipt is an enticement, then the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal or your local Community Foundation will always be happy to have a conversation.

Tom Feist 

Tom Feist Foundation   



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