Small Towns


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?


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.’

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

Value yourself



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

Just one step



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

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

On the Road



A passion to live and work in the outback took Tom Curtain to the Northern Territory in 2001.  Since then he has experienced an industry collapse, reinvented his business, battled a council, and ignored all his mates who said he couldn’t do it. It was a simple matter of being agile and utilising his talents to create Katherine Outback Experience that now travels the east and west coasts of Australia.

Ever since watching Landline on the ABC whilst at primary school in Kingaroy Queensland, Tom Curtain has dreamed of living and working in the Australian outback.  After finishing boarding school, he completed a three year degree in cattle genetics. 

‘Mum and dad wouldn’t let me go any sooner,’ he admits.  But as soon as he finished university he was off to the Territory, living out of a swag and mustering cattle. Yep, he was living the dream!

With a passion and talent for training horses, Tom spent a number of years contract horse-breaking throughout the NT and QLD which saw him travel from station to station every two to three weeks. Recognising this lifestyle was not sustainable for him and his young family, in 2008 Tom seized the opportunity to purchase a property on the outskirts of Katherine where he setup his own horse-training facility for the cattle stations to send him horses to train.  However, in the blink of an eyelid, the 2011 live export ban not only impacted on the cattle stations, it also dried up Tom’s business.  ‘All the budgets were cut on the stations and there were no horses to break-in.’

Fortunately, Tom had one other skill to draw on.  ‘When I first started mustering in the Territory the head stockman gave me a guitar and showed me how to play three chords.’ Ironically this happened whilst sitting around a campfire, an inspirational place to practice singing and writing songs as Tom discovered. He subsequently entered a singing contest and won.  Now, with his horse training business dried up, Tom resorted to music.

‘I started singing at the caravan park four nights a week. Then through conversation people got really interested in what I do and wanted to come and see how I train horses and working dogs.  I combined the three and moved into the tourism game.’ 

Tom had effectively tested and discovered a new business; however, setting up the Katherine Outback Experience on his property raised a few obstacles along the way.

‘Wearing a cowboy hat gives the impression of being a bit simple.’

‘At first there was a lot of negative feedback from my mates,’ Tom admits, ‘and Council said it wouldn’t work. Wearing a cowboy hat gives the impression of being a bit simple. I laughed it off and kept on going.’

Apart from talent, Tom had three positive things going for him. 

‘I knew a little bit about tourism because my parents operated a Farm Stay for 25 years, so I had grown-up in the industry, offering horse rides to visitors.’ The benefits of a university degree also taught him structure, prioritisation of workloads, and to work in a regimental way. And thirdly, he knew from experience that audiences like to see something different.

‘I won a horse breaking competition in Queensland a few years ago and, knowing I was also into country music, the commentator asked me to sing. I sang a song while standing on the young horse’s back. Thank God I didn’t get bucked off!’

The next challenge was to find an audience for Katherine Outback Experience.

‘I had to raise awareness that I was here,’ says Tom. ‘There wasn’t much of a budget so I painted some signs on old tin and put them up on the town outskirts. Council said they were too close to the township so I moved them 70 kilometres out of town.’ 

Tom commandeered the help of mates and backpackers to place brochures on car windshields around shopping centres and caravan parks. ‘Facebook came on the scene which was good, but we had very poor internet so technology wasn’t much use.  I had to do a lot of face to face ground work.’

Then there was the weather challenge; something that no amount of marketing could overcome.  ‘Over the Wet Season, from November to March, Katherine gets too hot and wet to train animals and tourism dries up,’ Tom explains.

Using his time productively, Tom initially moved back to his parent’s property in Kingaroy during the Wet Season where he could still train horses.  Then he decided that he may as well take his fully trained horses and dogs with him. Katherine Outback Experience is now in its second year of being on the road over the summer months, travelling the west and east coasts of Australia, and the business has reached a new level.

‘Over the last fifteen years I’ve needed to make X amount of dollars to cover my expenses,’ Tom explains. ‘This is the first year that I haven’t had to train horses on the side to make up the difference.’

As you would expect, the logistics are quite complicated when you take six horses and 12 working dogs on the road together with a horse truck, caravan, car and trailer to carry all the additional gear, horse yard panels, and stockfeed needed for four to five months on the road. Locations, permits and publicity need to be negotiated individually with each town he visits. 

Thankfully Tom has some welcome support thanks to a chance encounter three years ago when he met his now fiancé, Annabel, whilst hitch-hiking in Western Australia.

‘Annabel threw in her career as an Urban Planner in Perth to come and live in a tin shed with me,’ Tom says with a slight hint of disbelief and immense relief. ‘She’s thrown her heart and soul into the business and has taken over the bookings and marketing which frees me up to train the dogs and horses.’

In the first year Tom tested the roadshow concept by booking a five-acre location for a couple of months in Dunsborough, Western Australia. ‘It worked pretty well but we were still missing a lot of tourists and performing six days a week which is unsustainable.’

That’s when the show started travelling further afield.  ‘We thought that by taking the show to regional towns, we could market the event to an existing population four to six weeks in advance rather than having to work tirelessly marketing to the very transient tourist market who stay only two to three days,’ Annabel explains. ‘We also saw an opportunity to partner with local sporting and community groups so they would also profit from the event, and help spread the word within their community.’

When I caught up recently with Tom and Annabel during their whirl wind visit to Collie in Western Australia, it was evident that their business model was working well for them.  St Bridget's Primary School was doing great business selling food and drinks to the local community out in force for a great evening of family fun entertainment.

The pair work well as a team with Annabel keeping the crowd entertained as Tom gets ready to handle a local unbroken horse, explaining his methodology in the process.  The dogs are a great hit with the kids and Tom leaves no doubt about his horsemanship skills as he effortlessly canters in a tight circle on a bridle-less horse whilst singing and playing his guitar.  And that's all before he takes to the stage to sing with his west coast side kick, Big Bob!

‘We’ve done over 30 shows so far this season,’ says Tom. ‘All at very different venues, everything from cricket ovals to parks and schools. We even did a show at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere.’

With Annabel administering the website and social media pages, it has become a whole lot easier for people to find Katherine Outback Experience but Tom is adamant that the local relationships are still important in getting the word out to audiences.

‘It doesn’t matter how good you are, you have to have a good marketing strategy,’ says Tom who openly admits to being terrible at promoting himself. ‘It’s taken me four years to make it and I’m still learning all the time, modifying the show here and there, seeing what works, and the best way to spread the word.’

Oh. And did I mention that Tom has made three music albums?  His latest is ‘Territory Time’, which won two Golden Guitars at the Tamworth Country Music Festival up against Lee Kernaghan and all the big guns!  His Territory mates even helped piece together an impressive video clip for Never Never Land which won CMC Video Clip of the Year and Heritage Song of the Year. 

Not bad for a bloke constantly on the road!


  • Have short and long-term goals so you know where you want to be and can work out how you are going to get there.
  • Be flexible and prepared to take risks. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work, it’s all a learning curve and just one step closer to the next win.
  • Surround yourself with positive like-minded people
  • Maintain strong records so you can measure performance and gauge opportunities and constraints  
  • Maintain an open mind to allow yourself to keep learning – particularly in a climate where marketing and business trends are changing so rapidly.

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

Scaling to need

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Small businesses are extremely versatile. They can be scaled up and down according to the times and needs.  And there is no better example than the Bacchus Marsh Florist & Nursery currently under the third generation of ownership in the one family.

In 1966, only three months after unexpectedly becoming a widow, Josephine Jennings was cajoled by her daughter to have a look at a small plant nursery advertised for sale in the rural Victorian town of Bacchus Marsh.

While her husband had worked long-term for the State Rivers Authority involving a move from Maffra in Gippsland to Halls Gap in the Grampians, Josie’s duties had previously revolved around the State Rivers owned home and raising five now grown up children.  Suddenly, left without a home and a husband to care for, it made perfect sense for her to move closer to where her married daughter Yvonne Marsden lived with her family in Bacchus Marsh.

“She wasn’t very keen on the idea of buying a business,” says Yvonne, “but I knew she was gardening mad and the shop had a residence at the back for her to live in.  By the time we had walked through the shop she had bought it!”

Housed in a small cottage facing the main street, Josie’s nursery was relatively simple consisting of small plants, seeds, fertilisers, and pots. For some time the adjacent shop, also part of the freehold, was rented to a hairdresser.

‘Mum did ok with the business,’ recalls Yvonne who helped out by driving a ute and trailer to buy new stock from Melbourne when the shop was closed every Monday.

After remarrying, Josie’s new husband, Bert Layton, helped out for some time until they got the travel bug in 1971 which is when Yvonne and husband Lyle took over the business from her mother.

‘Lyle thought it would give me something to do now that our three boys were all at school,’ Yvonne recalls with a wry smile, or maybe it was a grimace? They started by leasing then purchased the property.  For the first six years Lyle continued working elsewhere to help pay the nursery off until he also joined Yvonne in the business full time.

Yvonne says that the best eleven years of her life were when the whole family moved into the tiny residence at the back of the shop so the kids didn’t have to go home to an empty house after school.

Within a year the profits had been tripled. ‘I bought product in much bigger quantities and more lines,’ Yvonne explains. ‘We also started selling sand, soil and pine bark from the back of the shop and really got into horticulture in a bigger way.’

Perhaps the biggest change to the business was the introduction of a floristry. ‘This ended up as being as good as the nursery in terms of revenue,’ says Yvonne who taught herself the art of arranging flowers.  Land at the rear of the shop was purchased to build their new home and the residence was given over to the business.

The ‘big drought’ that first reared its ugly head in the 1980’s and re-emerged in the 1990’s effectively shut down many wholesale nurseries as water restrictions impacted on sales and prompted change.

Yvonne and Lyle downscaled the business to its original size and built shops to rent out which has effectively become their superannuation.  Lyle was then able to give more time to his passion for farming and training race horses while Yvonne continued with the floristry and nursery on a smaller scale.

2007 heralded another change when their youngest son, Brian and his wife Kerryn, bought the business. 

The value of intellectual property and knowledge of customers and processes should never be underestimated. The transition was a very easy one given that Kerryn had worked with Yvonne in the business for 15 years prior.

‘It was a great business to go into. We just kept it moving slowly but surely. While some new business owners like to promote that it is under new management, it was business as usual for us,’ explains Kerryn who admits to simply telling customers that Yvonne wasn’t in today when asked. ‘I didn’t want to embarrass them that they didn’t know.’

Brian is quick to clarify that there were no family favours given in the purchase of the business. ‘Mum and dad have worked hard all their life and deserve a good retirement.’  The couple also knew it was a good solid business that has stood the test of time.

But times do change and so do customer expectations and trends.  For a start, Brian and Kerryn introduced seven day a week trading about eleven years ago.

‘Rain, hail or shine, we are open,’ says Brian.  While they employ between four and six staff members at any given time, he and Kerryn work Sundays and public holidays to cut down on penalty rates.

‘When we get busy we get really busy,’ adds Kerryn. ‘We cater for a lot more weddings these days. People know that we are always open which is important.’

While the couple have only ‘made a few cosmetic changes to the shop’ and introduced a few different lines including a lot more indoor plants, there is always plenty to do especially with regard to the floristry component of the business.  ‘Flowers are always evolving,’ explains Kerryn. ‘There are lots of different ideas and trends to keep up with.’

Their daughters, Jamie and Keely - great-grand daughters of Josephine - also work in the business so there is the potential that one day there may be a fourth generation added to this family dynasty of small business owners.

Whether scaling up or scaling down, or simply doing what it always does best, the Bacchus Marsh Florist & Nursery is a great example of how small business families can live and work where they love over many generations.


ABOVE:  Josephine Jennings just prior to purchasing the Bacchus Marsh Nursery and her daughter Yvonne who later took over ownership.

The Marsden Family’s top business tips:

  • YVONNE: Work it yourself.  You have to have staff but it pays to always be around.
  • LYLE: Own your own property.
  • BRIAN: Don’t spend more than what you earn (impressed on him by his mum!). 
  • KERRYN: Understand that you can’t please everyone.

KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business’ and grand-daughter of Josephine Jennings. 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

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

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

Lucky Escape

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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

The Proposal

K&D Restaurantsml.jpg

Kamelle and Duane have taken the ‘leap of faith’ to leave Sydney and open up their own restaurant in the rural mining town of Collie, two hours south of Perth in Western Australia. And they couldn’t be happier!

In a classic case of Kamelle being made redundant and their expensive Sydney flat lease coming up for renewal, Kamelle was looking for an opportunity. She found it in Collie only two hours south of her hometown of Perth where a family friend had purchased a motel.

Previously Kamelle had leased a restaurant in similar circumstances from the owner so it was not hard to put a proposal together and convince her partner Duane that it was a good idea.

‘We just couldn’t see how we could cope in Sydney so we left it all behind,’ Kamelle explains.

Well, to be exact, Kamelle left it all behind.  The plan was for her to get the restaurant established using Duane’s earnings to support her during the start-up phase.

Duane stayed on in Sydney but he also couldn’t wait to escape. ‘A casino is a very depressing place to work,’ he admits. ‘You can’t smile and be happy because people are losing their money.’

With a background in hospitality he was 100 percent behind Kamelle’s plans, so when she rang to say that she was run off her feet with a conference at the motel, Duane had no hesitation in quitting his job and following in her footsteps.

‘I needed to be by her side,’ he smiles.

With most bank managers making themselves scarce when approached to finance a new ‘dream’ café or restaurant, this young couple were able to avoid a big capital outlay by negotiating accommodation and use of the kitchen and dining room in return for work at the motel during the day. But there was still money to be spent.

‘We anticipated spending $10,000 to set up the kitchen but it added up to $15,000’ admits Duane. ‘Our parents have been very supportive and wanted to be part of it.’

Both admit to being nervous in the beginning but are feeling optimistic with the results to date. They open six nights a week for dinner and offer a buffet breakfast on Sunday mornings.

‘It wasn’t such a big risk because there were already customers on site it being a motel,’ explains Duane. ‘But now, even the locals are starting to find out about us.’

So far they have used Facebook and flyers to generate publicity but, as always, word of mouth is their biggest ally.

Their business plan seems to be an organic one but they are clear on what they are offering their customers and where they are heading.

‘Our aim is to offer great service and good value,’ explains Duane who clearly loves being front of house and chatting with the customers. ‘If someone is staying for a while we can make it more homely for them.’

An excel spreadsheet has proven sufficient for their simple accounting needs and the purchase of a square reader gave them immediate access to EFTPOS and receipting without a five week wait.

Their long term plans are to start delivering lunches to workplaces, attract tourist buses, and eventually taking over the whole motel in three or four years.

Only eight weeks into their new enterprise and both are extremely happy with the decision.

‘In Sydney we hardly saw each other but now we spend every day side by side,’ says Duane. ‘It’s been a great decision.’

Which brings me to the second significant proposal in eight weeks. Duane asked for Kamelle’s hand in marriage the day after I took their photograph and she said yes! 

Congratulations Kamelle and Duane!

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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

Kerry recently published her first book with 20 inspiring case studies for rural communities and business people READ MORE