Top Ten Percent

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‘Aim to be the top 10 percent of any industry and you will do well,’ advises Tom Smith from Yarrawalla in north-central Victoria.  Supported by wife Val and their children, the Smith family has transformed a traditional family farm into five companies that employ over 40 full time staff to care for 2,000 sows and their piglets. By milling and mixing all their stock feed, they have complete control from farrowing to finish.

As pigs were always a small part of his father’s mixed farming activities, Tom was familiar with caring for them as what is now seen as in a very primitive way. When he and Val married in 1971, a $40,000 loan was sought but rejected by the bank at the time. Rural Finance also rejected the application suggesting it was too big of a risk. Fortunately, the family were supportive.

With keen business intuition and a willingness to experiment Tom’s dad took full advantage of any assistance on offer.  Purchasing of the pigs was funded with the assistance of a stock agency veto over stock.  Fortunately for the Smiths, Gippsland was experiencing a bumpy year in drought terms, so they were also able to increase cash flow through hay sales and establish their new business with 100 sows.

‘Oddly enough,’ Tom reflects, ‘several years later with the piggery functioning, we applied for a loan to Rural Finance, and they knocked us back because we were in a good enough position to borrow from the commercial banks.’

The government at the time also saw pigs as a potential industry and invested considerable dollars through the Department of Agriculture.  'This benefited us enormously, says Tom. 'Department staff helped us to select breeding stock; they had an engineer on staff to design shedding, nutritionists to assist with the feed formulations, absolutely top veterinarians, pathologists and field officers. It was an incredible time of development. The industry has been very good to us.’

In 2016 there was an estimated $8 million of capital improvements on the books indicating that the Smith family don’t do things by halves. ‘There has never been a time where we have said we want to get bigger,’ admits Tom, ‘it has just evolved. All increases have been about improving.’  

It also goes without saying that a lot of hard work and sacrifice helped their business to ‘evolve’. Val has worked right from the beginning in the farrowing and training areas of the business and says that she learned to ask ‘lots of questions’.

Their children were brought up to be independent. ‘They got themselves ready for school, made their own lunches and beds from prep year onwards,’ Val explains. She would leave the piggery in time to take to them to school bus. ‘Life was a lot simpler for families back then. Kids entertained themselves.’

‘They were great kids and very dependable,’ agrees Tom.

Instilling strong work ethics has had positive outcomes for their now adult children. Their sons, Jarad and Caleb, are actively involved and buying a portion each of the business while daughter Jeannie and her husband lease the land and farm in their own right.  Another daughter, Kellie, is a veterinarian and part owner of a practice in Eaglehawk.

Attracting good staff was a major challenge as their companies expanded.  In 2010, Tom advertised in the Manilla Times attracting four quality staff and making a significant difference.  They now have 22 workers from the Philippines on their books.

‘Working with pigs is a chosen career path in the Philippines,’ explains Tom. ‘Although not quite at a formal Australian veterinary standard, they are well educated in this industry and have a positive attitude to their work.’

As the business and family has simultaneously grown, succession planning has always been at back of the mind for Tom who wanted to find a better way than what he experienced with his father and four brothers.  A partnership with one brother and his father existed until 1994 when it became time to move in different directions. Tom took on the piggery and the other brother took much of the land previously owned by their parents.

‘For succession, my dad’s idea was an insurance policy to cover the payout on his death with my brother and I paying the premium,’ Tom explains. ‘The property was valued and that value divided into five and the value increased equivalent to CPI each year. Upon reflection I think it would have been better settled when my brother and I first took control of the farming activities.’

‘All along Val and I have told our children that there is no such thing as an inheritance,’ says Tom. ‘Kids in this day and age are in a much better position to earn more. 

Having said that Tom admits that they have already given the kids what they are to get of their inheritance. ‘It was easy to do. The returns (lease payments) on what the boys haven’t paid for on our death goes to charity until purchased entirely.  As a future owner of the company you have to be active in the company,’ he adds. With the saying “three generations from riches to rags” in mind, Tom’s theory is that you will always have a second generation if the potential owners have to commit financially and be active in management.

One of the best decisions Tom claims he made of his career was the setting up of an advisory board providing Tom, Val and the boys with an outside perspective. ‘It was important for us to recognise the strengths in the boys and give them freedom to speak their mind, not just be a father son relationship,’ says Tom who is also clear on his role as he starts to contemplate retirement.

No doubt the transition from a family farm partnership into a more complex company environment that includes Kia-Ora Piggery, Kia-Ora Breeding, Walla Environmental Solutions (waste products), Sixth Gralloch Holdings (employment service company), and Goldfield Pork (wholesaling pork), hasn’t been without its bumps and challenges, both financially and emotionally.  Fortunately, Tom’s history of making good decisions has stood them in good stead.

In 2009/10, despite the pork industry shrinking 30 percent while Tom and Val were investing millions of dollars, they managed to retain the confidence of their bank manager. ‘It is extra tough when pork prices are down and grain prices are up,’ says Tom. ‘This has happened on several occasions, making it tough for all producers.’

A firm believer in utilising whatever is available to you, Tom has put SPC Ardmona waste products to good use, feeding the contents to the stock and recycling the tin. This required over a $1 million investment to set up the process, however, 18,000 pallets of tins over 18 months recycling up to 50 tonne a day has made it worthwhile.

Always keen to innovate, Tom’s latest project is the installation of a bio gas system to take advantage of the huge amounts of pig affluent generated onsite. Impressively, it has the capacity to reduce greenhouse emissions by 81 per cent and generate more than 115 per cent of the site’s electricity needs, with the excess potentially being sold into the power grid as a greenhouse gas offset.

A touch of competitiveness has encouraged Tom to take up benchmarking opportunities along the way. Thanks to their hard work and diligence, today the Smith family are a competitive player in the pork industry and ranked within the top three of their industry. 

Tom’s top business tips:

  • Aim for the top ten percent of any industry.
  • Have a vision.
  • Utilise any resources available to you including professional advice.
  • Communicate openly and often.
  • Your staff are your biggest asset. Care for them and they will care for you.
  • Organise your succession, whether with your family or even top managerial staff early in your business path. The sooner the easier with family. They then know what to expect.

READ MORE bio-gas plant

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 Sultana Sisters



Armed with university degrees, for the first time in their life Mildura sisters, Katerina and Ivana Blekic, have jobs away from the family’s vineyard.  However, far from turning their back on agriculture, they are spending every spare minute working on their new business enterprise, The Sultana Sisters.  In an industry dominated by large international companies they have carefully crafted their brand to attract a local and online market.

When John Blekic, a migrant from Croatia, planted his first vines on the outskirts of Mildura in the late 1950’s, I wonder if he knew that 60 years later his two grand-daughters would be branding themselves as The Sultana Sisters?

While most kids went to playgroup and kindergarten, Katerina and Ivana, grew up working alongside their parents in the family vineyard.  Today, aged 22 and 24 years, they are busy establishing the building blocks of their own business enterprise, The Sultana Sisters.  With picking almost completed the next exciting step is to pack and launch their new brand.

I caught up with Katerina and Ivana on Good Friday, one of the few days of the year the family downs tools.  With half of this year’s family crop sitting in the sheds, they are praying for no rain (it darkens the fruit) and anticipate that by Easter Monday they will have the second half picked. A small portion of this year’s family crop has been allocated to The Sultana Sisters to launch their new Australian brand up against an increasingly global market.

‘We have a big vision,’ says Katerina, ‘but we’re starting off small and seeing where it goes.’

They officially formed the business in March 2017 and gave away lots of samples to test the market. ‘We are taking the time to get to know our market and ourselves personally as a brand,’ Ivana confirms.

Not happy with their initial branding as Mallee Dried Fruits they invested in a graphic designer who understood their vision and now they are excitedly waiting for the new packaging to arrive. ‘It’s unique packaging, printed with a bright colour on craft paper with plastic lining and a clear window to display the product,’ Ivana explains. ‘We want it to come across as vibrant and fun.’

They are very clear on their need to differentiate in a global market and also understand that it won’t happen overnight.

‘Mildura produces a large quantity of Australia’s dried fruits and is home to many large corporations,’ says Katerina. ‘By comparison we’re a small fish in a big sea so we want to be different. We’re family owned, and we’re involved in the whole process from planting, to the pruning and training of the vines, as well as the picking and packaging of the end product.’

‘We’re aiming to provide a fresh look to the market,’ says Ivana. ‘And we’re big planners,’ adds Katerina. ‘We want to do this right.’

With Ivana’s accounting and legal background checking each step, Katerina has set up a website using a Squarespace template in preparation for online sales.  ‘There is a lot of behind the scenes work that we both converse on,’ says Ivana who takes on the responsibility for the accounting side of the business while Katerina’s high social media presence is giving them a good head start with the marketing.

In 2017 Katerina was both a National Rural Ambassador finalist for the Agriculture Show and a Leo (youth) Lion giving her access to state and nation-wide networks.  Her photographs on Instagram and Facebook taken amongst the vines and machinery are creating lots of interest. ‘I’m documenting a day in the life of what we do in the vineyard,’ Katerina explains.

Bridging the divide between consumers and farmers is a personal quest for both sisters who are also dreaming of one day producing a book featuring The Sultana Sisters as a way of reaching young people and sharing their passion for agriculture. 

Both Katerina and Ivana completed their degrees by correspondence allowing them to continue working full time in the family vineyards while studying.  2018 is the first time they have both worked off farm.  Far from detracting from their interest in agriculture, one gets the sense that it is giving them a better perspective of the markets they intend to reach through their new business.

Upon completing her degree in Community and Sustainable Development in February, Katerina was offered a place in the Ruralco Graduate Program. Passionate about social justice, Ivana is putting her law and accounting degree to good use as a tenant advocate for Haven Home Safe covering the region from Mildura to Kerang.

On weekends, and sometimes even before and after their paid work, the sisters are busy out in the vineyard and working on their business. They can clearly explain the different techniques for naturally dried sultanas on the vine which are dark in colour as opposed to the golden sultanas that are put through a wetting machine and sprayed with pot ash and oil to get their unique colour. Even though the change from flood to drip irrigation took place 18 years ago when both were toddlers, they also talk about what a significant improvement this has been. No-one needs reminding they have grown up in the industry.

Currently they are converting a building into a new operation centre and office. They plan to use the top level themselves leaving the ground floor for their parents and a store front. ‘I love working in spaces that are bright and creative,’ Katerina admits.

They have established a cashless system in preparation for the launch of their product at Farmer’s Markets around the region. ‘We’re very big on apple products,’ says Katerina, ‘and decided on the Square range of devices that plug into your iPhone and provide point of sale software.’

Bakeries plus health food and corner stores are other potential customers in addition to direct sales. ‘While investors and super farms exist in the region, we want to show that smaller growers can be sustainable if they deal direct,’ says Katerina.

With the benefit of growing up in the family vineyard and their individual skills and networks, these two enterprising sisters are building on the strong foundations set in place by Grandpa Blekic and their parents, adding their own unique building blocks to the Sunraysia business landscape. As the bins are filled and the new packaging is delivered, prepare yourselves for The Sultana Sisters’ new product proudly bearing the ‘Made in Australia’ logo scheduled to hit the market in May 2018.

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 Towns Fighting Back - Girgarre, Victoria



Traditionally a thriving dairy community, the tiny township of Girgarre in north-central Victoria (population 190) first faltered in 1979 when the milk factory shut down.  It later became the Heinz Factory until 2012 when it shut down again.  Then there was the big drought of 2003-04.  Water prices spiraled out of control, depression was rife, and suddenly a once thriving community was in crisis.

Driving into Girgarre on a hot January morning, there aren’t as many dairy cattle visible as there used to be. I also see camel, goat, chicken, horse and pig enterprises popping up on the surrounding landscape. The local news is excitedly reporting a $60 million investment in a new milk and cheese factory, and works have begun on a new botanical gardens expected to cost in the vicinity of $12 million.  

Respectfully, I’d like to suggest that this is not a town on its knees.

Who better to tell the story of Girgarre than Jan Smith, a dairy farmer and former teacher, who is part of the Girgarre Development Committee set up in 2004 to counteract the despair that was mounting in the district as a result of the drought?

‘We put on a barbeque and a bit of entertainment at the produce store,’ Jan recalls. ‘We hoped for 100 but 300 people turned up - I guess it was a safe place to gather.  Bells started to ring. We suddenly saw the need to gather the people together.’

After the success of the barbeque the Development Committee started brainstorming what else they could do.  An idea put forward to run a monthly Farmer’s Market was met with some scepticism, but the committee didn’t have a better idea and decided to ‘give it a crack.’

‘None of this was easy and we just had to educate ourselves along the way. We knew we couldn’t do it all ourselves so involved all the other community groups,’ Jan explains. “The first market had eight stalls and attracted 1,000 people. The CFA manned the barbeque and I invited a few musician friends from Melbourne to come up and entertain at low cost.  The CFA raised $1,000 in one day; where else could they do that?’

One year later, with steady growth and the Farmer’s Market ticking over nicely, Jan invited the musicians back to see what they had helped to start.  Happily they responded and brought more musicians with them.  After playing in the hall they came up with the idea of an annual music festival.

‘Our eyes rolled,’ Jan admits, ‘but what did we have to lose?’ 

The twelfth annual Girgarre Moosic Muster concluded just a few days before I visited.  Each year it attracts more and more musicians from all over the state who not only volunteer to do the organising themselves but perform and run a series of workshops offering 1,400 places at no cost.

Over the past twelve years, David Aumann, a suburban resident of Melbourne, has been a regular volunteer at the Moosic Muster teaching guitar and mandolin as well as playing in a band and singing harmony. 

‘I missed one year when I was on holidays’ he sadly admits but has been privileged to see it grow significantly from its inception.

Chatting with David I get the sense that he very much feels a part of the Girgarre community. ‘We are made so very welcome,’ he says. ‘And we can see what a difference the festival has made to the community.  Everyone keeps coming back and bringing a few more musicians with us each time.’

Naturally the locals also pitch in with selling tickets and catering for the hundreds of visitors to make the event a financial success.

‘As long as we give power to the people we can build pyramids in Girgaree,’ Jan proclaims. And they have a long list of conquests to prove they can.

By involving representatives from every community group, the Development Committee has effectively become the voice of the community and can help overcome obstacles as they arise.

When the Shire Council shut the kindergarten, the Development Group financed the service until another service provider could take over. ‘We have 14 children enrolled this year,’ Jan proudly states. ‘Feeding these children into the school is so important, that’s why we have to retain the kindergarten.’

The tennis club folded so the community and a retired life member rallied to revive it.  Six teams are currently playing.

With the community car on ‘death’s door’ and no money to replace it, the craft segment of the Farmer’s Market was gifted to the Community Cottage to enable them to fundraise for a replacement car.  The Community House created a nursery for this purpose that has now turned into a real cottage industry.

When the RSL came up with the idea of creating a World War 1 monument the Development Group found a suitable space and incorporated a walk.  The Living History Group has published a book, and what else would they call it except ‘Girgarre’?

‘Let someone loose with an idea and it is amazing how it can turn into an even bigger idea,’ admits Jan. ‘It’s about being respectful and engaged with people and their ideas.’

When a former school student said they should run a chook auction, Jan readily admits that she had no idea of what it involved let alone its merit. The recreation reserve now runs a highly successful auction of chooks, ducks and geese as part of the monthly produce market which helps them not only maintain but expand the reserve facilities.

‘We’re very proud of our recreation reserve,’ Jan says. ‘With input from a passionate community and our shire council we have beautiful club rooms, great playing surfaces, a second cricket oval, new netball courts, and now we’re planning for three new tennis courts.’

A community dinner is held every Thursday evening at the reserve. ‘It is beautiful to see dozens and dozens of kids running around,’ says Jan. ‘If you have a priority on family you have it right.’

Despite a very slow start from the bureaucrats, plans for a three mile walking track to Stanhope are well underway.

When the Heinz Factory closed down the Development Committee was gifted with 24 acres of land and 70 megalitres of water located opposite the town’s park.  A dream of having their own botanical gardens was suddenly a possibility.  TLC who designed the much-celebrated Cranbourne Botanic Gardens, was invited to hear Girgarre’s story and took on the project.

‘The project has been costed at $17 million but we think we can do it for $12 million by doing some of the work ourselves,’ Jan explains.  Given their track record so far I have no reason to doubt her.

Works on an amphitheatre and sound shell that sit within the botanical gardens have already commenced thanks to a Regional Arts Victoria grant of $350,000.

Since writing this article the Sound Shell was officially opened on 21 April, 2018.

Since writing this article the Sound Shell was officially opened on 21 April, 2018.

‘We’ve become a very musical town,’ Jan explains. ‘We’ve restored the hall with our fundraising and the new amphitheatre will allow us to seat another 1,000 people.  A monthly program, Jigarre Jammin, an off shoot from the Moosic Muster, is held in our beautifully restored hall along with a three day camp twice yearly.’

Simultaneously industry is also being reinvigorated. When the Heinz Factory closed it left behind a good base with connected services for new industry to evolve.  Along with the new milk and cheese factory, a grant has also been received to build a bio digestive power plant.  Employment is coming back to Girgarre.

And agriculture is much more diversified. ‘It’s taken ten years but suddenly all this beautiful productive land is coming back to life,’ says Jan.

Hmmm. A community in decline?  I think not.

‘Our community has decided it has a bright future,’ Jan agrees.

Jan’s top tips for rural communities:

  • Nobody is coming to save you. Get off your backside and have a crack!
  • Lose the ‘I’ and find the ‘We’ if you want to change things.
  • Take a little idea and throw it amongst a group of people then sit back and watch them massage it into something fantastic.
  • Don’t race off with an idea without designing it properly. 
  • Leave the tent door open so that others can join in and help. 
  • Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer if it is unacceptable. If there is a legitimate reason find an alternative.

You may also enjoy reading about other rural towns successfully fighting back:

COHUNA, Victoria



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

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

Wil's Way


MASSARA Wil 20180222_162802.jpg

Catching up with CEO and Founder of Youth Leadership Academy Australia, Wil Massara, takes some doing.  He is extremely time poor and there are only a few windows of opportunity.  But today we have come up with a mutually agreeable time and arranged to meet in the central park at Collie in the south-west region of Western Australia.

School has finished for the day and 15 year old Wil is up for a spearmint milkshake. I’m ready for a double shot espresso as I try to understand what is driving this ambitious young man.

Is this his first business I ask? 

‘Well, it’s my first legal business,’ he admits with a smile.  Straight away I'm intrigued ... and distracted. Where is this leading?

It turns out that Wil once ordered 100 pens from a promotional company but they failed to arrive on time so he got them for free.  Then he ordered another 100 pens and the same happened all over again. To cut a long story short Wil got 200 pens for free and sold them all at $2 each which made him a cool $400 profit. 

So, as this story has confirmed, Wil can immediately recognise an opportunity and go for it. Tick!

By now the milkshake is gone and I’ve barely started on my expresso. It’s time to get down to business, his new legal one that is.

The recent launch of the Youth Leadership Academy Australia has created much interest and Wil admits that he’s also been interviewed by the local newspaper.  ‘Why has he started it?’ is the question burning on everyone’s lips.

‘I saw a gap in the education system,’ Wil explains. ‘We’re not being taught the skills we need for the future, only for the jobs of today and the past. Young people are being trained to work for someone else and not focussing on the necessary life skills to be successful.’

Wil’s vision is to provide one to two day conferences, seminars and workshops especially for young people, aged 15 to 18 years, with nationally renowned speakers and life strategists.  The very first Western Australian Youth Conference is being planned for the 28 August and tickets are priced at the incredibly low price of $20 per person.  

‘I need 77 people to break even,’ he confirms when I ask about his budget. Even so I am still dubious, until he reveals that he is seeking corporate sponsorship to keep the costs down for students.  For instance, the speaker, Anna Richards, is flying to Perth and speaking pro bono as a very special favour to Wil. 

Sensing another opportunity, Wil quickly adds 'if anyone would like to sponsor the Youth Leadership Academy Australia, please email me at'

There could be many who doubt Wil’s capacity as a student to establish a successful business, however, he has had plenty of help along the way.  Let’s start with his mum who dropped him off for the interview.  I suggest that he may have to put her on staff but he is quick to dismiss that notion. Secretly I hope she reads this interview and commences negotiations!

Then, there is the Collie & Districts Community Branch of Bendigo Bank that sponsored him to attend the ‘Magic Moments’ event for young achievers in 2016.  Through the Magic Moments network Wil connected with his mentor, Andrew Daley from Singapore who helped him with the business plan.  He has also partnered up with a fellow delegate, 19 year old Maddy Hedderwick, who has taken on the role of Operations Manager as she works her way through a double major in Management and Sports Science at university.

Our Team.JPG

Utilising his own technology skills, Wil has established the business website. In short, he has only had to pay $88 to register the business and $100 to set up the website.  Hmm I can see where the $400 profit from his ‘first business’ has come in useful.

Time management is essential. ‘I have a very strict schedule,’ Wil reveals. ‘Set times for study, personal development and business.’  I assume this interview falls into the business timeslot.

Wil comes from a business orientated family and everything he is doing at school is aimed at building his business skills. He is studying Business Management and undertaking a Certificate III in Business.

‘My aim is to benefit society,’ Wil explains; ‘but I also want to have a profitable business. If you only have enough money for yourself then you are selfish.’

That is probably the best explanation I’ve ever heard of why a business should be profitable, and I heard it from a 15 year old student in rural Australia!

Maybe our future is brighter than I thought.

Wil slogan.JPG

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

Scaling to need

Bacchus Marsh Nursery 1975-2000.jpg


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



Year of the Camel

Camel Milk Co Chris & Megan 2018.JPG

2018 is going to be the ‘Year of the Camel’ according to Chris and Megan Williams of Camel Milk Co. Australia. While there is no official proclamation, indications are that their Kyabram based business is going to make it worthy of such accolades.

With traditional dairy businesses under pressure it is no surprise that rural communities are rapidly diversifying and becoming home to a wider range of micro businesses. But camels? Seriously? Two questions that immediately came to mind for me were: 1) How on earth do you milk a camel? and 2) Why on earth would you want to?

A road trip on a hot January morning to the Camel Milk Co. Australia near Kyabram helped answer these two questions for me.  The ‘How?’ was easily resolved by arriving right on milking time.

Which brings us to the ‘Why?’

We managed to wrangle Chris off a tractor to sit down with Megan so I could hear first-hand their fascinating story, delivered in half sentences that they finish for each other, a charming testimony to a shared passion. And, to their secret delight, I unwittingly request milk when offered a coffee.

From modest beginnings in 2014 with 3 camels on 100 acres, Chris and Megan have expanded their business to nearly 250 camels on 480 acres with plans to expand even further.  Straight away this indicates what a success story it has been but not without the usual risk and hard work associated with a start-up business.

Working with Megan’s parents on their Victorian dairy farm, the newly married couple were looking for something different but still agricultural based.  While researching what they could do, their family expanded with the arrival of three active boys within a period of less than four years.

‘We were looking at getting our own farm and getting the work-life balance going,’ says Chris. ‘It was important to us to have a sustainable income and not have all our eggs in the one basket.’  Initially they looked at miniature Herefords and goats but eventually they settled on camels.

To understand why camels were their beast of choice we have to back pedal to when they first met in 2008.  Chris had just immigrated from the United Kingdom to work on a cattle station east of Alice Springs and Megan was driving tourist coaches. They met in a pub in Alice Springs; as you do.

In what appears to be love at first sight, Megan jumped ship - or coach to be accurate - and started working with Chris on Andado Station where they frequently came across camels roaming wild.  A subsequent fascination grew with these majestic animals that were imported in the 19th Century to help build the telegraph from Adelaide to Darwin, and eventually abandoned to roam free and breed to feral proportions. 

When the couple moved to Megan’s family property in Victoria where drought, rising expenses, and declining income, has seen the water dependent dairy industry struggle; they brought with them the knowledge that camels survive well in the harshest of climates.  But surely milking camels was unheard of in Victoria?

‘Dad always says that if you are a farmer you are one of the biggest gamblers in the world,’ laughs Megan.  ‘We didn’t know for sure if there was a market,’ she acknowledges but, incredibly, as soon as word got out there was a waiting list before they even started producing milk. 

What started out as Camel Milk Victoria was soon rebranded Camel Milk Australia Co. when it turned out that fresh camel’s milk is highly sought by a large middle eastern customer base in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth through fine grocers and boutique stalls.

‘In their countries camel milk is a staple,’ says Megan. ‘Australia has a huge advantage over other countries because we have disease free camels.  Once you have a recognised brand in Australia then it is trusted overseas as well.’

As a result they are already exporting milk to Hong Kong and Singapore with supplies about to also hit Iran.  A shortage in the United States is another opportunity they are currently pursuing.

With high protein and low fat, camel’s milk is also attractive to the fitness market.  Sipping the coffee I requested at the start of our interview, it doesn’t even occur to me that I’m drinking camel’s milk until pointed out by Megan.  My initial thought is that it tastes very similar to skim milk.

Having resolved the ‘How’ and ‘Why?’ we turn to the many challenges of starting a new business enterprise, not to mention such an unusual one.

Their initial test pilot with three camels proved that they were on to a solid business idea so it was time to purchase more land and more camels.  Your bank would be more than willing to help? I ask the question tongue in cheek and inevitably Megan fires up.

‘You see bank adverts that encourage you to do something new, niche and innovative but it’s a load of crock!  We changed banks and it was positive for a while but the final decision was made by people in the city who have no idea.’ Instead, the sale of some dairy heifers they were growing helped them get started.

Not relying on finance and taking a ‘stepping stones’ approach turned out to be a huge positive.  ‘We had to make the money before we could spend it,’ explains Chris. ‘The advantage is that we own everything,’ adds Megan. ‘It’s good to grow into business, not go into business.’

Sourcing camels has also been tricky. ‘It’s not as easy as buying dairy heifers,’ Chris admits. Usually they are mustered directly from the outback. Their specification of a pregnant female camel hasn’t always been adhered to resulting in one truck load arriving that included bulls and calves and had to be sent back.  Where possible they now go and help draft the camels when they are mustered. 

Another constant challenge is, with a fourteen-month gestation, trying to guess at what stage of the pregnancy a camel is at.  Now that they have their own bulls and breeding program this is becoming a little easier.  Feed issues were overcome by finding a ‘fantastic nutritionist who helped us formulate their diet.’

The fact that the majority of camels are wild or semi wild is a significant challenge that also requires dedicated and skilled staff.  When the couple first advertised for an experienced camel milker it caused much laughter, but social media and word of mouth got results.

‘In any business its hard to find good staff but doing something niche like we do, they first have to have an absolute love of camels and some skills from being around camels,’ explains Megan. ‘It’s easy to train people who already have a passion.’  

As a result, they have a very multicultural workforce with the majority of their seven staff members having either lived or travelled in countries that have camels.  When it is time for them to move on, they are often able to recommend someone else to take their place helping out with the recruitment process.

Meeting stringent Australian food production and handling regulations is a necessary evil for any dairy business that Chris and Megan willingly undertook including installation of a pasteuriser plant and cool room.

Both have an Advanced Diploma in Agriculture which has helped them along the way but doing their own research and connecting with the right people in the industry has been crucial to their business success.  Attending trade fairs has been a productive investment.

Finding an independent niche distributor took some time and was aided by the many connections formed at a Naturally Good Expo in Sydney.  ‘We did it ourselves at first,’ says Chris. ‘Started with a Wayco in the back of the car then upgraded to a refrigerated vehicle.’  Thankfully, they now enjoy a friendly twice a week pick up by Melbourne based Metro Milk that simultaneously provides a service many other small producers in rural Victoria.

Once the business expanded into an international market, it became evident that their customers like a range, not just one product.  In addition to fresh camel’s milk, they now also sell soaps, lip balms, body butters, liquid soaps and powdered milk.  Research and development continues with a current focus on introducing camel cheese and chocolate products, no mean feat with up to six months required to get to point of sale.

‘We have a lot of money tied up in this that we can only hope to get back,’ Chris admits.

‘Yes, it’s a bit of a gamble,’ Megan agrees, ‘particularly ensuring that we have enough milk to meet demand. We have to meet all the regulations, produce samples, test the market, get customer feedback, and design packaging before we can even start selling.’

Outsourcing some aspects of the business was a wise decision made early on.  A professional is contracted to look after their website and the non-fresh products are packaged offsite.

Despite all the challenges of setting up and continuing to grow Camel Milk Australia Co., Chris and Megan have no doubt that they are on the right track.

‘It’s very exciting being our own bosses and doing something different,’ admits Megan.

‘We’re constantly learning,’ agrees Chris, ‘and we’re making a living from something we’ve made from scratch. There’s money in everything if you do it properly.’

Putting back into the community is something else that they enjoy. ‘Employing people and bringing them to live in Kyabram probably gives the pub a lot of business,’ Chris smiles. ‘We also bring visitors to town, give tours of the farm and point out other nearby attractions’ Megan adds.  A recent feature on the ABC’s Landline program is giving them and the district added exposure.

‘We all need to understand the ramifications of what happens to rural towns when local agriculture isn’t supported,’ says Megan.

Being able to have their boys, aged 5, 4 and 2 ½, close at hand has always been a priority. While a nanny comes in daily to allow them both to work in the business, the boys often join them when feeding out the camels and every day they have meals together.

‘We want them to grow up and have opportunities. Already they are learning lots of skills as a normal part of their life,’ says Chris.  No doubt their eldest son, will be able to tell his prep class about the ‘Year of the Camel’ as he starts school February!

Chris and Megan’s top business tips:

  • Do your research.
  • Be passionate about what you are doing.
  • Educate yourself on what you are going to do.
  • Don’t doubt yourself.
  • Be a problem solver.


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

Celebrating Rural Women

(L-R) Jenni Finn from Factory and Field in Cohuna, Lauren Mathers from Bundarra Berkshires in Barham, and Andrea Harrison from Kawaii Kids in Birchip, engaged in conversation with Kerry Anderson to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October, 2017.

(L-R) Jenni Finn from Factory and Field in Cohuna, Lauren Mathers from Bundarra Berkshires in Barham, and Andrea Harrison from Kawaii Kids in Birchip, engaged in conversation with Kerry Anderson to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women on 15 October, 2017.

On 15 October, to celebrate the International Day of Rural Women, Kerry Anderson invited three female entrepreneurs to share their inspirational stories of starting a rural business.

What a pleasure and privilege to have these three dynamic and extremely busy women together in a room sharing their passion for starting a rural based business.  Their introductions alone were inspirational.

Jenni Finn: Factory and Field, Cohuna 


When Cohuna teenager Jenni Finn got a casual job in an orange juice factory in the 1980’s she had no idea that one day she would own that historic building – originally a butter factory - and establish one of her home town’s most successful businesses in recent years.  Tucked away on a back road in an industrial estate, Factory and Field is not exactly where you’d expect to find a popular home wares and gift store and that is part of its charm.  Opened in somewhat of a rush in September 2013, Jenni’s vision is rushing ahead in leaps and bounds as she continues to bring her ideas into reality across the four acre industrial site.

Andrea Harrison: Kawaii Kids, Birchip 


What do you do when you live in an isolated rural community and can’t buy shoes for your toddler?  Well, if you’re Andrea Harrison from the agricultural town of Birchip, you start up your own online business, Kawaii Kids, importing children’s shoes and clothing.  Operating from the family home; clothes were stored in industrial containers in the back yard and a laptop on a small desk in the hallway acted as a business hub.  Fast forward a decade, Andrea has opened a retail store in Horsham and collaborated with retailers Australia wide to manufacture a specialist baby range. 

Lauren Mathers: Bundarra Berkshires, Barham 


In 2009 a lone Berkshire sow ‘Doris’ was the beginning of what Lauren Mathers envisioned as a whole herd of free roaming black heritage pigs rooting about improving the soil.  “Bundarra” is Lauren’s family free range Bio-dynamic farm on the Murray River just outside the small township of Barham in Southern NSW. The farm itself was dormant land that she and husband Lachlan saw potential in and, after years of patience, the farm was finally theirs.  Not content with just breeding, Lauren learned the skills of butchery and in 2013 started processing all meat onsite.

How did they gain the confidence to start a new business venture?

Research has shown than over 30 percent of people are more likely to go into business if they know someone in business, most often a family member or close friend.  In Jenni and Lauren’s case this happened to be their grandmothers who had also started businesses.

‘Nanna comes into Factory and Field and likes to remind me that it is all because of her,’ Jenni confided with a laugh.

Confidence is a huge impediment to anyone starting out in business especially for rural women with no formal business skills. 

A classic attribute of an entrepreneur is a quiet self-belief in themselves.  Rather than blindly take a leap of faith they avidly research to the point where they are both excited and confident that they have a great business idea.

All three women alluded to this as they spoke about their vision and the determination to bring their new businesses into reality.

‘You have to have an appetite to take a risk,’ Lauren admitted.

Andrea, who lays awake at night dreaming of all the things she would like to do, believes that you have to be passionate about what you do otherwise you wouldn’t do it.

Overcoming financial barriers.

One of the biggest hurdles in establishing a business is accessing finance, and right from the start it became evident for each of the women that a business loan from a bank is not the answer.

Jenni’s advice is ‘don’t accept the first no.’  Factory and Field was born in a bit of a rush; three months to be exact.  She made the decision in July, purchased stock at a trade fair in August and opened in September.  While the bank had been happy to support the purchase of the building, it wasn’t prepared to finance the business.  Undeterred Jenni gave the building a bit of a tidy up and used her personal credit card to purchase stock.  Thankfully she sold out on opening night and had the cash to stock up for the next influx.

Andrea and Lauren also found alternate ways of funding their business activities.

Andrea managed to self-fund the start of her business but recalls how a bank wouldn’t loan her money to expand despite the impressive cash flow figures she presented. Having no credit history was a bitter lesson.

Financial pressure can be felt every time there is a major investment in stock or improvement to the business.  Cashflow is crucial.  At times Andrea admitted to anxiously waiting for the EFTPOS sales to be deposited into her account just to cover her expenses.  While determined to keep the business separate from the family assets, at one point the family car was sold but thankfully it was a short term solution.

In 2014, a commercial kitchen was required when Lauren wanted to take her business a step further making traditionally cured pork products to sell online and at Farmers Markets. Cashing in on the great goodwill there is for free-range products, she used a crowd funding platform, Pozible, to successfully raise $18,000 ($3,000 more than required) for the project.

The panel agreed that it was worth looking at other short-term options such as a personal loan or through an online lender such as Prospa.  While the rates are higher, they are far more accessible.

Balancing business and family life.

With Lauren a mother of three, and Andrea a mother of four, they clearly rely on a lot of passion and drive to nurture a young family and business at the same time.  It’s not always easy but business does have some advantages over a 9 to 5 job.

‘I work every spare minute that I have,’ Lauren admitted. In addition to a little bit of child care relief, she often works into the night as and when the need arises. ‘It gets me ahead and puts me in a better place.’

Child care is also a lifeline for Andrea especially when she heads to the retail store in Horsham. Her time is much more flexible at home dealing with the online side of the business. 

‘I couldn’t do this without the support of Daniel my husband,’ she is quick to acknowledge. ‘And when he is busy with cropping on the farm I have to hold back on my business so he can concentrate on what he needs to do.’

Like many children of working parents their children grow up thinking it is normal to be in a work environment.  Their mothers are role models demonstrating that it is possible to control your own destiny in a rural town.

Jenni’s children were teenagers when she started her business giving her much more freedom to put in the long hours although she does admit that perhaps they were a little ignored. ‘I don’t think they really cared at that age,’ she smiles.

Already her 16-year-old daughter is working part time in the business and has developed valuable skills.  ‘My daughter is capable of running the business and has already done so when I can’t be here.’  There will be no shortage of opportunities as Jenni prepares to open another business, Factory and Field Waffles in the main street of Cohuna.

Despite the hard work and frequent frustrations, Jenni, Andrea and Lauren clearly love being in business.

‘The best thing about being in business for me is the satisfaction I get from people picking up my garments in store and loving them, without knowing that they were once only an idea in my head,’ explained Andrea.

It was of significance that this celebration was held at Factory and Field.  Four years ago, as part of an Operation Next Gen conversation, I brought a group of local leaders to this vacant building and challenged them to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes.  Jenni did exactly that and, within six months, this old butter factory was experiencing another exciting chapter in its long history.  

With the vision, passion and determination of an entrepreneur anything is possible, especially with a supportive local community.


Kerry Anderson, author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business, works with rural towns all over Australia.

Australia Day

Kerry Anderson was delighted to celebrate Australia Day 2018 with the community of Tarnagulla in the Loddon Shire and reflect on why living in a rural town is so great.

Every day is a good day to celebrate living in Australia, especially if you live in a rural town like Tarnagulla. 

Each of us have different reasons why we love living in a rural town. For some it might be a sense of belonging and knowing your neighbours.  For others it could be the quietness and being able to walk your dogs in the bush.  Maybe it is the short commute to work?  And, if you still need convincing, just try driving through Melbourne peak hour some time!

Sometimes we get caught up in the negatives of living in a rural town.  And there are two negatives I hear over and over.

The first is that traditional industries are closing down or becoming more automated which means less jobs.  It’s inevitable so why dwell on the past.  Who wants to work as a manual labourer when a machine can do it for us? 

And the second is that our young people are moving away.  Far from trying to lock our young people up, we need to encourage them to go to university, travel, and experience the big cities. But we also need to let them know that they also have a future here when they are ready to return, usually about the time that they want to raise a family in a nice clean country environment.  This is what the statistics are showing.

As Melbourne chokes and gags, there are great opportunities for rural communities to grow and prosper. There are those who have lived in a city all their life and want to escape.  Think about what skills and capital they can bring to our rural communities.  There’s a place for everyone if you want to make them feel welcome.

I’m part way through reading Footprints across the Loddon Plains by Paul Haw and Margaret Munro.  What a wonderful record it is of our indigenous culture that is only now being recognised and celebrated.

When my children were younger we used to camp on the Loddon River and drive our horses and jinkers into Tarnagulla where we rested them in the reserve over lunch.  I imagine that the Dja Dja Wurrung people may have also rested in this space as they moved around hunting or on their way to meet with neighbouring tribes. 

I get the sense from this book that they were quite nomadic, and I love the reference in the title to footprints.  It reminds me that we are all brief custodians on this land and we are always moving forward. Time does not stand still.

But what are we leaving behind us?  What is our legacy to the next generation?


Change is inevitable, but it’s important to honour the past.  Those people who have been before us - the Dja Dja Wurring people and, following European settlement, the pastoralists.  And then came many more people because of gold including the Chinese, Greeks and Italians who made a big impact on new settlements like Tarnagulla.  Imagine the excitement of discovering Poverty Reef and the Poseidon Nugget. It’s difficult to imagine a nugget weighing over 26 kilos!

My home town of Castlemaine was built on gold as were the key buildings still standing today in Tarnagulla.  What a commitment it would have been to invest in building a town from scratch.  And then the gold ran out, as it does.  Those that stayed on invested in agriculture and other micro businesses.  Every rural town is constantly recreating itself to survive.

PRESENT:  What is our contribution to this constantly changing landscape?

As some of you will know, I come from a small business background.  And like many business people I’ve always volunteered for community groups, sponsored events and donated goods and equipment.

I always used to think of business and community as being very separate.  That is, until I took a group of young farmers to visit Tom Smith at Yarrawalla in 2010.  For those of you who don’t know him, Tom is a very successful pig grower who has also been very involved in his local community.

I was trying to encourage the young farmers to think about how they could be innovative in their businesses and also contribute to their community and industry as leaders.  So, after touring the piggery, I asked Tom what he considered to be his greatest contribution to the community. 

What he said changed my thinking entirely.  Tom says that his greatest contribution to the community is to be successful in business.  By employing people they are then able to live in that community, send their kids to the local schools, and spend their money in the local shops.

What a great answer it was.  So, now when I talk about business, I simultaneously talk about community.  One can’t do without the other.  It is also why I called my book Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business.

Over the past fifteen years I’ve been working exclusively with rural towns and I am always intrigued by what makes some towns more vibrant than others.  As usual, it comes down to us, the people who live in that town.  Not the council, not the state government, and not the federal government.  It is us.

I’d love to share with you three stories that I think best demonstrate the power of community and how resourceful rural people are.

1.       2011 Gannawarra Shire Floods

2.       Bakery on Broadway, Wycheproof

3.       Girgaree

These three stories demonstrate the power of collaboration, of people working together for the common good, just like those people being recognised in Australia Day Awards today.  Led by the community for the community.  None of it happens overnight but it can happen.

FUTURE:  How can we look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes?

In a rapidly changing world with an ageing population, we can’t keep on doing the same old.  We have to look to the future and to do this we need to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes.

If anyone watched the Pine Creek episode of Back Roads on the ABC last week you might have noticed when a father and daughter had totally different ideas of what was needed to reinvigorate their town after mining had ceased.  The father said more mining while his daughter suggested environmental tourism. Whose future is it going to be?

As part of the Operation Next Gen program my challenge to rural towns is to create new conversations with new people in new places.  Not the existing leaders who are already busy doing what they do.  Give some new and younger people permission to think creatively and you might be surprised at what crazy ideas might actually become a reality.

While traditional retail shops are closing what else can we use those spaces for?  How can we encourage existing businesses to diversify and new businesses to start up? 

The future of work is changing and this is a great opportunity for rural towns. Instead of employing staff, the big corporates are sub-contracting their work which means that people can live in a rural town and, with the benefit of digital technology, work with clients all over the world.

Over in the United States, there is a new trend suddenly emerging.  San Fransisco has become too expensive for Silicon Valley.  All those big tech companies are looking to the regions for new work locations.

There are so many opportunities for rural communities who can showcase themselves as a great place to live and work.

Our job, as existing community leaders, is to encourage and support a new generation of community leaders to step up and take control of their own destiny. Don’t expect them to come to your community planning sessions or attend traditional meetings.  Take them to abandoned spaces and challenge them to think about what it could become in the future. Let them take the lead.

And finally I want to leave you with one last thought.

We’re very good at pulling together in a crisis. Why can’t we do the same when it is to build a stronger future for our rural town? 

We have the power to collectively make positive change.  It’s up to us.

Kerry Anderson
26 January, 2018

5 Thought Starters


Before our year gets too busy, it's a great time to think about how we want to make a positive difference in 2018. Here are five thought starters.

#1 Changing the narrative on 'small'

While some 'experts' try and tell us that density of population is required to succeed, there is growing evidence that quality not quantity is the real measure. With plenty of case studies to support this theory, let's start by changing the narrative for small business and communities.

What are shrink smart communities?

Are rural people more entrepreneurial?

#2 The future is already here!

We can't afford to be complacent in a fast changing world. There are so many opportunities but are we recognising them and taking advantage of them?

The 4 kinds of leaders who create the future

How future proof is your business and community?

#3 Equipping young people for a changing world

Learning essential skills and changing the conversation from job seeking to job creation is essential for our young people to succeed.

How education should build the future

Why are so many college graduates unemployed?

#4 Preparing rural towns for opportunity and growth

As our cities get more expensive and crowded there are many opportunities for rural and regional growth but how do you manage it?

Are you ready for a rural and regional influx?

Preparing for rural community growth

#5 Change doesn't happen overnight

Last year I was privileged to assist with a research project on the collective impact of grants distributed by the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR) over a sixteen year period.  Measuring outcomes over the long rather than short term is so much more meaningful and something that we should all be building into the programs and projects we contribute to. The following story is a case in point.

What a great outcome that tourism has been significantly boosted over the past four years in Cohuna. It is far from coincidence that Operation Next Gen was launched four years ago and great recognition of the local community that, with strong support from the Gannawarra Shire, took control of its own destiny and created the #GetYourBacksideCreekside campaign.  WIN TV story via Facebook

I'm looking forward to collaborating with you in 2018 to see how we can create positive change for your rural community.

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