Cool Clutch

Suzanne Carroll sells Cool Clutch women’s handbags, cool by name and cool by nature!

Suzanne Carroll sells Cool Clutch women’s handbags, cool by name and cool by nature!

Ever dreamed of starting a business? Suzanne Carroll of Gisborne in central Victoria woke up on the morning of 30 October 2015 and told her husband that she was going to start a business called Cool Clutch selling ‘cool by nature and cool by name’ handbags for women. And she did. True story!

One of the fastest growing sectors of entrepreneurs is that of middle-aged women and you can’t go past Suzanne of Cool Clutch for inspiration. Having stepped away from her previous marketing work in the corporate sector for health reasons, Suzanne had been searching for an idea.

‘I was too young to retire and too old to be employable. I wanted to sell something online so I could stay home in my PJ’s’ she laughs.

Nothing could be further from that vision. Instead of languishing at home in her PJ’s she has found herself totally out of her comfort zone, drawing down on her house mortgage to fund the start-up, travelling overseas to negotiate with manufacturers, diving into the alien and expensive world of patents, entering and winning a Pitchfest, and becoming the very visible public face of her unique product.

It has been a steep learning curve since waking up with her Cool Clutch dream and Suzanne understands the benefit of sharing her journey to help others. She attends as many business conferences and networking events as possible. ‘I’m always learning by listening to others,’ she explains, ‘everybody I listen to generates an idea.’

Not one to sit around, Suzanne registered the domain name ‘Cool Clutch’ that very first day. While it may seem impulsive, having previously seen a cooler bag that stored wine on its side instead of in the usual upright position, Suzanne had noted that there wasn’t one available in Australia and this idea had been bubbling away subconsciously for some time. Her idea was to create stylish handbags that could also discretely store and keep cool wine, lunches and even medications that deteriorate in hot temperatures. The patented distinction is a removable pocket that sits within the handbag.

‘I knew what I wanted to do but not how to do it.’

She contacted thirty-two manufacturers via China’s Alibaba website. Those that spoke good English were followed up. Three were short listed before Suzanne met with them in Hong Kong. After selecting one they worked together on the design. Suzanne paid thirty percent upon placing the order, and a further seventy percent when the first 2,500 handbags were ready to be shipped.

It should have been an exciting day when the container arrived in Melbourne, but it turns out that some manufacturers like to cut corners and a great proportion of the initial order were faulty.

With the benefit of hindsight, Suzanne would advise others to do it differently.

‘Yes, good English and being contactable by skype is crucial, but I would personally tour the factory before committing to a contract and would not allow the products to be shipped out of China without first being checked by a quality agent.’

With a sample of what she wanted to achieve and a list of questions to ask, Suzanne returned to China in August 2016 to negotiate with a new manufacturer and personally tour their factory plus engage a quality agent. Thankfully it was a much better outcome this time round.

Another valuable lesson has been to scale back the designs and colour choices.

‘At one point I had 83 different handbag designs and colours,’ Suzanne admits, ‘but I’m scaling back to just three styles with a total of about 25 handbags in total. I’ve learned not to listen to everybody because some ideas just don’t sell.’

Obviously a website is crucial for an online business. It took Suzanne three attempts and over a year to get a site that she is happy with using Wordpress and WooCommerce.

‘Your biggest investment is your shop front. Don’t go with the first “special offer” on a website design you see advertised on social media’ she advises. Once again she learned a valuable lesson and researched who had the skills to do the work to her satisfaction. Once established she was able to look after the website herself.

A Facebook community of 4,500 people has become a useful marketing tool for Cool Clutch’s direct sales. ‘I’m self-taught in social media,’ Suzanne admits but loves the fact that she can drill down into demographics when boosting posts for as little as $20.

She has also learnt the distinctions between different platforms. ‘When I’m on Facebook I talk like I do to my girlfriends, but when on Linked In, it is more business.’ But at the end of the day it is word of mouth that generates the most sales.

‘My biggest marketing is customers talking to their friends.’

Finding wholesalers for Cool Clutch has been another trial and error process. She began by attending the major gift and homeware expos but, having such a unique product, has realised that it is more effective to research the demographics and go into the stores personally.

While Suzanne looks after the sales in Victoria, she also has an agent in New South Wales, and is currently seeking agents for Queensland and South Australia. A recent visit to the Barossa Valley revealed that wineries are a great fit for her products.

Patenting the Cool Clutch concept world-wide is another significant investment that started within weeks of the new business being created. ‘Looking at my initial decisions, they were more about convenience,’ Suzanne reflects. ‘I googled Patent Attorneys and found one in a location that I was familiar with. I liked him but he turned out to be very expensive.’

More recently Suzanne has benefited from working with a business mentor who has helped her to understand her weaknesses and improve her business decision making. ‘Useful tips like learning to allocate a codeword to specific marketing campaigns allows you to monitor the return on investment,’ says Suzanne. Like every seasonal business she is also looking to overseas markets to ‘follow the sun.’

Entering and winning a Bendigo Pitchfest in November 2016 gave Suzanne a great confidence boost, as did being named in the Australian Top 50 People in eCommerce in early 2019. ‘It’s nice to be recognised,’ she admits.

Working from home has probably turned out a little differently than Suzanne initially imagined. Fortunately, with grown-up children who have left home, it has been easier to reallocate rooms to the business. The dining room is now the Board Room, the study is an office for Suzanne and a part time employee, and the garage is now used for picking and packing

‘We don’t have anyone come to dinner anymore,’ she smiles, ‘we go out.’

If Suzanne has one more dream, it is to grow the business up to a level where she can build a new office and warehouse with a child care centre so more women are empowered to work.

Now that’s a cool dream!

Suzanne’s top tips:

  • Engage a quality agent if you are manufacturing overseas

  • Get a business mentor to get you started

  • Network with other business people

www.coolclutch.net


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

Support Rural Towns

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As part of the Creative Innovation 2019 Asia Pacific Conference in Melbourne 1-3 April, Kerry Anderson’s mission was to remind everyone of the importance of our rural towns and share ideas on how we can all give our support regardless of where we live.

Regardless of where we live, Australia's rural towns are important for so many reasons, most notably for supporting the farmers that produce the food we eat every day - 93 percent of it to be exact, plus they export a further 60 percent overseas!

Rural towns provide important services and social hubs for all of our rural industries. They are great places to live and work and are home to some of the most innovative people I know. But so many of these towns are isolated and struggling to adapt in a rapidly changing world. Some are struggling to survive and others are missing out on exciting opportunities.

A strong and diverse business sector is such an important part of every rural town’s long-term future. A very wise man once told me that his greatest contribution to the community was being successful in business. The people he employs enables them to live in his rural town, support other local businesses, and send their kids to the local school. Every single person makes a huge difference to a rural town.

Operation Next Gen works with rural towns, encouraging them to have new conversations with new people in new places. By looking at existing landscapes with fresh eyes they can diversify and embrace new business opportunities in the digital era. We cannot physically work with every town, but with the help of our city friends and using technology, we can make these valuable resources available right across Australia to multiple towns at a time.

We’re looking for partners to help establish a dynamic digital platform – an interactive step-by-step program that will share the collective knowledge of Operation Next Gen and empower local communities to build their own collaborative entrepreneurial ecosystems – supported by online mentoring, and innovative support resources such as blogs and podcasts. Through technology we can link a growing network of rural towns to share their experiences and foster collaboration Australia wide.

And, most importantly, we will also be looking for entrepreneurs to share their stories and inspire others.

As highlighted by Lord Adair Turner this week at Ci2019, we cannot afford to ignore regional areas. We need rural towns to prosper.

Rural towns are important to us all. Here are seven ways that individuals, universities, and corporate entities can give their support:

#1 Be a customer

Stop off next time you drive through a rural town or browse online and find a rural based business to support. You will also find some wonderful gifts, many with a unique story attached.

#2 Be an Ambassador

Tell people about your purchases. Support posts on social media. Give a testimonial. Check in.

#3 Award rural scholarships and internships

Travel and accommodation can be expensive. Offer scholarship and discounts to rural people so they can more easily access your events and training programs. Or provide valuable experience through an internship.

#4 Offer your services

Got skills or knowledge that you are willing to share probono with rural businesses and communities? Offer to mentor or speak online through Operation Next Gen or another worthy organisation. Better still, spend some time in a rural town. Best holiday ever!

#5 Include a rural perspective

Be inclusive and invite rural speakers to your next event. Reimburse their time, travel and accommodation.

#6 Recruit remote contractors

In the digital age we can now live and work in a rural location. Recruit contract workers for your next project from a rural location giving valuable support to a rural family and bringing a fresh perspective to your venture.

#7 Establish a rural base

Rural towns are full of the most amazing creative spaces just waiting to be put to a new use, and they are so much cheaper not to mention the clean, green lifestyle! In a rural town every new resident and every new enterprise makes a huge difference to morale and the local economy.

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Contact Kerry Anderson if you want more information, are interested in supporting rural towns through Operation Next Gen, or want to engage an authentic rural speaker
for your next event.

Mob: 0418 553 719 Email: info@kerryanderson.com.au


KERRY ANDERSON: Founder of the Operation Next Gen program and author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. In 2018 she was named as one of Australia’s Top 50 Regional Agents of Change and, in 2019, was fortunate to be selected as one of eight scholarship recipients to present at the Creative Innovation 2019 Asia Pacific conference. READ MORE

Wine in a Glass

Managing Director of Wine in a Glass, Michelle Anderson-Sims

Managing Director of Wine in a Glass, Michelle Anderson-Sims

Managing Director of Wine in a Glass (WIAG), Michelle Anderson-Sims, is the first to admit that starting a business from an idea is a long, hard learning process. ‘I had lots of failures along the way but learnt from them all. Some lessons you pay a higher price to learn than others,’ she says. She can still recall the first $20 sale which seemed like such a huge milestone to reach at the time but five years on, she is rightfully satisfied with a significantly higher turnover that has reached six digits. This successful company has made its mark on the Australian wine and entertainment industries and is rapidly expanding throughout the world.

When I first tried to catch up with this enterprising businesswoman in 2018, she came up with the best excuse ever. The Commonwealth Games were in full swing and WIAG had been contracted to be the sole provider of 250,000 glasses of Australian wine at the event.

‘They’ve sold out,’ Michelle told me over the phone and texted me photos of the extra pallets they were preparing for a dash to the venues. It was worth the wait. I sat down with Michelle in February 2019 and was able to revisit her extraordinary story as well as get a hint about future developments.

Even if you didn’t get to the Commonwealth Games, chances are you’ve experienced this innovative product if you’ve attended a match at the GABBA or Etihad Stadiums or attended a Pink, Adele or Red Hot Summer Tour Concert. Effectively, WIAG has captured the events market with premium Australian wines pre measured and vacuum sealed in food grade, fully recyclable and reusable PET cups which provide an excellent alternative to glass.

‘We are filling a void,’ explains Michelle. ‘Speed of service at large events is paramount, and when you need to serve five thousand people in a fifteen-minute window, speed of service becomes critical and our portion-controlled wine can help to address this using our pre-packaged products.’

Even cinema, hospital, and aged care chains have recognised the value of WIAG products which are arthritically approved.

While some sales are made directly through their website, the majority are through distributors Australia and world-wide. Currently they are exporting to countries such as Malaysia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Korea, South America. With Michelle well versed in international trade, she is constantly extending this list.

The quality of the cups and the unique sealing process ensures that the products are tamper evident and have a long shelf life – eighteen months for white wines and two years for red wines. After use they can even be recycled. I’ve tucked my sample cups away for my next bush picnic and Michelle tells me that customers have posted pictures on the WIAG Facebook Page of lemon butter and jam in WIAG cups.

Touring the Echuca manufacturing plant, it becomes evident that this enterprise has required significant investment. Michelle has obtained the exclusive intellectual property from France to use the concept in Australia. It is an expensive exercise to bring a container of empty cups (140,000 pre manufactured and especially designed ‘Sims glass’ cups) from France to Echuca.

‘In-country logistics are a handicap on our business as we are some 2.5 hours from the port but we have factored these costs into our business model so we can maximise employment opportunities for local residents.’

Over a two-year period WIAG undertook and achieved accreditation for HACCP certification. ‘It’s a big investment for a start-up,’ Michelle admits, ‘but a brilliant framework for our business and improved our production practices and quality output.’

Make no mistake. This is big business happening in a rural setting.

If, like me, you thought that Michelle came from a manufacturing or wine industry background, we are all mistaken. I ask about her journey to this point and it is quite inspiring.

First and foremost, Michelle is mother to four children ranging in ages from 22 years old down to 14 years old. It was during a family holiday in Europe that she first stumbled on the concept and realised the opportunity for the Australian market. To that point, with only a secretarial diploma to her credentials, she had been working in series of senior management corporate roles that had earned her the reputation of being good at getting things done, especially when there were difficulties.

Discovering the wine in a glass concept in Europe was an opportunity for her to fill a void in Australia and start her own business.

Michelle admits that her first mistake was in starting out using a similar product from the USA. ‘It was a failure because the market didn’t like the wines produced in the United States.’

She quickly backtracked to the French manufacturers and designed her own ‘Sims Cup’ with the intention of filling them with premium Australian wines. She started out by renting a portion of the premises of one of her wine suppliers, an Echuca based vineyard. She made the decision to purchase the entire property as WIAG rapidly grew, tripling its sales each year.

In the early days of the business Michelle took advantage of a mentoring service which proved to be most useful. Getting the right team around her has been crucial and she is the first to say how lucky she has been. ‘You have to surround yourself with positive people who share your passion and vision for the business.’ A lot of young people, particularly those in their GAP year, gravitate to work with WIAG’s core team who are committed to providing upskilling opportunities.

When it comes to marketing, Michelle admits that it is a handicap being a long way from Melbourne but says that LinkedIn and social media has helped the company to grow. ‘You just have to be creative.’

When it comes to advice for other business owners, Michelle has two key recommendations. ‘Share the vision of your business with staff and, if you see an opportunity, just grab it and run with it.’

https://wineinaglass.com.au/


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

Celebrity Lamb Producer

Toni Barton of Lamb Bacon fame is fresh back from exploring new export market opportunities in Dubai. What she thought would be a simple name change has turned into a full rebranding with a suite of new products destined for the Middle East. She is also discovering how complex and costly preparing for export can be when it comes to a highly regulated food industry. But the biggest surprise of all was the celebrity status thrust upon her just for being an Australian lamb producer.

In February 2019 Toni travelled to Gulfood, the world’s largest food conference held in Dubai. She was part of the Victorian Government’s trade mission to explore the ‘appetite’ for her processed lamb products. Based on prior research, she had modest expectations for the four products on offer. But, as her fellow delegates headed off the pub each night, Toni was still in discussions and writing up orders. Her projections quickly escalated.

‘Provenance is very important in the export market and Australian meat has amazing equity. Middle Eastern countries love Australian lamb. My suite of products has been picked up by the five and six-star hotels and high-end supermarkets in Oman, Dubai, Qatar, and Kuwait,’ she explained.

Thanks to The Weekly Time’s Shine Awards, Toni has become used to publicity in recent months, but nothing prepared her for the reaction in Dubai.

‘Just because I’m a sheep farmer, I was made to feel like a celebrity. I’ve been totally overwhelmed by the response,’ she admitted.

Prior to her visit Toni was already aware that her iconic ‘Lamb Bacon’ brand was destined to remain on Australian soil. She had to clearly delineate her lamb products from pork in countries that adhere to strict Halal practices. A new name was required for export.

Her initial plan was to simply change the name from Lamb Bacon to Lamb Rashers, but Tony felt that it was still a bit dubious and there was also the consideration that she had a suite of products to sell.

‘In 48 hours just before I took off for Dubai, I did a total rebrand, printed labels, and created a new website – Barton’s Smallgoods, to avoid any confusion.’ She shakes her head. ‘It was crazy,’ but her marketing skills from a former corporate life came in very handy.

Thanks to a Meat Livestock Australia (MLA) Producer Led Innovation Grant, Toni has also received some financial assistance to navigate her way through the export process.

‘While there is a lot of information available through the government, no-one else is exporting processed lamb products so this is totally new. My role is to learn how to streamline the process and share my knowledge with other producers,’ she explained urging anyone with similar products to contact her. ‘I’m happy to answer questions.’

One by one Toni is dealing with multiple challenges to get her unique products export ready. She rattles of an extensive list of the licensing bodies to which she must submit paperwork, meet assessment, and pay fees. She estimates that it will require at least $100,000 before she even produces one product.

‘While Australia does already export a lot of meat to the middle east, it’s a complex environment made very difficult for small producers,’ she acknowledges. The engagement of HASSOP and Export consultants has been a necessity during the process.

‘My products involve meat, it’s processed meat, it’s lamb, and they’re brand new products that haven’t been done globally before. These all add layers of complexity. It isn’t just about getting your facility export ready and ensuring that you are using accredited export logistic organisations,’ cautions Toni. ‘You also need to consider that each individual product has to be certified by the government to where you are exporting to, as well as meeting Halal certification requirements.’

Toni has leased part of a former food factory in Geelong to become her export processing site. She is co-tenant with another food manufacturer making it an affordable option. A private loan has enabled her to fit the premises out.

Staff will be employed to run Barton’s Smallgoods as a separate entity to her existing farming enterprise at Nulla Vale near Lancefield in central Victoria. Given the high level of investment to become import ready, she is under no illusion that it will be at least a year before she will enjoy any personal financial benefit.

Preparing for export has been an extremely busy time for Toni, and particularly the next six weeks as she finalises all the paperwork and commissions the new factory processing plant. The first shipment of orders is scheduled for late-April.

She looks surprised when I ask her how she is dealing with the stress.

‘I used to be stressed in the corporate world but I’m exactly where I want to be now. I just go into problem solving mode,’ she responds. ‘You don’t plan to be an entrepreneur. I feel like everything I’ve done in my life has brought me to this moment.’

https://www.bartonssmallgoods.com/

READ part one of this article on Toni Barton’s entrepreneurial journey and the creation of Lamb Bacon


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

Prized Lamb

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What was a Kelpie’s prized lamb dinner turned into a winning product for Nulla Vale lamb farmer Toni Barton. This enterprising creator of Lamb Bacon displays all the attributes of a typical entrepreneur. Some would say she is driven. Ideas are explored, problems solved, and opportunities taken. At the core of it all is Toni’s deliberate life-choice, to trade in an international marketing career for that of a hands-on farmer producing good quality meat.

Mondays aren’t Toni’s favourite day. She has a load of lambs to deliver to the abattoir. This is a task that she personally undertakes each week.

‘I take animal welfare seriously and have developed a good relationship with the abattoir in Kyneton,’ she explains. ‘Hardwicks are very good in supporting small producers.’

Another day she didn’t enjoy was discovering twenty dead and injured sheep in the paddock following a dog attack.

‘It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life,’ she confides.

Welcome to the life of a farmer.

After a lot of soul searching, in 2016 Toni gave up her international lifestyle in corporate marketing to reinvent herself as a farmer. In preparation for the transition, she had purchased 60 hectares of prime grazing land at Nulla Vale near Lancefield and converted three big paddocks into 15 smaller ones for rotational grazing. She set it up as a three-tiered business – breeding and selling Australian White stud rams, producing lambs, and selling lamb meat products.

In her first year she processed 16 lambs for meat which was sold to family and friends. The following year it was 30 lambs. Four years on as a full-time farmer, she is processing 600 lambs annually with a profit of over $200 per lamb sold through customer centric distribution channels including online and Farmer’s Markets.

Such has the demand grown for her meat that she is now collaborating with four select sheep farmers who have taken on her breeding rams and share the same farming ethics of grass fed and animal husbandry.

‘One hundred percent grass fed and no chemicals,’ Toni explains. As a result, she has regular cutting and mulching of the paddocks on her long list of chores.

She also makes a point of paying premium prices to her fellow farmers, so they can maintain their sustainable farming practices and avoid the pressures of mass production and grain feeding regimes.

But it was her creation of the iconic Lamb Bacon in 2016 that really put Toni in the public eye, drawing close scrutiny from the Prime Safe authority and, just recently, winning her The Weekly Times Shine Award.

It was a classic problem-solving initiative that resulted in the creation of Lamb Bacon. Toni was perpetually annoyed by the fact that the lamb bellies were not being used. ‘Every Sunday I used to give kilos and kilos of lamb bellies to my neighbours to feed to their kelpies.’

On long road trips she would constantly challenge her brain to think of something new. And she did.

Who would have thought that bacon could be made from anything but pork? Experiments with her American friend and BBQ Pitmaster, Jon, meant that she could road test flavour profiles and cooking techniques.

‘As soon as I tasted it, I knew I was on to something,’ Toni smiles. Samples were shared with regular customers and some high-profile chefs readily endorsed it as a great alternate to traditional bacon made from pork bellies.

Toni fully understood her obligations of food safety and microbiological testing to ensure her duty of care to consumers, but with a new innovative product hitting the market there are many negative attitudes encountered.

‘If I had a dollar for the number of times I’ve heard: “You can’t do that!”

Top of the hurdle list would have to be a sudden directive from the Prime Safe, which regulates Australia’s meat industry, to immediately shut down production and recall all her Lamb Bacon products from sale.

‘I just sat in the paddock in total disbelief,’ Toni admits. She immediately rang her smokehouse instructing them to stop production but the ramifications of recalling hundreds of products already on supermarket shelves was catastrophic.

Moving into problem solving mode, Toni fought back the emotion and focussed on the process. Overnight she read through the Food Standards Act and researched the topic globally. She was able to determine that no one species, ie. pork, was defined as bacon in Australia.  In the early hours of the morning she sent a carefully composed email to Prime Safe outlining all of her findings. Much to her relief, a phone call from Prime Safe a few hours later reversed their decision and congratulated Toni on her initiative.

A big part of Toni’s role has been to educate regulators that it is possible to innovate

‘I made sure that alternate bacon options were approved by Prime Safe for the benefit of others in the future, including duck bacon and beef bacon.’ She also ensured that the Australian Meat Industry Council was made aware of the findings. ‘This is the challenge of food innovation, it’s so rare that you are constantly fighting an uphill battle to get the product accepted by industry and regulators.’

Transferring her skills to farming and food production has required considerable research.

An intensive 14 week accelerator program enabled her to become more strategic. As part of her start-up process she set up an advisory board of skilled and experienced professionals to offer her valuable guidance.

Her marketing skills allowed her to set up a website to sell direct to the public and social media to publicise her products. Recruiting quality staff and paying attention to detail have also been crucial.

‘People buy with their eyes so all my products need to be well presented, from the labelling to the pricing. Customers need certainty and it takes at least a year and lots of investment to develop a business and brand profile.’

All Toni’s skills have come to the fore in 2019 as she launches a new enterprise – Barton’s Smallgoods - to export new products to the Middle East and Asia. Rebranding was required in 48 hours as she prepared to fly to Dubai in February to participate in the Worlds largest food conference, Gulfood, as part of the Victorian Government’s Trade Mission. Currently she is commissioning a new smokehouse and packing facility in Geelong, as well as employing staff to run the export business. Already there are considerable orders with shipments scheduled to commence in late April.

‘You don’t plan to be an entrepreneur,’ she reflects. ‘I feel like everything I’ve done in my life has brought me to this moment.’

Toni admits that it can be lonely at times, but so far she has resisted taking on a business partner or a commercial loan. Her number one supporter until her death last year was her mum. She is particularly grateful to her dad who is called upon to do important jobs around the farm and neighbours who are always willing to help out. A Producer Led Innovation grant from Meat & Livestock Australia is providing valuable assistance to research and develop her new export business in return for sharing the outcomes with other red meat producers.

Her days are long and there are multiple decisions to be made while still taking care of the farm.

Until her export enterprise is up and running, Toni doesn’t have any time to work in her vegetable garden or enjoy her sweeping views overlooking Mt William. But she is confident that her efforts will soon be rewarded, and she will be back where she most loves to be.

‘This is why I started and where I want to stay. I want to grow food and give people access to good quality meat.’

For the Love of Lamb

READ the second part of this article on Toni’s preparing for export experiences.


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

Sharing positive stories of rural and businesses and communities

Sheep Psychology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie’s top business tips:

  • Make sure your idea and product is unique

  • Get recommendations from other experienced business people

  • Ensure there is a market for your idea or product

  • Protect your idea and product

  • Follow your dreams

https://backupcharlie.com.au/


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

AMPLIFTS

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

https://www.amplifts.com/

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When you can't wait to get home

to work on your business!

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


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

Bundarra Berkshires

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

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

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

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

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

OPPORTUNITY #1 Sourcing local quality pork

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

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

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

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

OPPORTUNITY #2 Finding customers

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

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

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

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

OPPORTUNITY #3 Controlling supply

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lauren’s top business tips:

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

http://bundarraberkshires.com.au/


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

Vets All Natural

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce’s top business tips:

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

http://healthypetsvc.com.au/

https://vetsallnatural.com.au/


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

Just one step

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brendan’s top business tips

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

www.keipfiltration.com

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


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

Wil's Way

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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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 ylaaus@gmail.com.'

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

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 

LINK TO FACEBOOK PAGE

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 

LINK TO WEBSITE

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 

LINK TO WEBSITE

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.

www.kerryanderson.com.au

5 Thought Starters

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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?

Steve Wozniak 08122017 crowd.jpg

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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

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 http://www.kerryanderson.com.au/about/

Are rural people more entrepreneurial?

BY KERRY ANDERSON

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts?


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

A Collaborative Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Operation Next Gen

BY KERRY ANDERSON

At some point in time every rural town faces major change. Like every good business the trick is to anticipate that change and explore alternatives well before it happens.  And sometimes, to save your town, it means the whole community has to work together.

"Losing 230 jobs in a town with a population of 2000 would be equivalent to losing 460,000 jobs in Melbourne," wrote Ed Gannon in The Weekly Times as he recently lamented the loss of the timber industry in his home town of Heyfield. He admits that the industry has been under threat and gradually declining over multiple decades but the final blow has still been devastating to the people involved.

Similarly, Morwell in the Latrobe Valley is reeling from the announced closure this month of the Hazelwood Power Station that employs 750 people. A huge impact on another community with a population of just over 13,000 as evidenced by a recent episode of Insight on SBS.

Heyfield and Morwell are far from isolated in this experience. Rural towns world wide are all having to reinvent themselves to survive which is why the Operation Next Gen Program was first developed in Australia to help communities look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes and understand the importance of encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs.

The key is to get the whole community on board and working cohesively together.  Yes, easier said than done, but it can be achieved with a bit of pre-planning, some enthusiastic community leadership, and a lot of good will. 

I have seen the evidence with my own eyes in rural Nebraska where organisations such as the Heartland Center and Center for Rural Entrepreneurship have been tackling the issue of declining rural communities for over 35 years. Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is considered to be the solution to this widespread problem.

A great example of the success of this approach is the rural community of Ord in Valley County.  Ord has a rural population of 2,112 in the township, or 4,647 if you count the whole county.  This community worked strategically and cohesively to turn around huge issues similar to what we are experiencing in many rural towns here in Australia. 

When I spoke with Ord community leaders back in 2013 they had some pretty impressive results to report from their 12 year campaign.  During this period the Ord community had attracted $125 million of private and public investment and created 100 new businesses and 350 new jobs.  The benefits have been wide spread.  In addition to unemployment levels dropping and wages rising, there has been retail growth and the value of properties has risen.   Things are looking much brighter in Ord than they were 15 years ago when they were considering a particularly glum future.

Trust me, this success was not by accident.  A community wide economic plan was agreed upon and a Community Foundation was established specifically for the purpose of supporting new start-up businesses and business expansion.  The County (Shire Council), Chamber of Commerce, School and community leaders came together and all took responsibility to drive various initiatives to ensure the plan’s success.  A paid facilitator helped to keep the key partners informed and engaged.

Oh how I look forward to reporting on similar outcomes here in Australia as part of the Operation Next Gen Program that was first trialled with the rural towns of Birchip, Boort and Cohuna in 2013-14. 

But first we need to establish if a community is ready to successfully take on this challenge.  Here are a few of the key indicators that you can apply to your own community’s state of readiness.

Understanding of the challenges.   What if our community doesn’t understand the issues or the importance of them?  Then this is your number one priority as our political leaders recently discovered in the Federal election.  Don’t wait until you lose a major industry or your last bank or supermarket in town.  Being proactive in analysing the health of your community which is underpinned by the diversity of business and employment opportunities is essential, as is understanding that if business is doing well then so will the rest of your community.

Understanding of the opportunities.  One of our biggest inhibitors is thinking that we have to keep on doing the same old thing in the same old way.  News flash:  Times are changing!  We need to be able to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes in the context of the technological revolution.  By all means celebrate tradition but don’t get bogged down in it if you want to survive.  The future is all about being adaptable and agile.

Engagement with entrepreneurs.  Understanding the needs and desires of entrepreneurs - both young people and those changing careers - and looking at ways that they can be assisted to build their businesses is essential.  They are our future and, even if they do leave town to study and travel, make them feel connected and know they will be supported upon their return.

Strong Leadership.  Not just in council or in our community and industry groups.  We need a network of leaders who proactively collaborate to come up with a big vision plan that has consistency across the whole community.  Invest in your leaders to ensure that they can be strong, positive, consistent and inclusive in their leadership style.

Inclusive.   I cannot stress enough the importance of involving everyone in your community in this discussion.  At the very least they will understand why these plans are important and hopefully they will provide creative input and take ownership of some of the activities.  Get over the silo approach and respect that everyone has different ways of thinking and processing.  Find the initiatives that you can agree on and run with them.  Success will breed success.

Prepared to commit to the long haul.  In what appears to be the era of instant gratification we need to understand that this won’t happen overnight.  We have to be prepared to celebrate the small milestones along the way and keep revisiting that big picture vision to remind ourselves of where our communities are heading.

Do you think your Australian rural town is in a state of readiness for positive change through an entrepreneurial ecosystem? If so, I’d love to hear from you.


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, author, and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s businessBOOK

Era of the Entrepreneur

Kerry Anderson is talking about changing the conversation from job seeking to job creation.

Kerry Anderson is talking about changing the conversation from job seeking to job creation.

OUR world is rapidly changing.  As connectivity improves, services that used to be provided by employees are now being contracted to freelancers.  An ageing population is stressing an economy that desperately needs more business creation. We need to start thinking of entrepreneurship and self-employment as a mainstream option, and to do this we need to change the conversation from job seeking to job creation.

Research any high profile entrepreneur and you will most likely hear about how they ‘hated school’ and ‘dropped out of college.’ This was a common story when I interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurs across rural Australia for my book.  

While far from academically minded, entrepreneurs are resourceful people who love solving a problem by looking for a solution. As well as an ability to look at things differently, they have a quiet self-belief and the confidence to persevere.  And yes, they love to experiment and accept failure as part of their pathway to success.

So, when I hear an educator talk about a ‘disengaged student’ or a community member mentions a ‘dreamer’, it is music to my ears. These are the individuals who are most likely to be innovative and entrepreneurial. But who will recognise and support them?

Anyone who has a family member or close friend in business is over 30 percent more likely to go into business themselves. In the meantime there are countless students and the unemployed being channeled through a job seeking system.  How can we inspire them to take control of their own destiny?

Any activity or program designed to encourage entrepreneurs and support business has to fulfill three essential criteria.  To inspire people who want to lead, not follow, it has to be engaging, authentic and relevant.

Clearly, educators and employment consultants cannot achieve this on their own.  It is absolutely essential to forge strong partnerships with the business sector and community leaders.

Let’s change the conversation together. Quite simply, our future depends on it.


Kerry Anderson is author of Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business and has developed an engaging, authentic and relevant Be Your Own Boss program for schools and organisations to implement with their local community.

Why Business is Important

 

BY KERRY ANDERSON, author of Entrepreneurship: It's everybody's business.

Being successful in business is my greatest contribution to the community.’ - Tom Smith

My personal journey to talk up business and publish a book first began in 2010 when I accompanied a group of young farmers on a road tour to some amazing places to meet some amazing people. When I introduced them to Tom Smith, a pork grower from Yarrawalla in north-west Victoria, I asked Tom what I thought was a straight forward question and got an unexpected response.

Knowing of his long term community work, I asked Tom what he considered to be his most valuable contribution to the community. His simple but very clear answer has stayed with me to this day.

‘Being successful in business is my greatest contribution to the community,’ Tom replied. He quietly went on to explain that by being successful in business he was able to employ over 30 people which in turn allowed them and their families to live in the region, attend the local schools, and benefit the whole community in so many different ways.

Since listening to Tom, I’ve become more aware of just how negative our society is about business and how little we understand about the important role that business plays in our wellbeing overall.

‘Big business’ is constantly bucketed in the media and deemed ‘greedy’ and ‘unethical’ often without any real basis or analysis. Being successful can be subject to the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ treatment. ‘Social enterprise’ has become the preferred choice of terminology, almost as if an apology for it being a business.

None of this reflects all the wonderful business people I know that do so much for their communities.

Tom opened my eyes to why a healthy business sector should be the number one priority of every Australian, regardless of whether they reside in a rural town or a large city.

When it comes to understanding why entrepreneurs and business in general are so important, it comes down to two important points. The first is that we can’t all be employees otherwise who would employ us? The second is that we need a majority of our population contributing revenue through the tax system to provide all those essential government services such as health, education and welfare that our growing population relies on.

With baby boomers reaching retirement age we are fast approaching a catastrophic imbalance, with far less revenue being contributed to support a growing population. Underpinning our entire country’s health and wellbeing is the ability for the majority of our population to be gainfully employed and this is where the business sector plays an important role.

The CSRIO’s 2016 ‘Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce’ is heralding the next 20 years as the era of the entrepreneur and we can only hope that many more will take up the challenge.

So, my advice is to be loud and proud if you are successful in business and know that by doing so you are helping your whole community.


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, author, and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Excerpt from Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s business.