Why wait for adversity?

Photograph by Shayne Mostyn Photography, Cohuna

Photograph by Shayne Mostyn Photography, Cohuna

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The list goes on …

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

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

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


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

Blinded by the Stars

WORDS by Kerry Anderson, PHOTOGRAPHS by Shayne Mostyn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The latter is what Shayne is finding most successful.

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

‘We were thinking of doing it closer to Melbourne but because of the dairy crisis and fear in the local community I decided to bring the workshops to Cohuna.  It’s only eight people each month but it is eight people that weren’t coming before,’ Shayne says.  ‘They come and use the local accommodation and spend their money in town.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Check out Shayne Mostyn Photography

Shayne’s Top Business Tips

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

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